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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford’s, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is one of this years MustReads. Another historical fiction novel that makes a person stop and wonder how much is fiction and how much is history. The book takes place during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history. It’s hard to imagine a novel that sucks you in about the internment of American-Japanese families during World War II but this one does. Mr. Ford touches on part of American history we should all know more about, but my belief is this is part of the US’s dark history that schools tend to skip over. Heartbreaking and warm, light and heavy, hopeful and hopeless all at the same time. When rating a book, I look at the emotional gamete and this one runs them all.

It’s all about a tender friendship between a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl who are both subject to prejudice and bullying. Their natural friendship, family and school life is meshed together in a great story. Jamie Ford does a fantastic job and weaving the past and present and bringing them together at the end. The story is set in Seattle, Washington, and is described in a way, I could almost smell the air.

My only disappointment was a bit of the timeline. There wasn’t really an internet support group to the local-everyday-people of America let alone home computers in 1986. (’96 maybe, the timeline could have been researched a bit more and I think pushing it ten years in the future wouldn’t have been a stretch.) I was a senior in high school in ’86 and there were things that the author portrayed that weren’t exactly spot on… Otherwise, this is a great read that leaves you scratching your head and wondering what we were thinking as Americans.

Although the book is a little slow to get going, I highly recommend it, push through the first few chapters and you’ll be hooked.

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Twain’s End by Lynn Cullen (BookReview)

Twain’s End was one of those books I picked up, put down, picked up, swore off, picked back up and couldn’t put down. My impression of Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain is forever skewed because of this novel. Its one of those situations I had to ask myself, how much of this is historical and how much is fiction. Apparently, Ms. Cullen’s did her homework, remember that old saying stranger than fiction? The documents and historical records show that much of this book could be exactly the way it happened.

The story is about Clemen’s secretary, Isabel; her devotion, love and relationship with him. It also highlights Mr. Clemen’s relationships with his his alter-ego, (Mark Twain) as well as his wife, daughters and other women in his life. Not to mention, their physical and mental ailments. The book is written well and gives the reader a sense of ‘being there’.

One thing a person doesn’t normally think about is the time period when the slaves throughout this country became free, the affect and impact it had on the families that had believed slavery to be nothing more than a way of life. Heartbreaking and tragic, the things Clemen saw from his father and the way those experiences shaped his life. How did children of this time period cope? Sam Clements didn’t fair well at all, his upbringing plagued his love and twisted him from the inside out. He really is a jerk, and the ending was all too real life. Painfully real.

Overall, this book has inspired me to start my own research for a historical fiction novel. It left me thinking of the stories that haven’t been told about this era, the way people had to cope and adjust. Lives like Mr. Twain’s all too often get sugar coated and turned heroic when the reality was right place at the right time (or wrong place at the wrong time), either way, Twain’s End is worth the read.

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Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver #bookreview

Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall brings back memories of the movie Groundhog’s Day plus my own horrible high school experience.

When I was a kid, my dad took me to see the Bill Murray’s blockbuster hit. On our way home, he told me every student in America should have to watch that movie over and over again until they could successfully write about underlying meaning of the story-line.

As I listed to Lauren’s debut novel on audio, I thought the same thing. Every teenager should have to read and understand this book. It delves deeper into the life of Samantha, the main character, than the Groundhog Day’s or maybe it’s just Sam is more relate-able than Phil. Either way, high school sucks and then you die. Really, that sums it up in seven words. But the self-discovery of the young woman’s repetitive week is worth the read. Its nice to know most people who bullied eventually know what they did, eventually know the hurt they caused.

As for the ending, I don’t want a spoiler alert, but really, it couldn’t have ended any other way. The reality of the book has to have the finality of the story (if that made sense…) Overall, a good read that delivers a classic lesson.

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Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult #mustread

Small Great Things, possibly the most important read of the year!  Modern day American racism is the theme and Jodi Picoult portrays it brilliantly.

(The book…) In a nutshell, Ruth is a black labor and delivery nurse who has done her job well her entire (long) career. She’s also a single mom who’s raised an incredible son in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. In comes a couple of racist jerks (whom Jodi portrays PERFECTLY, in tone, description, etc.) and they have a baby boy. (You see where this is going right?) Of course, Ruth is their nurse. Turk, the baby’s father, forbids Ruth to have anything to do with his son. He makes quite a stink about it until Ruth is told not touch or interact with the newborn in any way. That’s all fine and dandy if nothing happens to the child, right? No spoiler alerts in my reviews-imagine the worst, the best and a twist you’ll never see coming-and that’s the book.

Like in other intensely written novels of this type, one should ask themselves (especially if they are white), what if it was reversed? What if the prejudice was the other way around? It’s unfathomable. Well, to most… To me, this book clearly turns the spot light on NOW. Not back in the 90’s, 60’s, 20’s or when slavery was still legal but RIGHT NOW in everyday life we are living. Jodi shows that this type of prejudice is still prevelent in today’s world.

If you don’t believe racism is alive and growing, ask yourself, would YOU want to be black in today’s society? In this country? I know I would not. On a personal note, I have two black nieces. As a white, middle-class married mom, I like to believe things are way, way better than they’ve been, but when I have my brother’s children, it is so blatantly obvious that there isn’t as much change as we think. Racism is alive and well. On a political note, it could be why we have the current administration in the White House. Could modern day racism be to blame? I agree with President Obama that is it not the love of the current president that put him in office but the hate of Barack that did. Anyway, no need to turn this book review into a political rant.

Five star story. Check out Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things, you’ll be glad you did.

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Today in History: The First American Novel “Power of Sympathy” Published

Power of Sympathy
“Power of Sympathy” was the first documented American novel.

The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature (1789) is an 18th-century American sentimental novel written in epistolary form by William Hill Brown, widely considered to be the first American novel. The book was published by Isaiah Thomas in Boston on January 21, 1789. In the story, the characters’ struggles illustrate the dangers of seduction and the pitfalls of giving in to temptation. The book also “advocates the moral education of women” and the use of rational thinking as ways to prevent the consequences of such actions. In other words it’s a story that reinforces Puritanical Christian doctrines by scaring women.

The novel reflects early American interest in the role of women as both the representatives and the safe keepers of the country’s moral health. It show examples sexual temptation, displays the disastrous effects of giving in to seduction, and explains ways for the young girl to avoid this fate. The book is very didactic, (warning against sexual profligacy in both men and women) yet also takes on a sympathetic tone toward the seducer and the fallen woman. It urges the community to view the repentant sinners with compassion.

The book is historic in that it is considered the first novel by an American-born writer in the United States. The book was originally published anonymously. It’s story line is an example of sentimental romance written in epistolary form. Letters between the two main characters are a dialogue. The two young men who both have a love interest; Harrington has fallen in love with Harriot, who is beautiful and virtuous, but poor and beneath Harrington’s station in life, and Worthy is engaged to Harrington’s sister, Myra. Myra and Harriot are also friends, and their exchange of letters communicates Harriot’s dilemma of maintaining her virtue, even though her poverty makes the prospect of marriage to Harrington unlikely.

 

 

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The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo – by Amy Schumer (the book not the blog)

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo wasn’t what I expected from Amy Schumer.

It was SO MUCH MORE! Five–star rating in my opinion and I highly recommend it to every man, woman and (over 18-year-old) child.

As you know, I’m an audio book junkie and listen to at least one a week. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo is by far my favorite this year (or last year, or the year before… In fact, I can’t think of a book that I enjoyed more.) Of course, I was expecting humor, I was expecting to laugh until I peed my pants. It’s Amy Schumer for crying out loud! But the first time through the book I cried the entire eight hours (to be fair, some of it was because I was laughing so hard). Mostly because Amy hit every one of my heart strings, plucked every one of my own issues from my soul and demanded (ok, suggested) I look at the experiences that have led me to my own successes (or failures) and embrace them. She states there is no advice or wisdom to offer in the pages of her book but truly, the wisdom is beyond words. The insight she offers can benefit EVERY woman I know. Hell, there’s even some great observations for dudes. And the young adults out there, please, please, please read this book! You’ll thank me later.

Amy takes a close look on some difficult and often over-looked issues in the wonderful world of being a woman. She does this by expertly threading together true stories of her own life with humor but more than that, a large helping of ‘let’s get real’. It’s beautiful and ugly, raw and well-done, heart-wrenching and heart-warming. It’s the full gamete. This book touches on everything from responsible gun laws, consensual sex, abusive relationships, parental relationships, unwarranted body-issues, tattoo choices, sisters, sex, sass, shop-lifting and a few personal lists that leave you feeling you know her (especially since she does the reading on the audio and it’s like she’s sitting there talking to you, oh yeah, because she kind of is…)

It seems her and I are a lot alike, or maybe I’m looking for the things I have in common with her because she’s a big-time celebrity and New York Best Selling author and it would be great to be affiliated with someone of that stature. No book spoilers, but here’s the top ten list of the ways I now feel like a kindred spirit to Ms. Schumer.

  1. The book starts with a letter. “An open letter to My Vagina, first of all, I’m sorry. Second of all, you’re welcome.” I feel the same way, totally. (And my pussy agrees.)
  2. I have a soft-spot for gingers. And like Amy, I lost my virginity to a guy named Jeff (who was a red-head. I don’t think her Jeff was a red-head, just a dickhead.). My experience was much nicer than Amy’s and for that, I’m sorry her first time sucked. I have other non-consensual sex stories that rival hers.
    (Is it ridiculous EVERY woman I know has similar non-consensual sex stories? Yes… yes it is. Fucking ridiculous!)
  3. I’ve been involved in an abusive relationship.
    (Again, is it ridiculous EVERY woman I know has similar abusive relationship stories? There’s a pattern here boys!)
  4. I love my parents even though they should have (maybe) done a few things differently.
  5. I’ve been personally affected and forever changed by senseless violent gun deaths where the people who pulled the trigger(s) shouldn’t have access to the guns due to prior mental health problems and/or legal issues. Rest in peace Mayci and Jillian (Cory and Christopher). Maybe one day America will step up and do better with their gun laws. Please, check out everytown.org if you’re interested in what you can do to help AND check out Amy’s book as she includes a PDF of those in office who have personally profited from the gun industry and have kept the laws slanted towards greed. (Oh, Amy… Thanks for following that chapter with the list of the things that make you happy, seriously, I needed a minute to gather myself.)
  6. I was a shoplifting queen when I was in college. My shoplifting career was spectacular! I got busted stealing (men’s) underwear when my car’s trunk was already filled to the brim with jeans, swimsuits and a prom dress. (yea, that’s a long story, but an 80’s style prom dress, stockings and heels to match) As my roommates and I walked out of the store that rhymes with … um … I can’t think of anything that rhymes with Mervyn’s- so the security guy walked up behind us and I recognized him. I’m all “Hey Matt, what’s up?” as my roommates continued to walk away from us. Because I knew Matt, the police officer was so lenient with me he walked me to his car and wrote me a ticket. I had to lean forward and smile at him to block my personalized ‘Dacia’ plates on my car parked three stalls away which was full, seriously FULL of stolen goods. UGH! Then I talked the nice police officer to drive me to a friend’s house (which was really a random house of someone I didn’t even know). I knocked, someone answered and I turned to wave to the cop as he pulled out from the drive way. Then I asked the people at the door if I could hop their back fence to retrieve my car in the mall’s parking lot. I still can’t believe I did that. That last booty was perhaps the biggest in one shot my roomies and I ever did. They didn’t get busted but since they were there, they appeared in court with me and we split the fine three-ways. (True friends! Right?)
  7. My dad has been recently diagnosed with a life-threatening disease that ends in ‘osis’ but a different one than Amy’s dad. My family is everything to me (God…not all of them).
  8. I’m no model.
  9. I wrote a book.
  10. I love smoking pot and the Moscow Mule will be the official drink at my funeral. (Oh, and I never can spell jewelry right the first time.)

    As for the ways Amy and I are different…

    1. I’ve never met President Obama (although I have a reoccurring dream I’m having an affair with him, but in it I keep asking him if we could have lunch with Michelle.)
    2. I’ve had more than one one-night stand. (no-I don’t know how many more…)
    3. I completely and totally agree with 99.5% of Amy Schumer’s list of things that make her furious, but that .5%… (Amy, the black jelly beans I get, but lay off black licorice, sister!)
    4. I don’t have a lower back tattoo. (Although I almost got one on my 35th After looking through stacks of books, I had settled on a lacy thing that would look like panties poking out. Before it was my turn, my husband said, “Maybe we should use that money to get one of my tattoos removed”. I bee-lined out the door and never looked back.)
    5. Amy’s a tried and true New Yorker. I’m a tried and true New Mexican.

    Okay, this review doesn’t really tell you much about Amy’s amazing book, it’s more about me. I get it. That being said, I didn’t want to give too much away… Reading back over my lists, I already feel I gave away a lot. Amy’s book is wonderful and there’s more I left out. For real though, check it out, it’ll be worth your time, I promise.

    PS. Thank you, Amy Schumer, for putting yourself out there for the world to see, the good, the bad and the gorgeous! If you’re ever in New Mexico, look me up (We’re the only Weist in the book and it’s a pretty small town.) I’ve got a rack of wonderful wine, some medical-grade goodness (winky, wink, wink). And did I mention? I have a horse.

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Critiquing the master… End of Watch by Stephen King

I was a reader before I was a writer. One can’t read as much as I do without being at least slightly familiar with the great Stephen King. For the record, my favorite of his fifty-five novels is his auto-biography, On Writing; A memoir of the craft. That book isn’t like his others as it is about his life, his struggles and successes (not as horrifying as the stories he creates, but truly sometimes facts are stranger than fiction). The story of his life changed my life, literally, but that’s not this review…

Stephen King’s most recent read is End of Watch. The third and final book of a series featuring Detective Bill Hodges (Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers.) Without creating a spoiler alert, I’m a suicide survivor. Anyone who has lived through losing a loved one in that way knows the pain. It’s as if a grenade exploded in your family, really, like no other grief. Oddly this novel was a comfort to me. The idea of a diabolical mastermind, (Brady AKA the Mercedes Killer) controlling the victims, tricking them into taking their lives is a nicer idea than my loved ones doing it themselves. The way the master of suspense sets up his scenes leaves the reader believing (as always). This has been a problem of mine when I listen to Stephen King’s books on audio, (one morning-listening to Cell if I remember right-I missed my exit by about twenty-five miles before I snapped back into the real world as asked myself, “where the hell am I?”) I think we come to expect that with Mr. King’s terror tales. Full immersion.

End of Watch is a classic Stephen King suspenseful thriller. It leaves the reader on the edge of their seats and wanting more. (And at the same time screaming silently, ‘make it stop’). The characters are likable and believable as ever. It’s a picture-perfect ending for the Hodges trilogy. Another home run, damn impressive Mr. King! Thumbs up. Highly recommend.

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Gillian Flynn – Three of four novels, review

Was I the only person that read Gone Girl and hoped the movie would be better than the book? Honestly, I wondered how that particular novel was chosen for a movie. Usually, the books are way better than the movie, but… I didn’t like the film any better than the book when it comes to Gone Girl. The premise of the book was entertaining but it seemed to me the book dragged on and on and there weren’t any surprises at the end. (I pretty much had figured out the way it was all going to come down only a third way in.) That being said, I applaud anyone who can successfully write a novel and thought I shouldn’t give up on the author. Gone Girl just wasn’t my cup of tea. If you haven’t read it or seen the movie, basically, a wife disappears and it looks like the husband was behind the whole thing but the woman was really just trying to get revenge on the husband and make herself famous and put her husband behind bars. The husband figures it out as he knows his innocence and his wife. Okay, no more spoiler-alerts if you haven’t read it. I had heard many people rave about the story, book and movie but it just didn’t grab me.

Impressed with Ms. Flynn’s website, if not her writing, I thought I’d give her another try and picked up The Grownup. It was a short book and I thought that would solve the on-and-on problem of Gone Girl. To be truthful, I couldn’t put it down and was disappointed it was so short. In Grown-ups, I thought I had the ending all figured out and BAM, Gillian Flynn right hooks and the end takes a little twist that left my mouth agape. This read was about a young woman trying to make it as a physic and one specific client. The client has a creepy step-son that gives the plot many twists. After finishing this book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and went back to see what else Ms. Flynn had published.

So it’s sounding like I’m just a picky reader, right? The first one too long, the second one too short… Goldie-locks of book reading, good grief. The third book I picked up from this author was Dark Places. Like with the blonde kid and the three bears, this one was just right. Each chapter I changed my mind on how I thought the author would conclude the story and I was still wrong. This book left me on the edge of my seat and kept moving throughout so I didn’t get bored. It’s about a family that a horrific murder happened in their house where the mom and two of the sisters were killed. The youngest, seven at the time, testifies it was the older brother and he is convicted and goes to prison. Decades later, a group of inquiring minds called The Kill Club introduces the protagonist to alternate theories of her family’s deaths. She starts piecing the murders together and discovers the truth about what happened that night- (that’s all I’m saying, again, no spoilers.)
One of the great things about Gillian Flynn’s writings is the characters are believable and likable, even the ones you’re not supposed to like. I’m also impressed with the way she flips things when you are least expecting it, keeping the reader hooked. In my eyes, two of Gillian’s three books I’ve read entertained me and kept me wanting more so I’ll have to give her a huge thumb’s up and look forward to the next one of her novels. Sharp Objects anyone?

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My first book review

The Magic Strings of Frankie Pesto by Mitch Albom

Magical indeed. This has been my favorite book of 2016 (although it came out the end of ’15). If you’ve never read Mitch Albom, this is the perfect book to start with. If you have read Mr. Albom’s work than you know the captivating tale in which to expect, every time. (Side note, Mitch Albom is one of my all time favorite authors due to the dependability of his work. Although sometimes he gets a little too into the religious realm for my tastes, his writing is consistently moving me to an emotional state. That’s entertainment. And who knew? He’s also a musician.)

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, the audio was enchanting. The guest narrators, superb. The scenes are set up like a media interview at our hero’s funeral, clever. Throughout it, I thought, did this guy really exist? This Frankie Presto guy, how did I miss him? How did my dad not discover him? And then I chided myself, it’s fiction geez! As a compliment to the author, I was so caught up in this story I believed it. Frankie’s life repaints musical history that actually happened during my lifetime. It was educational and evoking.

The book is about a musician, a great musician, who like so many others out there, don’t realize just how great they are. This man’s life has harsh beginnings, challenges at each age, but molds and shapes him into the legend he becomes. It’s told from the point of view of Music (as in the talent, music) as well as many other musicians, promoters and trade professionals. In my opinion, Music is akin to a god, (he explains how all the talents are represented, babies grab the ones they grab). I love the way Albom brings this entity to life, the narrator does an excellent job at bringing the pompousness to the talent Music without overdoing it. As an author, I can appreciate the POV and the tone one must have to write from multiple perspectives, specifically one that isn’t really a person. This book pulls it off perfectly and adds to the realism of this fictional saga. The musical guests on the audio also lent a factual feel and had me completely caught up in Frankie Presto’s life (By the way, Paul Stanley, you nailed it!)

Bottom line, this book is a love story. A love of music, a love between a man and a woman and a discovery of a love for life. Highly recommend.