Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday Salon: How I'm Getting On

Two weeks ago I asked you all to choose my next read based solely on first lines. I have to admit I haven't been particularly good about following your advice as I had seven different books chosen (a couple were mentioned multiple times) and I've only managed to read one of those. But I thought I'd share what the books are in case any of you want to read them faster than I currently am! Here are the ones you chose for me:

1. I miss the pigs. (Michael Perry's Roughneck Grace)

3. They send girls like me to the crazy house--or simply stone us to death. (Maria Toorpakai's A Different Kind of Daughter) **This is the one I managed to read after you all chose it.

9. Fog encircled the island, a strangling grip, as search efforts mounted. (Kristina McMorris' The Edge of Lost)

12. Eliza spies the slim piece of card stock turned facedown in the mire, a perfectly formed rectangle lying on top of the slurry of mud and dung. (Ashley Sweeney's Eliza Waite)

13. When he found out his wife was unfaithful, Hector Castillo told his son to get in the car because they were going fishing. (Patricia Engel's The Veins of the Ocean)

14. It isn't what you know or don't know: it's what you allow yourself to know. (Helen Dunmore's Exposure)

19. How is it possible to bring order out of memory? (Beryl Markham's West with the Night)

I am still trying to get to these for you but in the meantime, I also sneaked in three just because I couldn't wait (or because they happened to be close at hand and I didn't want to get off the couch) books plus a book club choice. Now I'm back to reading a review book but I'll get back to this list soon. Cross my heart! Now if you could all poke at me to actually write some reviews!!!

This past week my reading travels took me around the world looking at the nudist/naturist culture. Then I read about a marriage from the inside perspective of the two people involved in it. Next I took a different look at marriage (from only one perspective this time). Then I went to Spain as a woman grieved her mother. Now I'm immersed in the food culture in Spain. Where did your reading travels take you this week?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: Searching for John Hughes by Jason Diamond

I grew up on John Hughes films, liking and relating to some more than others. I vividly remember watching Sixteen Candles on TV (I'd already seen it at the theater so I knew what all the bleeped out language was) and my dad walking into the room, pausing to watch a scene, and then commenting that if I used that kind of language (apparently he didn't have to see it in the theater to know what Molly Ringwald's character said) they'd forget my birthday too. Obviously Hughes was not the voice of my parents' generation. But in many ways, he was of mine. As much as I can still connect many of his movies to specific moments in my life, I would never have thought to write either a memoir about him or a memoir about the impact his movies had on my life as Jason Diamond did. That the book was originally conceived as the first but then became very much the second made it just that much more interesting to this fellow movie watcher.

Diamond grew up in the Chicago suburbs that Hughes immortalized in his movies at the very time that Hughes was capturing them. Diamond identified with these movies and the man who made them, using them and music as an escape from his own very unhappy childhood and adolescence. John Hughes excelled at capturing teen angst. It seems it was this feeling above all others that resonated with Diamond, although given his estrangement from his abusive and neglectful parents and his eventual homelessness while still in high school, he wasn't actually facing the sort of angst that Hughes' characters face, instead he was facing true and deep problems. But the movies' generally positive (hard to call them happy in some cases) endings, gave Diamond hope in what was otherwise a rather hopeless situation. Diamond struggled to define himself outside of his parents' negative and brutal definition of him so he uses certain of Hughes' characters to try and make sense of who he is throughout the pages of this memoir.

After escaping his unhappy history in Chicago, Diamond moves to New York where he finds a succession of low paying, easily replaceable jobs. He is still adrift and ashamed of his life when discussions with friends and a reading by a medium encourages him to tackle a comprehensive, unauthorized biography of John Hughes. Chasing after his dream of writing a book, researching the pop culture icon, trying unsuccessfully to interview those who worked with Hughes, and making a deep dive into the movies consumed years of Diamond's life. Even immersed in this project, Diamond still struggled but the project allowed him the chance to recount and accept his past on the way to a better and happier life.

This memoir is not so much about John Hughes. It is very much about Jason Diamond. It is personal and hard and what he lived through is dark and depressing. Insecurity and self doubt wind through his terrible teen years and on into his twenties. The small hope of Hughes' movie endings seems to be beyond his reach so very often but somehow, even so, those movies pull him through. The memoir is very introspective and some of Diamond's drifting is hard to read. It's tough to stay with an author who is so unhappy and filled with shame and anger but his recounting of his early life certainly explains why he is trapped in this place. I'm not sure how relatable the book would be to someone not of his generation but for those of us who grew up in the John Hughes era as Diamond did, this will strike a chord for sure.

For more information about Jason Diamond and the book, check out his author website or follow him on Instagram or Twitter. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

The Antiques by Kris D'Agostino. The book is being released by Scribner on January 10, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: An irresistible, incisive, fast-paced comedic drama about a family who reunites after the death of its patriarch, just as a hurricane tears through town. For fans of Jonathan Tropper, Emma Straub, and Karen Joy Fowler.

On the night of a massive, record-breaking hurricane, George Westfall, an upstate New York antique store owner and father of three, lays dying. As his wife Ana seals up the storefront, their adult son Armie hides from the outside world as he always does, immersed in woodwork and thoughts of the past. In New York City, Armie’s older brother Josef, a sex-addicted techie, is fighting to repair his broken relationship with his daughters. And out in Los Angeles their sister Charlie’s career as a Hollywood publicist is crumbling.

For the Westfalls, Murphy’s Law is in full effect. Their patriarch dies as the storm hits town, flooding the store and ruining Josef’s business negotiations. Charlie is desperately trying to set a movie starlet straight, while handling her son’s expulsion from preschool and her wayward husband. And Armie, who’s still in love with his high school crush Audrey, can’t even muster the courage to leave his childhood home. Only when the children reunite to sell their father’s beloved heirloom painting do they discover their real fortune lies elsewhere.

A rollicking tableau of family life in all its messy complexity, like the best of Meg Wolitzer and Tom Perrotta, The Antiques is hilarious, heartbreaking, nimble, and observant. Complete with deeply flawed, affectionately rendered characters and an irresistible plot, Kris D’Agostino’s unforgettable novel is about the unexpected epiphanies that emerge in chaos, and the loved ones who help show us who we really are.

Monday, November 28, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Under the Influence by Joyce Maynard
A Different Kind of Daughter by Maria Toorpakai
Searching for John Hughes by Jason Diamond
Naked at Lunch by Mark Haskell Smith

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

You Have Never Been Here by Mary Rickert
West With the Night by Beryl Markham
A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel
Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Roughneck Grace by Michael Perry
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Reviews posted this week:

Under the Influence by Joyce Maynard

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

One Perfect Summer by Paige Toon
The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
American Housewife by Helen Ellis
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
Closer All the Time by Jim Nichols
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Forsaken by Ross Howell Jr.
The Cosmopolitans by Sarah Schulman
The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
A Very Special Year by Thomas Montasser
Specimen by Irina Kovalyova
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod
The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
The Boy Who Speaks in Numbers by Mike Masilamani
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas
After the Dam by Amy Hassinger
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
Umami by Laia Jufresa
The Education of a Poker Player by James McManus
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea
The Iceberg by Marion Coutts
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Remarkable by Dinah Cox
Miss Jane by Brad Watson
The Inland Sea by Donald Ritchie
The Unseen World by Liz Moore
The Silver Spoon by Kansuke Naka
Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine by Alex Brunkhorst
The Honeymoon by Dinitia Smith
The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter
The Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
Bottomland by Michelle Hoover
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison
The Lake by Perrine Leblanc
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
If You Left by Ashley Norton
The Heart You Carry Home by Jennifer Miller
And Again by Jessica Chiarella
Man by Kim Thuy
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora
A Good American by Alex George
Bertrand Court by Michelle Brafman
When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams
The Winter War by Philip Teir
This Side of Providence by Sally M. Harper
Lost and Found by Brooke Davis
Charmed Particles by Chrissy Kolaya
300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan
The Tsar of Love of Techno by Anthony Marra
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden
Hey Harry, Hey Matilda by Rachel Hulin
The Measure of Darkness by Liam Durcan
Finding Fraser by KC Dyer
A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold
The Drone Eats With Me by Atef Abu Saif
Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh
Moo by Sharon Creech
Dear Reader by Paul Fournel
Hotel Angeline by 36 authors
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old by Anonymous
Xenophobe's Guide to the English by Antony Miall and David Milsted
No. 4 Imperial Lane by Jonathan Weisman
Lord Roworth's Reward by Carola Dunn
Violation by Sallie Tisdale
Fall of Poppies by a collection of authors
A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner
Sitting in Bars With Cake by Audrey Schulman
Plus One by Christopher Noxon
Aunt Dimity and the Summer King by Nancy Atherton
The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
Kevin Kramer Starts on Monday by Debbie Graber
Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell
An Improper Arrangement by Kasey Michaels
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
Riverine by Angela Palm
Gold Fever by Steve Boggan
I Will Find You by Joanna Connors
A Shoe Addict's Christmas by Beth Harbison
You Have Never Been Here by Mary Rickert
Hollywood Is a Lot Like High School With Money by Zoey Dean
Disaster Falls by Stephane Gerson
The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Birds, Beasts, and Relatives by Gerald Durrell
Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger
The Last Chance Christmas Ball by Putney, Beverley, Bourne, Rice, Cornick, Elliott, Gracie, and King
A Different Kind of Daughter by Maria Toorpakai
Searching for John Hughes by Jason Diamond
Naked at Lunch by Mark Haskell Smith

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrival:

Under the Influence by Joyce Maynard came from William Morrow.

I've already reviewed this one here.

If you want to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel. The book is being released by Atria/Emily Bestler Books on December 27, 2016.

Amazon says this about the book: For fans of The Nanny Diaries and Sophie Kinsella comes a whip-smart and deliciously funny debut novel about Kate, a young woman unexpectedly thrust into the cutthroat world of New York City private school admissions as she attempts to understand city life, human nature, and falling in love.

Despite her innate ambition and Summa Cum Laude smarts, Kate Pearson has turned into a major slacker. After being unceremoniously dumped by her handsome, French “almost fiancĂ©,” she abandons her grad school plans and instead spends her days lolling on the couch, watching reruns of Sex and the City, and leaving her apartment only when a dog-walking gig demands it. Her friends don’t know what to do other than pass tissues and hope for a comeback, while her practical sister, Angela, pushes every remedy she can think of, from trapeze class to therapy to job interviews.

Miraculously, and for reasons no one (least of all Kate) understands, she manages to land a job in the admissions department at the prestigious Hudson Day School. In her new position, Kate learns there’s no time for self-pity or nonsense during the height of the admissions season, or what her colleagues refer to as “the dark time.” As the process revs up, Kate meets smart kids who are unlikable, likeable kids who aren’t very smart, and Park Avenue parents who refuse to take no for an answer.

Meanwhile, Kate’s sister and her closest friends find themselves keeping secrets, hiding boyfriends, dropping bombshells, and fighting each other on how to keep Kate on her feet. On top of it all, her cranky, oddly charming, and irritatingly handsome downstairs neighbor is more than he seems. Through every dishy, page-turning twist, it seems that one person’s happiness leads to another’s misfortune, and suddenly everyone, including Kate, is looking for a way to turn rejection on its head, using any means necessary—including the truly unexpected.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review: Under the Influence by Joyce Maynard

Have you ever met someone who was completely seductive? I don't mean that in a sexual way either. There are some people in this world who draw you in, sometimes positively but just as often negatively. They have a charisma that convinces you that you've discovered a gem in them, a new immediate best friend, someone you want to spend as much time as possible with, someone who makes you feel special and valued. I have met a few people like this in my life and there's nothing like the feeling of being taken into their inner ring. But sometimes occupying that space comes with a cost you couldn't predict in the first flush of enraptured friendship. Joyce Maynard's most recent novel, Under the Influence, details not only the spellbinding relationship but also what happens when a character opens her eyes to the actual people by whom she is so enchanted.

Helen's drinking destroyed the life she'd built for herself. It lost her custody of her son, the only bright spot she has in an otherwise lonely life. Devastated by losing Ollie, Helen works on improving herself in hopes that she'll eventually get her boy back. She attends AA faithfully and has stayed sober for years. She works as a school portrait photographer and moonlights as a server for a catering company. She goes on occasional dates from Match.com but there's no one special in her life. She's got one friend who she counts on every now and then but she's mainly alone, her father having never been in her life and her mother being an indifferent and unmaternal alcoholic herself. When Helen meets a lovely woman named Ava Havilland at an art benefit where Helen is a server and Ava is buying art, Helen is completely enchanted. Telling Ava that she herself is a photographer, even if she hasn't shot anything but school pictures in forever, the two strike up the beginnings of an almost obsessive (on Helen's part) friendship. Helen becomes a frequent visitor to the Havilland home and feels as if she is almost a member of the family, adopted by this captivating woman and her magnetic and charismatic husband, Swift. She starts to do them small favors as friends do for each other and they in turn enfold her into their fabulously, wealthy wonderland life.

Helen shares the heartbreaks of her life with Ava even though she gets little similar information in return. She is dazzled by the Havillands and the near perfection of their life. Just about the time Helen meets a quiet, loyal, and unassuming man named Elliott, she is given some expanded access to Ollie by her ex-husband and she folds her son easily into her life with Ava and Swift. Eight year old Ollie is as enchanted by them as she is, maybe even more so. Elliott, on the other hand, is not so taken with them. In fact, as an accountant he is really only curious about the new nonprofit called BARK they are creating to spay and neuter pets all over the country. The Havillands don't take to Elliott either, dubbing him a bean counter and damning him with faint praise. Helen is torn, especially when her best chance of regaining custody of Ollie might be with support from Swift and Ava.

Told from the perspective of years after the fact and narrated by a more self-aware Helen, it is immediately obvious that something has caused a rift between Helen and the Havillands but it takes most of the novel to find out just what that is. There are occasional interjections by present day Helen into her narration of the unfolding past that offer a hint at her feelings now and what she feels she should have recognized back then. These interjections serve to keep the reader alert to the undercurrents swirling through the narration and elevate the narrative tension quite effectively. Maynard has drawn Helen very convincingly as a woman who craves validation from others and is vulnerable in this need. Helen's own story-telling abilities don't protect her from falling under the influence of others and in fact make her inability to see people as they truly are sad. Helen is truly under the influence, first of alcohol and then, more importantly, of the power and allure of the Havillands. Used to having her life dictated to her by others, she fails to see the real place she occupies in the Havilland solar system and it will take a truly shocking incident to open her eyes. This said, she herself is not an entirely likable character, making terrible choices and allowing herself to be blinded the way she is. Swift and Ava are glittering, brittle characters whose kindnesses are undercut by something a little sinister, a little condescending, a little disturbing. And so the story is brilliantly set. The novel is both an indictment of the moneyed who wield their bank books as weapons and a look at the power of finally directing your own life and having the courage to rescue yourself. It is well written and suspenseful and the reader will fall under its spell just as truly as Helen fell under Swift and Ava's.

For more information about Joyce Maynard and the book, check out her author website or like her on Facebook. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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