Thursday, March 21, 2013

Introducing... The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

There's a photo on my wall of a woman I've never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape. She looks straight into the camera and smiles, hands on hips, dress suit neatly pressed, lips painted deep red. It's the late 1940s and she hasn't yet reached the age of thirty. Her light brown skin is smooth, her eyes still young and playful, oblivious to the tumor growing inside her-- a tumor that would leave her five children motherless and change the future of medicine. Beneath the photo, a caption says her name is "Henrietta Lacks, Helen Lane or Helen Larson."

-- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

REVIEW: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Synopsis

Marriage can be a real killer.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.


Hardcover, US, 419 pages
Published June 5th 2012 by Crown (first published May 24th 2012)
ISBN  0307588364 (ISBN13: 9780307588364)



About the Author

Gillian Flynn is an American author and television critic for Entertainment Weekly. She has so far written three novels, Sharp Objects, for which she won the 2007 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the best thriller; Dark Places; and her best-selling third novel Gone Girl.

Her book has received wide praise, including from authors such as Stephen King. The dark plot revolves around a serial killer in a Missouri town, and the reporter who has returned from Chicago to cover the event. Themes include dysfunctional families,violence and self-harm.

In 2007 the novel was shortlisted for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar for Best First Novel by an American Writer, Crime Writers' Association Duncan Lawrie, CWA New Blood and Ian Fleming Steel Daggers, winning in the last two categories.

Flynn, who lives in Chicago, grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She graduated at the University of Kansas, and qualified for a Master's degree from Northwestern University.


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My Thoughts
When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. the shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorian would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily.

I'd know her head anywhere.

And what's inside it.

Amy and Nick have been having marital problems, and when Amy disappears amid suspicion, Nick is the prime suspect of what is a suspected murder.

This was a tough one to review, which is why I've waited so long to do it (I think it's been a couple of months). While it was well-written, clever, and engaging (keeping me reading, wondering what was going to happen next), there was something ultimately unlikable about it.

This book is written in the perspective of Nick, who is reeling from the disappearance of his wife on their anniversary, and the diary entries of Amy. Amy's diary entries take you through the years leading up to their anniversary, both the good and the bad, and it becomes clear that there was a lot of bad. Things don't look good for Nick, who seems to be a self-serving, self-centered worthless husband, and the evidence mounts against him, making it appear that he did indeed kill his wife and dump her body. But did he? You're never quite sure. And at other times you aren't even sure he is really such a bad guy. At times he seems genuinely confused and grieving.

This is one of those stories that has you going this way and then that, like a Dateline murder mystery. Yes, he did it! Wait, no, I don't think he did do it. Yes, he did! No, he didn't. Back and forth.

The characters were very well developed slowly throughout the story, the storyline was a winding road looping around on itself. There were a few plot points that were kind of preposterous, but overall it was a pretty enjoyable story.

My final word: When I asked myself what it was I didn't like about this story, I found the answer was simple: the characters. I couldn't stand them. By the end of the story, I was sick of them both and glad to be rid of them! But the story itself was pretty well-crafted and very clever. Overall I would recommend this story if you like to be kept guessing.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble
Amazon

Cover: C
Writing Style: B+

Characters: B (well developed, but ultimately unlikable)
Storyline/Plot: B+
Interest/Uniqueness: A+


My Rating:
 



DISCOUNT CODE: Personalized items from Chronicle Books


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About The World of Eric Carle
The World of Eric Carle™ is a design-driven licensing and merchandising program based on the beloved picture books by Eric Carle.  A prolific author and artist, Eric Carle has written and illustrated more than seventy books which have sold over 118 million copies worldwide. Like his books, The World of Eric Carle brand draws upon Eric Carle’s approach to creativity, discovery, play and development. Licensing and merchandising programs are ongoing in the US, Japan, UK, Australia and Europe. For more information, please visit:   www.Facebook.com/theworldofEricCarle
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One of the most admired and respected publishing companies in the U.S., Chronicle Books was founded in 1967 and over the years has developed a reputation for award-winning, innovative books. Recognized as one of the 50 best small companies to work for in the U.S. (and the only independent publisher to receive this award), the company continues to challenge conventional publishing wisdom, setting trends in both subject and format, maintaining a list that includes illustrated titles in design, art, architecture, photography, food, lifestyle and pop culture, as well as much-admired books for children and ancillary products through its gift division. Chronicle Books’ objective is to create and distribute exceptional publishing that’s instantly recognizable for its spirit, creativity, and value. For more information about Chronicle Books, visit www.chroniclekids.com
For more information visit mychroniclebooks.com

Thursday, March 14, 2013

TLC BOOK TOUR and REVIEW: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Synopsis

You belong to the earth, and the earth is hard.

At the turn of the twentieth century, in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, a solitary orchardist named Talmadge carefully tends the grove of fruit trees he has cultivated for nearly half a century. A gentle, solitary man, he finds solace and purpose in the sweetness of the apples, apricots, and plums he grows, and in the quiet, beating heart of the land-the valley of yellow grass bordering a deep canyon that has been his home since he was nine years old. Everything he is and has known is tied to this patch of earth. It is where his widowed mother is buried, taken by illness when he was just thirteen, and where his only companion, his beloved teenaged sister Elsbeth, mysteriously disappeared. It is where the horse wranglers-native men, mostly Nez Perce-pass through each spring with their wild herds, setting up camp in the flowering meadows between the trees.

One day, while in town to sell his fruit at the market, two girls, barefoot and dirty, steal some apples. Later, they appear on his homestead, cautious yet curious about the man who gave them no chase. Feral, scared, and very pregnant, Jane and her sister Della take up on Talmadage's land and indulge in his deep reservoir of compassion. Yet just as the girls begin to trust him, brutal men with guns arrive in the orchard, and the shattering tragedy that follows sets Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect them, putting himself between the girls and the world, but to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.

Writing with breathtaking precision and empathy, Amanda Coplin has crafted an astonishing debut novel about a man who disrupts the lonely harmony of an ordered life when he opens his heart and lets the world in. Transcribing America as it once was before railways and roads connected its corners, she weaves a tapestry of solitary souls who come together in the wake of unspeakable cruelty and misfortune, bound by their search to discover the place they belong. At once intimate and epic, evocative and atmospheric, filled with haunting characters both vivid and true to life, and told in a distinctive narrative voice, The Orchardist marks the beginning of a stellar literary career.


Hardcover, 426 pages
Published August 21st 2012 by Harper
ISBN 006218850X (ISBN13: 9780062188502)

 


About the Author

Amanda Coplin was born in Wenatchee, Washington. She received her BA from the University of Oregon and MFA from the University of Minnesota. A recipient of residencies from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the Omi International Arts Center at Ledig House in Ghent, New York, she lives in Portland, Oregon. The Orchardist is her first book.

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My Thoughts
His face was as pitted as the moon. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and thick without being stocky, though one could see how he would pass into stockiness; he had already taken on the barrel-chested sturdiness of an old man. His ears were elephantine, a feature most commented on when he was younger, when the ears stuck out from his head; but now they had darkened like the rest of his sun-exposed flesh and lay against his skull more than at any other time in his life, and were tough, the flesh granular like the rind of some fruit. He was clean-shaven, large-pored; his skin was oily. In some lights his flesh was gray; others, tallow; others, red. His lips were the same color as his face, had given way to the overall visage, had begun to disappear. His nose was large, bulbous. His eyes were cornflower blue.
And so we introduced to Talmadge, the central character in this story around whom everyone else orbits, like the sun of a distant galaxy.

Town/Environment:

Most of this book takes place in the orchards of Peshastin, near Wenatchee, Washington.


Quick review:


 Did I enjoy the book?
-Yes, most definitely.

Is this the first time I’ve read this author? If so, would I read them again? 
-Yes and yes.

Did I like the characters? 
-Yes, I loved the characters. I think I especially loved Talmadge, but Della was gut-wrenching, Angeline was likable, and Clee a wonderful stoic tertiary character. I would have liked to have known Caroline better.

Did the cover grab me? 
-Definitely. I loved the colors, and the house and orchard and mountains did a wonderful job of portraying the area so important to the story.

Was the ending satisfying?
-Yes, for the most part. It fell just a little flat, but I still found it satisfying.

Do I want to add this book to my permanent book shelf?
-Yes, it will find a spot on my permanent shelf, to stay with me all my days!

Let me begin by saying that I have wanted to read this book since before it was released. I felt drawn to it the moment that I read the synopsis, and the fact that I lived for a time in Washington State and loved the area only compounded my desire. So you can imagine how excited I was to get the opportunity to join this book tour!

Talmadge has been alone much of his life. A lone orchard farmer, he has been on his own since his mother died when he was but a teenager, and his sister mysteriously disappeared soon after. Then one day decades later enter two young pregnant girls, and Talmadge has something in his life outside of the orchard to focus on.

This story was beautifully quiet and reflective, and it most definitely is character-driven. The story could be very still and quiet at times, and it was only the characters propelling it forward.

Talmadge is a very stable, dedicated and committed man. Hardworking, ethical, sober and earthy, he keeps himself apart from the world, both logistically (in his orchard isolated from civilization), and emotionally and psychologically. He is the orchard manifested in human form.

Caroline Middey is a "medicine woman" who was called out to the farm when Talmadge was young. After his mother died, Caroline watched over him and his sister. After Talmadges's sister disappears and Talmadge ages, Caroline becomes a good friend and confidant, and later a surrogate mother to Angeline.
And that was the point of children, thought Caroline Middey: to bind us to the earth and to the present, to distract us from death.  (page 124)
Clee is one of the Nez Perce that stopover in the orchard a couple of times a year on their way to auction with the wild horses they capture. He and Talmadge become friends as boys, even though Clee is mute and never speaks a word.

Della and Jane enter Talmadge's life as two pregnant children, running in fear from a demon. Della becomes a surrogate wild child to Talmadge, and grows to be a half-feral androgynous woman who never stops running from her demons, and who haunts Talmadge to his death.
I don’t need anything from you. But you do, he wanted to tell her-- you do need something from me. But he did not know what it was. Like her, he did not know what it was. (page 272)
Angeline is born on the orchard to one of the girls, and she grows up in the orchard. Talmadge is the only father she's ever known. She is the female version of Talmadge, and the opposite of Della. Quiet and contemplative, uncomplaining and enduring and resigned, she is a gentle soul, yet tough and determined.
She revered solitude, but only because there was the possibility of breaking it. Of communing at last with another. What would happen when Talmadge died? Caroline Middey? Their particular sensibilities would be gone; and with them they would take their knowledge of her. Then she would truly be alone. This was another solitude. It terrified her. (page 414)
This story can be heart-breaking at times, and can grab you by the gut and pull you along. It was as if Della became the main plot of the story, with Angeline the sub-plot, and Talmadge was the catalyst through which to present these two plots.
There was a sound coming out of her that frightened her. It was a quiet sound. She touched her face, as if to verify she was still there. (page 308)
The setting to this story is everything. Without the orchards, this story couldn't exist. It plays such a central part in the lives of the characters. Talmadge loves the orchards, and Angeline loves the orchards, because she loves Talmadge. Like Talmadge, the orchard is "no part of this world", and holds itself apart from everything else, rarely invaded by the outside.

My final word: Lovely and lyrical. Descriptive without being overly done. Restrained. Carefully drawn characters deep with emotion. This story is a beautiful example of what makes a family: love, commitment, dedication, forgiveness. Family goes beyond blood. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who enjoys a slow, quiet read.

My thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be part of this book tour.
Check out the master schedule on their website:

Tuesday, March 5th: Book Club Classics!
Thursday, March 7th: Book Snob
Friday, March 8th: Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, March 12th: A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, March 13th: missris
Thursday, March 14th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Friday, March 15th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, March 18th: The Betty and Boo Chronicles
Tuesday, March 19th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, March 20th: Raging Bibliomania
Thursday, March 21st: Becca’s Byline
Monday, March 25th: Amused By Books
Tuesday, March 26th: A Library of My Own
Wednesday, March 27th: Silver’s Reviews
Thursday, March 28th: Between the Covers
Monday, April 1st: Lit and Life
Tuesday, April 2nd: Paperback Princess
TBD: The Written World

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble
Powell's Books
Indie Bound
Amazon
 

Cover: A-
Writing Style:
B+
Characters:
A
Storyline/Plot:
A-
Interest/Uniqueness:
A-

My Rating:





 
Disclosure:

I received a copy of this book to review through TLC Book Tours, 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

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Introducing... The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Introducing books through the first paragraph or so...

His face was pitted as the moon. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and thick without being stocky, though one could see how he would pass into stockiness; he had already taken on the barrel-chested sturdiness of an old man. His ears were elephantine, a feature most commented on when he was younger, when the ears stuck out from his head; but now they had darkened like the rest of his sun-exposed flesh lay against his skull more than at any other time in his life, and were tough, and flesh granular like the rind of some fruit. He was clean-shaven, large-pored; his skin was oily. In some lights his flesh was gray; others, tallow; others, red. His lips were the same color as his face, had given way to the overall visage, had begun to disappear. His nose was large, bulbous. His eyes were cornflower blue. his eyelashes nothing to speak of now, but when he was young they were thick-black, and his cheeks bloomed, and his lips were as pure and sculpted as a cherub's. these things together made the women compulsively kiss him, lean down on their way to do other chores, collapse him to their breasts. All his mother's sisters he could no longer remember, from Arkansas, who were but shadows of shadows now in his consciousness. Oh my lovely, they would say. Oh my sweet lamb.

-- The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Monday, March 4, 2013

GIVEAWAY: No Strings Attached Giveaway Hop


Welcome to the "No Strings Attached" Giveaway Hop, hosted by I Am a Reader, Not a Writer. This is a "no strings attached" giveaway with no requirements in order to enter for a chance to win.

I'm offering up your choice of one of the books below, which are some of my favorites from over the last few years:

 The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

At the turn of the twentieth century, in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest, a reclusive orchardist, William Talmadge, tends to apples and apricots as if they were loved ones. A gentle man, he's found solace in the sweetness of the fruit he grows and the quiet, beating heart of the land he cultivates. One day, two teenage girls appear and steal his fruit at the market; they later return to the outskirts of his orchard to see the man who gave them no chase.

Feral, scared, and very pregnant, the girls take up on Talmadge's land and indulge in his deep reservoir of compassion. Just as the girls begin to trust him, men arrive in the orchard with guns, and the shattering tragedy that follows will set Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect them but also to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.

Transcribing America as it once was before railways and roads connected its corners, Amanda Coplin weaves a tapestry of solitary souls who come together in the wake of unspeakable cruelty and misfortune. She writes with breathtaking precision and empathy, and in The Orchardist she crafts an astonishing debut novel about a man who disrupts the lonely harmony of an ordered life when he opens his heart and lets the world in.

Your choice of paperback or eBook. (I'm about halfway through this one, and loving it so far!)


Wilderness: A Novel 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.
Your choice of paperback or eBook. See my review here.


The Passage (Passage Trilogy Series #1)

An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy—abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.

Your choice of paperback or eBook. See my review here.


Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale

"The strongest, truest, and most pitch-perfect narration since Huck Finn's. Marvelous and terrifying, EDGE OF DARK WATER is the result of real genius at work. A masterpiece."--Dan Simmons
 
May Lynn is a pretty girl who dreams of becoming a Hollywood star. Until her dead body is dredged up from the Sabine River.

Sue Ellen, May Lynn's strong-willed teenage friend, her friends Terry and Jinx, and Sue Ellen's mother set out to dig up May Lynn's body, burn it to ash, and take those ashes to Hollywood. If May Lynn can't become a star, at least her remains can be spread in the land of her dreams.

Pursued by Uncle Gene and Constable Sy, who're after the money they've found, and Skunk, an all-too-real legendary killer who's after their lives, they begin to understand that when you set out to make the dreams of a friend your own, your worst nightmares might come along for the ride.

Your choice of paperback or eBook. See my review here.


Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell

Spring 1938. After nearly two years in prison for the crime of stealing his own grain, Ukrainian immigrant Teodor Mykolayenko is a free man. While he was gone, his wife, Maria; their five children; and his sister, Anna, struggled to survive on the harsh northern Canadian prairie, but now Teodor—a man who has overcome drought, starvation, and Stalin's purges—is determined to make a better life for them. But the family's hopes and newfound happiness are short-lived when Anna's rogue husband, the arrogant and scheming Stefan, unexpectedly returns, stirring up rancor and discord that will end in violence and tragedy.

Shandi Mitchell has woven an unbearably suspenseful story, rich with fiery conflict, written in a language of luminous beauty and clarity.
 
Your choice of paperback or eBook. See my review here.


Born Under a Million Shadows by Andrea Busfield

A moving tale of the triumph of the human spirit amidst heartbreaking tragedy, told through the eyes of a charming, impish, and wickedly observant Afghan boy.


The Taliban have withdrawn from Kabul’s streets, but the long shadows of their regime remain. In his short life, eleven-year-old Fawad has known more grief than most: his father and brother have been killed, his sister has been abducted, and Fawad and his mother, Mariya, must rely on the charity of parsimonious relatives to eke out a hand-to-mouth existence.


Ever the optimist, Fawad hopes for a better life, and his dream is realized when Mariya finds a position as a housekeeper for a charismatic Western woman, Georgie, and her two foreign friends. The world of aid workers and journalists is a new one for Fawad, and living with the trio offers endless curiosities—including Georgie’s destructive relationship with the powerful Afghan warlord Haji Khan, whose exploits are legendary. Fawad grows resentful and worried, until he comes to learn that love can move a man to act in surprisingly good ways. But life, especially in Kabul, is never without peril, and the next calamity Fawad must face is so devastating that it threatens to destroy the one thing he thought he could never lose: his love for his country.


A big-hearted novel infused with crackling wit, Andrea Busfield’s brilliant debut captures the hope and humanity of the Afghan people and the foreigners who live among them.

Your choice of paperback or eBook. See my review here.

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