Monthly Archives: January 2016

Britt-Marie Was Here

“What should you know about Britt-Marie? She is difficult, demanding, socially awkward, and set in her ways – but also loyal, honest, brave and carrying a heavy burden in her heart.”

Peter Borland, VP President and Editorial Director, Atria Books

An advance reader copy was provided free of charge
by Atria Books through NetGalley
in exchange for my honest opinion.

438-days

Britt-Marie Was Here

Author:  Fredrik Backman
Atrial Books May 2016
ARC e-reader (978-1-5011-4255-0)
Hardcover: (978-1-5011-4253-6)
Genre: Fiction    384 pages

girl-soccer-player

★★★★

 Originally published in 2014 in Swedish as Britt-Marie var här by Partners in Stories, Stockholm Sweden.

My very favorite book of 2014 was Man Called Ove by the same author.  I pushed aside every other book on my next-to-read list when given an advanced reading copy of Britt-Marie Was Here.

I have to admit that at first glance, I was disappointed.  The opening salvos over cutlery and the repetitive assurance from Britt-Marie that she doesn’t judge anyone but… then she is off and running about missing coasters for beverages and to quote her, “incredibly incredibly successful husband, Kent”.  It was obvious that Britt-Marie was upset about something but it was getting tough to stay around and decipher her distress.

But read on I did, because Backman’s characters are just that…true characters and take some getting used to.   As the chapters flowed along, more facts were revealed, more residents of Borg entered her life and the story took shape, I grew to like the book very much.  There is sadness, humor, despair, grief, love, sacrifice, and character growth throughout.

When it became apparent that soccer was a central element to the story I wasn’t sure how it would all work out.  But it does.  I repeat Peter Borland’s words. I would like readers to remember them as they first meet Britt-Marie,

“What should you know about Britt-Marie? She is difficult, demanding, socially awkward, and set in her ways – but also loyal, honest, brave and carrying a heavy burden in her heart.” 

All very true.

Revealing anything more would ruin your time spent with Britt-Marie.  I promise, by the end of the book, you will learn to like and to love her.

Recommended reading.

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438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea

“As a family, we assumed he was dead, [his brother-in-law] Jorge Bonilla said. “We learned he was alive on the news. It was unbelievable.”

An advance reader copy was provided free of charge
by Atria Books through NetGalley
in exchange for my honest opinion.

438-days

438 Days:
An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea

View CNN Interview with Alvarenga

★★★1/2

Author:  Jonathan Franklin
Atrial Books, 2015
ARC e-reader (978-1-5011-1631-5)
Hardcover: (978-1-5011-1629-2)
Genre: Memoir    222 pages

 

Unbelievable courage, creativity and skill!

This story of marine survival opens with a lengthy introduction to Salvador Alvarenga before the storm drove his disabled boat deep in the open Pacific.  Franklin’s careful and detailed research is obvious from the start.  His revelations at times, however, seemed tedious and overdone as he droned on and on about the fishing village and the fishing culture.  His purpose, of course, was to provide Alvarenga’s personal background, show his ability to overcome adversity, highlight his love and seeming fearlessness of the sea and his strange dietary proclivities.  Eating raw fish didn’t start with the need to stave off starvation.  His friends describe a time when Alvarenga thought a take-out meal order was too long in arriving.  He reached into the bait pail, pulled out a hand-sized half-frozen sardine, rolled it up in a tortilla and munched away on the raw fish.

The fateful day began with his usual fishing partner unable to go out on the boat. An inexperienced young man, Ezequiel Cordoba was signed up for the quick trip out to the deep waters. Warned of an impending storm, Alvarenda quipped, “I am going with this new guy, but I will be back in time for the party.”

He loaded his boat with ample supplies in the event a return trip was delayed.  In a scene reminiscent of Sebastian Junger’s, “The Perfect Storm” all the best laid plans of man are nothing against the power of Mother Nature.

You feel the sea roil and the winds howl.  You feel Cordoba’s seasickness and fear.  As the storm builds with rapid intensity, they cut loose the 2-mile long fishing line and head toward shore, nearly making it to safety. Incredible bad luck and perhaps the lack of advance equipment safety checks leave the two men stranded with a disabled motor, knife, machete and a small open-topped fish box drifting out to sea at the mercy of the ocean currents.

There is no question by the end of the book Alvarenda has proved he was the right man with the right credentials to survive this long voyage.  His life struggles in the past help him hone his survival strengths.  It is unimaginable how anyone can stay psychologically and physically capable of enduring over 14 months alone at sea in a 25 foot boat.

Choosing to narrate this story in the third person was somewhat distracting but overall the story is so amazing it didn’t matter in the end.  You feel so sad for the young sailor who felt lost when they left the shore and feared for his life long before the ship faced true danger. Despite Alvarenga’s best efforts to inspire and keep the young man alive,  Cordoba was unable to overcome the odds.

My pre-conceived perceptions of open ocean marine life were toppled.  It was shocking to learn that despite its size, the Pacific has become a garbage dump.

It was hard to rate this book.  The story, overwhelming in its reality, seemed to drag in places.  I finally decided on 3.5 stars.  A worthy read.

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January 27, 2016 · 7:53 am

And so it begins in 2016

Itzey at fireplace

New Year’s Resolution.

2015 was not my favorite year for a variety of personal reasons; all trivial but aggravating.   In this new year, I hope to avoid stepping on a shovel and mashing my glasses into my face or falling off the deck steps and ripping out a few tendons in my right foot.  My friends will acknowledge these listed trivialities to be true but not unique to 2015.  I walk through life with one foot in trouble all the time.

Actually the down time from the ankle surgery has given me a head start on my goal of reading 100 books in 2016.  I don’t know if I will meet that challenge but it will be fun to look forward to trying to do it.

When I learned that I would be in semi-permanent timeout for a while, I decided to set up this blog.  It has been a blast.  Thankfully at this point I have few readers so my bumbling and miscues aren’t seen by the vast blogging universe.  Not that it matters in the scheme of things.

For the few readers that have stopped by in 2015, I hope you enjoyed my thoughts and reviews.  I would love to hear from you!  I have been thrilled to have many advance reader copies provided to me by my favorite publishers.  What new titles for 2016 have caught your attention?  I might have a copy in my to-read list and we can share our thoughts about them!

See you online!

Itzey’s Mom

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January 23, 2016 · 12:29 pm

Best Boy: A Novel

best-boy-cover

Liveright Publishing
Aug 2015
ereader isbn: 9781631490477
Author Website

An advance reader copy was provided free of charge by Liveright Publishing through edelweiss in exchange for my honest opinion.

This story opens on a heartbreaking note as Todd Aaron, an autistic man now in his 50s, describes arriving at his first assisted-living facility when he was only 11 years old.   He remembers his mother tearfully telling hiawardsm he would love it there and promises that she and his father would visit often.  She tries to put Todd in a good mood with banter that is special between the two of them.  Before she surprises him by driving away without him, he’s told he should always remember who really loves him and she asks him to always be a Best Boy.

This very special story will have you thinking about your interact with the developmentally disabled and the way you are viewed by autistic children and adults.  But more amazing is the way they and in this story, Todd, interpret the world and see you.  You will be shocked by the abuse and ease with which family and strangers take advantage of the innocent.  It will come as a surprise that an autistic man incapable of expressing himself verbally is capable of reading and digesting the Encyclopedia Britannica.  You will be overwhelmed by the frustration and yearning he feels as he searches to identify why he is seen differently from the “world out there”.  It will be impossible not to feel sympathy and love for this man.  You will be lost with him in his loneliness and search for the meaning of love and home.

Behind his quiet, often silent, visage runs a mind that sees things, feels emotions, and is capable of thinking independently.  He is just unable to express himself to others in their language code.

In the scene where he tries to tell his brother, Nate, about a new counselor that scares him he thinks.

“I wanted to tell him all about the bad thing that Mike the Apron was going to bring into my life and that I knew it, just knew it.  I wanted to tell him that his face gave off the same sour hot feeling as the face of our father and that he was a creeping coyote-person who was going to hurt the lamb of Greta Deane and sooner or later do something terrible to me. But I didn’t know how to say that…”.

The story, in my opinion, was very dark and so very sad.  With the exception of his mother, and one caring staff member, Todd was always the victim of abuse of some kind.  It was hard to believe at times that the world could be so continuously cruel.  I was disappointed that those who persecuted Todd the most didn’t get the justice they deserved. I personally wanted to flog his brother in the end.

Overall and despite the tension and sadness, I felt compelled to read as fast as I could always hoping and praying that Todd would find the peace and love he so richly deserved.

Highly recommended.

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January 22, 2016 · 11:39 am

The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir

Free ARC provided by Flatiron Press via Edelweiss
in exchange for my honest review.

 

“I slowly walked toward my mother’s grave.
Picked up a large handful of gravel and rolled the hot pieces of stone and sand in my hand, thinking about the place…”
isbn: 1250077710 format: ebook Jan 5th 2016 Flatiron Books Genre: Memoir

isbn: 1250077710
format: ebook
Jan 5th 2016
Flatiron Books
Genre: Memoir

Ruth Wariner blew me away with this captivating memoir.  I started it one night, late, with the thought of reading a few pages to get the flavor of the story and found myself reading until I just couldn’t stay awake any longer.

What immediately struck me was the dire poverty as compared to other polygamist enclaves I was aware existed.  I just couldn’t wrap my head around her mother; her deeply entrenched belief that husband was a prophet and her need to raise her children in such squalor.  I would love to have been inside the minds of these sister wives.

Rhetorical questions keep popping into my mind one after another.  What kind of moral example does a parent send to their children when they illegally leach social assistance from the US as a means of survival?  How can anyone consider this a religious lifestyle; overlooking sexual predators, murder, malnutrition et al?  What drives a man to yearn more and more wives and more and more children that they simply ignore or abuse?

The story is made more powerful as the narration begins when Ruthie is five years old.  The horrors and dangers she must overcome are almost unimaginable and made more so as viewed from a young child’s perspective; especially a child as perceptive and engaging as Ruth.  As we listen to Ruthie’s story, as she ages, it becomes unbearable to witness the adult community immune to the needs of these children.

I ask myself, when given the opportunity several times to make her children’s lives more comfortable and safe, why does Ruth’s mother return the family to the horrors of Colonia LeBaron?

Ruth packs more than a lifetime of emotion and strength of character in this amazing memoir.

And most importantly, we are asked to question our definitions of religion, trust, love, happiness, loyalty, family tradition, and more.  This book will have you thinking about a lot of things for a very long time.

Highly recommended. This brilliant work is a book club must read.

 

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The Guest Room

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

An advance reader copy was provided free of charge by Doubleday through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion  and review.  

guest room cover

isbn (e-copy) 9780385538893 Doubleday 336 pgs Chris Bohjalian

This book was not an 
easy read because of the subject. The author nailed the topic.
r ratingguest room recipe

Honestly had to stop from time to time to get away; actually felt sick to my stomach reading about the destruction of a little girl’s dancing dreams and her horrific introduction
to the sex slave trade.  Yet at the same time I felt the thin thread of hope

pull me along as this little girl (Alexandra/née Nevart) refused to believe this was all she had to look forward to in her life.  Her life was so traumatic and unfair that to t
his day, a week after finishing the book, I still get a sour stomach knowing that little girls all over the world suffer the same fate.

The emotional turmoil and heavy drama within the older brother’s (Richard) family foreshadowed what had to be an unhappy ending.  Each member of his family (Kristin and daughter, Melissa) experienced the full range of negative feelings including confusion, anger, distrust and yes, love. Yet the ending had a twist I did not see coming.

Interesting to me were the comparisons sprinkled throughout the book between the young Nevart/Alexandra and Melissa.  Born continents apart, each shared a love of Barbie dolls and ballet; childhoods leading in polar opposite directions.  One loved deeply and the other deeply looking for love.

The self-destructive nature of the younger brother’s life made it an easy assumption that his life would continue to spiral out of control.  The secondary characters nicely merged each of the principle threads into a harsh but well-crafted story.

In my opinion, the vulgar language, graphic physical descriptions and subject matter limits the reading audience.   Children under 18 should not read this book.  I would, however, recommend it to those individuals and book clubs interested in a discussion of a devastating real world injustice.

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The Breaking Wave

In The Aftermath of the Tsunami…

Library Thing

The Breaking Wave Giveaway Winner

“In the first days after the wave swept Tamsin away, Christine thought they’d be able to locate a body to take back to New Zealand with them.”  

This 62 pg novella is a heart-breaking story you can’t stop reading.  It will haunt you.

Tsunamis have occurred in several parts of the world in the past few years.

ISBN: 1518671896 | 62 pages | CreateSpace Independent Publishing

ISBN: 1518671896 | 62 pages | CreateSpace Independent Publishing

Instantaneously news coverage flashes picture of the horrors left behind. From the vantage point of  safe and secure homes, those not affected feel sorry, perhaps send financial aid, but as soon as the next big news event takes center stage our attention drifts away.

Hayton’s novella takes us to Phuket, Thailand where a tsunami has recently wrought death and destruction.  Christine, Gary and Tamsin Emmett were staying in a rental cabin in Phuket at the time.

Gary had left on an errand and was not with his wife and daughter when it hit.  Gary and Christine survived and each found their way back to the rental home.  Their daughter, Tamsin, was swept away and has not been found dead or alive.

Gary and Christine search daily on foot, by bicycle and when possible by auto each day for clues about Tamsin.  Gary believes firmly that Tamsin is alive: Christine is still in shock and unable to concede either possibility.

This is a harsh book to read.  Nothing is sanitized for the viewing public.  The descriptions, while handled with care, are still graphic enough for the smells to affect you and the images of the death seared in your mind’s eye.

An unexpected conclusion will leave you emotionally sympathetic for anyone in this situation.

The end came too quickly, I yearned for more!  I would hope the author would expand this novella into a larger work.  Bring the characters alive with deeper personal background stories.  It has all the elements of a great work.

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