Thursday, August 30, 2012

Introducing... Not Famous Anymore by Michael Loyd Gray

Most of us dream of having the life of a movie star: the wealth, the fame, the adoration. One can even argue that it is the quintessential embodiment of the American Dream. But what if you attain that life, only to find that it is not so much the American Dream as a “Waking Dream”-- an unreal and foggy existence that only pulls you farther from yourself? That’s what happens to Elliot Adrian, the “star” of award-winning novelist Michael Loyd Gray’s latest book, Not Famous Anymore.

Movie star Elliott Adrian’s days are a whirlwind of parties, booze, and luxury. The problem is, none of it means anything to him. His outwardly perfect life is really just a prison, and although he cannot see the gilded bars, something deep within him knows he must escape before it kills him. Deciding he doesn’t want to be famous anymore, he disappears from Hollywood and begins working his way back to his hometown in rural Illinois.

In his travels, Elliott meets many people who lead—on the surface—rather unenviable lives: the cab driver, the solitary rancher, the man pouring cheap beer in a small-town dive. But as each experience unfolds, he learns that they are in fact much richer men than he. Imagine his surprise when he tries to buy their friendship; they are not only unimpressed, but almost seem to pity him. Through their kindness, honesty and quiet strength, he learns a most valuable lesson: that giving of yourself is the only real currency.

Not Famous Anymore is a social commentary, not only about the excesses of those living that Hollywood dream, but about everyone who aspires to live it without really understanding what it means. It is about the millions of people who follow Ashton Kutcher on Twitter and watch every installment of the Real Housewives. But what makes this book so incredible is that is also about another America, filled with people who don’t care what Kutcher is doing. For these people, living the Dream means a different kind of abundance: nature, family, and the satisfaction of a hard day’s work. It is these people who help guide Elliott home.

Gray is not snubbing his nose at wealth or fame, but simply reminding us of a lesson often forgot: that material success, without direction and substance, can lead to an empty existence of moral decay and spiritual ruin. Ultimately, the book is about turning away from the distractions of our technology- obsessed world and looking inward to find our own truth. Elliott doesn’t check email, tweet or go on Facebook. He doesn’t even use the phone that much. He goes from living under a constant spotlight to living completely under the radar. It is only then that he discovers that underneath all the superficial junk, he is a man with enough character, courage and moxie to face his own demons, and slay them. And that is a lesson we would all do well to learn. To learn more about Michael Loyd Gray’s work, visit http://www.michaelloydgray.com/

Friday, August 24, 2012

REVIEW: John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk

Synopsis

1625. In the remote village of Buckland, a mob chants of witchcraft and John Sandall and his mother are running for their lives. Taking refuge among the trees of Buccla's Wood, John's mother opens her book and begins to tell her son of an ancient Feast kept in secret down the generations. But as the rich dishes rise from the pages, the ground beneath them freezes. That winter John's mother dies.

The Feast is John's legacy. Taken as an orphan to Buckland Manor, the ancestral seat of Sir William Fremantle, John is put to work in its vast subterranean kitchens, the domain of Richard Scovell. Under the Master Cook's guidance, John climbs from the squalor of the Scullery to the great house above. There Sir William's headstrong daughter Lucretia defies her father by refusing to eat.

John's task is to tempt the girl from her fast. But as a bond forms between them, greater conflicts loom. The Civil War will throw John and Lucretia together in a passionate struggle for survival against the New Order's fanatical soldiers. Ancient legacies will pull them apart. To keep all he holds most dear, John must realise his mother's vision. He must serve the Feast.

An astounding work of historical fiction, John Saturnall's Feast charts the course of one man's life from steaming kitchens to illicit bedchambers, through battlefields and ancient magical woods. Expertly weaving fact with myth, Lawrence Norfolk creates a rich, complex and mesmerising story of seventeenth-century life, love and war.


Hardcover, 416 pages
Expected publication: September 4th 2012 by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. (first published August 1st 2012)
ISBN 0802120512 (ISBN13: 9780802120519)


About the Author
from Goodreads

Lawrence Norfolk (born 1963) is a British novelist known for historical works with complex plots and intricate detail. His novels are also known for their unusually large vocabulary.

He was born in London but lived in Iraq until 1967 and then in the West Country of England. He read English at King's College London and graduated in 1986. He worked briefly as a teacher and later as a freelance writer for reference book publishers.

In 1992, he won the Somerset Maugham Award for his first novel, Lemprière's Dictionary, about events surrounding the publication, in 1788, of John Lemprière's Bibliotheca Classica on classical mythology and history.

His second novel, The Pope's Rhinoceros, is based on the history of an actual animal also known as Dürer's Rhinoceros. Themes in the work include the lost city of Vineta, the sack of Prato, and the Benin bronze-making culture on the river Niger.


My Thoughts

Like The Dog Stars, I obtained this book through Netgalley, and the e-book expired before I had a chance to get my notes from it. So I have to try to do this review from memory without any of my notes, and my memory just ain't what it used to be!

John Saturnall is sent to Buckland Manor as a young orphan, in hopes that he will find work and a place where he can fit in, as it is his best chance for a decent life. John has a natural talent for smells and tastes. He can break the flavors down in their complexity, pulling them apart and identifying their individual parts. His talent reminded me of that of Moses in The Bells, except Moses' talent dealt with the sense of hearing and John's is that of taste and smell. 

Given John's talent, he quickly finds his place in the kitchen of the manor, where he excels. His first day at the manor is marked by an eventful meeting with the daughter of the manor, and this begins a remarkable relationship that goes through the years.

This story has an almost fairytale feel to it. The descriptions of the food is fantastical (seeming almost unreal). The characters have lovely, quirky little names (which I noted, but have now lost), and a lyrical way of speaking.

My final word: Tragic and charming, and with delicious descriptions, this story was an absolute delight. It is bound to be one of my favorites of the year, and will be earning a place on my permanent library shelves!



My Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Disclosure:

I received a copy of this book to review through Netgalley, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

TLC BOOK TOUR and REVIEW: And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

Synopsis

Already praised as "a writing powerhouse" (USA Today) and "among the select group of novelists who have invigorated the crime fiction arena with smart, innovative, and exciting work" (George Pelecanos), New York Times bestseller Laura Lippman is constantly sending reviewers back to their thesauruses in search of new and greater accolades. Her brilliant stand-alone novel, And When She Was Good, only reinforces the fact that she stands tall among today's bestselling elite--including Kate Atkinson, Tana French, Jodi Picoult, and Harlan Coben (who raves, "I love her books ") Based on her acclaimed, multi-award-nominated short story Scratch a Woman, And When She Was Good is the powerfully gripping, intensely emotional story of a suburban madam, a convicted murderer whose sentence is about to be overturned, and the child they will both do anything to keep. Lippman has already won virtually every prize the mystery genre has to offer--the Edgar(R), Anthony, Agatha, and Nero Wolfe Awards, to name but a few. They'll now have to invent a few new awards just to keep up with her.

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published August 14th 2012 by William Morrow
ISBN  0061706876 (ISBN13: 9780061706875)

 


About the Author
from Goodreads

Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working fulltime and published seven books about “accidental PI” Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor’s Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association.

Ms. Lippman grew up in Baltimore and attended city schools through ninth grade. After graduating from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., Ms. Lippman attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Her other newspaper jobs included the Waco Tribune-Herald and the San Antonio Light.

Ms. Lippman returned to Baltimore in 1989 and has lived there since. She is the daughter of Theo Lippman Jr., a Sun editorial writer who retired in 1995 but continues to freelance for several newspapers, and Madeline Mabry Lippman, a former Baltimore City school librarian. Her sister, Susan, is a local bookseller. 


Check out the author's website
Follow the author on Facebook


My Thoughts
 SUBURBAN MADAM DEAD IN APPARENT SUICIDE

The headline catches Heloise's eye as she waits in the always-long line at the Starbucks closest to her son's middle school.
This is the story of the life of a prostitute, but it is so much more than that. Heloise is one of those suburban "madams" that you read about in the papers from time to time. Her life as been kept "compartmentalized", as she thinks of it, and most people only see one side of her life. Either they know her as the successful madam who runs her business...well, like a business... or they know her as a lobbyist widow raising a son on her own. And ne'er the twain shall meet. The one knows nothing of the other, with very few exceptions in her life.

I liked the character Heloise later in life. I wasn't always the biggest fan of her in her younger years. But part of that may be because the character wasn't as fully developed in her younger years. It was more like brief flashbacks over the years, so there were always holes left in the story. After a turbulent childhood growing up poor in a small town with an abusive father and a bowed mother who has submitted to her life, the present-day portion of the story takes place when Heloise (formerly "Helen") is 37-years-old and living in suburbia.

As an adult, Heloise gives every appearance of being a woman in total control of her life. I say "appearance", because even she must admit later that none of us truly have control. There are just too many things outside of our control. Heloise is trying to do things as "right" as she can, given that she works in an industry deemed "wrong".

This isn't just the story of a prostitute-- it is the story of a mother's love, and what a mother will do to protect her child. Growing with a mother who put her abusive husband (well, sort of husband) in front of her daughter, Heloise now puts her son a priority before everything else. Everything she does is for him. 

While Heloise circumvents oncoming middle-age and a son entering his teens, she reassesses her life and decides it is time to restructure and reinvent. But as she is breaking free from the ties that bind, danger and ghosts linger in the shadows.

My final word: I enjoyed this book. It is my first Laura Lippman, and probably won't be my last. Engaging and just suspenseful enough to wonder where she's gonna go with a thread of the storyline, and containing so many elements of a story that I've had in my head for 20 years now, I found the story ultimately interesting, and Heloise a character for whom I could root.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be part of this tour:


Check out the master schedule for the tour:

Tuesday, August 14th: The Blog of Lit Wits
Wednesday, August 15th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, August 16th: Book Dilettante
Monday, August 20th: Chaotic Compendiums
Tuesday, August 21st: Olduvai Reads
Wednesday, August 22nd: Peppermint PhD
Thursday, August 23rd: The Book Bag
Monday, August 27th: Book Addiction
Tuesday, August 28th: Mary’s Cup of Tea
Wednesday, August 29th: In the Next Room
Thursday, August 30th: Between the Covers
Friday, August 31st: Mysteries and My Musings
Monday, September 3rd: Don’t Mind the Mess
Tuesday, September 4th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, September 5th: libbysbookblog
Thursday, September 6th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Friday, September 7th: so much shouting, so much laughter
Monday, September 10th: Twisting the Lens
Tuesday, September 11th: A Bookworm’s World


My Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosure:

I received a copy of this book to review through TLC Book Tours and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mailbox Monday (08-13-12 edition)

 Image licensed from bigstockphoto.com
Copyright stands

Mailbox Monday is now hosted monthly by a different blog. Here is the official blog of Mailbox Monday.  Here's what I've received over the last few weeks:

 Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World by Sabina Berman
Received from the publisher for review

A transporting and brilliant novel narrated by an unforgettable woman: Karen Nieto, an autistic savant whose idiosyncrasies prove her greatest gifts

As intimate as it is profound, and as clear-eyed as it is warmhearted, Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World marks an extraordinary debut by the award-winning Mexican playwright, journalist, and poet Sabina Berman.

Karen Nieto passed her earliest years as a feral child, left alone to wander the vast beach property near her family's failing tuna cannery. But when her aunt Isabelle comes to Mexico to take over the family business, she discovers a real girl amidst the squalor. So begins a miraculous journey for autistic savant Karen, who finds freedom not only in the love and patient instruction of her aunt but eventually at the bottom of the ocean swimming among the creatures of the sea. Despite how far she's come, Karen remains defined by the things she can't do—until her gifts with animals are finally put to good use at the family's fishery. Her plan is brilliant: Consolation Tuna will be the first humane tuna fishery on the planet. Greenpeace approves, fame and fortune follow, and Karen is swept on a global journey that explores how we live, what we eat, and how our lives can defy even our own wildest expectations.


The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu
Won through the publisher's Twitter contest

The searing, riveting debut novel about young women coming of age in the military, from one of the most promising literary talents of her generation
 
 Yael, Avishag, and Lea grow up together in a tiny, dusty Israeli village, attending a high school made up of caravan classrooms, passing notes to each other to alleviate the universal boredom of teenage life. When they are conscripted into the army, their lives change in unpredictable ways, influencing the women they become and the friendship that they struggle to sustain. Yael trains marksmen and flirts with boys. Avishag stands guard, watching refugees throw themselves at barbed-wire fences. Lea, posted at a checkpoint, imagines the stories behind the familiar faces that pass by her day after day. They gossip about boys and whisper of an ever more violent world just beyond view. They drill, constantly, for a moment that may never come. They live inside that single, intense second just before danger erupts.
   In a relentlessly energetic voice marked by caustic humor and fierce intelligence, Shani Boianjiu creates a heightened reality that recalls our most celebrated chroniclers of war and the military, while capturing that unique time in a young woman's life when a single moment can change everything.


The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
Won through the Bookreporter.com

Over the course of his career, New York Times bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian has taken readers on a spectacular array of journeys. Midwives brought us to an isolated Vermont farmhouse on an icy winter’s night and a home birth gone tragically wrong. The Double Bind perfectly conjured the Roaring Twenties on Long Island—and a young social worker’s descent into madness. And Skeletons at the Feast chronicled the last six months of World War Two in Poland and Germany with nail-biting authenticity. As The Washington Post Book World has noted, Bohjalian writes “the sorts of books people stay awake all night to finish.”

In his fifteenth book, The Sandcastle Girls, he brings us on a very different kind of journey. This spellbinding tale travels between Aleppo, Syria, in 1915 and Bronxville, New York, in 2012—a sweeping historical love story steeped in the author’s Armenian heritage, making it his most personal novel to date.


When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Syria, she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke College, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The First World War is spreading across Europe, and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the Armenian genocide. There, Elizabeth becomes friendly with Armen, a young Armenian engineer who has already lost his wife and infant daughter. 


When Armen leaves Aleppo to join the British Army in Egypt, he begins to write Elizabeth letters, and comes to realize that he has fallen in love with the wealthy, young American woman who is so different from the wife he lost.Flash forward to the present, where we meet Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in suburban New York. Although her grandparents’ ornate Pelham home was affectionately nicknamed the “Ottoman Annex,” Laura has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought. But when an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a newspaper photo of Laura’s grandmother promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum, Laura embarks on a journey back through her family’s history that reveals love, loss—and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations.


And received for review through Netgalley:

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea.

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return.

Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.”

Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master’s Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. A towering literary achievement, The Orphan Master’s Son ushers Adam Johnson into the small group of today’s greatest writers.


Everglades Patrol by Tom Shirley
(figured I'd give this a try, since the Everglades are practically my backyard)

As law enforcement officer and game manager for the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, Lt. Tom Shirley was the law in one of the last true frontiers in the nation—the Florida Everglades.

In Everglades Patrol, Shirley shares the stories from his beat—an ecosystem larger than the state of Rhode Island. His vivid narrative includes dangerous tales of hunting down rogue gladesmen and gators and airboat chases through the wetlands in search of illegal hunters and moonshiners.

During his thirty-year career (1955–1985), Shirley saw the Glades go from frontier wilderness to “ruination” at the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers. He watched as dikes cut off the water flow and controlled floods submerged islands that had supported man and animals for 3,000 years, killing much of the wildlife he was sworn to protect.

Wilderness by Lance Weller

Thirty years after the Civil War's Battle of the Wilderness left him maimed, Abel Truman has found his way to the edge of the continent, the rugged, majestic coast of Washington State, where he lives alone in a driftwood shack with his beloved dog. Wilderness is the story of Abel, now an old and ailing man, and his heroic final journey over the snowbound Olympic Mountains. It's a quest he has little hope of completing but still must undertake to settle matters of the heart that predate even the horrors of the war.As Abel makes his way into the foothills, the violence he endures at the hands of two thugs who are after his dog is crosscut with his memories of the horrors of the war, the friends he lost, and the savagery he took part in and witnessed. And yet, darkness is cut by light, especially in the people who have touched his life-from Jane Dao-Ming Poole, the daughter of murdered Chinese immigrants, to Hypatia, an escaped slave who nursed him back to life, and finally to the unbearable memory of the wife and child he lost as a young man. Haunted by tragedy, loss, and unspeakable brutality, Abel has somehow managed to hold on to his humanity, finding way stations of kindness along his tortured and ultimately redemptive path.In its contrasts of light and dark, wild and tame, brutal and tender, and its attempts to reconcile a horrific war with the great evil it ended, Wilderness tells not only the moving tale of an unforgettable character, but a story about who we are as human beings, a people, and a nation. Lance Weller's immensely impressive debut immediately places him among our most talented writers.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

REVIEW: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Synopsis

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.


Paperback, 534 pages
Published February 28th 2012 by Katherine Tegen Books (first published April 28th 2011)
ISBN  0062024035 (ISBN13: 9780062024039)



About the Author
from Goodreads

Veronica Roth is only 23, so her bio will be short. She’s from a Chicago suburb. She studied creative writing at Northwestern University, and wrote DIVERGENT (Katherine Tegen Books, May 2011) and INSURGENT (May 2012). The third and final book in The Divergent Trilogy, which doesn't have a title yet, will come out in Fall 2013. In the meantime she will spend endless hours browsing Wikipedia in her pajamas as she eats corn flakes. (Or some other kind of bland breakfast cereal.)

Check out the author's website
Follow the author on Twitter


My Thoughts

Beatrice is an well brought up Abnegation girl. And, of course, it is assumed at the Choosing Ceremony that she will choose to remain in her Abnegation faction. However on the appointed day she shocks her family when she chooses to switch factions, leaving her family and everything she has ever known behind. Then begins a brutal initiation process which she doubts at times she will survive.

I approached this book with relatively low expectations. In the past I would have had higher expectations (enjoying the dystopian bent as I do), but I've read enough YA now to know not to expect much.

And I got pretty much what I expected. If I approach a book like this from the standpoint of a 40+ year-old woman who really loves quirky literary fiction and southern gothic, then a book like this can be a bit of a let down. Very simple characters. Superficial interactions. Straight-forward writing. Not the type of prose I've come to love.

But if I approach it from the 17-year-old I once was, and try to simply lose myself in the "story", the plot, the fragmented city that once was Chicago, then I can see the appeal. In the beginning I found the book was a bit of a letdown, even though I was simply looking for a light read-- something a little mindless (I don't expect much more out of YA). But then I shifted my mind into that teen-mode and tried to be more superficial (not really hard for me-- I am a pretty superficial person in a lot of ways), and found that I could enjoy the story a bit. 

Tris (formerly Beatrice) didn't seem very realistic to me. On the one hand, she is portrayed as this very plain, non-extraordinary girl. Then she is portrayed as this extremely brave girl who is terrified of everything, and at the same time fearless. I felt as if she was all over the place. Perhaps this was because she was "divergent" and couldn't really be pigeon-holed, but she just didn't feel very real to me. 

Most of the other characters were very one-dimensional and didn't really have any impact on me. Other than Four, whom I actually liked, even though he also didn't make much sense to me, being kind and sensitive and cruel all at the same time.

My final word: In the end, I was left with an "okay" story. It had its moments, and it had potential with an interesting premise, but it was too loosely executed and just didn't pull it all in together. I was left a little bored by the whole thing, but perhaps would have loved it at 17? So this one gets an "eh" and a shrug, and I'm not sure whether or not I will give Insurgent a try. Not right now. Too many great books to read!


My Rating: 7 out of 10

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

REVIEW: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Synopsis

A riveting, powerful debut novel from an award-winning adventure writer: the story of a pilot surviving in a world filled with loss—and of what he is willing to risk to rediscover, against all odds, connection, love, and grace.
 
Hig survived the flu that killed everyone he knows. His wife is gone, his friends are dead, he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, his only neighbor a gun-toting misanthrope. In his 1956 Cessna, Hig flies the perimeter of the airfield or sneaks off to the mountains to fish and pretend that things are the way they used to be. But when a random transmission somehow beams through his radio, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life—something like his old life—exists beyond the airport. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return—not enough fuel to get him home—following the trail of the static-broken voice on the radio. But what he encounters and what he must face—in the people he meets, and in himself—is both better and worse than anything he could have hoped for.


ebook, 336 pages
Published August 7th 2012 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
ISBN  0307960935 (ISBN13: 9780307960931)



About the Author
from the author's website

Peter Heller is a longtime contributor to NPR, and a contributing editor at Outside Magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure. He is an award winning adventure writer and the author of four books of literary nonfiction.  He lives in Denver. Heller was born and raised in New York. He attended high school in Vermont and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire where he became an outdoorsman and whitewater kayaker. He traveled the world as an expedition kayaker, writing about challenging descents in the Pamirs, the Tien Shan mountains, the Caucuses, Central America and Peru.At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he received an MFA in fiction and poetry, he won a Michener fellowship for his epic poem “The Psalms of Malvine.”  He has worked as a dishwasher, construction worker, logger, offshore fisherman, kayak instructor, river guide, and world class pizza deliverer. Some of these stories can be found in Set Free in China, Sojourns on the Edge. In the winter of 2002 he joined, on the ground team, the most ambitious whitewater expedition in history as it made its way through the treacherous Tsangpo Gorge in Eastern Tibet. He chronicled what has been called The Last Great Adventure Prize for Outside, and in his book Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River.

The gorge — three times deeper than the Grand Canyon — is sacred to Buddhists, and is the inspiration for James Hilton’s Shangri La.  It is so deep there are tigers and leopards in the bottom and raging 25,000 foot peaks at the top, and so remote and difficult to traverse that a mythical waterfall, sought by explorers since Victorian times, was documented for the first time in 1998 by a team from National Geographic.

The book won a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, was number three on Entertainment Weekly’s “Must List” of all pop culture, and a Denver Post review ranked it “up there with any adventure writing ever written.”

In December, 2005, on assignment for National Geographic Adventure, he joined the crew of an eco-pirate ship belonging to the radical environmental group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as it sailed to Antarctica to hunt down and disrupt the Japanese whaling fleet.

The ship is all black, sails under a jolly Roger, and two days south of Tasmania the engineers came on deck and welded a big blade called the Can Opener to the bow—a weapon designed to gut the hulls of ships.  In The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet’s Largest Mammals, Heller recounts fierce gales, forty foot seas, rammings, near-sinkings, and a committed crew’s clear-eyed willingness to die to save a whale.  The book was published by Simon and Schuster’s Free Press in September, 2007.

In the fall of 2007 Heller was invited by the team who made the acclaimed film The Cove to accompany them in a clandestine filming mission into the guarded dolphin-killing cove in Taiji, Japan. Heller paddled into the inlet with four other surfers while a pod of pilot whales was being slaughtered. He was outfitted with a helmet cam, and the terrible footage can be seen in the movie. The Cove went on to win an Academy Award. Heller wrote about the experience for Men’s Journal.

Heller’s most recent memoir, about surfing from California down the coast of Mexico, Kook: What Surfing Taught Me about Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave, was published by The Free Press in 2010. Can a man drop everything in the middle of his life, pick up a surfboard and, apprenticing himself to local masters, learn to ride a big, fast wave in six months? Can he learn to finally love and commit to someone else? Can he care for the oceans, which are in crisis? The answers are in. The book won a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, which called it a “powerful memoir…about love: of a woman, of living, of the sea.” It also won the National Outdoor Book Award for Literature.

Heller’s debut novel, The Dog Stars, will be published by Knopf in August, 2012. It will also be published by Headline Review in Great Britain and Australia, and Actes Sud in France.

Check out his website
Contact the author via email


My Thoughts

Unfortunately this book was from Netgalley and it expired, and I unthinkingly lost all of my notes when that happened. I'll know next time to copy my notes out and to another location before the book expires! So this time I have to try and do a brief review without any notes to remind me. 

Hig is a survivor of an epidemic, living with his dog and a nearby neighbor on constant alert for danger by traveling scavengers. A pilot who still takes periodic scouting flights, he is plagued by the memory of a voice on his radio, calling to him from the Denver airport.

My memory is getting so bad as I get older that I can't even remember the name of Hig's dog, and am not 100% positive that it was the Denver airport that the voice came from. See? That's why I need my notes!

I loved this story. Part post-apocalyptic, part adventure story, this book goes beyond the average post-apocalyptic. Where usually a story of this genre would simply branch off into a good ol' horror yarn, this story explores human nature and is a more "real" look at life after the apocalypse rather than a fantastical look, albeit with a somewhat desperate and negative bent, assuming the worst of human nature. Not only a book about survival, but a story about the love between a man and his dog.

Hig comes off as a pretty honorable man-- a man with a conscience and uncomfortable with some of the things he must do. His ornery neighbor is not so conflicted. He has absolutely no problem with living in the world they now struggle to survive in. In fact, you get the impression that he may be more comfortable in this post-apocalyptic world than the cushy world of the past.

My final word: If you like the post-apocalyptic genre, and appreciate good writing, give this one a try. It is a fast read (Goodreads shows the e-book at 336 pages, but my e-book was just over 200 pages. Blame it on the font size!), well-written, with emotional moments. There is some brutality, but nothing explicit or excessive. Bound to be one of my favorites of the year. Very nice!

 
My Rating: 9 out of 10


Disclosure:

I received this e-book through Netgalley, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

REVIEW (Book Club read): Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik

Synopsis

The women of Freesia Court are convinced that there is nothing good coffee, delectable desserts, and a strong shoulder can’t fix. Laughter is the glue that holds them together—the foundation of a book group they call AHEB (Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons), an unofficial “club” that becomes much more. It becomes a lifeline. Holding on through forty eventful years, there’s Faith, a lonely mother of twins who harbors a terrible secret that has condemned her to living a lie; big, beautiful Audrey, the resident sex queen who knows that with good posture and an attitude you can get away with anything; Merit, the shy doctor’s wife with the face of an angel and the private hell of an abusive husband; Kari, a wise woman with a wonderful laugh who knows the greatest gifts appear after life’s fiercest storms; and finally, Slip, a tiny spitfire of a woman who isn’t afraid to look trouble straight in the eye.

This stalwart group of friends depicts a special slice of American life, of stay-at-home days and new careers, of children and grandchildren, of bold beginnings and second chances, in which the power of forgiveness, understanding, and the perfectly timed giggle fit is the CPR that mends broken hearts and shattered dreams.


Paperback, 512 pages
Published March 29th 2005 by Random House Publishing Group (first published January 1st 2003)
ISBN 0345475690 (ISBN13: 9780345475695)


About the Author
from Goodreads

Lorna Landvik is a mother of two and wife of one. She is the author of eight novels, including the best-selling ANGRY HOUSEWIVES EATING BON BONS, PATTY JANE'S HOUSE OF CURL and OH MY STARS. Also an actor and playwright, Lorna has appeared in many stage productions. She is a new and passionate neophyte to the practice of yoga, which is a fine antidote to her long established practice of lounging. 

Follow the author on Twitter

My Thoughts
A Fuller Brush salesman had the unfortunate task of trying to sell his wares to the women of Freesia Court during the fifth day of a March cold snap.
This is the story of five women who form a book club, following the women over decades of friendship.

Faith is married to husband Wade, and with twins- a girl and a boy. Faith is grounded and sensible, but full of secrets and living a lie (or series of lies).

Audrey and husband Paul appear to have the perfect life. With two boys and an attentive husband, Audrey thinks that having a great sex life equates a good marriage. Later she becomes a person of more depth.

Merit is the beautiful daughter of a Lutheran minister. Most people don't see beyond her beauty, and assume that there is nothing more to her. But there is a lot going on in her life and with her husband Eric.
  
Slip is a fiery, fearless, opinionated activist, and her husband Jerry stands by her in everything.

Kari is a widow, her husband Bjorn having died in his forties, before they had any children. She is a seamstress, home designer and a favorite of her nieces and nephews. There is something stabilizing and grounded about Kari.
There’s something about Kari that makes me feel calm-- after listening to her I feel like I’ve drunk a warm glass of milk. (p. 48)
This story is character-driven, with full, well-fleshed out characters. But that is not to say that the plot plays second-fiddle. This story is equally plot and character driven, and it covers the gamut. Childhood heartbreak, unhappy marriages, domestic abuse, substance abuse, the horrors of war, the pain and joys of parenthood. It has it all.

My biggest issue was with Faith's letters. Faith writes regular letters to her deceased mother throughout the book, and these letters became my least favorite part of the story. Accusatory, bitter, morose, they dwell on the past, and Faith doesn't seem to appreciate how lucky she is to have what she has.

You never know what little tidbits of knowledge you'll pick up at a book club discussion. I can't remember of which topic from the book we were discussing, but one woman said that someone she knew had five miscarriages. The doctor told her to drink a beer every day with the next pregnancy, as it suppresses contractions, and she carried that baby to term!

Someone in the book club also pointed out that more time was given to developing the gay couple than in addressing the divorce of one of the characters, and how she got the strength to follow through with it. I have to say that I agree. The gay couple weren't really integral to the story and never really tied in with the storyline. They felt "superfluous", as if they were the "token gay couple" in the story. So one of my main complaints with the book is that too much time was spent on inconsequential things and people that didn't really add to the story.

But I did enjoy the writing, and some of the stories the characters would tell. At one point, one of the characters relayed a discussion with a professor, and I enjoyed the analogy...
“...And then there’s Professor Emory-- he teaches the theology class I’m taking at night school-- because one day he compared religions to a baseball team, with Catholicism as the catcher, crouched down and willing to take the most punishment, giving secret signals; Baptists as the umpires, always judging who’d erred; Buddhism as the pinch hitter, who would hit a home run if he can just get up to bat, but if he only gets to warm the bench, that’s fine too...” (p. 117)
My final word: I enjoyed this book. Our book club had mixed responses to it. Many gave it about a C. I gave it a B+. It had both serious moments and humorous moments, allowing you to watch the development of the character's lives over decades. I would recommend this one.

 
My Rating: 8 out of 10