30 June 2011

Red Hook Road


First line:  The flower girl had lost her basket of rose petals and could not bear to have the photograph taken without it.

Publisher’s synopsis:  In the aftermath of a devastating wedding day, two families, the Tetherlys and the Copakens, find their lives unraveled by unthinkable loss. Over the course of the next four summers in Red Hook, Maine, they struggle to bridge differences of class and background to honor the memory of the couple, Becca and John. As Waldman explores the unique and personal ways in which each character responds to the tragedy – from the budding romance between the two surviving children, Ruthie and Matt, to the struggling marriage between Iris, a high strung professor in New York, and her husband Daniel – she creates a powerful family portrait and a beautiful reminder of the joys of life. 

I didn't love it, I didn't hate it. I'm not really sure how I feel about it. At times I was wrapped up in it, at others I could hardly stay focused. It seemed to take forever to read, though partly because the print is so tiny, and when I was tired the words started to blur.

I didn't really feel empathy for most of the characters. I cannot even begin to imagine the horror of losing your child, but even knowing the grief the family members were going through, I had trouble feeling sorry for them or connected to them.

The focus of the book is on the families of a bride and groom who are killed on their wedding day. The bride's family summer in Red Hook, the groom's family live in the area. All are grieving of course, albeit in different ways. The book takes place over the course of four summers.

Samantha is a young cousin of the groom, adopted from Cambodia and spending time between her mother, who is often hospitalized, and her aunt, the groom's mother. She loves music and is a natural, though having had no formal training whatsoever. She loves her mother. She's a quiet, introspective child, who is keenly aware of how different she is from everyone around her. When she meets Mr. Kimmelbrod, the bride's grandfather and a renowned violinist, they form a wonderful friendship and mentor/student relationship. I loved watching her grow and blossom, and I appreciated Iris, the bride's mother, for wanting to nurture her and her talent.

I also have a much better understanding of and appreciation for classical musicians, as well as for the sport of boxing - the bride's father, Daniel, was a boxer before marrying her mother, and he deals with his grief by going back to the gym and training again.

Matt and Ruthie are the groom's brother and the bride's sister, and they find themselves turning to each other for solace and comfort. I liked their story, though I can't help but feel their relationship won't last much beyond the end of the book. They're young, and in a way their relationship was a rebound thing.

Of the two mothers, the book focused much more on Iris, the bride's mother, than on Jane, mother of the groom. I didn't feel I got to know Jane much at all. The two women are not friends, and Jane comes across as stiff and bitter, appearing to have been so even before the tragic accident. And Iris, while her heart is in the right place, is demanding and controlling.

Overall, the writing was often lyrical and even poetic at times, but never particularly grabbed me, and I was glad to finish and ready to move onto something lighter and less depressing.

(I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.)

26 June 2011

Mini Reviews

A few quick thoughts about various books I've read...

I Burn For You (Primes, Book 1), by Susan Sizemore.

I've really gotten into the whole vampire/paranormal genre, but other than the Anita Blake books, almost all of what I've read has been a bit lighter fare, chick lit type or bordering on chick lit. So this was a little darker than I'm used to and took a little bit for me to get into. The mythology behind the vamps in this world is a little more convoluted and confusing than I'm used to, but I think the more I read the more I'll understand it. And I do definitely intend to continue with this series. (Received through BookCrossing.

Rescue Me, by Gigi Levangie Grazer

I don't think I've ever read a romance, with star-crossed lovers, where the lovers part ways, and gotten angry about it. You know from reading the first chapter, and yet when it finally happens, I was so disappointed! Fortunately, the ending was still satisfactory.

This is the first book I've read by Grazer, though I have The Starter Wife in my TBR pile somewhere. It started out a little slow at first, but I quickly became very involved and invested in the characters. I definitely want to read everything else Grazer has written now.  (Purchased at a library book sale.)

What Do You Say To A Naked Elf? by Cheryl Sterling

This was an amusing enjoyable read. It got a little confusing at times, and seemed to be an ambitious attempt at creating an alternate world. I thought it might be the first in a series, but when I googled the author, who I'd never heard of, to see what else she'd written, I couldn't really find anything on her. It looks like this may be her only book.  (Purchased at a library book sale.)

Holy Smokes (Aisling Grey, Guardian, Book 4), by Katie MacAlister

It's been awhile since I read the first three books in the series, and at times I felt just a little confused about what had happened previously. But all in all I still enjoyed it, and at the end particularly I didn't want to put the book down and stayed up past my bedtime to finish it.

What bothered me the most: Aisling, who narrates the book, talking about her parents, would refer to Paula as her stepmother, but then also refer to David as her stepfather. And often called him David instead of Dad. This still confuses me. (Purchased at Target.)

Twenties Girl, by Sophie Kinsella

At first I wasn't sure how good this would be as I started out. I've enjoyed all of Sophie Kinsella's books so far. I don't read as much chick lit as I used to, I find as I get older that I just don't relate to the heroines enough! But I ended up becoming totally engrossed in this and not wanting to put it down. Becky Bloomwood, from the Shopaholic series, has become tiresome as she never seems to learn her lesson. But Lara, the heroine of this book, did seem to mature over the course of the story and became a better person for having known Sadie. (Received through BookCrossing.)

Living Dead in Dallas (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 2), by Charlaine Harris

 While I don't think I loved this one quite as much as the first one, I did still enjoy it very much, and once I started it I finished it quickly. I really like the scenes between Sookie and Eric and his persistent flirtatious...banter, for lack of a better word. I look forward to continuing the series. (Received through BookCrossing.)

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski

What an awesome book, an incredible story, a wonderful wordsmith. By the time I hit the middle of this book I was completely enraptured. I would definitely list this with my top favorites. As others noted, I too, would have liked a different ending. And I especially would have liked to see Almondine's story wrapped up a little differently! The author has a wonderful literary voice. You can see everything he describes, and feel the emotions he describes. I look forward to more from him someday. (Received through BookCrossing.)

Cerulean Sins (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 11), by Laurell K. Hamilton

I didn't think I was ever going to finish this book. This is the first Anita Blake I've read that I wanted to end sooner than it did. It just kind of dragged for me. The earlier books in the series were definitely better. I'll probably continue with the series, especially since I have collected most of them, but my enthusiasm has waned. (Purchased off sale shelf at local library.)

13 June 2011

The Hunger Games


First line: When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.

Publisher's synopsis: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. 

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before -- and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love. 

This trilogy is so popular that I'm sure it's been reviewed to death already. My mom read all the books and loved them, and loaned them to my daughter, who pretty much read each book in a single day. I'm always leery of books that have gotten a lot of hype, but since my daughter had them I decided to give them a shot.

And I loved The Hunger Games. I stayed up way past my bedtime reading, and very reluctantly put the book down when I just couldn't keep my eyes open long enough to finish it that night (or rather early morning).  What more can I say? These books deserve all the hype.

(I borrowed this book from my mother.)

09 June 2011

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void


If you’re like me and don’t read a lot of non-fiction but feel you should read more of it and have the intentions…Mary Roach is a great place to start. I’d read one of her books previously, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and I felt like she was someone I would get along with in real life. She would fit right in with my family and would “get” our humor.

My sister used to work in payroll at Space Center Houston, touted on their website as the “Official Visitor’s Center of NASA’s Johnson Space Center”. When we visited her one summer, she took us on a tour, and thanks to her connection I’ve always been interested in NASA and what’s going on there.

In her book, Ms. Roach takes us way behind the scenes. You’ll learn more about space exploration and preparation than you ever thought you wanted to. The book touches on gravity, psychology, a crash test lab, how to eat in space, how to use the bathroom in space, etc. While not laugh out loud funny, the author does present everything in a humorous way, so what could at times be a dry and boring subject will keep your interest.

She also includes lots of footnotes and asides, some of which have nothing to do with space itself. Such as the fact that in 1947 we accidentally bombed Mexico, luckily missing downtown Juarez by three miles. And after quoting an astronaut saying he was “sick as a dog”, she then goes on to describe an actual research study, where dogs were taken out on a boat in rough weather to see how sick they would become. You’re not gonna learn this stuff anywhere else!

(I received this book earlier this month through Book Crossing.)

02 June 2011

Little Darlings

A novel by Sonia Pilcer. Based on the screenplay by Kimi Peck and Dalene Young.

First line:  Carrying a torn plaid suitcase held together by a plastic belt, Angel Bright walked away from the pre-fab flat they'd been living in for the past three years.

Publisher's Synopsis: Girls can do a lot of growing up in a summer, and that is precisely what the young ladies of Camp Little Wolf plan to do. In addition to swimming, boating, and arts and crafts, the campers have arranged a private contest: who among them will be the first to lose her virginity.

Among the contestants are Ferris Whitney, smug, rich and more than a little bit spoiled, and Angel Bright, the camp's scholarship winner, proud, tough, and defensive about her poverty. The two become opponents in a funny and touching fight for sexual sophistication, goaded on  both by passion and peer pressure.

But on the way to womanhood, each is to learn a few important lessons - about friendship, personal responsibility, and love. Each will indeed go all the way - from child to adult.

This book was actually written after the movie, and is based on the screenplay. I usually avoid those types of books, but I enjoyed this one. At first I felt a little irritated when the dialogue or a scene was a little different than the movie. And how sad is it that 30 some years after the movie was released I still remember it well enough to be able to compare it to the book? I watched it on cable over and over and over - it was one of my favorite movies at that time. Anyway, eventually it occurred to me that since it is based on the screenplay, some of the few bits that I don't remember may have ended up being cut from the movie. And as the movie was filmed, some things may have been changed. Like the very end contains some dialogue between Angel and Ferris that I don't remember from the movie, but that I enjoyed very much.

Ferris Whitney and Angel Bright are two fifteen year olds spending the summer at Camp Little Wolf. Ferris (played by Tatum O'Neal in the movie) comes from a rich family, and arrives at the bus with her parents, in a Rolls Royce. She is described on the cover copy as being "smug...and more than a little bit spoiled", which does not do her justice as she did not appear to be either of those things to me. She is a little shy, self-conscious about her clothing and her father's expensive car, lonely, and anxious to make friends and to just fit in and be accepted by other girls.

On the outside, Angel (played by Kristy McNichol in the movie) is a tough-talking, cigarette smoking, beer drinking, loner. On the inside she shares Ferris' insecurities - she is a little shy, self-conscious about her clothing and her mother's beat up crap car, lonely, and anxious to make friends and to just fit in and be accepted by other girls. She doesn't really want to attend camp but her mother insists on it.

Neither girl really wants to compete in this contest, but allow themselves to be pushed into it. The camp, and their own cabin, are soon divided into sides, and targets are chosen. Ferris is attracted to one of the camp counselors, Gary, an older man (charmingly played in the movie by Armand Assante). Angel sets her sights on Randy, a boy at the camp across the lake (played in the movie by Matt Dillon, which is probably why I was so in love with this movie at that time).

A nostalgic read that I enjoyed.

(I received this book from a Book Mooch member in April 2011.)