Sunday, August 30, 2015
Welcome to The Sunday Salon! Find yourself a comfy chair, grab a cup of joe and relax- it's that time of the week that we talk books! And what better to talk about then books that make you go "Ahhhhhhh". Those books that leave you so satisfied and happy. And isn't that the way we feel when we read a really good book? With all the books I read, there are always a few clunkers, but the last 3 books I read were so good it made reading all the more fun again. What were those books? I'm glad you asked... Let's take a ride on a train or two, because the first two books do just that- involve trains rides. The last book doesn't have anything to do with train, but will take you on a eerie ride none the less...
The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins... Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
This was a book club reading selection, but I had heard such great things about this book that I would have read it anyway! The beginning of the story innocently nudges you along, until you just can't stop reading. Poor Rachel, our protagonist, how did her life spiral so out of control? So pathetic? And was she imagining things when she saw what she did that fateful day riding on the train? And if she wasn't, how is she going to convince anyone that she did see it and it wasn't the alcohol messing with her ability to make a judgement call? Yes, Paula Hawkins hit one out of the park with this book. The writing was great, and the story even better. The subtle twists and turns led me to the shocking, never saw it coming , ending that left me saying, "OMG". READ THIS BOOK if you haven't.
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline... A captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask. Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from "aging out" of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse. Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance... The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life and discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life - answers that will ultimately free them both.
This was another book club selection. One in which I was NOT looking forward to. This book had been plastered on all the book club reading selection sites, but I wasn't buying into any of it... Until I was forced to read it. And then, I was so wrapped up in it I couldn't put this book down either! My initial thoughts were "here we go again with a WWII story and the exploitation of innocent children and how it all works out in the end." How many similar stories does one really need to read? BUT, aside from the writing that was wonderful and would justify reading "another similar story", this story was nothing like I expected! The story flips back and forth between present day 2011 and 1929. In the present day, we follow Molly and 91-year-old Vivian. In 1929, we learn about the life growing up of Vivian, which is so interesting, sad and makes us see how Vivian and Molly are not so different even though they were born in different era's. The two stories are wonderful and as the stories merge, the ending has a great twist! The author really gets deep down with Molly and Vivian and as a result these characters come alive off the pages. How wrong I was about this book initially. Now, I'd have to say it's one of my favorite books of the year. I can't wait to talk about it with my reading group members, and I'll be reviewing this soon. If you haven't read this yet, DO IT!
The Night Sisters by Jennifer McMahon... Once the thriving attraction of rural Vermont, the Tower Motel now stands in disrepair, alive only in the memories of Amy, Piper, and Piper's kid sister, Margot. The three played there as girls until the day that their games uncovered something dark and twisted in the motel's past, something that ruined their friendship forever. Now adult, Piper and Margot have tried to forget what they found that fateful summer, but their lives are upended when Piper receives a panicked midnight call from Margot, with news of a horrific crime for which Amy stands accused. Suddenly, Margot and Piper are forced to relive the time that they found the suitcase that once belonged to Silvie Slater, the aunt that Amy claimed had run away to Hollywood to live out her dream of becoming Hitchcock's next blonde bombshell leading lady. As Margot and Piper investigate, a cleverly woven plot unfolds—revealing the story of Sylvie and Rose, two other sisters who lived at the motel during its 1950s heyday. Each believed the other to be something truly monstrous, but only one carries the secret that would haunt the generations to come.
I have read a few books by Jennifer McMahon and have never been disappointed. What's great about her books besides the wonderful writing, is the twist that always comes at the end. Both of the books I read left me with "OMG" at the end and this book was no different. It's fun, it's creepy, it's a heart pounder. The writing drew me in, but the mystery kept me reading. It has elements of coming-of-age, ghost stories and paranormal all wrapped together. The paranormal bend caught me a bit off guard, but fit the story. I had no idea until the very end how it was all was going to end. A good solid story. I would not say it was "The Best" mystery/ghost story I've read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
What good books have you read lately?! And do you feel like you wasted part of your life reading a book that was just so-so? I enjoy reading, and for the most part, even when I read a book that didn't quite resonate with me, I have no regrets.
And the book I'm reading NOW is another winner in my opinion... Circling the Sun by Paula McLain! It's about famous aviator Beryl Markham and I am loving it! It vaguely reminds me of Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. But we'll talk about that book next week...
Happy reading... Suzanne
Sunday, August 9, 2015
Welcome to The Sunday Salon! It's the day of the week we kick back and relax, and virtually talk about the books we've found this week that we just HAVE to read! And I've found a few this week that made their way into my ever growing library and a few that are going right on that wish list… But how do we choose what we're going to read next? Are you ever influenced by what you just read?
The book club I started over 10 years ago is still going strong. We've added a member or two, lost a member, but the original 5 are still there (although one is in Florida, but she joins us via Skype). Originally I picked out the selections, but quickly decided everyone should get a chance to pick a book they want the group to read. This took the pressure off me in finding the "perfect" book every time and also opened up my reading to choices I would not have made. This month's book club selection was The Devil in The White City by Erik Larson. I had heard long ago that this was a good read, but just never got around to reading it. Although, when I first opened up the book I could not get into it. OMG, it was so boring it was a struggle to get through the first page. But then I have to remember that I just read an incredible suspense thriller. Was that the problem? Was the Erik Larson book so different in style that I just couldn't adjust? I think so, because after struggling with the book, I suddenly couldn't stop reading it and after finishing it this week I can enthusiastically say I really enjoyed it! So, how do we choose what we're going to read next? And do we need a breather before we start another book? I know quite a few people who pick up a book immediately after putting down a book. I'm not that way unless it's part of a trilogy or continuation. I need to enjoy "the moment" after finishing a book, especially a great book. And maybe taking that breather will help when changing "styles" of books. The Devil in The White City was certainly not a thriller, but how exciting it was to be in 19th century Chicago building the Worlds Fair and meeting all sorts of people like the guy who designed Central Park, or The Flat Iron Building, or made the first Ferris Wheel or even made Cracker Jack, not to mention meeting one of the world's most infamous serial killers that settled in Chicago while the fair was there. So, after taking a "breather", I've found some books that are vying for the next reading position…
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain… Transporting readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920s, Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa. Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships. Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly
Maybe this is because I just read a historical fiction book that this book appealed to me, but this has gotten so much great press that I have to read it. I also enjoy books with strong female protagonists and Beryl Markham seems to fit the bill with that too. But when I opened the first pages I felt like I was gently swept up in the arms of the book and placed in far off Kenya. The book telling its' story in such a manner that I was totally relaxed and listening intently. Some say this is going to be the "it" book in 2015, but we have a long way to go before declaring that.
Night Sisters by Jennifer McMahon… Once the thriving attraction of rural Vermont, the Tower Motel now stands in disrepair, alive only in the memories of Amy, Piper, and Piper's kid sister, Margot. The three played there as girls until the day that their games uncovered something dark and twisted in the motel's past, something that ruined their friendship forever. Now adult, Piper and Margot have tried to forget what they found that fateful summer, but their lives are upended when Piper receives a panicked midnight call from Margot, with news of a horrific crime for which Amy stands accused. Suddenly, Margot and Piper are forced to relive the time that they found the suitcase that once belonged to Silvie Slater, the aunt that Amy claimed had run away to Hollywood to live out her dream of becoming Hitchcock's next blonde bombshell leading lady. As Margot and Piper investigate, a cleverly woven plot unfolds—revealing the story of Sylvie and Rose, two other sisters who lived at the motel during its 1950s heyday. Each believed the other to be something truly monstrous, but only one carries the secret that would haunt the generations to come.
I loved Jennifer McMahon's book Dismantled! I also have read Island of Lost Girls for book club. She's a really good writer and always surprises me with her plot twists. I haven't picked her up in a while, but when I saw this book coming out, I could not resist. Sounds like it's going to be a fun read and has that signature plot twist that will make us go, "wow".
The President's Shadow by Brad Metzler… To most, it looks like Beecher White has an ordinary job. A young staffer with the National Archives in Washington, D.C.,, he’s responsible for safekeeping the government’s most important documents…and, sometimes, its most closely-held secrets. But there are a powerful few who know his other role. Beecher is a member of the Culper Ring, a 200-year old secret society founded by George Washington and charged with protecting the Presidency. Now, the current occupant of the White House needs the Culper Ring’s help. The alarming discovery of the buried arm has the President’s team in a rightful panic. Who buried the arm? How did they get past White House security? And most important: what’s the message hidden in the arm’s closed fist? Indeed, the puzzle inside has a clear intended recipient, and it isn’t the President. It’s Beecher, himself.
Beecher’s investigation will take him back to one of our country’s greatest secrets and point him towards the long, carefully-hidden truth about the most shocking history of all: family history.
I'm usually not the political thriller type, but I did like Angels and Demons by Dan Brown (no, I never did read The DaVinci Code, although I did see the movie), and this is suppose to be similar in type of book… secret societies, long buried secrets and a race to find the truth before something happens to ruin the country. After reading Greg Isles and the first two books in the Natchez Burning trilogy, and really loving the writing, I thought I'd try Brad Metzler. This just came out and piqued my interest. I'm stepping out of the box for this one, but think it will be worth it!
So there you have it, three very different styles. Historical fiction, mystery and political thriller. I think I'm going to take a brief breather and pick up Night Sisters first. I'll let you know how it goes. What have you found this week to read?! And do you need a breather after a good read? I'd love to hear all about it!
More great books coming next week…
Happy Reading… Suzanne
Sunday, August 2, 2015
Road trips are fun! For 2 weeks we drove the back roads, making our way to Charleston, SC from Connecticut and then making our way to other parts of the Carolina's and finally back to Connecticut. Charleston was beautiful! Heaped in history, beauty and culture, my reading changed from fiction to history. Plantations and beautiful gardens abound, but reminders of the War Between the States, or the Civil War as us Northerners refer to it, also dominate the culture of the city. In Charleston Harbor is Fort Sumter, site of the first shots fired in the war between the states, a war not over slavery, but of the South's independence and freedom from the high tariffs imposed by the federal government. Beautiful HUGE homes still line the streets of the historic section of Charleston, a reminder of the wealth generated by the cotton trade, as well as a section of homes painted in pastel colors referred to as Rainbow Row, that is rumored to have been painted that way so that drunken sailors could distinguish their home from others. Downtown, you can also find the Gullah making their beautiful
Sweetgrass baskets! Sweetgrass baskets are a traditional West African art form passed down from generation to generation for over 300 years. I was fortunate to be able to take one home with me, the sweet smell subtly filling my livingroom and reminding me of our trip.
Charleston is also the place of a horrible tragedy that happened June 17th when a 21 year old man, opened fired in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, after attending a bible study, and killed 9 people. He admittedly was trying to ignite a race war, but instead launched a modern day debate on the flying of the confederate flag, which has been associated with certain hate groups, but is also a symbol of heritage for the descendents of the men and women who gave their lives during a war against tyranny.
My trip also included food! Southern fried chicken, grits and deep fried pickles! Our travels landed us at Mary Lou's Kitchen for some authentic lowcountry food, which consisted of the most delicious fried chicken I've ever eaten, gumbo, and cornbread. And I also found some absolutely to die for Shrimp & Grits at Tommy Condon's Irish Bar. Although I've always liked Southern made grits, I think Shrimp & grits is the new "it" food, because every restauraunt has a version. Tommy Condon's consisted of Shrimp & grits with a creamy tomato parmesan sauce.
So, my Road Trip Reading consisted of reading about the War Between the States, Antebellum homes and architecture, the history behind Sweetgrass baskets, the history of Fort Sumter, lowcountry cooking and Magnolia Cemetery (yes, we made a special trip to this historic cemetery, filled with incredible headstones, beautiful landscaping and wonderful genealogy!)! Oops, I forgot to mention I also was reading road maps because you need to if you want to travel "unconventional" roads.
What do you do on vacation? Do you have time to open a book? Do you immerse yourself in the history of the places you'll be visiting? What was your favorite vacation spot this year? I'd love to hear all about it!
On to more "conventional" reading next week! And of course some hot reading recommendations!
Happy reading... Suzanne