Apr 9, 2014

Review: A Single Breath by Lucy Clarke

(No Spoilers!!)
When Eva Bowe's husband of only eight months is killed in a fishing accident in Dorset, she wants desperately to connect with Jackson's father and brother, who live on a southern island of Australia. Shortly after arriving at his father, Dirk's house, things seem a bit off to Eva. Dirk appears very uncomfortable having Eva there and after a few drinks of whiskey, his harsh words flow more freely and he tells her it would be best if she left. Feeling shunned but still determined to find out what Jackson's life was like before going to England, she sets out to track down his brother, Saul. She finds him on a fishing dock and he is no friendlier than Dirk. She knew the brothers had a falling out and hadn't spoken in a few years but she still held out hope that they could at least get to know each other.

Reluctantly, Saul offers Eva a place to stay for a few days, hoping that after that she will go back to London so they can all move on but he's worried that the longer she stays, people who knew Jackson will start asking who she is and he doesn't want to have to lie.

She and Saul start to get to know each other and even enjoy some time fishing and diving, but with every day, Eva discovers more lies and before long she doesn't know who to trust. Jackson had told her once that Saul was a liar and couldn't be trusted but Eva begins to wonder if Jackson was the liar. To complicate matters, while she begins to feel deceived by Jackson, she is growing closer to Saul, but how can she trust Saul when she can't even trust her own instincts?

Through many twists and turns, Eva confronts the people in Jackson's life and even when she thinks she finally has the answers, she is hit with another blow. Not only does she doubt everything she thought she knew about her husband, she doubts her very life. She wonders if it was all just a big lie or did Jackson really love her and have legitimate reasons for his secrets.

My Thoughts:

After reading Clarke's debut novel, SWIMMING AT NIGHT last year and really enjoying it,  I was looking forward to her new book. As with her first book, Clarke doesn't waste time getting right into the story and that continues throughout the book. I instantly liked Eva and felt terribly for her and what she was going through. She's a very likable character, so I shared her feelings of betrayal each time she discovered another lie. There are so many plot twists in this book that kept me riveted and raised new questions.  I've read other books with a lot of twists and turns that made me feel jerked around, but I didn't feel like that with this book. Clarke did a terrific job of weaving an intricate, complex story of love, loss, betrayal and hope. It all worked perfectly, in my opinion.

Another thing this book has in common with her first book is the amazing Australian locale. Though she doesn't go overboard with description, Clarke sets the scenes so vividly you feel like you're right there with them. I especially loved when Eva and Saul would go free diving and experience all the tropical fish and colorful reefs. I could see it all in my mind and it had me wishing I lived beach side. Its quite evident in her writing that she loves the sea and surrounding land and that she enjoys sharing it in her books. You can sense the gunuine affection she has for that life. In this book, the sea and landscape actually becomes a character of its own.

A SINGLE BREATH was such a pleasure to read and has made me see that Lucy Clarke is a true talent. Its very easy for me to say this book is one of my favorites this year. As you can tell, I am a big fan and will always be on the lookout for her new books. Her writing is fresh, her stories captivating and beautifully written, which is why I will be recommending her books to my friends.

Author: Lucy Clarke (@lucyclarkebooks); on Facebook
Publisher: Touchstone
Published: April 8, 2014
Length:  385 pp
Source: Publisher

Apr 5, 2014

Review: Jon Stewart: Beyond the Moments of Zen by Bruce Watson (Kindle Edition)

As a fan of Jon Stewart and his satirical comedy, admittedly, I've been an on again off again viewer of his late-night fake news show on Comedy Central for several years. That said, in the last few years, I've become a regular by recording The Daily Show with Jon Stewart every weeknight that it airs (Monday - Thursday).  When I saw this book featured as a Kindle Monthly Deal recently, I had to have it, even though it isn't an "authorized" biography, meaning Stewart, himself, did not contribute directly to the book. His quotes are taken from other interviews and sources and are clearly noted throughout.

Its obvious that Bruce Watson is a huge fan of Stewart, but he does a good job of trying to be non-biased about the comedian and his work. If you are a die-hard fan and you already are familiar with Stewart and his path to late-night stardom, you probably already know a lot of what's in this book. But for people like me, who really like Stewart and his humor but don't know a lot about his back-story, you may find this book as informative and entertaining as I did.

There are many things I didn't realize about Jon Stewart: How smart he is; how funny he is; and how influential he is. Some people may not appreciate his sarcastic humor, also known as satire, but I love it. I have been accused of being a smart-a** myself so I'm not offended by his sharp, sometimes painful jabs at the ridiculousness of certain people.  The thing that makes Jon Stewart different than other comedians is that he not only makes fun of his targets, he takes it a step further and explains why, in great detail, said target is being made fun of, all the while keeping the laughs going but making absolute perfect sense as he does this. That is the art form of Jon Stewart, in my opinion. You may or may not agree with him, but you're still going to laugh about it, if you allow yourself.

The book reveals how private a person Stewart is when not on air and I was a little surprised by that. He is probably one of the most private celebrity's out there and that is really saying something in this age of social media overload. I was also surprised to find out that even though he is a comic hosting a fake news show, he is extremely influential. He's very passionate and knows what he's talking about and that, I believe, is why he is so good at what he does. Bruce Watson takes the reader through the ups and the downs of The Daily Show and how Stewart's love of politics lead to the growth of the show since he took it over from Craig Kilborn in 1999. He emphasizes that Stewart does his very best to remain non-partisan and calls out 'real' news shows that are so blatantly partisan that they skew the issues for their own benefit while pushing their opinions on its viewers.  

I have to be critical for a moment and say that there were some editorial issues I noticed throughout the book, such as spelling and a few sentences that were jumbled. Though noticeable, it wasn't a huge distraction. On the plus side, its a quick read that highlights many of Stewart's milestones both on and off the show. I read this book in two sittings and I feel like it was time well spent. I now have a broader understanding of this unique satirist, not to mention a whole new respect for his knowledge, passion and commitment to his job.

The bottom line is I really enjoyed this book and learning more about Jon Stewart and how he is perceived by the very people he uses as targets. Watson did a great job of showing that the host of a fake news show on a comedy channel is taken seriously and has earned the respect of people on both sides of the aisle.

JON STEWART: Beyond the Moments of Zen
Author: Bruce Watson
Publisher: New Word City, Inc.
Published: January 2014
Length: 150 pp
Source: Purchased

Apr 2, 2014

WWW Wednesday (April 2)

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to play along, just answer these 3 questions:

  1. What are you currently reading?
  2. What did you recently finish reading?
  3. What do you think you'll read next?
Here are my answers -

  1. What are you currently reading?  Yesterday I started reading the second book from Lucy Clarke that will be published next Tuesday from Harper Collins. A SINGLE BREATH is about Eva, a recent widow who was only married 8 months. She decides to travel to Tasmania to meet her husband, Jackson's, father and brother, but when she gets there, it becomes clear that Jackson was not being honest about his family. I'm only about 15% done but so far I am completely committed to this story and really enjoying it. If it's anything like her first book, SWIMMING AT NIGHT, I'm going to love it. 
  2. What did you recently finish reading? I finished reading BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR by Jeffrey Archer earlier this week. This is the fourth book in The Clifton Chronicles Series and it was a completely entertaining read. You can read my review here if you like.
  3. What do you think you'll read next?  I'm pretty sure I'm going to be reading the new novel THE MEMORY GARDEN by Mary Rickert next.  I don't know a lot about it but is sounds very mysterious and that's what I love. 
What books are occupying your time this week? 

Apr 1, 2014

Review: Be Careful What You Wish For by Jeffrey Archer (The Clifton Chronicles #4)

At the close of the third book of this masterful series readers were left wondering if Emma and Harry Clifton's son, Sebastian, would survive the horrific car crash that was the direct result of a murder plot concocted by deranged Argentinian business man, Don Pedro Martinez, as retaliation against the family he despises.  BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR takes up right where the third book left off so the beginning of this new installment gets right into action. Beginning with the aftermath of Sebastian's car crash, Jeffrey Archer moves the story along to include Jessica, the daughter that Emma and Harry adopted, and follows her to art school, where she leaves no doubt in anyone's mind what she is meant to do with her life. But even with the promise of a bright future, the Clifton's worry that a secret they've been keeping from her can no longer be kept quiet and must be revealed to her. All the while, Don Pedro is still up to his old tricks using every resource available to him to bring down the Barrington and Clifton families.

Emma's family business, Barrington Shipping Company is moving forward trying to keep up with changing times as well as competing with rival companies. Against Emma's better judgement, the board has decided to contract the building of a luxury liner, the MV Buckingham, which they expect to be a floating palace with new, modern comforts. Its maiden voyage is planned for New York and even the Queen Mother is to name the ship several weeks prior. The cost of this new vessel will be high, but hopefully, the rewards even higher. As the building of the ship progresses, Don Pedro will stop at nothing to bring the family down, leaving no one out of his reach. 

My Thoughts:

With any series, there is a risk of the stories getting redundant or stale. At the beginning, I wondered whether that might happen here, but it didn't take long for that thought to leave my mind completely. The vendetta Don Pedro has against the Barrington's and Clifton's could have gotten tiresome but Archer, being the wonderful writer he is, made sure that didn't happen. I can easily say this is my favorite book of the series hands down.  It has everything, but what stood out for me even amongst all the sabotage, political maneuvering, and complicated relationships was the unexpected humor.  Jeffrey Archer showed such wit with some of the characters and included funny capers that literally had me laughing out loud. But then just as quickly, the story would turn serious again.  I enjoyed this book so much, I just didn't want it to end.   

There are a lot of characters in this book, most from previous installments and new ones, but they are not at all hard to keep straight. They are so diverse and original, some even quirky, but all great. In addition to his knack of creating good characters, I also really enjoy his style of writing. Experienced mystery writers know exactly how to ensure there is always that doubt or question in the back of your mind and Archer does it very well. For example, when a chapter begins, you may not know exactly which character is doing what but when it is revealed, there is always that Aha! moment. I love that about his books. And that is not to mention the cliffhangers. There are small ones throughout the book but the biggest and best is always left for the end. I can't believe I have to wait until next year to find out what happened! 

I am so thankful to Anna from Diary of an Eccentric for introducing me to Jeffrey Archer and this series. I won the audio CD of the first book from her several years ago and I have been hooked ever since. I've listened to the first three installments but this is the first one I've actually read. Though I really love the narrator of the audios, I enjoyed reading this one every bit as much. If you are considering reading this series, which I hope you will, you must start start from the beginning to fully understand what is going on and who all the players are. Since there's only four books so far, it wouldn't be hard to get caught up at this point. To sum it up, Jeffery Archer completely entertained me with this newest book and I can't wait for the next chapter.

Author: Jeffrey Archer
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Published: March 11, 2014
Length: 400 pp
Source: Publisher 

Mar 24, 2014

Audio Review: The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache #3)

As this series continues, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete is once again called to Three Pines to investigate another death. Gamache has become very fond of this quaint little village that lies south of Montreal, and many of its inhabitants, so its a double-edged sword to return there for this purpose.

It is now Spring and with the arrival of a visiting phychic to their community, the villagers plan a seance, though not everyone thinks its a good idea to do this at Easter time. Nonetheless, they hold a first seance in Olivier's Bistro with lackluster results, so they hold second seance at The Old Hadley House, well known to everyone for having evil spirits. It is during that second gathering that the unthinkable happens and one of their own dies in the process. Gamache arrives and confirms that the death was a murder and sets out to find the killer. Again, he relies on the residents of Three Pines to help put the pieces together and find out who had the means and the motive to commit murder right under their noses.

While Gamache is busy with his list of suspects, someone within the Surete is stepping up their plot to bring down Gamache and ultimately humiliate him into resigning. But this time, they are also going after his family, whom Gamache will do anything to protect.

My Thoughts on the Book:

Louise Penny is one of those mystery writers who does not rush anything in her stories. As with her previous installments of this series, this is a slow-paced thought-provoking journey into the minds of both the killer and the Chief Inspector. If you're looking for edge-of-your-seat thrills, you won't necessarily find them here, but you will find smart, provocative characters, with interesting backgrounds and insights weaved together with believable murder plots. Penny's who-dun-its unfold methodically, slowly showing that anyone could be the murderer. That's what I love about her books.

In this third book, I had a real feel for the Surete officers on Gamache's investigative team and I knew for the most part who to trust and who not to trust, but that is not to say there weren't some surprises in that regard.

I love the character of Gamache and I instantly dislike anyone who goes against him. His second in command, Jean Guy, is also a favorite, though he can be brash, but his loyalty to Armand Gamache is unshakable. I also enjoy the familiarity of the core group of villagers of Three Pines. They can be strange, loving, funny and even down-right odd but they are good people. They each have their own quirks about them but that is what makes them interesting. Now that I am well into the series, I get the little inside jokes and jabs the villagers have with each other, not to mention the name-calling that would seem mean or harsh to an outsider but comes across lovingly if you know the source. One of my favorite things about this installment is the lovely, metaphorical way in which Penny allowed us to learn more about Ruth Zardo, one of the core group who always has come across as the mean and nasty poet who doesn't think twice about telling you exactly what she thinks of you. The realization of who Ruth really is underneath all that gruff was beautifully done using two baby ducklings to do it. It was fantastic and makes me appreciate Penny's writing even more.

In these last three books, along with the main plot of the murder, there has been an underlying ongoing plot of who is trying to bring down Gamache. I'm anxious to see where that story leads us in the fourth book, as much of that story has now been brought to light. In my opinion, this series is more for the mature reader who enjoys uncovering and learning the physic of its characters. Not to stereotype, but some younger readers may find it a bit slow and lack the excitement they are looking for, though, if given a fair chance, I believe they would appreciate the provocative storytelling these books offer.      

Audio Review:

This is the first time I've chosen the audio version for this series and though at first, I didn't feel like I was going to enjoy the narration by Ralph Cosham, I did end up changing my opinion. At first I thought he was a bit drab, but soon I realized his voice was very suitable, especially for the voice of Chief Inspector Gamache. I'm relieved that I ended up favoring his performance because I very well may choose to listen to more based on that decision.

THE CRUELEST MONTH (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Louise Penny
Narrated by: Ralph Cosham
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Published: March 2008
Length:  11 hrs 46 mins

Mar 16, 2014

The Sunday Salon: Spring Begins Anew

When Spring arrives it brings with it such hope and promise for a fresh start and that's why I think people look forward to it so much. I've started my Spring cleaning and have a few projects around the house I'm anxious to get started. With the March winds in full force, I'll also be doing more yard clean up in the next week or so, which is really interesting for a girl with less than half of her vision! Luckily, I'll have help with that!

My reading has been going very well this past month, mainly because I changed e-readers. For the last year, I've been using the Kindle Paperwhite because of the non-glare, e-ink screen and I'd been doing fairly well with it. I wasn't reading as fast as I would have like, but with the page lit up, I didn't have to worry about having a light over my shoulder all the time. That is the main problem with my reading - having enough light to be able to see the large print. In January my mom bought a Kindle Fire HD and I fell in love with it when I saw it. Having the ability to change the background and font colors is exactly what I needed but was unavailable on the Paperwhite. The white background on the Paperwhite was getting increasingly difficult for me because it was too bright and I had trouble keeping the words in focus causing me to blink a lot. While toying around with Mom's new Kindle Fire, I switched the background to black and made the font white and Wow! It was incredible! I honestly don't know why I didn't think about that sooner. I was able to fly through the pages and it was so much easier on my eyes. I knew right then and there I was getting a Kindle Fire for myself. 

After receiving my Kindle Fire HD, I read two books in 14 days (one was almost 600 pages!) and didn't have the eye fatigue I'd been experiencing with the Paperwhite. I'm reading almost at the speed I used to read before my RP diagnosis. I'm not saying the Paperwhite isn't a good product, but for my sensitive and complicated eye condition, it just didn't give me what I was needing anymore. The Paperwhite is completely different than the Fire and it has features that are very helpful (like being able to read in bright sunlight with the non-glare screen) but I am so much happier with the Fire. I also love how quickly the pages turn. There is no delay at all, unlike the Paperwhite where you have to wait for the screen to 'flash' and turn the page. You wouldn't think it would, but that makes a huge difference in your reading speed.  Another feature of the Kindle Fire HD is the voice over option. Though I don't need it now, there may come a day when I will. My sister, who is totally blind, uses that feature on her iPhone and you'd be amazed at what all she can do! 

Another reason I think I'm enjoying my reading so much lately is that I'm reading books from my TBR pile.  I am finally getting to some books that have been waiting on me. They may not all be new releases, but that doesn't really bother me. I've also been borrowing Kindle books from my local library, which I think is the best thing EVER! 

I'm still listening to a good amount of audiobooks on my iPod as well. I rarely clean house or do laundry without an audiobook going in my ears. But my favorite thing to do is to cook while listening. I get so absorbed in what I'm hearing and what I'm cooking that I lose all track of time. If I was still driving, I think I'd really enjoy that time as well, but that ship has sailed.  I never thought I'd enjoy listening to audios the way I do, but I have become a complete audio hound!  

Between my new Kindle and my iPod I'm keeping very busy. Right now I'm reading Jeffrey Archer's new book, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR and I'm listening to Louise Penny's THE CRUELEST MONTH. They are both series books that have totally sucked me in. If you've never read an Archer book, just know that he is the King of the Cliffhanger! 

That is all the ramblings I have for today. I just wanted to share my insights about the Kindle Fire and hopefully the information may help someone else who is having difficulty reading. It looks like its going to be a beautiful day and I'll be heading over to my mom's house later for a cookout to celebrate my, um...50th birthday, which is tomorrow. My mom is making my favorite  Boston Cream Pie and some of my extended family are coming over. It should be a lot of fun. 

Enjoy your Sunday and Happy Reading!

Mar 14, 2014

Review: Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

A year after losing her husband Matt in a tragic accident, Kate Pheris finally wakes up for her stupor of grief and realizes she must take back her life, not only for herself but for the sake of her eight year-old daughter Devin. Ever since Matt's death, Kate has basically been on auto-pilot, just going through the motions and allowing her mother-in-law, Cricket, to make the decisions in both Devin and Kate's lives.

On the day Kate and Devin are to move into Cricket's house and start the life Cricket has planned for them, Kate finds a postcard from fifteen years ago that her mother apparently hid from her. It was from her great-aunt Eby who Kate remembered from the wonderful summer she spent at Eby's camp when she was twelve. The camp is situated around Lost Lake and though Kate remembers having the time of her young life, there was a falling out between Kate's mother and Eby and they abruptly left. Kate never knew what happened, only that she didn't get the chance to say goodbye to the friend she met there and spent every day of that summer with.

With Kate's mother gone and the discovery of the postcard, it was important for Kate now to go see Eby and explain why she never responded or saw Eby again. For the first time in a year, Kate made a decision about her life without consulting Cricket. She would take Devin and head out of Atlanta to the small town near the Florida border to Lost Lake so Devin could meet her great-great aunt who Kate remembered so fondly. Hopefully at the same time Kate can figure out if she's doing the right thing following Cricket's plan or to make one of her own.

My Thoughts:

It didn't take me long when I began reading LOST LAKE to realize how much I'd missed Sarah Addison Allen's writing. Just like her other books, of which I've read all but one somehow, there's an air of familiarity and comfort to her stories. I always connect to her characters so easily, even the unlikable ones. But mostly, her stories are so heartfelt and genuine that its easy to get caught up in them. Her lyrical prose and the mysterious magical elements she includes in her stories go together like peaches and cream.  I've read many books with that magical realism element but I find that no one does it better than SAA.

LOST LAKE is not just Kate's story - its also Eby's story that began some fifty years ago in Paris while on her honeymoon. Though Kate and Eby are the main protagonists, there are five other pivotal characters with great stories of their own in this book about love, grief and hope and Lost Lake has special meaning for all of them, even if they don't admit it.  As the story unfolds, SAA gives relative background on each of them without weighing it down or straying from the main plot line. Her character development is seamless.  Each of their stories is important to the plot and makes for great reading. Another plus is the diversity of the characters.

As with all of her books, the magical realism elements are subtle and not over the top, which allows them to fit perfectly into the story. Its funny, I've had recurring nightmares of alligators for years and I had no idea there would be an alligator in the storyline so that was a surprise. Though my nightmares are much more scary than the alligator in this story! I thought the symbolism of the alligator was great and tied the story together very nicely.  By the end of the book, I was wishing I had my own Lost Lake and Aunt Eby to go visit for the summer.

Sarah Addison Allen has shown me once again why she is one of the authors I look forward to reading the most. If you're looking for a book that will have great characters with a meaningful message and a little something magical, reach for one of her books - you can't go wrong with them.

Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Published: January 2014
Length: 303 pp
Source: Publisher/Netgalley
Recommend? Absolutely Yes!!