Bookmarks

Bookmarks

Friday, 29 May 2015

Feast or Famine

I’ve mentioned before, and I’ll probably mention again (‘cause I’m getting old and don’t always remember what I typed), that I use my library frequently (okay, the librarians and I are on a first name basis).  I am a faithful library patron because I read a lot and couldn’t possibly afford nor shelve that books I read.

A couple of months ago my Facebook status was “This is the first time in 15 months I have not had a book checked out at the library.  I wonder if they miss me?”

I love the fact that I can reserve books sitting at home in front of my computer, in my pajamas, and when they are available I get an email or a phone call letting me know I can come in and pick them up.  I use my small community library so I can park for free, run in, wave to the staff, pluck my reserves off the “HOLDS” shelf and be on my way.

It’s a great system.

Usually!

My reserves usually trickle in at quite a sedate pace of one or two books at a time.  That’s perfect because it allows me to get through those books, some ARC’s and some books I couldn’t resist purchasing at the bookstore before the next of my holds come in.  Where my best-laid plans go a little sideways is when many of my requested books come in all at the same time.  That puts me on a real time crunch … after all, the loan period for my library books is three weeks and there is usually no renewal on them because other patrons are as eagerly awaiting the book as I was.


And that’s exactly what happened this week.  Five books came in all at once.  Add to those the three books I need to get through from Netgalley (2 of them non-fictions, which always take me a little longer to get through) and the two ARC’s I received from authors and I am going to be VERY busy reading over the next few weeks.


This was yesterday's haul.  Any suggestions on where to start?



Pfffffffffffffffffff … Sleep is over-rated anyway!

I came across this infographic recently and saved it because I thought it was interesting.  In light of my recent windfall of books all I have to say is … if the stats are true? … NO WORRIES!!

I’m picking up everybody else’s slack!





Sunday, 24 May 2015

Island Bluffs


ISLAND BLUFFS by Alan Winter.

* I received this as a free eBook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. *

What would a couple agree to in order to have a biological child?  Is anything too much?  Carly and Gabe Berk face that question when all conventional attempts have failed.  Gabe has a daughter from his first marriage but Carly is determined to have the whole experience of giving birth to a child herself.  When they hear about “The Baby Maker”, Dr. Isadore Teplitsky, Carly is determined to take advantage of his reputation.  Dr. Teplitsky guarantees Carly will become pregnant but only if she agree to the terms of his contract … she must agree to carry twins, one her biological child and the other a child for him, which she will give up at birth and never see again and in her last trimester she much move within 30 minutes of his clinic.

Desperate though they are, Carly and Gabe still experience doubts about their choice.

           
Once outside the clinic, Gabe grabs Carly’s elbow, more to display moral support than to get her attention.  “The last thing Teplitsky said was that he knows what his is doing.  Do you?”
            She pulls her arm free.  “How can you ask me that question?  My back is against the wall.”  Tears well up in her eyes.  She wipes them away with the back of her hand.  “It’s now or never.  Now that he’s given us a glimmer of hope, you’re having second thoughts.  That’s not fair.”
            “Who is talking fair?  He just threw us quite a curveball.  I didn’t sign up for us to have someone else’s baby.”
            Carly gently touches his arm.  “What does that change for us?  We will still have our baby.”  She shrugs, “And the other one?  I’m okay with doing him that favour.”
            “Really?  You can be that nonchalant about carrying someone else’s baby?  What troubles me is that we don’t actually know what he is going to do with the baby.  Or whose it really is.  I’m not comfortable with any of this.”
            “You heard him; the baby will be his.”
            Gabe starts to say something else.
            Carly puts her fingers to her lips, “No more.  If this is the price we have to pay to have our baby, then we are doing it.  Now, do you have anything else to add?”
            Gabe knows her resolve, knows her mind is made up, and knows when to join the team.  “I guess not.”
           
Although reluctant to leave NYC Gabe soon enough finds a house for them on Island Bluffs, a sleepy community on the Jersey shore.  It’s a decrepit foreclosure that has sat empty for 60 years, but Gabe feels unexplainably drawn to the place.  Almost before he realizes it himself he has torn the “for Sale” sign out of the front yard and began negotiating the purchase and renovation.  Even before the first piece of furniture is off the moving van it becomes clear that the town hierarchy does not want the Berk’s to move into their house.  But why?  And, what are they trying to hide?

After receiving a speeding ticket (3 mph over) …
            
The sheriff is unruffled.  “Now you and your mind themselves and there won’t be any trouble …” he frowns at Yehuda and then at Carly’s swollen belly, “… for any of you.  Step out of line and you’ll wish you had picked another place to have your chocolate biscotti and mocha Frappucino, which, by the way, if no one’s informed you, we don’t serve in this town.  We call them cookies and egg creams here.”

When I read the book description I was expecting a book about a sinister doctor and his evil schemes ala “The Boys from Brazil”.  I wasn’t disappointed – I got a little bit of that. But, I also got SO much more.  “Island Bluffs” is a book that has several concurrent story lines, and although that can get confusing and frustrating at times, in this book it works brilliantly because they are so intricately intertwined that it flows seamlessly.  The writing is nice and tight so even when Mr. Winter has to take a break and explain some point of history (and there are a lot of historical facts in this book) it is woven so skilfully into the narrative that the thread and pace of the story is never interrupted.  Well-done Mr. Winter!

The characters I enjoyed the most were those of Gabe Berk’s father, Yehuda, and Buck, the handyman.  Both characters are octogenarians with tragic pasts that they have overcome with grit and determination.  They become fast friends over the course of the book and supply the story with both tenderness and some humour.

After receiving a note informing them Yehuda went to the library:


            “I hope my father didn’t try to walk.  It’s pretty far.” Says Gabe.
            “Does he even know where the library is?”
            “Getting lost is not in my father’s vocabulary.  Even if he’s never been to a place, he somehow figures out where he needs to be.  He’s got like an internal GPS or something.”
            “Probably it’s the amount of iron in his brain.  He inherently knows where the magnetic north is.”
            “You don’t believe that nonsense?” Gabe asks.
            “How else would you explain how men are able to find things better than women?  It has to do with their chemical imbalance.  I’m the first to admit that’s one defect that yields a benefit.”
            “Maybe that explains why old men get rusty and forgetful,” he concedes with a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin.

There is no way to describe all the elements in this book without having to put a huge “Spoiler Alert” banner at the top of this post, which is something I always try to avoid.  Let me just say, taking some of the best elements from “The Boys From Brazil”, “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming”, “Das Boot”, “Poltergeist” and “The Notebook” and rolling them into one cohesive story would come close to describing Mr. Winter’s page-turner.

The only negative comment I might have, and I am allowing some leeway since I received an ARC, is that it needed a better version of “Spellcheck”.  Some of the errors were almost inexcusable, such as spelling the major character’s name wrong (Berk/Burk) and the little bit of dialogue that was written in German was really bad.  Errors I hope are rectified in the final version.

Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend this book to anyone interested in a page turning read.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website)

At first blush, Alan is quick to say that he never intended to be a writer. But when he thinks about it, he's been writing in one form or another, for his entire adult life. In college, he wrote paper after paper for his history and literature courses. Professionally, he edited a dental journal and wrote more than twenty scientific papers. That still doesn't explain how a dentist came to write fiction!
It started in 1982 when Alan made small talk with a patient about a sci-fi idea he had. She thought the idea was so terrific, she urged him to write a movie treatment about it. Alan dismissed her offhand. What did he know about writing movies?
The patient persisted. Each time she would visit his office, she would demand to see the finished movie treatment. Seeing she was serious and relentless, Alan agreed to hand her a treatment. But how? He had no clue where to start. Asking other patients for guidance, Alan was introduced to a young screenwriter who agreed - for a fee - to write the treatment. They worked together, produced a treatment, and shopped it around to a number of studios. One studio took the idea (without permission or payment) and turned Alan's treatment into a movie.

Still, Alan had no desire to write fiction. That changed in 1985. That was the year that Alan began writing his first novel, "Someone Else's Son," which was eventually published by MasterMedia, Ltd.

While maintaining his periodontal practice, Alan has continued to write since he first took up pen to paper, although now he is very appreciative that his mother forced him to take typing in summer school after his sophomore year of high school. Boys just didn't do that back in the '60s, but it has been an invaluable skill over the years.

Alan and Lori live in his native New Jersey. They have five children and five grandchildren. 


OTHER BOOKS BY ALAN A. WINTER





Friday, 22 May 2015

Time for Tanechka

TIME FOR TANECHKA by N.A. Millington

* I received this as a free eBook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. *

Arthur Benjamin lives on the coast of South Africa in a house he paid too much money for, but it was worth it, because Arthur is a self professed loner and his little corner of the world gives him solitude.  Arthur is also trying to write a book about History … not History as we all know it, but history as it really was.  He believes so many of the facts have been watered down, twisted and just outright edited that no one really knows what actually happened anymore.  Arthur is also suicidal.

One morning, having decided the previous night that it was not yet time to “eat a bullet”,  Arthur, hoping to cheer himself up, drops in at one his favorite shops … a Shipping Market dealing in antiquities and oddities (one of the oddities being Harry, Arthur’s friend and the shop’s owner).  A little chachka on a high shelf behind the counter catches his eye.  Despite the fact that Harry says he knows very little about the object Arthur makes his purchase.  It looks like a little brass egg timer – but the only “time” this item keeps has nothing whatsoever to do with eggs.

Arthur quickly learns just what this little item can do when it begins to shimmer and glow, and before he knows what happened finds himself in Siberia at the famous Ipatiev House shortly before the execution of the Romanov’s.  In what seems like a blink of an eye later Arthur finds himself back in his own living room with Tatiana Nikolaevna standing next to him, looking bewildered and staring daggers at him.

Receiving a little input from Harry, who knows more about the “egg timer” than he admitted, Arthur and Tatiana quickly figure out how (and why) the little timer works and (sometimes) what it wants them to do.  A romp through history provides much fodder for Arthur’s future book and enough time for Tatiana and Arthur to get to know each other.  Enough time for Arthur to realize he cannot take her back to face the fate awaiting her in the basement of the Ipatiev House.

About 10 pages into this book I thought to myself “great, this is going to be a redo of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” but instead of bringing back historical figures to help them write a term paper for school Arthur was going to go traipsing through time for first hand knowledge in order to write his book.

I could not have been more mistaken.

It is indeed a romp through time with many adventures and chuckle-worthy misadventures along the way.  The story is populated with a smattering of historical figures and Arthur does find inspiration for his book, but it all happens for a specific purpose … the purpose it what kept me reading.

This book was interesting reading and I especially enjoyed Tatiana being transplanted from 1918 Imperial Russia to 2014 South Africa.  I could even buy into the little egg timer as an instrument of time travel.  Those things were all very well done.  Where it fell a little short of 5 stars for me was in the last third of the book.  It was too long and convoluted to be enjoyable.  Just as I thought the end was in sight something else happened to prolong the story.  Sometimes that is effective but in this book it just seemed to drag.

All in all it was a good read and it was worth wading through the last part to get to the final page.  I was pleased with the outcome.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR
(From his Goodreads author profile)  Born in England at the tender age of zero, N.A. Millington found himself reborn in South Africa at the slightly more mature age of thirty three. During those thirty years in Africa he developed a keen interest in European history, from Stonehenge to the Great War. He is due to return to England with his family to settle in Dorset.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Book Gadgets - "The Thumb Thing"

Today I kind of knocked myself on the forehead with the heel of my hand and thought, "Now why couldn't I think of that?"  The answer, of course, is because my brain is not wired with an "inventor" mode option, which is why I will be perpetually poor ... that and my enormous book budget.

While looking around on line today I came across this nifty little gadget ... and I want one!

What is it?

I'm so glad you asked!

It's called THE THUMB THING and it would allow me to read one handed, comfortably.

Why?

Well, if you are at all like me you take every opportunity possible to crack open the pages of a book and sneak in some reading time.  As the website blurb says, imagine being a commuter (well, I am, but I drive now due to no public transportation between home and work) and being on a bus or subway during rush hour.  I've been in that situation and I know that I always ended up standing.  I wanted to read but that involved hooking my arm around one of those metal posts and trying to hold on with my elbow so that I could hold my book in my hand.

(now beware, this might fall into TMI territory)
One of my favorite times to read is when I am having a meal by myself, but it can get a little awkward if you are trying to use a knife and fork.  You know how it goes ... put the book down, the pages close of their own volition, put a morsel of food in your mouth and while you are chewing you try and find the page you were on and by the time you find it, it's time to put the book down again and use your knife and fork ... REPEAT!  This gadget not only lets you hold your book comfortably open without the "thumb slippage" but works as a bookmark for when you need to put the book down.  Okay, okay, I could use a regular bookmark, but in my (considerable) experience I tuck the bookmark in between two other pages so it doesn't get in the way of my reading and then as I'm turning the pages while reading it falls out; usually onto the floor or into something -- just annoying!

Oh yes, I know what you're thinking now!  Why don't I just put the book upside down to hold it open?  You see the problem with that is if there is anything on the table ... even something as innocent as a drop of water or, EGADS, as threatening as a drip of pasta sauce, gravy or coffee unknowingly on the table ... those book pages are going to suck it up like sponge towels and then my book (in my eyes) is totally ruined.  (Am I compulsive much?)

No, no, NO ... don't even utter the words ... I don't want to hear anything about dog-eared pages!  Not to mention that I use my library a lot and they frown on turned down page corners.

Oh, oh, OH ... how useful would this be in bed when I am trying to read one of those many-paged books by Stephen King or Ken Follett.  You know the ones I mean ... those door stopper sized tomes.

Your next question is probably about using an e-reader.  Yes, I do have a tablet I read on, but my preference has always been, and I think always will be, a real book.

BONUS POINTS ... it keeps the spine from getting broken.


Sadly, the site I looked at does not do direct sales but, you can bet, if and when I come across one of these little gems in my local bookstore I'm gonna stock up, and probably buy some for those of my family and friends equally reading obsessed.


I used to have one of these back in the day, and it was great because it held the book up all be itself at the right angle to read and you could place it right in front of you, hands free.  It was marvelous in the kitchen, for cookbooks, while I was following a recipe.  Alas, it would be awkward to carry around and use on the bus or in restaurants and coffee shops ... stop rolling your eyes at me ... I don't mind dining alone and YES I read while I do it.  Also, not so great for reading in bed.



This "Book Clip" would be a close second, but I foresee problems with removing and replacing it every time I want to turn the page.

Okay, so maybe there is no perfect solution to my dilemma, but where there is a will there is a way.












Tuesday, 19 May 2015

My First Ever Giveaway - A Secondhand Life by Pamela Crane

Have you ever come across a book on a website or in a bookstore or on GoodReads and thought to yourself “Hmm – that sounds really good” and then forget to put it on your “Want to Read” shelf or scan it into your phone?

That’s exactly what happened to me with “A Secondhand Life”.  Needless to say I was quite thrilled when I happened upon it again AND discovered there was a contest available to win the book.

I quickly contacted Pamela Crane and asked if I could share the contest on my blog and she graciously agreed.


Soooooo … Here’s my FIRST EVER Giveaway post courtesy of 


I am including Ms. Crane’s links in this post but please check out her site.



A Secondhand Life Book and $25 Gift Card Giveaway

In celebration of my latest psychological thriller release of “A Secondhand Life”, I’m hosting a giveaway. I’m giving one $25 Amazon gift card, one paperback copy of the book, and five eBook copies. To enter the drawing, all you have to do is sign up for my quarterly newsletter by e-mailing me at pamela@pamelacrane.com and in the Subject line type: Newsletter and Giveaway Entry. Simple, right? Contest ends on June 1, 2015. Winners will be selected by Random.org.

As an added bonus, all entrants will receive a free eBook of “A Fatal Affair”, my best-selling novella.

About A Secondhand Life:

In a freak collision when she was twelve, Mia Germaine faced death and the loss of her father. A heart transplant from a young murder victim saved her life, but not without a price. Twenty years later, chilling nightmares about an unresolved homicide begin to plague Mia. Compelled by these lost memories, she forms a complicated connection to the victim – the girl killed the night of Mia’s accident – due to a scientific phenomenon called “organ memory”.

Now suffocating beneath the weight of avenging a dead girl and catching a serial killer on the loose dubbed the “Triangle Terror”, Mia must dodge her own demons while unimaginable truths torment her – along with a killer set on making her his next victim.

As Mia tries to determine if her dreams are clues or disturbing phantasms, uninvited specters lead her further into danger’s path, costing her the one person who can save her from herself. More than a page-turning thriller, A Secondhand Life weaves a tale of second chances and reclaimed dreams as this taut, refreshing story ensnares and penetrates you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I am a professional juggler. I juggle three-kids-going-on-four (sometimes literally when they all want to be held at the same time), a husband, a horse farm, my writing career as a published author, and an editorial job … and that’s just the beginning. For more about me, read my blog where I’ll uncover my deepest, darkest secrets … or at least give you reason to be thankful for your life instead of mine.

Check out the Pamela Crane and enter to win the book!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Babies and Burps

MILKED by Lisa Doyle. 

* I received this as a free eBook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. *

Amanda Keane seems to have her life together.  Okay, she’s not quite as successful in her career choice as her friends and she doesn't date much and she’s turning 30 but she has a loving supportive family, she lives “downtown” where she has always wanted to live; she’s pretty happy.  Enjoying her 30th birthday party she meets handsome, young musician Eamonn.  Cue … whirlwind romance, unplanned pregnancy, unexpected job loss and disappearing Eamonn and Amanda finds herself in a fix.

She loves her new daughter but has no means of supporting her until she accidentally lands a position doing the only thing she seems to be good at these days.  She becomes a wet nurse for a rich couple, and then another and one more.  Could this be her new career?  If so, how was she ever going to explain it to anyone … especially the wonderful new man in her life.

I enjoyed this light, fun book.  Ms. Doyle has a comfortable, conversational style of writing that made me feel as if Amanda was sitting across from telling me her story.  I am torn as to my rating of this book. 
·        The concept is great, not a plot line I have read before
·        The writing style is comfortable
·        Amanda is a woman who accepts the decisions she’s made and does her best for her daughter no matter what
·        Too late for me, but I did learn a few things about nursing

For those reasons I would give it a four star rating.

There are a few drawbacks to this book for me.
·        All the moms that Amanda worked for had issues with their babies which Amanda magically overcomes the minute she touches them – one dad even calls her the “Baby whisperer”
·        All the babies and toddlers in the book were “easy” (even the colicky one … sheesh).  I've had children, there had to be one in the bunch that was a little cranky.  It would have added a little something to the story.
·        I know this is being picky but Amanda is supposed to be a “professional baby nurser (is that a word?)” and every time something goes a little off track she is knocking back wine or NyQuil or Tylenol.  Bad example for nursing moms!

Those are the reasons I am going with three stars.

Overall it is a good debut novel for Ms. Doyle and I did enjoy the book.  It’s a step up from much of the other “chick-lit” available.  This would be a perfect read for the beach or the deck on a summer day, maybe with a glass of chilled Pinot  – ONLY if you’re not nursing a baby!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website)


Lisa Doyle is a communications manager and freelance writer based in the Chicago area.  A graduate of Miami University, she spent several years editing business-to-business publications for the personal care industry before moving to the non-profit sector, and currently works in advocacy for homeless families at bridge Communities.  Her writing has appeared in Writer’s Digest, The NaNoWriMo Blog, Global Cosmetic Industry  and numerous other publications. 

Her fiction debut, Milked, was published by Simon & Fig in November 2014.

Friday, 15 May 2015

A Little Time Travel

KINDRED by Octavia E. Butler (1947- 2006).  There is a strange connection between Rufus and Dana.  Whenever Rufus is in mortal danger he somehow calls Dana to him.  This first time he was a young boy drowning in a river.  Thanks to Dana’s quick thinking and some mouth-to-mouth she saved him.  This “calling” happens throughout all of Rufus’ life.

The problem?

Dana lives in the 20th century and Rufus lives in the antebellum south.

Dana is a 26-year-old black woman married to a white man.

Rufus is the son of a plantation owner – a plantation complete with slaves.

When Dana is called to Rufus she is treated as a slave.  In the 20th century Kevin is her husband.  The one time they travel back together he is her “owner”.

Rufus is, admittedly, accident prone, clumsy and enjoys getting into fights so when Dana is called back, totally disrupting her own life, why does she keep saving him?  She must, because through some quirk of fate, Rufus fathers her great-great-grandmother.  If he dies what becomes of her family and herself?

I’ve enjoyed other books employing the time travel theme in a wide variety of ways.  Once I suspend belief it makes for interesting story telling.  In Ms. Butler’s book it is a brilliant tool.  It allows comparisons of attitudes about love, language, race relations, sex, violence and education between the two time periods.  The book also demonstrates, in Dana and Kevin’s family’s reaction to their interracial relationship, that no matter how many years separate Dana’s two realities, some things have not changed enough. 

Despite Dana's 20th century education she is still na├»ve about many aspects of what slavery meant.  As she is expressing her puzzlement about why slaves do not just leave and go north one of the plantation’s slaves explains the danger to her:

She lowered her voice to a whisper, “You need to look at some of the niggers they catch and bring back,” she said.  “You need to see them – starving, ‘bout naked, whipped, dragged, bit by dogs … You need to see them.”

“I’d rather see the others.”
“What others?”
“The ones who make it.  The ones living in freedom now.”
            “If any do.”
“They do.”
“Some say they do.  It’s like dying, though, and going to heaven.  Nobody ever comes back to tell you about it.”

With this book Ms. Butler has taken a difficult topic and woven it into an interesting, highly readable and educational novel.  She does not shy away from the horror and brutality that was slavery, but makes those things an integral part of the story.  She does not offer excuses or explanations, simply treats it as part of everyday life for her characters.  Her characters are complex and very real.  If anything – the slave characters are written with more richness and somehow feel more real than Rufus and Dana.  The book spans many genres including science fiction and historical fiction.  I also discovered that this book has become mandatory freshman reading for some college courses in Women’s Studies and Black Literature and Culture.  There are so many themes in this book that can be explored further which would make “Kindred” an excellent Book Club selection.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her biography page on Amazon.com)

Octavia Estelle Butler, often referred to as the "grand dame of science fiction," was born in Pasadena, California on June 22, 1947. She received an Associate of Arts degree in 1968 from Pasadena Community College, and also attended California State University in Los Angeles and the University of California, Los Angeles. During 1969 and 1970, she studied at the Screenwriter's Guild Open Door Program and the Clarion Science Fiction Writers' Workshop, where she took a class with science fiction master Harlan Ellison (who later became her mentor), and which led to Butler selling her first science fiction stories.

Butler's first story, "Crossover," was published in the 1971 Clarion anthology. Patternmaster, her first novel and the first title of her five-volume Patternist series, was published in 1976, followed by Mind of My Mind in 1977. Others in the series include Survivor (1978), Wild Seed (1980), which won the James Tiptree Award, and Clay's Ark (1984).

With the publication of Kindred in 1979, Butler was able to support herself writing full time. She won the Hugo Award in 1984 for her short story, "Speech Sounds," and in 1985, Butler's novelette "Bloodchild" won a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and an award for best novelette from Science Fiction Chronicle.

Other books by Octavia E. Butler include the Xenogenesis trilogy: Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988) and Imago (1989), and a short story collection, Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995). Parable of the Sower (1993), the first of her Earthseed series, was a finalist for the Nebula Award as well as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. The book's sequel, Parable of the Talents (1998), won a Nebula Award.

In 1995 Butler was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship.





A Falkland Islands Mystery


LITTLE BLACK LIES by Sharon Bolton. 

* I received this as a free eBook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. *

Catrin and Rachel had been best friends since girlhood.  In one split second of inattentiveness that all changed.  While Catrin’s children were in Rachel’s care, Rachel left them in the car to tend to an errand, somehow the handbrake was disengaged and the car rolled over a cliff and onto the rocks far below.  The boys were dead before the car hit the rocks.

Obviously, the friendship ended, but who was suffering more?  Catrin, who lost her children or Rachel, the woman who was responsible? 

To Catrin it seems that everyone has carried on with his or her lives while she cannot let go of her grief.  Her, now ex, husband has gone on to remarry and have a new son.  Rachel still has her two sons and the son she was pregnant with at the time.  Catrin has nothing but her work and her grief.

In the years since the accident two boys have gone missing and have never been found – boys that bear a remarkable resemblance to Catrin’s sons.  When a third child disappears the island is in an uproar.  Catrin’s ex-lover finds that child; a little worse for wear, but alive and just when everyone is breathing a sigh of relief another boy disappears and this time its Rachel’s youngest son.  It happens on the anniversary of the tragic accident that killed Catrin’s boys.  All eyes are beginning to turn toward Catrin.  Could she hate Rachel that much?

And that is as far as I am going to go with my description of the book.  To take it any further would be to give away too much.  This is an intense mystery/thriller where something happens on every page.  The characters are well developed and I became more and more invested in them as I read.  Even the minor characters have personality and give the action some much-needed lightness every once in a while.  In this passage Callum, the very tall, very large ex-soldier and war hero is taken to task over his foul language:

           
“Mable is back, standing directly in front of me, holding a bottle of washing up liquid.  I look down.  At it; at her.
            “Mind your mouth, young man, or I’ll wash it out,” she tells me.  “This might be a newsroom but we’re not on Fleet Street and we’re not the ones writing this crap.”
            Mable is half my height, probably a quarter of my weight and yet I have a feeling that, were I to smile right now, I’d regret it.  “But I’m allowed to say crap?  Right?”
            She waves the Fairy Liquid in my face.  “No, I’m allowed to say crap because I’m ninety-two and I don’t give a shit.  You can say yes ma’am, no ma’am, sorry to give offence ma’am, but if I were you I‘d be out of here and trying to find Catrin.”

This book is written using three separate points of view.  Catrin starts, giving the readers bits and pieces of information as she tells her story.  Just as she is about to share a dark secret Callum’s voice takes over, and the book ends with Rachel’s narrative.  When Callum took over the telling I was taken aback.  I had that moment of “REALLY???  NOW???”  I soon got over it.  Yes, there was a little overlap, but soon enough we were back on track and I realized that changing the narrator made perfect sense.  After all, they each had a little piece of the puzzle that they were sharing.  I forgive Ms. Bolton for pulling that out of the hat when I was least expecting it.

Ms. Bolton does a superb job at describing the ruggedness of the landscape, the isolation of the village and the harshness of the climate.  She set a backdrop that could almost be described as gothic.  One example of setting a perfect mood came when Catrin, who works on and in the water for her job, was describing a shipwreck she and Callum are preparing to investigate in their search for the missing boy:

“The wreck looks enormous from the water.  It rises up before us, black and dead.  Maybe sixty or seventy years ago it was left behind by those it served well.  Not for the first time, I wonder if ships feel pain when their days on the sea come to an end.
It’s swaying in the rough sea.  As we get closer, it rocks and pitches in a sad echo of how it used to move on water.
I dive wrecks from time to time, but I never really enjoy doing so.  They attract a particular sort of ocean life into their secret places.  Boats belong on top of the waves, not beneath them.  Wrecks speak of lost hopes, of wasted lives, of dreams that didn’t survive the storm.”

This story unfolds in the same manner a storm might build over the sea surrounding the Island.  The waves start rolling slowly, crest, and then a bigger wave comes to take its place … each one a little higher and a little more dangerous than the last.  I can’t say too much about the ending because it would require a significant “spoiler alert” but suffice it to say I was perched on the edge of my chair reading the last third of this book.  I couldn’t put it down because I had to know the final outcome.  When I finally felt as if I could almost relax a little because now I knew the truth – nope – that final unexpected and devastating wave crashed into the shore … I got a shiver reading the last few paragraphs.  Ms. Bolton certainly gave me the definition of a thriller with this book.

When I finished the book I felt there was one unanswered question left hanging.  It wasn’t until I was thinking about what to write for this review that it dawned on me that it had indeed been answered in the last three sentences.  When you read this book, and you should, watch for all the clues that should be clear as day, you just don’t know it until the end.

I have not read any other of Ms. Bolton’s books but I understand she has a series featuring DC Lacey Flint.  This is where I once again start chanting my mantra of “I do not have time to start another series … I do not have time to start another series”, but I will definitely be checking out her other two stand-alone novels.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website)

Sharon (formerly SJ) Bolton grew up in a cotton-mill town in Lancashire and had an eclectic early career which she is now rather embarrassed about.  She gave it all up to become a mother and a writer.

Her first novel, Sacrifice, was voted Best New Read by Amazon, UK, whilst her second, Awakening, won the 2010 Mary Higgins Clark Award.  In 2014, Lost was named RT Magazine’s Best Contemporary Thriller in the US, and in France, Now You See Me, won the Plume de Bronze.  That same year, Sharon was awarded the CWA Dagger in the Library, for her entire body of work.
Sharon lives near Oxford with her husband and son.  For more information about her books, or to check out her addictive blog, visit www.sharonbolton.com

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Shorts

The short story can be defined simply as "a fictional work of prose that is shorter in length than a novel".  In "The Philosophy of Composition" Edgar Allen Poe wrote that "a short story should be read in one sitting, anywhere from a half hour to two hours".  According to the "Cliffs Notes" definition "a contemporary fiction short story can range from 1,000 to 20,000 words.  Because of the shorter length, a short story usually focuses on one plot line, one main character (with a few additional minor characters), and one central theme ... short stories also lend themselves more to experimentation -- that is, using uncommon prose styles or literary devices to tell the story".

I think short stories are like great poetry or a masterful work of art ... they have to draw you in quickly, hold your attention and then be willing to let your own life's experience, or even just your mood that day, give them a personal interpretation.  With any compilation of short stories not everyone will agree on a favorite.  Not everyone will see the stories the same way.  The chance that the author takes is that a reader might not like every story.  That's okay because that's part of what reading is all about.

I don't read short stories very often because sometimes they leave me feeling unsatisfied, the feeling that I want more than what was offered.  Not so with my two most recent reads this month.  Both were compilations of short stories and both wonderful in their own way.  Definitely worth picking up, if only to satisfy that need to read something quick between slipping into bed and turning off the light.

EINSTEIN’S BEACH HOUSE 
by Jacob M. Appel

** I received this book at no charge from the author in exchange for an honest review **

This is a book of short stories that deal with relationships, loss, imagination and life in general.  Some are a little dark; some are filled with pathos while others are humorous.

HUE AND CRY – Lizzie’s father is very ill and sometimes the only way one can deal with that is to focus on something else, which is exactly what Lizzie does as she begins spying on her next-door neighbor – the sex offender – the one everyone on the street wants gone.

“That year Lizzie’s kid sister kept a list of things that were funny when they happened to other people:  tarring and feathering, Peeping Toms, mad cow disease.”  It’s a wonderful first line.  And when I finished the story it turns out also to be the summary of what the story is about.  In my humble opinion, that’s some pretty good writing.   

LA TRISTESSE DES DERISSONS – He wants a German shepherd and she wants a baby so they compromise and adopt a hedgehog.  Orion the hedgehog was not what one would describe as cuddly, what with the quills and all and definitely not the most conventional of pets especially when he becomes depressed and needs to see an animal psychologist.  How far will his owners go to keep him – and themselves – happy?

STRINGS – In an attempt to do one, hopefully last, good deed for her long ago ex-boyfriend newly married Rabbi Cynthia Felder agrees to let him use the sanctuary of her synagogue to hold a concert to break all records of the number of cellos performing simultaneously.  This story held two of my favourite passages in the book, one being the following:

Rabbi Cynthia is having second thoughts …

             “It’s only for a few hours, Cynth,” he emphasized.  “We rehearse here until noon, then we go out to the park and perform the concert.  You’ll hardly even notice we’re here.”
            “God will notice you’re here.”
            Jacques shrugged.  “Maybe God sleeps late,” he said.  “Besides, it’s a Sunday, if He is awake, won’t he be hanging out with the Catholics?”

LIMERENCE – Jesse and his high school friends spend a lot of time pondering many subjects but as Jesse says, “the bulk of our attention focused on girls”, Lena Limpetti in particular.

I admit that I had to look up the definition of the word “limerence”.  Coined in 1979 by psychologist Dorothy Tennov, it is defined as “a state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person typically including compulsive thoughts and fantasies and a desire to form or maintain a relationship and have one’s feelings reciprocated”.

Had I read Mr. Appel’s story first I would not have needed to look up the meaning of the word.

EINSTEIN’S BEACH HOUSE – What happens when, because of a innocent yet fortuitous error someone else made, that you try to take advantage of (to help your family) goes terribly, horribly, tragically wrong?  This is the story that answers the question.

THE ROD OF ASCLEPIUS – Although she knows her father is not a doctor she accompanies him to many hospitals over the years, beginning with the one where her mother died.  Each time the visit begins with the question, “Are you ready to change the world, Princess?”  At his side she learns an important lesson, “the horror and thrill of saving lives”.

SHARING THE HOSTAGE – Sometimes couples break up and nasty custody battles ensue.  It’s not always children that are the subject of these battles, in this case, it’s a tortoise named Fred.

PARACOSMOS – Children have imaginary friends, there’s nothing unusual about that and as the children grow their imaginary friends become less important and eventually disappear.  What happens when your daughter’s imaginary friend’s father shows up at your door asking why the girls don’t play together anymore?

As I mentioned earlier I don’t normally read short stories.  I tell myself I don’t enjoy them as much as a novel.  Yet, whenever I do pick up (or as in this case receive) a collection there is always at least one story that makes it worthwhile.  I knew I wanted to read this book when I read the description of “Paracosmos”.  I would call it my second favorite in this collection.  Much to my surprise another became my very favorite.  I find it so difficult to rate a book of short stories; unless there is the thread of a character or location tying the stories together they need to each be taken on their own merit.  These are well written and (to me) are almost allegories or fables, each taught some lesson in its own unique way.  Add that to their enjoyment factor and I’d say this book is definitely worth 5 stars.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website)

Jacob M. Appel's first novel, The Man Who Wouldn't Stand Up, won the Dundee International Book Award in 2012.  His short story collection, Scouting for the Reaper, won the 2012 Hudson Prize and published by Black Lawrence in November 2013.


Jacob has been admitted to the practice of law in New York State and Rhode Island, and is a licensed New York City sightseeing guide.




WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU 
by Tim Fredrick.

* I received this as a free eBook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. *

This book of short stories, dealing with relationships of one kind or another, had me on a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride.  Some of the stories managed to evoke real sadness while others an unexplained sadness, some definitely made me smile while two actually made me laugh out loud.

BY THE STREAM ON MOVING DAY – The narrator and Henry were best friends all through childhood, until Henry’s parents divorced and he and his mother eventually moved away.  Reconnecting as adults brought to the forefront some realities they had not realized as children … that last hug they shared may have been more than a simple hug.  But it’s true what they say about not being able to “go home” again. This story contained my favourite passage in the book,

“ He was always affable growing up, not at all the neurotic child of divorce like my other friends from broken homes.  My own home was broken but has been sloppily stuck back together, complete with visible cracks and tiny missing pieces.  Henry lived the dream:  two rooms, two sets of presents, two vacations, zero arguing parents.”

THIS ONE NIGHT IN THE BAR WHERE I WORK – A waiter and bartender observe a couple having an argument in bar.

The writing has no discernible formatting, sentence structure, little punctuation and no upper-case letters to distinguish sentences.  (I thought it was my e-version of the book to blame but all the other stories were fine.)  No it was simply frantic writing (and reading) and THE perfect to convey the tone of the argument. 

EGG AND SPOON – A young boy who seems to not have a lot going for him decides to make his mark on the world by breaking the Guinness World Record for an Egg and Spoon race.

Although a little heartbreaking, looking back, this was my favourite story in the book.

THAWED – Cryogenics gone very wrong.

This is most detailed story in the book.  I enjoyed this story because it has a definite beginning, middle and end and the most evolved characters.  As a reader of primarily full-length novels this story fulfilled my need for “completeness”.

The above are just four examples of the fourteen stories included in this book.  The other stories range in scope from a man reminiscing about each of his erections from pre-puberty through to adulthood (A Tale of Five Thousand Erections) and the couple who found each other because of an unusual physical condition (My Right Armpit Sweats More Than My Left One) ... those two made me laugh out loud ... on to the touching entries such as Driving Lessons and My Father the Statue.  Wow, I could go on describing all the stories.  As I type each on I think of the others I enjoyed.  You'll have to pick up the book and read them for yourself.

Mr. Fredrick does display a wide variety of writing styles in this compilation, and he does them all very well.  I certainly have the utmost admiration and respect for his talent, yet as with all compilations some stories will resonate with readers more than others and that it just the nature of the short story.  The range of stories in this book guarantees there is something for everyone.  Funnily enough, the story I personally enjoyed the least is the story that offered this book its title.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website)

Tim Fredrick is a writer and teacher from Queen’s N.Y.  His writing interests include literary fiction that explores relationships with family; making a family and the longing we all have for connection.

He is also the founding editor of Newtown Library, a journal dedicated to supporting and promoting the work of Queen’s writers.

He has a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri-Columbia, a MA in English Education from New York University, and a Ph.D in English Education/Applied Linguistics from New York University.

Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Fredrick moved to New York City in 1997 and has been living and working there since.  He lives with his dog Logan in Rego Park, Queens.

Not All Stories are Written on a Page

I am very fortunate because I live in a medium sized city that has all the amenities I could hope for, is within an hour's drive of a large metropolis with arts and culture venues galore yet if I drive for 20 minutes north I find myself in farm country.  Said farm country has a very large Mennonite population, which mean farmers markets filled with farm to table foods, yummy preserves, free range eggs and homemade craft items including AMAZING QUILTS.

Once a year the region hosts the Mennonite Relief Sale, where the most gorgeous quilts are auctioned off in support of charities.  I noticed today that the featured quilt for 2015 is African themed and it has it's own story about how it came into being.  Not only that but imagine the stories told around the quilting frame as it was being stitched!

It also reminded me of an exhibition of quilts that I went to see last year that knocked my socks off.  Each one told a story that both amazed and humbled me.

Last Spring I was flipping through my community newspaper when the headline “From Oma to Oma” caught my attention.  The article was promoting a new exhibit at the Conestoga Mall Museum.  My first reaction was “Hmmm?  I didn’t know Conestoga Mall had a museum?”  As it turns out – they do!  It is one room of, to the best of my approximating skills maybe 800 square feet, tucked into an inconspicuous corner of the mall between the movie theatres and The Bay department store.   Now in all honesty, to call it a Museum is nothing short of an overstatement, however, calling it a Buried Treasure would be very true. 

But I am getting ahead of myself. 

The article explained that the museum was having a showing (and eventual sale) of quilts designed and sewn by Canadian grandmothers in support of their counterparts in Africa.  I learned about the plight of African grandmothers who have, by necessity, become very central to the life of their communities.  African grandmothers have stepped in to care for their grandchildren orphaned by AIDS, helping them through the loss of their parents, even as they are grieving themselves.  Often these grandmothers are widowed, with no form of income, yet they are taking on the raising their grandchildren.  The task of providing for their orphaned grandchildren is daunting.  The Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign (or Oma to Oma as the paper called it) helps raise funds to enable the African grandmothers to feed, clothe and house their grandchildren, as well as send them to school.

As one Canadian grandmother of Ethiopian descent stated, “I can see that women suffer a lot there – like in other parts of the world.  Grandmothers are the most forgotten part of the society.  There is no social security system that provides support for grandmothers.  When things are bad for everyone else, it is worse for them.  Support one grandmother, and you are making a difference in the lives of generations.  Together we can change the world, one woman – one grandmother – at a time.

Thus a group of local grandmothers decided to make quilts, the proceeds from which will go directly to the Campaign.

The exhibit of the quilts intrigued me enough to want to go and see them so I checked out the museum’s hours and found that they are only open Tuesday through Friday from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. Well, that certainly was not going to work for me.  They are open on Sundays during the summer.  At the time I read the article July and August seemed very far away, so I filed the exhibit away in the back of my mind.


In May 2014 I read and reviewed (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/925869640
a book by Sue Monk Kidd titled “The Invention of Wings”.  Charlotte, one of the central characters in the book was making a story quilt of her life.  Each square represented a milestone.  The description of the quilt and the quilting process was intriguing and it reminded me of my interest in visiting the quilt exhibit.



As craft-y as my mother was she did not do quilting.  I have a couple of crocheted blankets that she made, and many crocheted cotton doilies and tablecloths, which in my opinion are works of art.  I have seen pictures of doilies framed and used as wall art.  (Damn you Pinterest!) Those doilies were labors of love for my mom so someday I think I would like to take a few of my mother’s and do that … SOMEDAY!

Two years ago I was feeling a little maudlin about the upcoming Christmas season.  I wanted to make a gift for my girls that they could keep and remember me by when I wasn’t around anymore, the way I have my mom’s doilies.  Not having much of a talent in the arts and crafts department I couldn’t think of anything that was THAT lasting.  A quilt did come to mind, but I have neither the patience nor the stitching ability for a project like that.  I did come across something called a “Rag Tied Quilt” which involves no sewing what so ever.  That was right up my alley talent-wise.


I enthusiastically undertook the making of two of these “Rag Tied Quilts” and halfway through the process wondered what I had gotten myself into.  Just the measuring and cutting of the squares tested my meager reserves of patience – alas – I persevered.  What choice did I have?  What else was I going to do with hundreds of 10-inch by 10-inch squares of cloth?  I must admit that the faux-quilts did turn out rather well and the girls were very touched when they opened their gifts, especially since I had added a little personalized heart on one corner of the blanket.  My place in family history is assured now!

My youngest daughter has her quilt carefully draped over the corner of a loveseat in her apartment.  My eldest daughter lets the dog sleep on it!  And that, in a nutshell, is the difference between my girls! 

Let’s just say that another quilting project (like wallpapering the bathroom) is not anything I plan to undertake again any time soon.  I do think quilts are beautiful works of art and (after my experience) I totally respect the talent and time investment for the people involved in making them.  That being said, I can’t say that I am overly enthusiastic about quilting in general.

I would not describe myself as quilt-obsessed.  Yet, a thread had been pulled (not literally thank goodness – since we ARE talking about quilts) and I did want to go and see this quilt exhibit.  So on Sunday afternoon I took myself off in search of this mysterious, hitherto unheard of, museum.

I did find it, exactly where the website said it would be.  As I cautiously opened the door a very nice young lady approached me and asked if I had been to the museum before.  I responded that I had not and that, in fact, had not known that it existed until I read the article in the Community News.  She nodded her head and said that she “hears that a lot”.  She explained to me that there was no charge for entering the Museum (room!) and I was free to take my time, but please put on the disposable gloves they provided if I was tempted to touch the quilts.  Chuckling to myself, I told her those would not be necessary.  Let me tell you, I never did don the gloves, but there were a couple of moments where it was extremely tempting.  The quilts were astounding and I defy anyone not to describe them as “art”. 

I made a turn around the room to look at the quilts not bothering to read the cards describing them.  Each one was more intricate than the one before.  When I came to the last quilt about seven minutes later (I emphasize how small this “Museum” is) I finally read the card that was posted beside it.  It was then I realized that some of the quilters had been to Africa; living and working with their “Oma” counterparts and some invested their talent and time only because they felt moved to help.  I started my circuit all over again this time carefully reading each card beside its respective quilt.  When I got to the last quilt I meekly walked over to the desk to ask the girl whether pictures were allowed to which she quickly responded “OH YES!”  (I think she was a tad overly enthusiastic – no doubt at actually having someone in the place.)  I started my circuit again, taking pictures of the quilts with the stories that I found most touching.

A picture truly can tell 1000 words and each of these quilts told a story within its frame.  I was awestruck!  

Some of the pieces that particularly spoke to me are below.

By:  Nancy Winn, Waterloo, Ontario
Title:  Footprints for Change

“In the summer of 2011, I traveled to Africa (Uganda) on a mission trip.  I was overwhelmed by the great distances women traveled by foot.  They travel for their basic needs:  food, water, education and worship of God.  By simply putting one foot in front of the other, these women remind us that our daily journeys are something to be thankful for.”






By:  Mary Ann Gilhurst, Waterloo, Ontario
Title:  A Place to Grow

“The Stephen Lewis Foundation publication “Grassroots” (Summer 2009) had a story about a 96-year-old grandmother from Malawi, who was caring for four orphaned grandchildren in a hut with a mud floor and a leaky roof.  The Stephen Lewis Foundation sponsored Hope for the Elderly (HOFE) that repaired her roof and helped her with food.  She had a home that could be repaired but many sub-Saharan African women lose their homes when their husbands die.  If a grandmother has a home and an area to grow food, she can better care for, raise, even educate her grandchildren.  They can go from starving to thriving.”



By:  Dorothy Holdenmeyer
Title:  Women Do the Walking While Men Do the Talking

(Unfortunately I did not make not make note of this quilt’s description)




By: Lynne McCulloch, Burlington, Ontario
Title:  Helping Hope To Rise

“I wanted to represent that Canadian women have provided hope to grandmothers struggling to raise their grandchildren.  The base area contains friendship block in Canadian colours to suggest the support given.  The friendship provides a basis for hope.  The three female figures represent a grandmother, a child and a daughter whose generation is threatened by AIDS.  The dancing women dressed in colourful garments are celebrating their hope for a better future.  The butterflies rising and hovering at the top suggest hopefulness provided by the financial contributions and anti-viral drugs helping to save lives.”



By:  Margaret Hope, Oshawa, Ontario
Title:  Faith, Hope and Charity

“I am truly blessed with good eye sight, hands that work well and a vivid imagination.  My birthday is in May and I will be 91 years old.  If in some small way this art pieces helps the African grandmothers, it will be my way of counting my blessings.”



By:  Elaine Graham, Kitchener, Ontario
Title:  Floating Dandelions

“Dandelions embody many of the same qualities that African and Canadian grandmothers possess.  All are beautiful, playful and deeply committed to grow wherever they land.  Grandmothers, like dandelions, are hardy and strong with deep roots.  Both are bright, playful, and at times a little bit out of control.  Sadly, there are times when both are dismissed or ignored.  In Canada, as dandelions begin to emerge from the winter’s ground, we find hope that spring is on its way and that the long winter is behind us for another year.  Hope, renewal and new life are present in Grandmothers and dandelions.  I hope that this piece of art reflects and celebrates these ideas.”



By:  Judy Pearce, Kitchener, Ontario
Title:  Nyanya

“I am called Nana.  She is called Nyanya (Nyanya means grandmother in Swahili).  When my grandchildren are in my care, my children come home after a few hours.  Her children do not return.  I hope, in some small way, this piece will help her find the resources she needs to cope with her huge responsibility.”




By:  Mary Walsh, Waterloo, Ontaro
Title:  Rooted in Spirit

“Inspired by my great admiration for Africa’s grandmothers, Rooted in Spirit expresses my vision of a grandmother as an Acacia tree, a maternal symbol of protection, provider and link to the past.  Often standing alone, she is tall, strong, resilient and full of grace.  She is firmly rooted in the present as she raises her arms (tree limbs) to embrace her grandchildren while deeply connected to the sleeping souls (in the roots below) of her adult children lost to the AIDS pandemic.  She is caring, full of hope for the future and deeply rooted in spirit.”



I’m glad I went to see these cloth and thread masterpieces that each tell their own story.  It amounted to a grand total of about one-half hour out of my Sunday afternoon that I consider very well spent.