Monday, December 30, 2013

When Even the Smallest Moments in Time Make All the Difference

Perfect by Rachel Joyce

Byron Hemmings is a clever boy with an equally clever best friend James Lowe. When they hear about adding an extra two seconds, the idea astounds them both. But then Byron notices his watch moving backwards at the exact time the accident happened, and nothing will ever be the same. Together, these boys attempt to put things right during that spring and summer of 1972. 40 years later, the mental institution that Jim has been in and out of since he was 16 is closing its doors. Now Jim has to figure out how to live in the real world, and how to protect it from any harm he might cause. In this fascinating story, told in chapters that alternate between 1972 and 40 years later, Rachel Joyce (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) once again takes us on a uniquely personal journey in her second novel "Perfect".

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Top Five (or Six) Books of 2013

My Choice for the Most Worthy Reads of the Past Year

It seems that everyone is putting up their "best of 2013" lists right now. On the one hand I find this slightly premature. What if something amazingly noteworthy happens between now and midnight on the 31st of December? Won't we all feel a bit silly having missed including that in our yearly round-up? On the other hand, who am I to tilt at such long-standing windmills?

According to my Goodreads profile, I read 35 books during 2013. That may not seem like a whole lot to most of you. However, for someone who has a demanding full-time job (as well as a couple freelance editing gigs), is mildly dyslexic (and therefore reads slower than most people), and spends no small amount of time writing, publishing and promoting my book reviews, I think that's a pretty good number. What's more, there are two more books I'm half way through already, and will probably finish at least one of them (if not both) before they play the last chords of "Auld Lang Syne." All of these books were published over the past year, so I feel reasonably assured that I can be considered an amateur authority on the subject. Finally, since it isn't likely that I'm going to find the next Pulitzer Prize for Literature before the year ends, here goes my 2013 countdown …

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Girl who is Part Mystery, Part Fantasy

The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday

Reading Paul Torday's novel "The Girl on the Landing" makes one want to paraphrase Joseph Heller's quote from "Catch 22" to read: "Just because you're [being treated for] paranoid [schizophrenia], doesn't mean they aren't really after you”.  The story here is about Michael and his wife, Elizabeth. They've been married for ten years and have a relationship that is best described as "they get along well together." That is, until a strange incident in Ireland when Michael sees a girl on the landing of the house they're staying at. Soon after that, Michael seems to change – he’s suddenly become more affectionate and loving. This makes Elizabeth ignore his slightly erratic behavior. But just when it seems that Elizabeth is finally finding the man she always hoped for, their whole lives begin to fall apart.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Making of a French Empress

Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

It took 30 years for Marie Jos├Ęphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie to go from being a young Creole girl from Martinique, to being Rose de Beauharnais and finally becoming Josephine Bonaparte and the first Empress of the French Empire, before she was divorced from Napoleon. Her life and experiences were well documented by historians. In her debut historical novel, "Becoming Josephine," Heather Webb looks beyond the facts to find what made this girl into such a legendary woman.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Teaching Men Manners is No Laughing Matter?

Cassandra French's Finishing School for Boys by Eric Garcia

Cassandra French is a character that any woman would envy. She's beautiful, has a lovely home and what seems to be a great job - she's a lawyer for a Hollywood studio. Mind you, she doesn't get the really big cases, being in the Business Affairs department, but what does that matter when you meet stars every day? Besides, Cassandra has a vocation. Cassandra knows exactly how all women really want to be treated. But that may not be an advantage, if she and her friends can't find men who will treat them right. So she's figured out what men need to learn. And she's began her one-woman crusade to teach at least some of those boorish men (but just the ones with some potential) how to treat women properly. That's when she "opened" her Finishing School for Boys.

Friday, December 13, 2013

One Family, One Holiday, Many Generations of Women

Thanksgiving by Ellen Cooney

Patience was a newlywed, pregnant with her first child on that cold November morning of 1662. When she went outside in search of her husband, she saw a turkey fly into the oak tree in her yard. The fateful killing of that bird ended up being something to be truly thankful for. It also was where the legend of the Morley family of Massachusetts began. This novel follows the Morley women over 350 years, using their ancestral home and the food they prepared for this holiday as the focal points.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Not Seeing the Trees for the Forest

All Russians Love Birch Trees by Olga Grjasnowa

Maria (aka Masha), was born to turmoil as a Jew in Baku, Azerbaijan, who fled with her family to Germany in the 1990s. From birth she was always been an outsider. And no amount of her learning so many languages - including Russian, Arabic, German and French - ever made her feel like she fit in. The other outcasts she knows - Beirut born Sami who has problems with his visa to the US, and Cem the German born Turk who she cannot love - don't make things better. But with her German boyfriend Elias - or as she calls him, Elisha - she has found some refuge. So when he breaks his femur playing soccer, and the subsequent complications kill him, she's thrown into turmoil that she can't cope with, together with the guilt she can't escape.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Death Among the Dreidel Set

Chanukah Guilt by Ilene Schneider

According to the book cover synopsis, "Rabbi Aviva Cohen is a 50-something, twice-divorced rabbi living a rather uneventful life in South Jersey. True, she has a family that is rather unconventional. And her first ex-husband is moving to her town. But her life takes a truly interesting - and sinister - turn when she agrees to officiate at the funeral of an unpopular land developer. She doesn't expect to be told by two different people that he had been murdered. Nor does she expect that the first funeral will result in a suicide. ..." I couldn't have put it any better and Rabbi Ilene Schneider's first book (and yes, there will be more) is a very nicely done first outing.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Ten Warmly Flowing Stories of Louisiana

"Down at the End of the River" by Angus Woodward

I have never been to Louisiana. In fact, the first things I think of when I hear the name of that state is humidity, hurricanes and heat. Other words like Creole and Cajuns also spring to mind, as do crocodiles (or are they alligators? I never can tell the difference). Alliteration and stereotypes aside, reading a collection of stories set somewhere that's new to me, is always a draw - a virtual vacation, if you will. Angus Woodward draws his audience into his home with these ten fascinating stories. They are entitled: