Review: How To Save Your Own Life by Michael Gates Gill

I’m a sucker for lists. “Best of” lists are big this time of year and I love looking at them, but I also enjoy any type of round up. Boil something down to a few essential elements and give me the bullet points! “5 Easy Ways to Get Organized” or “8 Steps to a Better Sex Life” on a magazine cover immediately gets my attention. So when How To Save Your Own Life, with the subtitle 15 Lessons on Finding Hope in Unexpected Places, came up on tour over at TLC, I was all over it, even though it didn’t promise to get me organized or teach me how to be sexy(er). <— Those who know me can now stop laughing.

Author Michael Gates Gill writes about what it was like to go from being a high powered, highly paid advertising executive with a privileged lifestyle to a guy who lost everything later in life; the job he’d held for 25 years, his decades-long marriage, and his health. His world was in turmoil and seemed to be crashing down around his ears. Change was forced upon him yet that turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him. At his lowest point, he walked into a Starbucks on a day they were recruiting new employees and met a young woman named Crystal who turned his life around by offering him a job (even though he wasn’t there looking for one); a job in which serving others is priority #1. He surprised himself by accepting the offer. Learning to serve others was pivotal in fundamentally changing who he was on the inside, and now he is a much better and happier human being for it.

This is a short little memoir-ish book (about 200 pages), yet it took me more than two weeks to read it. I kept it on my nightstand and read one “lesson” per day, savoring the lessons and ‘saving my life’ in bite sized chunks. Gill writes plainly and simply about his experiences and what he learned from them, and offers others ways in which they can apply these lessons to their own lives.

None of this is rocket science and I didn’t encounter any earth shattering new ideas or experience any Aha! moments. However.. this book came at a good time for me. Basic ideas like being grateful, simplifying and letting go of material things, unplugging (from cell phones, pda’s, watches, computers, etc.), laughing more, leaping with faith (rather than over-thinking everything), following your heart, etc. are things I’ve been giving quite a lot of thought to lately as I do my annual resolution making for the incoming year and reflection on the outgoing one.

Leaping with faith and not over-thinking is something I’ve always struggled with. I tend to over-analyze and worry things to death. However, leaping with faith was one of the best things I ever did when, in 2008, I asked someone I trust and consider a friend to start a business with me, even though we’d never actually met in person (we’ve since remedied that). Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first!) but sometimes you just have to go with your gut. I’m so glad I did.

This charming book full of inspiring thoughts and good reminders will have a permanent spot in my nightstand. I’ll take it out whenever I need a pick-me-up of positivity or a little nudge of courage because let’s face it, change can be scary. It can also be great.

Here are the rest of the stops on this TLC Book Tour:

Monday, January 4th: MidLifeBloggers

Tuesday, January 5th: Life and Times of a “New” New Yorker

Wednesday, January 6th: Books on the Brain

Thursday, January 7th: The Written World

Tuesday, January 12th: TexasRed’s Books

Wednesday, January 13th: It’s All A Matter of Perspective

Thursday, January 14th: A Novel Menagerie

Tuesday, January 19th: Confessions of a Book a Holic

Wednesday, January 20th: Thoughts of an Evil Overlord

Monday, January 25th: Silver and Grace

Tuesday, January 26th: Inventing My Life

Wednesday, January 27th: Write for a Reader

A big “Thank You” to Anne at Penguin for sending me this book to review.

Keeping the Feast – Readers!

Wow!

We had a great response for the Keeping the Feast Winter Reading Series!

All 20 copies have been claimed and the following readers will be receiving their copies of the book very soon.

1.  Mari from Bookworm with a View

2.  Nicole from Linus’s Blanket

3.  Kathy from Bermuda Onion

4.  Lisa from Lit and Life

5.  Megan from Po(sey) Sessions

6.  Kristina from The Cajun Book Lady

7.  Robin from My Two Blessings

8. Emily Smith

9. Eleanor Alston

10.  Eileen Kunstman

11.  Jennifer from Mrs. Q: Book Addict, Book Lover, Avid Reader

12.  Robbie Alba- Estrada

13.  Susan from Suko’s Notebook

14.  Jane Shoppell

15.  Heather from Raging Bibliomania

16.  Janel from Janel’s Jumbles

17.  Anne Paluck

18.  Jill from Fizzy Thoughts

19.  Sharon Walling

20.  Debbie from Reader Buzz

What a great group!  Can’t wait to discuss it with all of you in February!  I’ll let everyone know the specific time and date for the discussion with the author as it gets closer.

And I’m so sorry if you were interested in reading with us and missed out this time.. we’ll be doing this again in the future, so stay tuned!

Review: In A Perfect World by Laura Kasischke

In-a-Perfect-World-199x300It’s the end of the world as we know it… and I feel fine.. that song kept running through my head as I was reading this book..

In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke is a story set in the near future.  It’s a dystopian family drama, with a growing sense of doom extending right through to the very end.

Jiselle is a busy flight attendant who, at 32 years of age, has been a bridesmaid six times. After one particularly difficult evening at work (seven hours in a plane full of passengers that never left the runway) she is sitting in an airport bar, sipping a glass of wine, when a gorgeous pilot, Captain Mark Dorn, takes notice of her.  Three months later, after a whirlwind courtship, they become engaged.

It’s on the afternoon of Mark and Jiselle’s engagement that they see the white balloons for the first time.  One balloon for every victim of the Phoenix flu.  Groups in every major American city are releasing white balloons.  Are they a compassionate expression of concern, or a political statement and condemnation of the current administration in the White House?  The media can’t decide.

And when Mark and Jiselle go out of the country for their honeymoon, they are warned that people aren’t renting rooms to Americans.  Taxi drivers won’t drive Americans. Jiselle and Mark view it all as a minor inconvenience rather than any kind of true threat. The Phoenix flu, reminiscent of swine flu or bird flu, is spreading across America and beyond. Fear and panic are taking hold throughout the world and Americans are being shunned wherever they go.  But Mark and Jiselle are in love *cue the angels* so they don’t focus on that.

Before Jiselle knows what hit her she is living in Mark’s log cabin and stepmom to his three children.  Everything is picture-perfect.  Unfortunately, Mark’s daughters hate her and make no effort to hide it, but Mark’s little boy Sam is a sweetie and they form a bond.

The new family has some adjustment issues.  Jiselle quits her job to take care of the kids, and Mark, due to his flight schedule, is frequently absent.  The older girls are horrible to Jiselle but she remains kind to them.  The family situation reaches a crisis level and their marriage is put to the test when Mark, after a flight to Germany, is quarantined for months in that country. Even though the kids and Jiselle are still getting to know one another, they must rely on each other as the flu becomes a pandemic and the outlook is dire.  Will the family survive?

This isn’t an easy review to write because the book has a bit of an identity crisis.  Is it a ripped-from-the-headlines tale about a flu epidemic?  Yes.  Is it a romance?  Sort of.  A family drama? Sure.  Just when I thought the story would go down one path, it went down another.  I was most drawn into the story line about the pandemic.  I’ve got the swine flu symptoms memorized and my kids never leave the house without hand sanitizer, so I read that part with fascination and dread.  The fact that something like this could happen (is happening) makes it scary.  The author included plenty of information surrounding the flu and the spread of disease to make it timely and realistic.

But the reading experience wasn’t intense.  I wasn’t on the edge of my seat.  I thought Jiselle was a little silly, worrying more about her relationship (‘he hasn’t called.. what does it mean?’) when there were much bigger things to worry about, like how they would survive.  I was less interested in the romance and subsequent family drama than about the pandemic, and when Jiselle would blather on about how handsome Mark was, it was all I could do not to skim and skip ahead to get back to the sections about the flu.  It felt like two separate stories, with the one being much more compelling than the other.

I liked this book for the beautiful writing.  It was a quick read that I didn’t put down until I had finished it.  But I didn’t care for the ending.  I don’t need a perfect ending but I do like to have something of a clue as to what happens.  It’s all left up to speculation, which would probably make it an excellent choice for a book club.  They could debate what happens to this family. They could give opinions on what, if anything, Jiselle heard at the end.

In a Perfect World isn’t perfect, however I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject matter.  It’s a thought provoking read and one I won’t soon forget.

For other opinions of the book, check out the rest of Laura Kasischke’s virtual book tour:

Monday, October 12th – Starting Fresh

Wednesday, October 14th – BookNAround

Thursday, October 15th – Book Club Classics!

Monday, October 19th – A Reader’s Respite

Friday, October 23rd – The Book Nest

Monday, October 26th – Galleysmith

tlc-logo-resizedThursday, October 29th – A High and Hidden Place

Monday, November 2nd – Word Lily

Tuesday, November 3rd – Books on the Brain

Thursday, November 5th – Write Meg

Many thanks to Trish for including me on this TLC Book Tour.

Review: Goldengrove by Francine Prose

Goldengrove-PB-199x300Goldengrove by Francine Prose is a tender examination of a young girl’s grief over the loss of her beloved older sister, Margaret.

Margaret is a dreamer, a lover of old movies, a poet and singer.  Nico and Margaret are sisters and co-conspirators, finding ways for Margaret and her boyfriend Aaron to be together behind their parents’ backs.  With summer coming up, the last summer the sisters will be together before Margaret goes off to college, they are looking forward to spending time together.  One warm spring day, Margaret and Nico take a rowboat out on the lake.  Margaret, smoking cigarettes and talking to 13 year old Nico about boys and sex, stands and gives Nico a final salute before diving into the water and heading for shore.  Except, she never gets there.  Margaret drowns in the lake, and life for her family is never the same.

“What had we talked about before?  Margaret had done all the talking.  Now there was nothing to say.  We were the wallflowers left behind when Margaret waltzed away.”

Margaret’s death is a minor tragedy in their small upstate New York community, but completely devastating for her family.  Her dad loses himself in his writing project, and her mom self medicates with alcohol.  Nico is mostly forgotten and ignored, although as their One Remaining Child, they do set down some rules and safety guidelines for her that sometimes seem a bit extreme.  At one point she wants to tell Margaret how goofy her parents are behaving, but then remembers the reason they are acting that way.  While her parents are distracted, Nico goes through every stage of grief.  Consumed by thoughts of Margaret, she must learn to cope with her loss.

Nico helps her dad at his bookstore, Goldengrove, and during slow times she reads up on heart conditions, fearing she has the same physical ailments Margaret had.  She also begins secretly hanging out with Aaron, becoming partners in grief with her sister’s lover. She believes he is the only one who understands what she’s going through, and being with him makes her feel normal again.  But his reasons for wanting to spend time together are different than hers; he wants to turn her into Margaret and doesn’t see her for the young, naive girl she actually is.

The majority of the story takes place during the summer after Margaret’s death; all of it, actually, except the last 4 or 5 pages.  This would be my only quibble with the book- the ending, with Nico as an adult, felt kind of tacked on, detached, and unnecessary. However, even with the quickie ending, this is realistic fiction at it’s finest.

Francine Prose has written a piece of art, a mournful yet exquisite novel that was an absolute pleasure to read.  She is amazingly talented and I am thrilled to have discovered this new-to-me author.  I’d highly recommend Goldengrove to anyone who enjoys beautiful writing, coming of age stories, or family drama.

Goldengrove is Francine Prose’s 15th novel.


For other stops on this blog tour, check out the TLC Book Tours schedule.

Listen to Francine Prose discuss Goldengrove with Book Club Girl on Blog Talk Radio on Air.

Review and Giveaway: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

GuernseyTRCoverI recently had the pleasure of reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and her aunt, the late Mary Ann Shaffer.  Where do I start in reviewing a book that has become a modern day classic in such a very short time?  A book that is almost universally loved?  A book that so many people have lauded, admired, and reviewed before me? 

Do I even need to say what it’s about?  Is it possible there are readers out there unfamiliar with the premise? 

In short, it’s a book told in letters.  It’s a cool format.  I know there is a real word for that.  Epistolary?  Is that it?  Or is that a religion?  Hmmm.. must check that out on Dictionary.com.  

Anyway, let’s dispense of the unwieldy book title for this review and just call it Potato.  Potato starts out in 1946.  WWII with all its devastation has ended, and the world is forever changed.  Early in the book Juliet Ashton, a writer, gets a letter from Dawsey Adams, a man living on the island of Guernsey, which had been occupied by the Germans during the war.  He found her name and address written on the inside of a book that intrigued him and, isolated on the island but seeking more information on the author, he reaches out to Juliet, the former owner of the book.  Their correspondence is the foundation for Potato.  

Dawsey tells Juliet about his book club, the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Juliet is intrigued and asks him to have the other members write to her as well, because she is looking for material for an article and thinks their group would be interesting to her readers.  Soon she is corresponding with several members of the Society, and before long she is charmed by the people and by the idea of the island, so much so that she is compelled to go meet them and see it for herself. 

Yes, Guernsey is a real place

Yes, Guernsey is a real place

I love my book club- love talking about it- love the many positive changes it has brought about in my life (including this blog).  However, I could never say that it saved me or got me through the worst times of my life.  I could never say that it became my lifeline during a war.  But that is precisely the function the Society served for many of the people on Guernsey. 

And I loved this book for all it’s bookish quotes and insightful observations.  There are so many to choose from, but here is one from page 11, which I adored: 

“That’s what I love about reading; one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book.  It’s geometrically progressive-all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.” 

How true that is?!   That has happened to me so often.  

Another quote I loved isn’t specifically about reading, although I guess it could be: 

“Have you ever noticed that when your mind is awakened or drawn to someone new, that person’s name suddenly pops up everywhere you go?  My friend Sophie calls it coincidence, and Mr. Simpless, my parson friend, calls it Grace.  He thinks that if one cares deeply about someone or something new one throws a kind of energy out into the world, and “fruitfulness” is drawn in.” 

That reminds me of when you get a new car.  I never knew how many Nissan Quests were on the road until I started driving one.  Or how many pregnant woman were in the world until I was one (and how they multiplied tenfold after I lost my baby). But it’s true in a bookish sense as well.  I have thrown my “book club energy” into the world, and I am constantly amazed at how often I meet others who participate in book clubs and who love to read and discuss what they’re reading.  You attract others like you into your sphere when you send out the right vibes.  And apparently I have some really strong book club vibes floating through the universe. 

Another quote I loved (LOVED!) is this: 

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey?  Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” 

I am that perfect reader, in this case.  I adored this book. 

I will leave you with one last quote, and (shock) it’s a book club one.  From page 51: 

“None of us had any experience with literary societies, so we made our own rules:  we took turns speaking about the books we read.  At the start, we tried to be calm and objective, but that soon fell away, and the purpose of the speakers was to goad the listeners into wanting to read the book themselves.  Once two members had read the same book, they could argue, which was our great delight.  We read books, talked books, argued over books, and became dearer and dearer to one another.” 

Yes.  I can relate.  My book club is very dear to me, and it is a delight to debate a point in a book. 

If you are interested in WWII or historical fiction, you’ll appreciate this unique look at the war.  If you enjoy letters, are a member of a book club, or an avid reader, I strongly recommend this literary gem to you.  It is timeless, charming, insightful, and soothing.  It was the perfect book for me and I hope it finds other perfect readers. 

The publisher, Random House, has generously offered 5 copies of the trade paperback of this book to give away as part of it’s TLC Book Tour.  Please leave a comment by Friday, August 28th for a chance to win.  If you’ve already read Potato, please let me know what you thought of it!

Visit the Guernsey website HERE and the author’s website HERE (she also writes children’s books).  You can find discussion questions for your book group HERE.

Review: The Local News by Miriam Gershow

local-news

Miriam Gershow’s debut novel, The Local News, is an excellent story narrated by 15 year old Lydia Pasternak, whose older brother Danny has mysteriously gone missing after shooting hoops with a couple of friends at the local elementary school.  

Lydia doesn’t exactly miss her brother right away.  Her feelings are complicated.  Danny and his football playing friends spent years picking on her and calling her names, but he’s still her brother, and she has good memories from when they were little kids.  Danny, athletic and loud, took up a lot of space in the family, and his absence in their lives is huge.  

Her parents are disconnected, drifting through the days in anguished grief.  They are hyper focused on finding their child- “Not you,” she tells herself; “their other child.”  Lydia feels forgotten at home.  It’s the opposite at school- everyone knows who she is. Even the most popular kids, the ones who never gave her the time of day before, suddenly want to know how she’s doing; what’s new with the investigation.  At times it seems she is who she is only in relation to her brother. 

Lydia has a nerdy friend, David, with whom she talks about world politics and other brainy topics.  David is her only friend who is all hers- completely independent of her brother.  She is comfortable with David until his attraction for her becomes obvious, and they drift apart as things get awkward between them.  She then starts hanging around with cheery Lola Pepper, an admirer of her brother and captain of the flag team, falling into the party scene Danny vacated.  

The Pasternaks hire a private investigator when the local police hit a wall with the case.  Lydia develops a crush on the PI and finds herself focused and energized; organizing and analyzing letters from strangers, looking for possible clues, going over mug shots, taking notes.  When the PI has exhausted most of the leads, he turns a suspicious eye on Lydia, freaking her out and turning her off. 

I loved this book and couldn’t put it down.  Gershow nailed Lydia’s complex adolescent voice.  It reminded me of Melinda’s voice in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.  She’s smart, wry, sad, funny, damaged, and heartbreakingly real.  I ached for Lydia, especially as she lay awake night after night listening to the silence in the next room, her brother’s bedroom.  I cried at one bittersweet interaction with her dad, when “for the first time in a long time, I remembered a little bit that he loved me, so I loved him a little bit back.”   And the end.. well, the end tore me up.  

The book is reminiscent of The Lovely Bones, from the title to the cover (the same blue) to the subject matter.  In both we have families that are disintegrating over a missing loved one.  And I also thought about Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan, a book with a similar story about the disappearance of a teen.  But I preferred The Local News to both those books.  The Local News is Lydia’s story and told from her perspective alone, while the others are told from several perspectives, including the missing teen.  I thought the single narration was a more effective, less diluted way to tell the story.  But the main reason I preferred The Local News is because at the end we get to see Lydia as an adult and understand how the loss of her brother continues to affect her relationships years later.  In the wake of Danny’s disappearance, life has been forever altered. 

Sharp, raw, and brilliantly written, this is a powerful book and one I can highly recommend.  

Please check out this terrific guest post from Miriam Gershow:  From Books to Babies.  To visit the author’s website, click HERE.  And check out Miriam’s TLC Book Tour for other reviews of The Local News.

From Books to Babies: How I Stumbled Upon the Biggest Decision of my Life

local-newsPlease welcome Miriam Gershow, author of The Local News, who has written this guest post as part of a TLC Book Tour!  Check back tomorrow for my review of this excellent debut novel!

For years, whenever anyone asked my mother when I planned to have children, she quoted a line I once told her: “Miriam needs to give birth to a book before she’ll give birth to a child.”  It was one of those lines I had said so off-handedly and so long ago, I barely even remembered it.  But my mother held onto it.  I think it reassured her as she waited through my twenties and then my early thirties, as she watched me get married at 35, as my husband and I bought a house and got a cat, and did all the things newly married couples were supposed to do.   

Well, almost all the things. 

My mother, like any good Jewish mother, awaited word of a coming grandchild, or, short of that, at least some a hint of interest from our end.  But at a time when the ticking of my biological clock should have been a base drum booming in my ears, it was barely even a tick. 

Because that line I had so casually tossed to my mother years before was true.  All my life, I have wanted to be a writer.  I dabbled in it through my twenties–writing bad stories and worse novels, joining writing groups, sharing my work with anyone willing to look at it.  At thirty, I returned to school for an MFA in fiction.  After graduating, I committed to writing as my honest-to-goodness job.  During the day, I took an adjunct instructor position at a university.  Whenever I wasn’t teaching, I wrote.  And wrote and wrote.  I began the arduous, one-step-forward-two-steps-back process of forging a fiction career.  I won a prestigious writing fellowship.  I was paralyzed by writer’s block for most of that fellowship.  I got a handful of stories published in literary journals.  I got dozens and dozens more stories rejected. I finished a short story collection.  I found an enthusiastic agent, who tried to sell that collection.  The collection never sold. 

miriam_gershow_portraitThrough this all, I could not conceive of conceiving a child.  Trying to get my writing published was already a full time job on top of a full time job.  I couldn’t fathom a third job–and one as life-altering and paradigm-changing as becoming a parent.  

And then a funny thing happened:  I wrote a novel and I sold that novel.  After fifteen years of trying, I had done it.  I had finally birthed a book. 

So now what?  

At first, nothing changed.  If anything, I was more consumed in my writing then ever. I was working with an editor and on-deadline for the first time.  My life was all about the panic, pressure and excitement of revisions.  There was no aching in my loins.  There was no longing for a child in my arms.  

But then an even funnier thing happened.  I finished the revisions, took a few months off, and began work on my next novel.  As I sat in front of my computer, I found I was a little bored.  A little restless.  This never happened with my writing.  My writing was always what centered me, what kept me sane and balanced and happy.  For the first time ever, I had the feeling of having already done this, of retracing my own steps.  I was not excited.  And it hit me, distinctly and undeniably: 

I’m ready to try something different.  I’m ready for whatever comes next. 

Without particular fanfare or panic or even those aching loins I’d been waiting for, I realized I was ready to have a baby.  I was ready to alter my life and change my paradigm.  The idea actually excited me.  Suddenly, I just knew.  If my writing career had been a long, slow process, with me concertedly hammering out each step of the path before me, then the decision to have a child was far more instinctual, percolating quietly beneath the surface until bursting through one day, clear and resolute. 

I am now two months away from my due date.  My novel came out four months ago. I’m still at work on the next novel and no longer bored by it.  Pregnancy has proven to be a creative wellspring; I’m bursting with ideas.  I know my life as a writer is about to change in ways I cannot even fathom.  I know everything is about to change radically and irrevocably.  For many years, the idea of such a change filled me with–at best–apathy, and–at worst–all-out dread. Now, though, I embrace it.  Surely, I’m about to stumble into the most rigorous juggling act of my life, but, to my own amazement, I’m up for it. 

My mother already has her plane ticket booked.  She arrives three weeks after the baby’s due date.  Briefly, my husband and I toyed with the idea of telling relatives to wait a few months before visiting, so we could have a long stretch of time alone with our baby.  But then we changed our minds; my mother, we figured, had waited long enough.

Blogger Bio:  Miriam Gershow is a novelist, short story writer and teacher. Her debut novel, The Local News, was published in February 2009. It has been called “deftly heartbreaking” with “urgency and heft” by The New York Times, as well as “an accomplished debut” (Publisher’s Weekly) with a “disarmingly unsentimental narrative voice,” (Kirkus Reviews).

A QUESTION for all you moms out there:  Did you have an ‘aha’ moment when you knew you were ready for parenthood?

Review: Beach Trip by Cathy Holton

imageDB.cgiYou might think Beach Trip by Cathy Holton would be a light, fun, summertime romp, based on the cover and the description, but it really isn’t that.  I’d call it women’s fiction, which to me means it’s a bit more serious than chick lit, and a lot less fluffy than what I think of as a beach read. 

The story is about Lola, Mel, Sara, and Annie, college roommates and close friends who get together some 20 years later, in their 40’s, for a week at the beach.  Life has taken them in completely different directions since their college years, but they still have a bond. 

Alternating between the past and present, we get to know the women as they were and are.  Lola- rich, beautiful, married to the very controlling Briggs, is sweet but childlike- she seemed medicated and in her own little world during the week at the beach.  Mel, the wild one, is a twice-divorced writer and a breast cancer survivor who gets the women talking over margaronas.  Sara is an attorney whose marriage is suffering under the strain of a difficult medical diagnosis for one of her children.  Annie is an empty nester and uptight clean freak with secrets of her own.  I related most to Sara, a former career woman with a long marriage and a couple of kids, whose life isn’t perfect, but I found Mel to be the most interesting of the four.

The women don’t connect immediately at the beach- they definitely have their guard up- and it takes almost the entire trip before they have any meaningful conversation with each other.  I doubt they would have been friends without their shared history- they are friends because they’ve known each other forever.  But as the week wears on and the secrets start coming out, their friendship grows and changes to allow for the mature people they’ve become.  

So much of the first 3/4ths of the book is made up of the women’s inner dialogue- being around their old friends brings on a flood of memories- so much so that I kept thinking, are they ever going to really talk to each other?  They are all so self involved!  But then, finally, they do talk and share their lives with each other.  That’s when the book starts to get really good. 

I like when a book can surprise me, and there are a couple of big twists in Beach Trip.  The ending was great- it totally made the book for me!  One twist was obvious to me from the beginning (I’m not sure I’d even call it a twist, but then in our Summer Reading Series discussion, several people said that their favorite part was when it was revealed, so I guess it was a twist).  The end, though, really took me by surprise.  If you’ve read the book, don’t give it away!  It’s a great ending. 

I’d recommend Beach Trip to anyone who likes women’s fiction.  For more thoughts on Beach Trip, follow Cathy Holton’s TLC Book Tour.

The Sunday Salon – May 31, 2009

TSSbadge3It’s quiet around here today- the hub’s out of town on business and daughter #2 went to a sleepover birthday party last night.  Daughter #1 is still in bed, so it’s just me and the dog, hanging out.  And of course, lots of book bloggers are out of town at BEA.  The silence is deafening!

images-1This has been a good week for reading.  I finished Truth & Beauty, read and reviewed The Virgin Suicides, got about 2/3rds of the way through Beach Trip for our Summer Reading Series, and read about 100 pages of The Local News for an upcoming TLC tour.   My youngest and I started reading The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan together for our newly formed mother/child book club, inspired by Julie at Booking Mama.  Our first meeting will be in July with 11 kids (boys and girls) and 9 adults- we’re excited.  It’s amazing how much reading you can do when you turn off the tv.

9780316025270_154X233A lot of books made their way into my hands this week.  I received The Art of Racing in the Rain from Harper Collins- it was a win from a book club website.  I also won The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society from Random House.  Both ‘Racing’ and ‘Guernsey’ are books I’ve been wanting to read since they first came out; I can’t wait!  Love Begins in Winter, a collection of short stories by Simon Van Booy, also came from Harper Collins.  I’m not sure about this one.  I love short stories, but in looking over the book I’m not in love with the author’s style.  I was going to use it for a Teaser Tuesday post, but the sentences are all super short and choppy, and not just in one area.  I looked at probably 20 sample pages.  So I don’t know.  The Skinny:  Adventures of America’s First Bulimic by Rayni Joan came from the author, and last but not least, Sheri from A Novel Menagerie let me borrow Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea.  I’m really looking forward to that one.

9781439102817And I still have to buy a couple of books!  Still Alice by Lisa Genova is my book club’s July pick, and Life of Pi by Yan Martell is our pick for August.  Must get my hands on those.  I will never have enough time to read all the books in my house- unless I stop working and ignore the house, the laundry, my friends and my family for a month or so and do nothing but read.  As tempting as that sounds, it ain’t gonna happen.

Last night, though, I took a break from reading and had a movie night with my 11 year old daughter.  We watched Mean Girls and Legally Blond 2 and pigged out on cookies & cream ice cream.  It was nice spending some one on one time with my oldest.  My kids can be a handful when they’re together, but separately they are angels (well, mostly..), and I think they crave and really need time alone with me and with their dad.  They get sick of being seen as a unit and don’t always want to vie for our attention.

After my girl fell asleep I watched Rachel Getting Married with Anne Hathaway and sobbed like a baby!  The tears were just streaming out of me like a faucet, soaking my face and neck, and I didn’t even try to stop them.  I totally get why she was nominated for Best Actress for this role. She’s come a long way from The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted (loved those, too, but in a different way).

Well I hope everyone has a great week.  June, already!  It’s hard to believe.  For us that means 6th grade graduation, 2 more weeks of school, and then a gaggle of kids in and out of the house every day for 12 weeks.  I’m not ready!!!!!

Leave me a note and tell me what you’re reading this week.  Happy Sunday!

Review: The Mechanics of Falling by Catherine Brady

41mgvfmejll_sl500_aa240_2Title: The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories

Author: Catherine Brady

ISBN: 9780874177633

Pages: 248

Release Date: February 28, 2009

Publisher: University of Nevada Press

Genre: Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction

From the publisher’s website:

The stories in this collection explore those moments when the seemingly fixed coordinates of our lives abruptly give way – when mother love fractures, a faithful husband abandons his family, a conscientious middle-class life implodes, or loyalty demands an excruciating sacrifice. The characters share a fundamental predicament, the struggle to name and embrace some faith that can break their fall. In equal measure, they hunger for and resist this elusive possibility and what it demands of them.

The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories deals with a range of circumstances and relationships, and with characters who must decide what they are willing to risk for the sake of transformation, or for the right to refuse it. The stories trace the effort to traverse the boundaries between one state and another/–between conviction and self-doubt, recklessness and despair, resignation and rebellion. And each story propels the reader to imagine what will happen next, to register the unfinished and always precarious quality of every life. 

I’m a fan of the short story format.  I never really gave much thought to how skilled an author would need to be in order to give the reader a fully developed story, with characters and situations the reader would care about in just a few pages, but think about it.  Without 300+ pages to develop a plot and interest a reader, you’d need to grab them quickly and make each word count.  Catherine Brady does just that with The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories, a collection of 11 short stories loosely connected by geography and by the theme of disappointment. 

All the stories speak to the human condition and the frailties inherent in our relationships with others.  While literary in tone, it is still highly readable and relatable.  Each story is completely unique yet similar, with the common thread being that they are all populated with complex characters that seem worn down by life, who are struggling, who perhaps have compromised too much or made poor choices.  A shift of some sort has taken place; their expectations haven’t been met and they are grasping at something, anything, to make things better, or at least to keep things from getting any worse.     

My favorite story in the collection is called Slender Little Thing, not only for its subject matter but for its structure.  Ms. Brady uses an interesting technique, one I haven’t seen before.  The first paragraph sets up the story of a woman named Cerise who became pregnant at 19 and, having no other marketable skills, took a job as a nanny for another family- raising someone else’s children in order to support herself and her daughter.  Each sentence in the first paragraph is used to begin subsequent paragraphs.. so the second sentence in the first paragraph becomes the first sentence of the next paragraph, and so on.  I’m having difficulty explaining this coherently, but it was a really effective use of repetition and not at all gimmicky.  It seemed nearly poetic and reminded me of a thing I often do myself, repeating something like “Everything will be ok” in my mind in order to convince myself that it’s true. 

Catherine Brady has a rare talent.  Not only was she able to make me care about her characters, but she also made me wonder what they’d do next, and thoughts of them still linger in my head days after finishing this collection.  Her stories grabbed me from the very first paragraph.  Beautifully written and thoughtfully constructed, this is a collection I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys fiction in any form.

Please check out my Q & A with Catherine Brady HERE

Many thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for coordinating this tour.  You can learn more about Catherine and her work on her website.