Mrs. Fletcher

22251436_10155998166083392_1225992379_oThis is my first book my Tom Perrotta, but I look forward to reading the rest of his books that have been sitting on my shelf for a long time. Mrs. Fletcher (Eve) is a forty-six year old divorcee who just dropped her son off for college and returns home to an empty nest. Eve is witty and funny and I liked her immediately.  She is lonely and seeking ways to fill the void so she begins watching porn at night and that leads to a sexual awakening of sorts.  “She wanted something else-something different-though what that something was remained to be seen.  All she really knew was that it was a big world out there, and she’d only been scratching the surface.” She decides to take a class at the community college and quickly develops friendships with the others in her class. “The important thing was that she was here, trying something different, meeting new people, making her world bigger instead of hunkering down, disappearing into her own solitude.”

The class she takes introduces us to a whole assortment of other troubled individuals. Margo is the instructor of the class. She is a transgender who is struggling with acceptance from the world and confidence within herself.  “She didn’t really feel middle-aged. In her heart, she was a teenager, still learning the ins and outs of her new body.  Still hoping for her share of love and happiness and fun, all those good things that the world sometimes provided.” “She was there to show the world what happiness and freedom looked like.  You glowed with it. You did exactly what you wanted to.  And whatever costume you wore, you were still yourself, unique and beautiful and unmistakable for anyone else.” “What she wouldn’t have given back then (as a teenager) to hear a trans adult tell her that she wasn’t alone, that happiness and wholeness were possible, that you could find a way to become the person you knew in your heart you truly were, despite all undeniable evidence to the contrary.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Fletcher’s son, Brendan is having a hard time at college. Eve says of Brendan: “He presented himself to the world- as a big, friendly, fun-loving bro- a dude you’d totally want on your team or in your frat.” Even though Brendan comes across this way, it becomes clear that he has a lot of built up issues, a lot of them to do with his father who left the family for another woman when Brendan was younger.  Eve: “…something had gone out of him in the process (of divorce), all the boyish softness and vulnerability that had touched her so deeply. He just wasn’t as nice a person as he used to be- not nearly as sweet or as kind or as lovable- and she couldn’t forgive herself for letting that happen, for not knowing how to protect him, or how to fix what was broken.” “The divorce had left her with a permanently guilty conscience that made it almost impossible for her to stay mad at her son or hold him accountable for his actions.”

Brendan begins to struggle with fitting in, finding friends, and keeping his grades up. “One thing you realize when you’re on your own is how happy the people who aren’t alone look.”  His father comes for a visit during family day with his wife and Brendan’s autistic step-brother, Jon-Jon.  He says of his step-brother, “the whole time he was screaming and thrashing around, I kept thinking how unfair it was the my father loved him so much and held him so tight- way tighter than he’d ever held me-and wouldn’t let go no matter what.” Brendan is jealous of his step-brother and desperate for his father’s love and attention. He has felt neglected by him his whole life.

By the end of the book, most of the characters have managed to find some sort of happiness and understanding. I think this quote from the cover sums up the book perfectly: “a moving and funny examination of sexuality, identity, and the big clarifying mistakes people can make when they’re no longer sure who they are and where they belong.”

“You feel what you fucking feel. You don’t have to apologize to anyone.”

“You couldn’t turn away from the truth just because it ripped your guts out.”

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the burgess boys

21868206_10155691102708392_1382185691_oThe Burgess Boys, Jim and Bob, along with their sister, Susan, are a true portrait of a dysfunctional family. Susan’s son Zach, throws a pig head into a mosque and is charged with a hate crime and the family comes together to be a support system for Zach and to try to prevent Zach from going to jail.

Jim Burgess is the successful man in the family. He is a famous attorney in New York and always the one in charge. The more we get to know Jim, the more we realize he is a very angry and unhappy person. His feelings start to come out as Jim has to deal with his family and the memories that resurface from being back in his hometown. “Everything to do with this family depresses me.” “It’s all gone to crap. I’m scared. I think about death a lot. I’m grieving for myself. I’m a sham.” I am a dead man going down. It’s just a matter of time. I could not keep it up.”  Buried secrets are revealed as we watch Jim unravel.

Bob Burgess is a lonely man, divorced, with no children. Bob: “Nothing lasts forever, there is nothing to be counted on.” He also lives in New York. “He thought of all the people in the world who felt they’d been saved by a city. He was one of them. Whatever darkness leaked its way in, there were always lights on in different windows here, each light like a gentle touch on his shoulder saying, “Whatever is happening, Bob Burgess, you are never alone.”

Susan Burgess is Bob’s twin. She is also divorced and lives alone with her only child, Zach.  Growing up, Susan was most often the recipient of her mother’s so called jokes and disapproval.  Her son, Zach, has become her whole life.

Zach is friendless, quiet, hesitant in all his actions, just not quite right. He was teased mercilessly in elementary school and beaten up in high school. Zach’s father, who often put Zach down, left while he was in high school.  Zach is a lonely, fragile boy who cries and never has friends over.  The hate crime he is accused of has left him even more scared and lonely.

Abdikarim is the man who was there when Zach threw the pig head into the mosque. He is an Islamic immigrant who fled from the violence in his country. He is the perfect example of what immigrants have to face in America these days. Abdikarim was a great character.  “There was a heaviness inside him.  It grew each passing month, to stay or go he couldn’t make that decision.  He felt too old for the spring of excitement to return to him. Too old to learn English.  Without that, he lived with the constancy of incomprehension. THE incomprehension was a danger.  Living in a world where constantly one turned and touched in comprehension-gave the air the lift of uncertainty and this seemed to wear away something inside him.  He always felt unsure of what he wanted, what he thought, even what he felt.”

This book touched on some of today’s controversial issues of immigrants and hate crimes but also explored what family really means. Elizabeth Strout is an amazing novelist.  She writes beautifully.

Ordinary Grace

21037855_10155394490383392_1273885445_o.jpgOrdinary Grace

by William Kent Krueger.

“For thirteen –year old Frank Drum, the preacher’s son, it was a grim summer in 1961 in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.” A coming of age story set among an unsettling Minnesota background.

Frank is growing up scrambling for meaning and full of confusion and fear. In the midst of that, a lot of frightening things happen that leave him in a constant state of apprehension. There are so many troubled characters in this book:

Jake is Frank’s younger brother. Jake is often quiet, especially outside of his home because he has a bad stutter: “I don’t like to talk to people because I’m afraid I’ll stutter and they’ll make fun of me. I feel like a freak sometimes.”   There is a lot more to Jake than his stutter. He also has a way of understanding things and seeing things others don’t notice.

Ariel is Frank and Jake’s older sister. Ariel is her parents golden child. Everyone believes she is destined for greatness. She is her mother’s favorite. Ariel is hope for mother’s unfulfilled longings. Jake and Frank adore her. She is their confidante, conspirator, defender, encourager, and supporter.  But is she as innocent as everyone thinks? Frank often catches her sneaking out late at night and he knows something isn’t quite right.

Their father, Nathan Drum, is a preacher. He is also a war vet and is clearly troubled by his past.  There are several other war vets in the book as well. Gus- his father’s friend, a drunk, who lives in the basement of the church. Nathan often says that he owes Gus his life, but we never find out why.

“There are a lot of men left troubled by the war. Every man handles in a different way the damage war did to him. Some men seem to have put their wars behind them easily enough.”

“Whatever cracks were already there the war forced apart, and what we might otherwise have kept inside came spilling out.”

“The truth is when you kill a man it doesn’t matter if he’s your enemy and if he’s trying to kill you. That moment of his death will eat at you for the rest of your life.  It’ll dig into bones so deep inside you that not even the hand of God is going to be able to pull it out, I don’t care how much you pray.”

Emile (Ariel’s piano instructor and Mrs. Drum’s dear friend) returned from World War II blind and disfigured and wanting to feed in isolation on the meat of his bitterness. He lives with his sister Lise who is also a bit of a recluse. Lise is mentally retarded and has no future that anyone could see. They are both two damaged souls that the rest of the family has pretty much abandoned.

The preacher’s wife and mother to Frank, Jake and Ariel is less than delighted with her life as a minister’s wife. She has a fondness for martinis and as things progress that summer, she becomes angrier and angrier at her husband for putting God before his family.

I had great expectations for this book and was a little disappointed that it didn’t quite live up to them. It was a little slow going at first, but once things start happening, I had just had to know how they ended. I hate that I had figured the book out before it ended, but not everyone will.  A literary mystery that isn’t that thrilling, but will really get to the heart of things.

“What is happiness? In my experience, it’s only a moment’s pause here and there on what is otherwise a long and difficult road. No one can be happy all the time.”

the shark club

19723966_10155193407113392_1709718675_oThe Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor is a lovely beach read, “set against the intoxicating backdrop of palm trees, blood orange sunsets, and key lime pies.” The book is about Maeve, her twin brother, Robin and their childhood friend, Daniel.

Maeve is a traveling marine scientist, often called the shark whisperer, who returns to the small island off Florida’s coast where she grow up in her grandmother’s hotel. She was bitten by a shark at the age of twelve and has been obsessed with sharks ever since.  She has just began a romance with her colleague Nicholas, who also shares her passion for the ocean and its creatures, but that relationship is threatened when she arrives home and discovers her past love, Daniel is also staying at the hotel.

As children, Maeve, Daniel, and Robin were very close. All three of them had lost parents. “They shared fatherlessness like a glue that connected them.” According to Maeve, her and her brother “had an empty place, but we’d tried to fill it in such different ways.  For me, it was with sharks and oceans, with Daniel and the dream of a family.  For Robin, it was writing. After Robin’s writing was rejected over and over and he walked away from it, he turned to other ways of filling the void- parties and drinking and a sort of aimlessness.”  Robin’s grief never seemed to heal. Making trouble was his way of expressing his grief.  When Maeve returns to her home, she discovers Robin has finally written a book, but she is shocked and hurt to discover the book is about her and Daniel.

Daniel and Maeve proclaimed their love to each other when they were just 12 years old. This love progressed into adulthood and when their wedding was abruptly called off Maeve was devastated and heartbroken. “I experienced his loss like an actual death. I went underwater in more ways than one.” He was a wound I carried that wouldn’t heal.”  She later tells Daniel, ““There is always a sadness in me. I don’t want it to be there, but it is.  It sleeps inside of me, and when it wakes there’s nothing I can do about it.  It takes over, and when that happens nothing else exists. You did that. For the last seven years, I’ve hated you for it.”

So we have a love triangle. Will Maeve finally have a second chance at love with Nicholas or can she finally forgive Daniel and have everything she ever wanted. But the book isn’t just a romance, there is also a mystery intertwined.  There is an illegal shark finning operation going on and sharks are being killed for their fins.  Maeve is very upset by it and involved in trying to find the culprits. ”I’d given my life to sharks and people were killing them faster than they could reproduce.” “The sea, its creatures, its sharks-they were my religion. I could die for that.”

I adored this book. The perfect beach read. Written very well. It hooks you right away.

 Interesting side note: the author’s mother is Sue Monk Kidd, who wrote the Secret Life of Bees.

A few more quotes:

“We all have to live with our mistakes.”

“I’d make a fortress of myself and it caved like one of the sand castles that dotted the beach.”

“Whatever makes you feel alive, you ought to pay attention to it. If it makes you happy, it’s worth following.”

the curious charms…

19400836_10155128682113392_1592830941_oThe Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

Arthur Pepper has been a lonely widower for a year when he finds a charm bracelet he never knew existed that belonged to his wife. Arthur has pretty much spent all the time since his wife died like a recluse, isolated from others and depressed.  “He carried his loss around with him like a bowling bowl in the pit of his stomach.” “The only feelings he experienced were sadness, disappointment and melancholy.”  “There didn’t seem much point in discovering things alone.”

Arthur’s curiosity gets the best of him and he begins his adventure of tracking down where this bracelet and charms came from and why his wife had them. The search stirs something in Arthur and he experiences “emotions he didn’t know existed.  He began to discover people that excited him.  It made him feel alive.” With each person he encounters along the way, Arthur begins to change and grow.  He discovers things about himself: He was braver than he thought.  He was good at offering advice to others. He was more open and accepting of others than he knew.  He was stronger and had more depth.  These people stirred a desire in him to carry on with life.

The characters he meets along the way are all curious and charming as well. There is Bernadette, the neighborhood woman who likes lost causes and takes it upon herself to try to help them, including Arthur.  Bernadette’s strange, silent son Nathan. The man who lives with tigers, a former drug addict who is now a peddler, a gay young man who lives and takes care of an old, demented writer, a friendly man from India and a rude woman painter.  Each of these characters have their own story. Arthur really struggles with all the people and things that his wife Miriam kept from him, but by the end of the book he was made peace with it, made a lot of friends and come out of his shell.  “The past year of living alone had made the color fade from his life.  He had needed something to fill the void.” And he finds it.  Lovely and charming book!

The Historian

41eRe72tKtLTHE HISTORIAN BY ELIZABETH KOSTOVA

Yes, I am really just getting around to reading this book. “The Historian,” has been on my bookshelf for many years and I finally picked it up and read it. It seemed like it took forever to get through it. At a whopping 700 pages, this is a book you have to really be invested in and spend some time with. That being said, if the book had been shorter and not so drawn out, it would have been much better!!!!

The author is very meticulous, too meticulous really and you have to read it slowly. The gist of the book is the search for the tomb of Dracula. Was he a real person? Is he still alive? Will they discover the truth?

The author takes you to many different countries in search for clues to this mystery and her descriptions of these places really make you feel like you are there. I loved how the historians visited so many different libraries all over the world, discovering ancient books and interesting artifacts that serve as clues for their search. I wanted to visit each of these libraries myself to see the beauty the author described. The characters risk their lives and much more trying to uncover secrets from the past.

What I liked most about this book was the characters. They are the heart and soul of the book. They made all the lengthy historical details and drawn out letters worthwhile. The book has a little of everything: romance, history, suspense, mystery, vampire folklore, and the supernatural.

Even though I am not a big fan of historical fiction, I thought overall it was a good book. I recommend it for history lovers and those who are interested in Dracula or vampires. While my review may seem a little negative, I really did enjoy the book and had to read until the end so I would know what really happened. As a lover of literary fiction, I can honestly say that Kostova is an amazing and very talented writer.

The Nightingale

91KA1B7xWsL.jpgFinally got around to reading this gem.  A very moving story about two sisters during the holocaust era.  Isabelle has always been a bit of a rebel, always speaking her mind, determined to make a difference.  Vianne has always been the rule follower, cautious and afraid.  Both women are forced to be strong, face severe conditions and fight to survive during the war.

There are some chilling and horrific moments in the book that really open up your eyes to what people had to face during war.  The book focuses on how war effects people.  The book discusses family, love, loss and motherhood as well.

“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this:  In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”  “Grief, like regret, settles into your DNA and remains forever a part of us.”  Great book. Very moving! Couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

Imagine Me Gone

41qnV7N4kZL.jpgThis book is a heavy read.  It is about John and Margaret and their three children Alec, Celia, and Michael.  Margaret married John knowing that he had issues with severe depression.  He suffered through difficult episodes of it his whole life. Sometimes he would just completely shut down, for weeks or months. Eventually he couldn’t keep a job and it began to have an effect on his wife and children.

Then it turns out that the eldest son, Michael, suffers significantly from depression and anxiety.  His mother and siblings do everything they can to help him cope.  It really takes a toll on the whole family.  A very powerful novel about how depression can effect people and their loved ones.

The author did an outstanding job of putting into words what depression and anxiety feel like. “What do you fear when you fear everything? Time passing and not passing. Death and life. I could say my lungs never filled with enough air, no matter how many puffs of my inhaler I took. Or that my thoughts moved too quickly to complete, severed by a perpetual vigilance. But even to say this would abet the lie that terror can be described, when anyone who’s ever known it knows that it has no components but its instead everywhere inside you all the time, until you recognize yourself only by the tensions that string one minute to the next. And yet I keep lying, by describing, because how else can I avoid this second, and the one after it? This being the condition itself: the relentless need to escape a moment that never ends.”