Monthly Archives: June 2010

>Blacklands by Belinda Bauer *Review*

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Eighteen years ago, Billy Peters disappeared. Everyone in town believes Billy was murdered- after all, serial killer Arnold Avery later admitted killing six other children and burying them on the same desolate moor that surrounds their small English village. Only Billy’s mother is convinced he is alive. She still stands lonely guard at the front window of her home, waiting for her son to return, while her remaining family fragments around her.
But her twelve-year-old grandson Steven is determined to heal the cracks that gape between his nan, his mother, his brother, and himself. Steven desperately wants to bring his family closure, and if that means personally finding his uncle’s corpse, he’ll do it.
Spending his spare time digging holes all over the moor in the hope of turning up a body is a long shot, but at least it gives his life purpose.
Then at school, when the lesson turns to letter writing, Steven has a flash of inspiration… Careful to hide his identity, he secretly pens a letter to Avery in jail asking for help in finding the body of “W.P.”- William “Billy” Peters.
So begins a dangerous cat-and-mouse game. Just as Steven tries to use Avery to pinpoint the grave site, so Avery misdirects and teases his mysterious correspondent in order to relive his heinous crimes. And when Avery finally realizes that the letters he’s receiving are from a twelve-year-old boy, suddenly his life has purpose too. Although his is far more dangerous…
Blacklands was an interesting book in that it was written from a different point of view that most authors don’t explore. In the author’s note, Ms. Bauer explains about wondering how a murder impacts a family. Not just the victim’s parents, but a whole generation of other victims, like in this novel- the grandson of a woman whose son Billy was murdered many years ago.
The loss of Uncle Billy, a boy Steven never knew is still a deep loss. The feelings of loneliness and pain that Steven feels are palpable. His life is always a shadow of what it could have been had his nan given him some attention rather than waiting at the window for Billy to come home from school, or if his own mother hadn’t harbored such bitterness over feeling she was never cared for because nan neglected her childhood to wait by the window. All Steven wants is a happy, normal childhood. He longs for laughter, hugs, and approval.
That’s why finding his Uncle Billy’s body has become such an obsession. If Billy can finally be put to rest giving his nan some closure, maybe- just maybe- his family can move on.
The cat -and-mouse game that ensues as Steven starts writing letters, and letters from the prison start coming back is compelling. Steven is desperate to fulfill his mission and excited about figuring out the clues within them. Looking into the mind of a serial killer is always disturbing- particularly those of a sick and twisted rapist and murderer of children. But, I found Blacklands to be a book that made me look at things in a whole new light and any book that stretches my mind to wrap around a different image or feeling than one I’m used to conceiving is one I have to recommend. 4/5 stars

>Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman *Review*

> Bestselling author Susan Jane Gilman’s new memoir is a hilarious and harrowing journey, a modern heart of darkness filled with communist operatives, backpackers, and pancakes.
In 1986, fresh out of college, Gilman and her friend Claire yearned to do something daring and original that did not involve getting a job. Inspired by a place mat at the International House of Pancakes, they decided to embark on an ambitious trip around the globe, starting in the People’s Republic of China. At that point, China had been open to independent travelers for roughly ten minutes.


Armed only with the collected works of Nietsche, an astrological love guide, and an arsenal of bravado, the two friends plunged into the dusty streets of Shanghai. Unsurprisingly, they quickly found themselves in over their heads. As they ventured off the map deep into Chinese territory, they were stripped of everything familiar and forced to confront their limitations amid culture shock and government surveillance. What began as a journey full of humor, eroticism and enlightenment grew increasingly sinister-becoming a real-life international thriller
that transformed them forever.

Backpacking is something I have always been interested in- although a world traveler I am not. I would rather live vicariously through someone elses exploits. This book allowed me to do that.

Traveling through China with Susie and Claire was thrilling, exciting, and at times very scary. Culture shock was something I experienced right along with them as the author described eastern hotels infested with cockroaches, hospitals with chickens running rampant amongst the patients, and public toilets consisting of only a trough to squat over.

Although I feel a couple of pictures would have added to the overall experience- as they do in any memoir- the duo’s camera broke at the beginning of the trip, so I had no photos to relate to people’s faces or famous Chinese locales, but Susan Jane Gilman’s memory and powerful storyteller’s “voice” helped flesh it out for me.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven is an incredible memoir of her harrowing ordeal in a country light years away. 4/5 stars

>The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian *Review*

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John and Ella Robina have shared a wonderful life for more than fifty years. Now, in their eighties, Ella suffers from cancer and has chosen to stop treatment. John has Alzheimer’s. Yearning for one last adventure, the self-proclaimed “down-on-their-luck geezers” kidnap themselves from the adult children and doctors who seem to run their lives to steal away from their home in suburban Detroit on a forbidden vacation of rediscovery.
With Ella as his vigilant copilot, John steers their ’78 Leisure Seeker RV along the forgotten roads of Route 66 toward Disneyland in search of a past they’re having a damned hard time remembering. Yet Ella is determined to prove that, when it comes to life, a person can go back for seconds- sneak a little extra time, grab a small portion more- even when everyone says you can’t.
John and Ella have a beautiful and timeless love for each other. Even amid all John’s confusion and Ella’s “discomfort” they cling tightly to each other because they’re all that they have.
Ella is determined to have one last vacation together while they can. Packing up their RV they head out on Route 66, a trip they have taken before in another lifetime. Determined to reach the end of the road, they plug on a few hours at a time before they get tired and have to stop for a rest.
John likes to stop at McDonalds. He loves burgers. But Ella, weak and nauseous from the cancer can’t hardly stomach them anymore. Sandwiches and soup back at the campsite is more her thing.
When evening comes they drag out the old projector and watch slides of old trips on the side of the RV. John doesn’t always remember his children’s faces but he has to smile at the happiness of the family projected before him.
I recognized so much of my parents in this book, and sadly, even though my husband and I are in our early forties, much of ourselves too. This book tugged so tightly on my heartstrings I felt I was being pulled by some unseeable force.
Liberally sprinkled with humor over the many pratfalls, hijinks’s, and mayhem they get into on the open road, The Leisure Seeker is a bittersweet love story of two wonderful people in the twilight of their lives. 5/5 stars

>The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano *Review*

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When Melody Grace McCartney was six-years-old, her parents walked in on a mafia hit and walked out as someone different. Entering the Witness Protection Program they left behind all they had- home, job, and normal lives for supposed security.

But a life on the lam is no life at all. Melody exists but is afraid to form bonds knowing that at any time those tenuous ties can be ripped away.

When she meets Johnny Bovaro, the son of the man she is hiding from and the one sent to kill her she is drawn to him and him to her. To him she is the girl who has dominated his family’s every waking thought. To her, he is the man with whom she can finally be herself. And when he whispers her name- her real name- she falls in love.

The girl she used to be is a thought provoking novel about freedom and those who will reach for it at any cost. 4/5 stars

>Library Loot

> Hosted by Eva at A Striped Armchair and Marg at ReadingAdventures, Library Loot is a fun weekly meme that allows others to peek in your bookbag to see what you came home from the Library with this week. Here’s what’s in my bag:

Since their mother’s death, Tip and Teddy Doyle have been raised by their loving, possessive, and ambitious father. As the former mayor of Boston, Bernard Doyle wants to see his sons in politics, a dream the boys have never shared. But when an argument in a blinding New England snowstorm inadvertently causes an accident that involves a stranger and her child, all Bernard Doyle cares about is his ability to keep his children- all his children- safe.

Set over a period of twenty-four hours, Run takes us from the museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard to a home for retired catholic priests in downtown Boston. It shows us how worlds of privilege and poverty can coexist only blocks apart from each other, and how family can include people you’ve never even met. As in her bestselling novel Bel Canto, Ann Patchett illustrates the humanity that connects disparate lives, weaving several stories into one surprising and endlessly moving narrative. Suspenseful and stunningly executed, Run is ultimately a novel about secrets, duty, responsibility, and the lengths we will go to protect our children.

Oil is king of East Texas during the darkest years of the Great Depression. The Stoddard girls-responsible Mayme, whip-smart tomboy Jeanine and bookish Bea- know no life but an itinerant one, trailing their father from town to town as he searches for work on the pipeline and derricks; that is, when he’s not spending his meager earnings at gambling joints, race tracks, and dance halls. And in every small town in which the windblown family settles, mother Elizabeth does her level best to make each sparse, temporary house they inhabit a home.

But the fall of 1937 ushers in a year of devastating drought and dust storms, and the family’s fortunes sink further than they ever anticipated when a questionable “accident” leaves Elizabeth and her girls alone to confront the cruelest hardships of these hardest of times. With no choice left to them, they return to the abandoned family farm.

It is Jeanine, proud and stubborn, who single-mindedly devotes herself to rebuilding the farm and their lives. But hard work and good intentions won’t make ends meet or pay the back taxes they owe on their land. In desperation, the Stoddard women place their last hopes for salvation in a wildcat oil well that eats up what little they have left…and on the back of late patriarch Jack’s one true legacy, a dangerous racehorse named Smoky Joe. And Jeanine, the fatherless “daddy’s girl”, must decide if she will gamble it all…on love.

TempleGrandin, Ph.D., is a gifted animal scientist who has designed one third of all the livestock-handling facilities in the Untied States. She also lectures widely on autism- because Temple Grandin is autistic, a woman who thinks, feels, and experiences the world in ways that are incomprehensible to the rest of us.

In this unprecedented book, Grandin delivers a report from the country of autism. Writing from the dual perspectives of a scientist and an autistic person, she tells us how that country is experienced by its inhabitants and how she managed to breach its boundaries to function in the outside world. What emerges in Thinking in Pictures is the document of an extraordinary human being, one who, in gracefully and lucidly bridging the gulf between her condition and our own, sheds light on the riddle of our common identity.

Which of these have you read and were they any good? Or, did I strike out in this library loot?

>Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral by Kris Radish *Review*

> For Katherine Givens and the four women about to become her best friends, the adventure begins with a UPS package. Inside is a pair of red sneakers filled with ashes and a note that will forever change their lives. Katherine’s oldest and dearest friend, the irrepressible Annie Freeman, left one final request–a traveling funeral–and she wants the most important women in her life as “pallbearers.”From Sonoma to Manhattan, Katherine, Laura, Rebecca, Jill, and Marie will carry Annie’s ashes to the special places in her life. At every stop there’s a surprise encounter and a small miracle waiting, and as they whoop it up across the country, attracting interest wherever they go, they share their deepest secrets–tales of broken hearts and second chances, missed opportunities and new beginnings. And as they grieve over what they’ve lost, they discover how much is still possible if only they can unravel the secret Annie left them….

The book sounded great. Fun. Great fun. Okay, it didn’t get my vote at book club, but it did sound pretty good and had potential to be a good discussion book. So when I got the book I quickly finished up what I was reading and tore into the first 10 pages of the book…and stalled.

I really struggled with finishing this book. It was not my type of writing style and a little to far out for me. In fact, I finished the last 6 pages of the book only a few minutes before leaving for book club.

Our book did, as always, have a good discussion on traveling funerals, friends of ours as pallbearers, and important places in Annie’s life that she wanted her friends to be a part of. The general consensus our the book club was that it was a less than average read.

I did like that the book made me explore my feelings of life and death, and brought to the surface many fond memories of my own good friend- a former member of our book club- who lost her battle with cancer 1 1/2 years ago. In fact, after Bookies a few of us walked to the nearby cemetary to vivit her place of rest.

Karen was as much a free spirit as the main character, Annie was. She touched my life deeply and is very much missed. Karen would have loved the idea of a traveling funeral- she may even have liked the book. 2/5 stars

Myself, Lori, Bernice, and (center front), Karen just 3 months before her death.

>Where Hell Freezes Over by David A. Kearns *Review*

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I love stories of adventure and survival. For some reason, even though I hate cold weather I also love stories of survival in Antarctica. That’s why when I heard about this book I knew I had to reserve it.

After a plane crash strands the crew of the George 1, a plane on a mission to fly over the desolate white continent and take pictures and coordinates for mapping, the five surviving crew members have to get by on what they can salvage from the wreckage until they are rescued fourteen days later.

Lieutenant Bill Kearns, co-pilot and the man at the helm when the plane crashes, is ejected out of the windshield and lands head and shoulders in a snowbank. With a dislocated shoulder and his arm broke in three places he is better off then some of the others. Two crew members are killed instantly and one moans in pain until several hours later he mercifully dies.

Making his way back to the wreckage he hears screams of pain coming from the burning fuselage. Lieutenant Ralph “FrenchyLeBlanc, pilot, is caught within the burning wreckage. Other surviving crew members help Kearns drag him to safety. Frenchy is severely burned and the others doubt he will live.

Kearns helps Frenchy along- melting snow for him to drink, mixing milk with sugar to give him strength, and staying by him night and day. Living off rations of canned Spam, canned peaches, peanut butter, bread and pemmican, they wonder how long it will be before they have to search, hunt and fish for their next meal.

Much credit is given to Captain Henry Howard Caldwell for keeping their spirits up and their faith alive. With a cracked vertebra in his neck, a sprained ankle and a broken foot, he takes a walk to try to get to a higher level to more correctly determine their location. But with no trees or other landmarks for a point of reference, what looks to be water only a short distance away is actually 20 miles across the barren landscape.

Filled with stories of playing Salvo, an early version of Battleship, telling stupid jokes to pass the time and daily journal writing, Where Hell Freezes Over is an amazing tale of bravery and survival. 3.5 stars