TUESDAY TEASER

Tuesday Teaser is a meme begun by The Purple Booker and one I was introduced to on Brainfluff. The idea is to copy a few sentences from where you left off reading, or at random, so others might be teased to read the same book. Put your blog address if  you have one and post your Teaser. OR place your Teaser (don’t forget the book title and the author’s name) in the response section.

Today’s teaser is from blogging friend’s James J. Cudney’s third novel, Academic Curveball, from the Braxton Campus Mysteries, Book I.  Killan, the protagonist and narrator, is attending the funeral of a second murder victim who was his father’s assistant at Braxton College. He has just run into his grandmother, unexpectedly:

“What are you doing here, Nana D?” I asked crossing to the entrance of the funeral parlor.

“I had a few stops to make downtown today. Just thought since I was in the area, I should put in an appearance,” she said. Nana D was in her standard funeral outfit–a stylish, vintage dress cut just below the knees with a little bit of white trim on the hem. “I also needed to talk to you about Bridget.” (Nana D’s clarinet student who attends Braxton)

“I couldn’t believe how persistent she’d become about finding ways to bring us together but to be so pushy at a funeral service…”

Nana D has yet another clue to the identity of the murderer, “a scandalous conversation” Bridget overheard, one which might be the missing piece in the jigsaw of clues Killan, a substitute professor for the murdered professor (murder #1)  has been piecing together…

I am 74% through the book, and I have speculated many times on who the murderer is. However the novel has so many twists and turns that as sure I am right as I might be, some new information that makes me unsure again, emerges and turns my “theory” on it’s ear. The characters and plot are engaging, and the touches of humor and “typical” family drama between generations is handled awesomely. There are enough nostalgic memories of college life and college towns, with enough new/younger generation trends to keep all ages interested and wanting to turn the page.  Who will be the murderer? I have many clues to evaluate, but I don’t know. As in all good mysteries, “Something just doesn’t add up.” Cudney will surprise me at the end as he always does.

P.S. Book II of Braxton Campus Mysteries has just been published.

 

FIRST LINE FRIDAYS

This fun meme, which I discovered on Carla Loves to Read, an excellent blog, and hosted by Hoarding Books, asks that we copy the first line(s) of what we are reading.

Mine for Friday, August 31st, is from The Broken Earth series, a trilogy which My Better Half and I are taking turns reading aloud to each other.  We finished The Fifth Season,the first book as our summer reading project and are beginning the second book, The Obelisk Gate. N.K. Jemisin is the author of the trilogy.

The first lines of The Obelisk Gate:

“Hmm. No, I’m telling this wrong.

After all, a person is herself, and others.”

I can hardly wait for some down time during the Labor Day Holiday this weekend to cover a chapter or two.

If you would like to participate, (it doesn’t have to be on Friday), post First Lines on your blog. No blog? No problem. Enter your first line(s) in the comments box below this post.

 

FATHER FIGURE by James J. Cudney: A Review

This 2018 novel by blogger (“This Is My Truth Now”) and author (Watching Glass Shatter), is a wonderful read. It begins with a “teaser” opening.  One is approaching the two story cabin on the cover and sees two bodies, a man and a woman, who have just crashed through a window, lying on the ground. All we know from the police who have arrived is that one is dead, the other severely hurt.

Then the story alternates between Amalia (beginning in August of 1984) and Brianna (beginning in June of 2004), chapter by chapter. Amalia, submissive daughter to an abusive mother, Janet, and a 60 year old, quiet man, Peter, lives a life of shame and physical abuse. She and her parents live in Brant, Mississippi. Her brother, Greg and his best friend are about to come home from college to Brant for the summer.  Amalia begins to realize that Greg’s friend is a tease, and ashamedly enough, he awakens feelings in her she has never experienced before.

Brianna, who lives in New York with her single mom also struggles with feelings.  She is about to go to prom with her boyfriend, Doug, and knows that Doug has “expectations” for prom night, but she also has feelings for her best friend, Shannelle, who prefers women to men.  Her story is one where she explores her sexuality, not coming to any conclusions until the very end.

There are many twists and turns in Father Figure, as well as many reveals and unravellings of family mysteries and connections. Both girls make the decision to go to college, both attempting to escape from something only to discover their own connections and pasts are intertwined. It is a good novel that spools out, clear and easy to  follow as laid out by the author, but warning: DO NOT try to figure out the connections or who was lying on the ground at the beginning/end of the story.  YOU WILL BE WRONG, until Cudney decides to tie up all ends and reveal all.  It is a darned good read.

“Check Off ‘B’: The Beekeeper’s Daughter: A Review

In my Alphabet Challenge, which thankfully has no time limits or goals on it, I have read the book for the letter ‘B’.  Santa Montefiore’s The Beekeeper’s Daughter was a book due at the public library which I finished up (just in time) and counted as part of the challenge. An experienced writer, Montefiore presents a story of two romances (mother’s and daughter’s ) that span the settings of England during WWII and 1973 New England.

Grace Hamblin is the beekeeper’s daughter, living in England and who experiences a love that can never be fulfilled. Trixie, her daughter falls in love with Jasper, a singer in a band “on the brink of stardom.” He is part of the British Music Invasion of the seventies. Trixie’s story and Grace’s story (the latter told in flashbacks) have more in common than either could suspect. Both are searching for “lost love.”  “To find  what they are longing for, they must confront the past, unravel the lies told long ago, and open their hearts to each other.”

This novel is a very good read, engaging with many twist and turns, and good old-fashioned “escapism.”

TWO RECENT READS–Morningstar:Growing up With Books and Playing with Fire: REVIEWS

The following two books were ones I read purely for escape while waiting for my delayed-by-ice semester to start:

First, Morningstar:Growing Up with Books a 2017 publication by Ann Hood, was a slim volume which needs to be read with one’s TBR list close by. The book might be described as a memoir organized by what the author was reading at various stages of her life. I had read her earlier novel, The Book That Matters Most, and thoroughly enjoyed it, sharing it with friends at my book club, so when I saw it displayed at the library, I checked it out. Hood grew up in a household that “didn’t foster a love of literature but discovered literature anyway. Sometimes lonely as a child she experienced “the companionship of books.” She read eclectically, pouring equally over classics, bestsellers, and books that were “not so nice,” her mother’s description. Because it was so short, it was a quick read and a unique one. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves books and is interested in other people who love them too.

Tess Gerritsen’s 2015 novel is one I found at Half Price Books.  As a fan of the TNT series, Rissoli and Isles, selecting Playing with Fire, was a no-brainer.  The cover alone was enough to capture my interest. Gerritsen employs great skills of characterization, and her plots and sub-plots combine psychological thriller appeal as well as mystery, action, and plenty of twists and turns. Beginning in the US and continuing in Venice, Julia, the protagonist, is soon caught up in espionage and violence, something she never dreamed a concert violinist would experience.  The intertwining stories of the modern-day professional violinist and the Jewish holocaust-era composer provide good reading and good mystery.

BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman, a 2017 publication

Those of us on the Texas Gulf Coast (I am located 30 miles south of Houston and 30 miles north of Galveston) are not used to waking up to 19 degrees with “feels-like” numbers of 9. We have shut everything down for the past two days since we are not equipped for sleet, snow, and frozen precipitation of any kind. Upon waking up, I thought I must be in Northern Beartown (a fictional town) deep in the forest where ice hockey is equivalent to life. Everything in Beartown revolves around hockey, and the high school Junior Ice Hockey team are the stars of the town, approaching a state championship. The players are celebrities, envied by students and adults( some former ice hockey stars themselves) alike. These young men are taking on their shoulders the hopes and dreams of their beloved Beartown.

As the team approaches the finals, there is a shocking act of violence.  Was it rape? Is the reader to believe Kevin, the superstar, or Amhed, the janitor’s gifted son, who is a recent addition to the team? What happens to an individual who dares to “go against the grain” and challenge the superstar hockey team? “…like ripples on a pond, [events] travel through all of Baytown, leaving no resident unaffected.”

This novel was reviewed and recommended by blogger friend, James J. Cudney, author of Watching Glass Shatter and the blog, “This Is My Truth Now.” I listened to it on CD’s (11 discs/418 pages) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  The one drawback, which may have been accentuated because I listened to it, was the rough language. However as a veteran of junior high school teaching, the language was appropriate because it is exactly what high school young men would use.

You will be as caught up in Beartown’s story: its inhabitants, its team, its school administration and local government, and most of all, its high schoolers and their families, as I was.

MANHATTEN BEACH: A REVIEW

Jennifer Egan is definitely an author I want to read again. Her 1917 novel, set in WWII, has many appeals: excellent characterization, accurate and fascinating peeks into the era, family mystery and dynamics, a coming-of-age-story, and many more “touches” that make it a “darned good read.” I literally stayed up late reading it.

Anna Kerrigan, the protagonist is twelve at the beginning; she is with her father, whom she idolizes, when she first meets Dexter Styles, the mystery man with gangster ties. Lydia, her crippled sister, is the center of her mother’s love and attention. Anna eventually becomes one of the first female divers at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, and she repairs ships, making them battle-ready in wartime. The “under-stories,” the father’s story and the mother’s story, and Styles’ story are equally as interesting as Anna’s.

The writing in this novel is outstanding. At times, Egan makes us shiver with apprehension; at times we smile or chuckle at a funny passage; always, we keep reading, wanting to discover the next thought or plot twist. We care about the characters and what happens to them–and plenty does. It is a wonderful story that would make a great movie, and I recommend you “read the book first.”

Two Reviews: Books finished over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s

When I was flipping through my Book Log (stenographer’s notebook #5), I found several books I’d mentioned but not reviewed here on PWR:

A Man Called Ove’ by Fredrik Backman, our Third Tuesday Book Club selection, was a huge hit with all the members and a book I enjoyed.  I had seen the movie first (with Finnish subtitles) and LOVED it, so I was a bit skeptical about reading the book.  Evidently the reason I liked the film so much was because it followed the book so closely.

It is the story of a curmudgeon, recently forced to retire, who kept to rigid routines and often demonstrated a short fuse.  The opening of the book is different from the opening of the movie, so to ensure I don’t give anything away, I will deal with the plot sparingly. The book is described as a “word of  mouth bestseller,” and that is what it is.  I must have been the last in my group of friends to actually read the book. The lesson to be learned from this novel is that “Life is sweeter when it’s shared with other people.” Kirkus review called it “hysterically funny–” well not in my opinion, “hysterically…” but it is as Publisher’s Weekly labels it, “…a reflection on loss and love.” We had excellent study questions, and I would definitely recommend this as a good book club selection if your group has not already found it.

A book that definitely left me wanting to read part II was Renaissance: The Nora White Story (Book one). Talk about a cliffhanger ending! It is set in Mississippi in 1922, the era of the Harlem Renaissance.

Nora White is a daughter from a Negro family, has graduated from high school, and everyone expects her to go to college.  Instead, she runs away to explore Harlem. She has heard of the Cotton Club and the literary renaissance going on there. Her parents, Gideon and Mary, who have issues of their own in their backgroundes, can’t believe any Negro child would ever run away from home and fear their daughter has been snatched. Nora’s adventures in the North and her parents’ efforts to find her in the South, lead to adventure, revelation of family secrets and a “give-me-more” ending.  I can’t wait for Book Two to come out.  I heard about this book from a blogger who featured the author, Yecheilyah Ysrayl, on her blog and purchased it through Amazon. I plan to contact her this weekend to see when I can purchase Book Two.

 

TWO RECENT READS

Boston Girl by Anita Diamont (author of the bestselling The Red Tent) was the selected book for November at my “new” book club.  I knew everyone present, several for thirty years, and only one woman was a new acquaintance. The discussion was insightful and the study guide questions in the back of the paperback edition were the source of many interesting comments and answers. Here is my brief review of the 2014 novel:

Addie Braum, the Boston girl of the title, is the third child of a three sister family, the only one of the three born in the U.S. A brother, born on the ship on the way to America, died, and was buried at sea. Through her story, the author explores “love, friendship, and family.” Through her membership in The Library Club and a summer’s stay at Rockport Lodge, run by women who are forward-thinking women and attended by becoming-liberated girls, Adie changes and comes in conflict with her immigrant parents. Her mother, a vengeful, never-satisfied, and just-plain-mean-spirited woman often thwarts Adie’s desires to become educated and attend college. Later in the novel, her husband, a true mensch, encourages Adie in ways she has never been loved or encouraged before. In the novel, more than just a coming-of-age story, we see a picture of WWI, WWII, and postwar America. We see changes in Addie as well as in the culture and make up of the U.S.A. The book club gave the novel a “grade” of B+.  I would give it four out of five points. It is a darned good read.

The other day I finished Jeanette Walls’ “true life novel,” Half Broke Horses, which I gave a full five points out of a possible five. It is the story of Lily Casey Smith, Walls’ grandmother, whom a review described as a “woman of gumption.” And how she needed it!  Throughout the story, Lily experiences  floods, tornadoes, droughts and a fire, all the while surviving the Great Depression. The writing is “plainspoken, yet heartfelt” (Chicago Tribune). I agree wholeheartedly with People magazine which writes it is “impossible to forget.” Half Broke Horses has been described by one reviewer as “Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults.” I was especially interested in her adventures and misadventures as a teacher and her unique teaching methods.  Photos added a great deal to the book and reminded the reader that it is all based on the life of a real woman. It is a perfect example of short, sweet, matter-of-fact writing while it deals with horrific issues, It is one of the best novels I have read this year.

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE: A Review

Benjamin Alire Saenz, a Pen Faulkner award winner, has written a tender, sensitive, honest, beautiful YA novel in Aristotle and Dante. The main characters, both fifteen, “clicked” from their very first meeting and frequently made each other laugh for no reason.  Moments of anger and miscommunication came later, as did questions of identity and sexuality. Together they explore the purpose of one’s life and one’s reason for being.

Ari is big and brawny, very handsome, although he is not aware of it and does not “feel handsome.” Dante is small and beautiful, delicate, and very sensitive. Ari closely guards his emotions where Dante expresses them freely.  Both boys are highly intelligent and can discuss everything from comics to “real literature.”

The novel is “gorgeously written” and excels in drawing two complex but totally believable characters in the boys, and realistic, loving parents.  Saenz explores the themes of family, friendship, love, the Latino lifestyle, and teenage angst as he describes places and events that will keep the reader engaged.

As the novel opens, we hear Ari speaking to himself:

“The problem of my life was that it was someone else’s idea.” Everything that follows , everything that happens to him and what he does seems to be “someone else’s idea” until he meets Dante, and everything changes. The two boys seek out and at the end discover, together, The Secrets of the Universe.  I give this book a rating of ten out of ten, and recommend it to all ages who appreciate beautiful writing and a darned good story.