Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand

Image result for winter in paradise

Summary:

Irene Steele’s idyllic life-house, husband, family-is shattered when she is woken up by a late-night phone call. Her beloved husband has been found dead, but before Irene can process this tragic news, she must confront the perplexing details of her husband’s death. He was found on St. John island, a tropical paradise far removed from their suburban life. Leaving the cold winter behind, Irene flies down to the beautiful Caribbean beaches of St. John only to make another shocking discovery: her husband had a secret second family. As Irene investigates the mysterious circumstances of her husband’s death, she is plunged into a web of intrigue and deceit belied by the pristine white sand beaches of St. John’s. 

My take: 4 looks

The perfect beach read! I found this in the bookcase of the condo in which we were staying, and dove right in. Two days on the beach was all it took to devour this story, and expectantly wait on the next one in the trilogy. 

While it will not change the world, or make you think too hard, “Winter in Paradise” is an escape that will pull you from where ever you may be into the newly upside-down world of the Steele family, the Small family, and their surrounding friends. Aware almost immediately of what I would call shenanigans surrounding the death of two men and a woman, the families are too far in grief to ask the hard questions, and too gobsmacked by the situation in which they find themselves – extending their families. Once the initial shock starts to settle, you are primed and ready for book 2.

Do yourself and pick this one up. It is the perfect book to take on holiday, or if you need a “palette cleanser”. Recommended. 

 

Slade House by David Mitchell

Image result for slade house david mitchell

Summary:

Down the road from a working-class British pub, along the brick wall of a narrow alley, if the conditions are exactly right, you’ll find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the house’s residents — an odd brother and sister — extend a unique invitation to someone who’s different or lonely: a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside Slade House? For those who find out, it’s already too late…

My take: 5 looks and a WOWZA!

I LOVE this kind of story! It sucked me in right from the beginning, kept me turning pages, then made me want more, more, more. This is the first time I have read a work by this author, although I have a few more on my TBR. After this, I will move them up on the list.

The characters of numerous, but don’t get too invested in them. Any more would be a spoiler, and I don’t want that. Suffice it to say that there are some very odd happenings at Slade House, and you should definitely steer clear of that area every nine years.

Enjoy!!

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

Summary:Image result for a piece of the world

To Christina Olson, the entire world was her family’s remote farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. Born in the home her family had lived in for generations, and increasingly incapacitated by illness, Christina seemed destined for a small life. Instead, for more than twenty years, she was host and inspiration for the artist Andrew Wyeth, and became the subject of one of the best known American paintings of the twentieth century.

My take: 4 looks

I have long loved the painting “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth, now hanging in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. When I saw this book, I knew I had to add it to my TBR. 

Kline’s writing is so easy to read. Like “Orphan Train”, this story flowers like a bulb in spring, and the characters are fleshed out and become real to the reader. The players in this novel, based on actual people, were no different. As Christina ages between the pages, I fully felt her change from a hopeful adolescent, to a young lady wooed by a suitor, to a woman resigned to live the life that had been handed to her. All of those emotions were fully expressed in Kline’s words.  

Another intriguing part of the novel was the relationships of Christina Olson, from her mother and father, stalwart brother Al, sweet friendship with Betsy, and finally, the painter who would make her famous. All were unique and interesting, played out in very real ways, with very real emotions and feelings evoked by the writer.

This book did not disappoint, and leaves me wanting to read more by this author. Highly recommended.

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

When the Lights Go Out

Summary:

Jessie Sloane is on the path to rebuilding her life after years of caring for her ailing mother. She rents a new apartment and applies for college. But when the college informs her that her social security number has raised a red flag, Jessie discovers a shocking detail that causes her to doubt everything she’s ever known.

My take: 2.5 looks

Eden and Jessie tell their tales, twenty years apart. Two women, desperate in very different ways, but with love at the core of their issues. As we learn more and more about these women, and how they are ultimately related, the reader is slowly taken into a vortex of memories, desires, dreams, and perhaps even hallucinations.

While this book was easy to read, and simple to get through, it was not compelling. I didn’t have an investment in the characters, or what happened to them. I found Eden’s story drawn out toward an end that was extremely predictable and a bit prosaic, and Jessie’s story completely non plausible and hard to believe. Even in light of the end, with the situations becoming clear and characters taking their rightful places, I found it a ho-hum ending, and not the jaw-dropper that the author intended.

Not recommended.

The Future of Libraries

Image result for library of alexandriaWhen someone mentions the public library, many people see the posted image in their mind. The library is seen as an archaic, outdated, little-needed entity.

That could not be further from the truth. Libraries are a vital part of a city’s “soft infrastructure”, and one of the key components in young families choosing a home. Plainly, soft infrastructure is the financial system, the education system, the health care system, the system of government, and law enforcement, and emergency services. Libraries are right in there, with significant cultural significance.

The problem is when you see libraries only as book-lending institutions. They are so much more than that, and continue to move in the direction of becoming community centers, social outreach, networks of people and ideas, and champions of the all-important skill for a modern society: literacy.

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg, in a recent interview, argued that urban resilience can be measured not only by the condition of transit systems and basic utilities and communication networks, but also by the condition of parks, libraries and community organizations: “open, accessible, and welcoming public places where residents can congregate and provide social support during times of need but also every day.”

So, what to do? There needs to be a renewed excitement about the language, reading, books, the coming together of people to discuss thoughts, notions, ideas … a safe and relaxing, welcoming space for the community to gather and receive mental nourishment. To feel connected to one another, their community, and valued as an important member.

Libraries can do this? Libraries which are imbued with life can do this, yes.

Harry’s Trees by Jon Cohen

Harry's Trees

Summary:

Thirty-four-year-old Harry Crane, lifelong lover of trees, works as an analyst in a treeless US Forest Service office. When his wife dies in a freak accident, devastated, he makes his way to the remote woods of northeastern Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains, intent on losing himself. But fate intervenes in the form of a fiercely determined young girl named Oriana. She, too, has lost someone—her father. And in the magical, willful world of her reckoning, Oriana believes that Harry is the key to finding her way back to him.

My take: 3 looks

***Warning: Some Spoilers***

A very nice read! Skittering along the lines of magical realism, Cohen never commits quite as much as a book by, say … Sarah Addison Allen … but it’s hard to chalk everything up to fate, chance, and coincidence here. There is a nice fairy tale quality to it.

The number of characters that are presented in this book screams for a sequel. Ronnie lives in constant mental servitude in an effort to right his perceived wrongs; Olive is the cursing, pipe-smoking, spinster librarian; Hoop lives in a double-wide surrounded by trash-art-dinosaurs; Clive is a shy cattle farmer; Stu, the smarmy realtor who may have just received a new lease on life; and on and on. These characters have wonderful staying power, and their introductions in this book were prime to leave me wanting more.

With that being said, there is a lot of suspending of belief for the reader here. Oriana is a pushy, over-indulged, under-disciplined 11-year old, and can grate on the nerves. Ronnie’s mouth needs an ever-present hand over it, but we all know someone just like him when it comes to the lost art of keeping secrets. Feathers appear at all the right times, only to be from a very specific bird (yeah, right). The fewest of details are given about Henry and Wolf’s life growing up, and that leaves quite a few blanks when it comes to the way these two have turned out.

And that leaves the most perplexing part of the story for me: Wolf. The change at the end of the book was completely unbelievable to me. At my age, I know that a leopard can’t change his spots, and this irritated me. Until I realized that the author had, from the very beginning of the book, positioned this as a fairy tale. And a fairy tale it was. Not a Grimm brothers-type, “who were a morbid pair” (ref chapter 36), but a light and airy tale, with an unbelievably “and they all lived happily ever after” ending. And, indeed, they did.

Recommended.

Heads You Win by Jeffrey Archer

Heads You WinSummary:

Leningrad, Russia, 1968. Alexander Karpenko is no ordinary child, and from an early age, it is clear he is destined to lead his countrymen. But when his father is assassinated by the KGB for defying the state, he and his mother will have to escape from Russia if they hope to survive. At the docks, they are confronted with an irreversible choice: should they board a container ship bound for America, or Great Britain? Alexander leaves that choice to the toss of a coin . . .

My take: 2 looks

Great premise, along the lines of “Sliding Doors”, but at about 100 pages too long, this was a bit of a bore. Traveling with alternating storylines of Alex (New York bound) and Sasha (London bound), the chapters going back and forth are fairly straightforward and easy to follow. However, too much detail is given as the two roads start to veer toward one another. The political career minutia becomes like trying to read through concrete, and had no impactful effect on the ending.

And speaking of the ending … it was one that readers seem to love or hate. I found it predictable, not shocking, and a bit of a parlour trick. I was not impressed, and will be a little hard-pressed to read another by this very prolific author.

Not recommended.