Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

Title: Stella Bain, Author: Anita Shreve Stella Bain.  Finished 6-13-19, 3.5/5 stars, historical fiction, pub. 2013

Unabridged audio read by Hope Davis.  7 hours

An epic story, set against the backdrop of World War I, from bestselling author Anita Shreve. When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in. A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his houseguest. Stella had been working as a nurse’s aide near the front, but she can’t remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield. In a narrative that takes us from London to America and back again, Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, set against the haunting backdrop of a war that destroyed an entire generation.    from Goodreads

After I finish a book I might write a few thoughts on a piece of scrap paper and slide it in the book until I share my thoughts here, but in between those two I’ll probably take a gander at Goodreads to see if something jumps out as something I forgot.  Well, let me save some of you the trouble and tell you straight up that this is a prequel of sorts.  The fact that I didn’t know this makes me more than a little miffed.  So, Shreve’s earlier book was written from the perspective of Stella Bain’s husband about their marriage.  I wish I had read that one first I think, but it may not stop me from picking it up now, even knowing how abhorrent he is.

So, with that fair warning out of the way, let’s get to Stella.  When we first meet her she has no idea who she is, but at some point early on she remembers that she drove an ambulance in the War (WWI).  The doctor and wife who take her in help her to recover enough memories to know she must go to the military headquarters in London.  Here she remembers everything and we’re not even halfway through the book.

I’m not sure how much more to tell you because I don’t want to spoil anything, but will say that I grew to respect ‘Stella’ but I never truly got a handle on who she was.  Some of her choices were hard to accept.  I did learn a lot about how shell shock (PTSD) was misunderstood and even feared during the time and I thought that was a strong part of the book.  I thought it was a good book, but probably would have liked it more if I’d read All He Ever Wanted first.

Handbook For the Soul Edited by Richard Carlson & Benjamin Shield

Title: Handbook for the Soul, Author: Richard Carlson  Handbook for the Soul. Finished 5-9-19, rating 3.5/5, spiritual, 215 pages, pub. 1995

America’s most celebrated spiritual writers offer inspiring words on the state of the soul today. This collection of more than thirty original essays addresses both the importance of caring for and nourishing the soul and the ways in which these individuals tend to their own souls on a day-to-day basis.  from Goodreads

I was working in a bookstore when this came out (way back when readers had to buy their books at an actual store) and remember scoffing at its new agey popularity.  Oh how far I’ve come in my life’s journey to be able to say that I actually read it and liked it.  This is what I posted as I was reading….

Handbook for the Soul edited by Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield has been very interesting.  The different perspectives by the contributing authors have been a good way to start the day in meditation and introspection.  This morning’s reading was by Nathaniel Brandon and he was talking about keeping the soul engaged.  He asks two questions every morning.  “What’s good in my life?” and “What needs to be done?”  Yesterday, I read about the connection between spiritual frustration and disease.  It’s always good to open your mind to other perspectives, whether you adopt the beliefs or not.  I’m over halfway through.  

I found some of the essays more meaningful to me than others, but I think that’s the way it should be.  Now I have a few authors who I want to read more from.  I particularly liked Thomas Moore’s Embracing the Everyday.  “I think we would be able to live in this world more peacefully if our spirituality were to come from looking not just into infinity but very closely at the world around us – and appreciating its depth and diversity.” (page 25)

There are many heavy hitters featured so you are almost guaranteed to find a least a few that speak to you.  Steven Covey, Bernie Siegel, Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer, Ram Dass, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Jack Canfield, Melody Beattie and many others.  So many perspectives to digest and I thought it was a meaningful collection.

Hello Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

Title: Hello Stranger (Ravenels Series #4), Author: Lisa Kleypas Hello Stranger. Finished 5-16-19, 3.25/5 stars, historical romance, pub. 2018

Unabridged audio read by Mary Jane Wells.  10 hours.

The Ravenels book 4 (1-Cold-Hearted Rake) (2-Marrying Winterborne 3-Devil in Spring)

Dr. Garrett Gibson, the only female physician in England, is as daring and independent as any man—why not take her pleasures like one? Yet she has never been tempted to embark on an affair, until now. Ethan Ransom, a former detective for Scotland Yard, is as gallant as he is secretive, a rumored assassin whose true loyalties are a mystery. For one exhilarating night, they give in to their potent attraction before becoming strangers again.

A man who breaks every rule

As a Ravenel by-blow spurned by his father, Ethan has little interest in polite society, yet he is captivated by the bold and beautiful Garrett. Despite their vow to resist each other after that sublime night, she is soon drawn into his most dangerous assignment yet. When the mission goes wrong, it will take all of Garrett’s skill and courage to save him. As they face the menace of a treacherous government plot, Ethan is willing to take any risk for the love of the most extraordinary woman he’s ever known.     from Goodreads

I have really liked this series about the Ravenel family.  I’m picky about historical romances and this series has hit all the right notes for me.  Until this one.

Dr. Garrett Gibson has appeared in a few earlier books and I was excited for her story.  But, but, but…  instead of celebrating her mind and strength, it became weighed down between the sheets.  Ethan was a fine hero who fell deeply in love with Garrett from afar, but he too became just a vessel for lots and lots of sex.  This is why I’m picky about romance series, too much sex often just feels lazy.

I’ll still read the next one, but I’m a little less excited about it.

 

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Title: Beauty Queens, Author: Libba Bray Beauty Queens. Finished 3-28-19, 3.5/5 stars, YA, pub. 2011

Unabridged audio read by the author. 14 hours 30 minutes.

From bestselling Printz Award-winning author Libba Bray, the story of a plane of beauty pageant contestants that crashes on a desert island.

Teen beauty queens. A Lost-like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to e-mail. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count.   from Goodreads

This was on my Goodreads Cleanup list and even though no one said they loved it I stil thought it looked like fun and the library had the audio.  The audio is the way to go with this one.  Author Libba Bray read it and she was so good.  I mean like really good.  Thanks to her I laughed out loud throughout the book.  Each of the girls had their own voice and the “Sarah Palin” character (that’s not her name and it doesn’t mention her, but some of the scenes are recognizable) earns much respect for Bray.

Beauty queens stuck on an abandoned island could have been fun but add it reality show pirates and evil dictators trying to take over the world and you’ve got a story.  The book was too long, but the funny parts made up for it.  Did your state make it?  I’m proud to say that Miss Ohio made it to the end, but not too many did.

 

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Title: The Immortalists, Author: Chloe Benjamin The Immortalists.  Finished 3-21-19, 3.5/5 stars, fiction, pub. 2018

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.       from Goodreads

Would you want to know the day of your death?  I can see both sides of this argument, but always seem to come back to the same thought.  I wouldn’t want to lose the joy and miracle and possibility of every day by knowing.  We chose not to know the sex of our baby either.  I wonder if there’s a correlation between the two?  Let me know what you think.

Anyway, we’re talking about the book.  So much potential.  Simon, the first sibling story, is by far the best section of the book.  It made the most sense.  He knew he was going to die young, when he had the opportunity to move across the country and embrace his homosexuality, he took it and never looked back.  His story overlapped a bit with Klara’s since they were roomies in San Francisco, so by default, her story also felt genuine.  It was Daniel’s story that derailed a decent novel.  Daniel and Varya both fell prey to too much sensationalism, in my opinion.

I liked it, but did feel like it wasted so much potential, especially the second half of the book.  This feeling was shared by most of my book group and we even had one who didn’t make it through Simon’s story before putting it down.  But hey, at least we had good food and company 🙂

TRAJ1101

My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares

Title: My Name is Memory, Author: Ann Brashares My Name is Memory. Finished 3-3-19, 3.5/5 stars, YA, pub. 2010

Unabridged audio read by Lincoln Hoppe and Kathe Mazur. 11 hours.

Daniel has spent centuries falling in love with the same girl. Life after life, crossing continents and dynasties, he and Sophia (despite her changing name and form) have been drawn together-and he remembers it all. For all the times that he and Sophia have been connected throughout history, they have also been torn painfully, fatally, apart.

But just when Sophia (now “Lucy” in the present) finally awakens to the secret of their shared past, the mysterious force that has always separated them reappears. Ultimately, they must come to understand what stands in the way of their love if they are ever to spend a lifetime together.  from Goodreads

Do you believe in past lives, reincarnation?  This is an interesting take on the idea.  It introduces the concept, past lives included, without going into a ton of detail.  What happens when you’re a new soul and you see your soul mate, but it’s too late?  What if she keeps showing up in your lives, but never in a way that the two of you can be together?  Not only does she show up in your lives, but the brother you wronged does too and he’s holding onto a grudge?

I never really ‘got’ the obsession over centuries, but I did like the current time that Daniel and Lucy had.  I liked the concept of being surrounded by the same people, life after life, only in different ways each time.  I liked the searching and the yearning that made the story move forward.  I did not like, clearly, the maniac and evil brother that somehow broke all reincarnation ‘rules’.

This was a fun listen, BUT, and this is a big but, this story was to be the first in a series or trilogy and no follow up books were ever published.  The book ended with a cliff hanger, not at all resolved and I don’t know that I’d recommend it without a follow up.

 

The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver

Title: The Burial Hour, Author: Jeffery DeaverThe Burial Hour. Finished audio 1-11-19, 3.5/5 stars, thriller, pub. 2017

Book 13 in the Lincoln Rhyme series  (1st-The Bone Collector, 2nd- The Coffin Dancer, 3rd- The Empty Chair, 4th- The Stone Monkey, 5th- The Vanished Man, 6th- The Twelfth Card, 7th- The Cold Moon, 8th- The Broken Window 9th- The Burning Wire, 10th-The Kill Room 12th-The Steel Kiss)

14 hours read by Edoardo Ballerini.

A businessman snatched from an Upper East Side street in broad daylight. A miniature hangman’s noose left at the scene. A nine-year-old girl, the only witness to the crime. With a crime scene this puzzling, forensic expertise of the highest order is absolutely essential. Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are called in to investigate.

Soon the case takes a stranger turn: a recording surfaces of the victim being slowly hanged, his desperate gasps the backdrop to an eerie piece of music. The video is marked as the work of The Composer…

Despite their best efforts, the suspect gets away. So when a similar kidnapping occurs on a dusty road outside Naples, Italy, Rhyme and Sachs don’t hesitate to rejoin the hunt.   from Goodreads

I love Lincoln and Amelia and Tom, but I loved the Italian setting and characters we found there even more.  I’ve never been to Naples so I don’t know how much leans toward truth and how much is more cliche, but it was fun for someone who doesn’t know the difference.

For much of the book it was all about chasing down the Conductor before he kills again, but then BOOM something happens and that’s not what’s going on anymore.  The mystery aspect was good and the new characters were good, only Lincoln himself seemed a bit diminished in this one and that was okay for me because everything else worked.

Recommended for those who love Italian settings and for thriller lovers.  I’m not sure, given Lincoln’s smaller role, that you would even need to read any of the rest of the series to enjoy this one and I don’t say that very often.

The Year of Less and Road Trips

Title: The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store, Author: Cait FlandersThe Year of Less by Cait Flanders. Finished 9-9-18, 3/5 stars, memoir, pub. 2018

In her late twenties, Cait Flanders found herself stuck in the consumerism cycle that grips so many of us: earn more, buy more, want more, rinse, repeat. Even after she worked her way out of nearly $30,000 of consumer debt, her old habits took hold again. When she realized that nothing she was doing or buying was making her happy-only keeping her from meeting her goals-she decided to set herself a challenge: she would not shop for an entire year. The Year of Less documents Cait’s life for twelve months during which she bought only consumables: groceries, toiletries, gas for her car. Along the way, she challenged herself to consume less of many other things besides shopping. She decluttered her apartment and got rid of 70 percent of her belongings; learned how to fix things rather than throw them away; researched the zero waste movement; and completed a television ban. At every stage, she learned that the less she consumed, the more fulfilled she felt. Blending Cait’s compelling story with inspiring insight and practical guidance, The Year of Less will leave you questioning what you’re holding on to in your own life-and, quite possibly, lead you to find your own path of less.    from Goodreads

I was disappointed with this one.  There’s nothing wrong with Cait’s story, but there isn’t anything that hasn’t been said before.  I realize it was her journey so it’s different, but I wanted more about living with less and the shopping ban and way less about boyfriends and her job.

Road Trips: A Guide to Travel, Adventure, and Choosing Your Own PathRoad Trips:A Guide to Travel, Adventure, and Choosing Your Own Path by Jen CK Jacobs. Finished 9-11-18, 3.5/5 stars, travel, pub. 2018

Road Trips is the ultimate guide to inspire wanderlust and spark new adventures. From coming-of-age solo journeys to romantic weekend getaways, friend-filled road trips, and more, Road Trips features eight travel stories packed with photos and personal experiences that bring the adventures of the road to life. Inspiring and practical, this book also has key tips for enhancing every part of your trip, from getting out the door (with essential tips on packing and eating on the road–including recipes for road snacks) to taking in new experiences (with creative ideas for journaling and photographing) and bringing experiences from the road back home (through creative collecting). We are all drawn to adventure. Whether you’re a road warrior or you have a hard time getting out the door, Road Trips is the perfect way to inspire a life of travel.  from Goodreads

I love road trips and this would be a great gift for anyone who likes to pack up and hit the road when they can.  There is nothing earth shattering, but the layout, photography and good ideas make it a fun one to read through.

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

Inside the O'Briens: A NovelInside the O’briens. Finished 9-21-18, 3.5/5, fiction, pub. 2015

Unabridged audio read by Skip Sudduth.  9 discs.

Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.    from Goodreads

This grabbed me from the get go.  I’m a mom in my 40’s and can’t even imagine the horror of not only Joe but of his wife as they wait to find out what becomes of their children and grandchildren.  I learned a lot about Huntington’s disease and the book was excellent in the way that it showed how it impacted the whole family, and it was a big brood!  The story flitted between Joe and his youngest daughter Katie and while I liked both of those storylines I would have liked to have heard a bit more from the other kids and their stories, especially about the troubled brother.  As much as I liked the book it was a downer and I hated the end.  I’m sure others are fine with it, but it felt like a cop out to me.

Lisa Genova is gifted at taking a medical diagnosis and compelling us to read, even when it’s hard.  I loved Still Alice, but didn’t love this one as much.  But Joe has stuck with me and it’s been two months so that’s saying something.

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict

Carnegie's Maid Carnegie’s Maid. Finished audio 10-20-18, rating 3.5/5, historical fiction, pub. 2018

Unabridged audio read by Alana Kerr Collins. 9 hours.

In the industrial 1860s at the dawn of the Carnegie empire, Irish immigrant Clara Kelly finds herself in desperate circumstances. Looking for a way out, she seeks employment as a lady’s maid in the home of the prominent businessman Andrew Carnegie. Soon, the bond between Clara and her employer deepens into love. But when Clara goes missing, Carnegie’s search for her unearths secrets and revelations that lay the foundation for his lasting legacy. With captivating insight and stunning heart, Carnegie’s Maid tells the story of one lost woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from ruthless industrialist into the world’s first true philanthropist.   from Goodreads

This was my book group selection this month and there were quite a few differing opinions, which isn’t the norm.  Often, there’s a clear majority and one or two may not like it.  This time we had a few loves, a few hates, some likes and me, who was on the fence.  It did lead to great discussion about immigrants, women’s place in society, the vast inequality of the haves and the have nots.  Basically, it led to great conversations that tapped into what is going on in this country right now.  Some things have changed, but often not enough.

I loved the look at Pittsburgh and Carnegie in their heyday.  The powerful imagery really took me into the heart of the city.  As for Carnegie, I learned a lot about him and his start.  I’m interested to learn more since this book was just about a specific time in his life.  My biggest problem with the book was that Clara wasn’t based on any truth, story or even rumor.  I wish there had been some glimmer of a possibility that this could have happened, but that being said I enjoyed it, but not without a few issues with Clara.