The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood (otherwise known as Charlie St. Cloud)

Title: Charlie St. Cloud, Author: Ben SherwoodCharlie St. Cloud. Finished 4-28-18, 4.25/5, fiction, 273 pages, pub. 2004

The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud tells the haunting story of a young man who narrowly survives a terrible car wreck that kills his little brother. Years later, the brothers’ bond remains so strong that it transcends the normal boundaries separating life and death. Charlie St. Cloud lives in a snug New England fishing village. By day he tends the lawns and monuments of the ancient cemetery where his younger brother, Sam, is buried. Graced with an extraordinary gift after surviving the accident, he can still see, talk, and even play catch with Sam’s spirit. But townsfolk whisper that Charlie has never recovered from his loss.  from Goodreads

Charlie and his brother are besties and when Sam is killed and Charlie is spared, both lives are lost.  Fast forward a few years and Charlie works at the local graveyard as its caretaker and can see and talk to the spirits of dead people who are stuck in between.  Sam is one of those spirits.  Charlie, because of a promise, plays catch with Sam every day at sunset and the boys continue to lean on their bond.  But then comes along this girl and everything changes.  I don’t want to spoil too much by saying more, but graveyards and spirits and love are some of my favorite things 🙂

This was a fun readathon book, sentimental, romantic and just the right length.  I read Sherwood’s first book, The Man Who Ate the 747 and loved it. It was quirky and endearing.  When I saw the trailer for the movie when it came out years ago I somehow missed that it was written by Sherwood.  I didn’t like this quite as much as 747, but it did have much of the same magic.

I watched the movie today and will compare the two in a few days, but if you only saw the movie I can’t stress enough that you should read the book.

 

 

Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin

Title: Knots and Crosses (Inspector John Rebus Series #1), Author: Ian Rankin

Knots & Crosses. Finished 3-29-18, rating 4.25/5, mystery, 256 pages, pub. 1987

Detective John Rebus: His city is being terrorized by a baffling series of murders…and he’s tied to a maniac by an invisible knot of blood. Once John Rebus served in Britain’s elite SAS. Now he’s an Edinburgh cop who hides from his memories, misses promotions and ignores a series of crank letters. But as the ghoulish killings mount and the tabloid headlines scream, Rebus cannot stop the feverish shrieks from within his own mind. Because he isn’t just one cop trying to catch a killer, he’s the man who’s got all the pieces to the puzzle…    from Goodreads

Inspector Rebus series #1

John Rebus is a bit of a closed off mess.  He’s divorced, has an almost non-existent relationship with his brother and no friends outside of those he works with at the police station.  Young girls are getting kidnapped and killed all across Edinburgh and Rebus is assigned to the team to investigate.  This mystery was more character driven than in your face drama on every page and I liked that.

I loved the Scotland setting and the variety of well drawn characters.  Rebus came out of the shell of his past in a way that kept me reading.  I loved the supporting cast and how they revolved around Rebus.  I was worried about how much they all seemed to drink, but maybe they can handle more liquor in Scotland?

I thought this was a great start to a well-loved detective series.  I do plan on continuing as time allows and since this only took me two days to read I think I could read quite a few this year alone!

 

The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart

Title: The Myth of You and Me, Author: Leah StewartThe Myth of Me & You.  Finished 3-26-18, 4.25/5 stars, fiction, 312 pages, pub. 2005

The Myth of You and Me captures the intensity of a friendship as well as the real sense of loss that lingers after the end of one. Searingly honest and beautiful, it is a celebration and portrait of a friendship that will appeal to anyone who still feels the absence of that first true friend.  from Goodreads

Sonia shrugs. “You know. She’s not that quirky. She likes mainstream movies. Romance. Action-adventure. She’s not into inner turmoil. She’s one of the most practical people I’ve ever met. It’s like, life is a job. She’s a realist.”

For some reason I felt slightly affronted. I say, “I’m a realist.”

Sonia laughs. “You’re not a realist,” she says. “You’re a dreamer who doesn’t believe in the dream.”   Chapter 17

There’s nothing quite like those first real friendships when you’re young.  Everything is new as you discover the way the world works together, or maybe you don’t quite figure it out but you try and it’s okay because you’ve got each other.  Cameron and Sonia were each other’s touchstone from the  time they met when they were 14.  Through high school and college the two, seeming opposites, stuck together even though they both loved the same boy.  What could possibly tear them apart?  Fast forward a few years and they are living completely different lives, in different states without a word between them until Cameron receives a letter from Sonia and her boss comes up with a plan to reconnect the two.

I loved this book.  Cameron was a bit of a tough nut to crack and as the protagonist in a first person story her distance became the lens from which you saw everything, past and present.  Cameron’s journey to find Sonia was filled with many moments that seemed unrealistic, but as a whole it was satisfying.  I was rooting for them and for a happy ending for Cameron, which I feared couldn’t happen because I wasn’t sure that she wanted to be happy.

I met the author at a book talk at my library back in 2011.  I loved the book she was on tour for, so I’m not sure why I waited so long to read this one.  Husband and Wife really spoke to me as a new mother and this one left me missing my childhood friends and wanting to reach out to them.

I just love this cover, don’t you?

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Title: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Author: Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Finished 2-7-18, 4.5/5 stars, fiction, 323 pages, pub. 2017

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. All this means that Eleanor has become a creature of habit (to say the least) and a bit of a loner. 

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.      from Goodreads

At first, Eleanor was not for me.  She was weird, quirky, possibly on the spectrum (somewhat of a judgy trigger for me), emotionally absent, and friendless.  I thought she was a unique voice so that was compelling, but it really wasn’t until Eleanor’s past started to reveal itself that I felt myself being drawn into her story.  She is ridiculed at work, drinks too much on weekends, withstands weekly calls from her horrible mother, and somehow convinces herself that a rocker she sees on stage is her destiny.  Poor, poor Eleanor.  With the help of a few people she opens herself up to, Raymond the new IT guy and Sammy the man’s life she helped save, she comes to realize  that she deserves more than she’s let herself believe.

What a treat this book was.  The story reveals its secrets at just the right pace.  Her struggles yanked at my heartstrings at the same time she made me laugh out loud.  Her first stop to when deciding to prep herself for the love of her life, who she has never spoken to?  A trip to the beauty shop for a Hollywood wax.  I learn something new everyday.

We read this for my book group and we all really liked it.  I was excited to find out that Reese Witherspoon has purchased the rights to Eleanor.  I think it could be a fantastic movie.

A pic from my book group (I post these on Instagram if you want more book eye candy :))

 

When We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Title: Before We Were Yours, Author: Lisa WingateBefore We Were Yours. Finished 1-10-18, rating 4.5/5, historical fiction, pub. 2017

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.  from Goodreads

This was the Goodreads Historical Fiction Winner and although I didn’t read any of the others I can see why this won. There once was an evil woman who stole children from poor, loving parents and sold them to the highest bidder.  These children were forced to live in horrifying conditions and it’s completely heartbreaking.  That is true.  The book is the fictionalized account of the kids she abused.

Rill, Camellia, Lark, Fern and Gabian will stay with me for a while.  These kids, aged from 2-12, all lived on a run down boat that their parents moved when needed.  They were well loved.  When the mother, Queenie, was forced to go to the hospital to deliver twins, 12 year old Rill was left in charge only to be overrun by what she thought were police.  All five of the beautiful, blonde (but one)  Foss children were taken to the Tennessee Children’s Home and exposed to adults who only viewed them as profit, or worse, play things.  The story was gripping and hard to put down.

It alternated with a current day story that connected to 1939 and was rooted in the political arena. It reminded me a bit of the current John McCain story with a Senator suffering from cancer but in this one the family decides to groom one of their own to take over if needed.

We read this one for our book group and everyone liked or loved it, but one.  The 1939 storyline was universally loved, but there were some dissenting views on the current storyline.  A few saw it as wasted potential and too clunky, but the rest of us saw it as welcome relief from the harsh realities of the horrific Children’s Home.

I would highly recommend this one.  If you are interested in the real Georgia Tann and her home of abomination Google her or start with this one.

Dark Matter by Blake Couch

Title: Dark Matter, Author: Blake CrouchDark Matter. Finished unabridged audio 4-29-17, rating 4.5/5, sci-fi thriller, pub. 2016

Read by Jon Lindstrom

Jason Dessen is walking home through the chilly Chicago streets one night, looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the fireplace with his wife, Daniela, and their son, Charlie—when his reality shatters.

It starts with a man in a mask kidnapping him at gunpoint, for reasons Jason can’t begin to fathom—what would anyone want with an ordinary physics professor?—and grows even more terrifying from there, as Jason’s abductor injects him with some unknown drug and watches while he loses consciousness.

When Jason awakes, he’s in a lab, strapped to a gurney—and a man he’s never seen before is cheerily telling him “welcome back!”

Jason soon learns that in this world he’s woken up to, his house is not his house. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born.

And someone is hunting him.

Is the life Jason remembers just some crazed dream? And can he survive long enough to discover the answers he needs?     from Goodreads

So, I was browsing through some favorites lists this week, saw Dark Matters on a few and wondered why I hadn’t considered it for my own favorite list.  Because I loved it, I really did.  To come up with my list I browse my list of 4.5 and 5 star books here on the blog and I didn’t remember seeing it.  So I checked Goodreads, yep, and then did a search here and…nada.  I’m not exactly sure how a book I read and loved in April could have been forgotten, but it was.

I really loved this thriller of endless universe realities.  It was a wild and crazy ride!  There was lots of science, but also lots of mind-tripping fun.  I think the fact that Jason also read it made it so much better since he could clue me in on some of the more technical questions I had.

I know I’m short on details at this late date but do yourself a favor and give it a try even if it’s not in your comfort zone.  I think there is a very good possibility that you will love it.

 

 

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Title: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Author: Trevor NoahBorn a Crime. Finished 9-20-17, rating 4.5/5, memoir, pub. 2016

Unabridged audio read by the author.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother: his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The eighteen personal essays collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.    from Goodreads

I don’t keep up with Comedy Central’s The Daily Show much since Jon Stewart left, but I have seen Trevor and he’s good.  He’s smart and I love smart guys.  Also, as some of you may remember, we were able to have three Africans who were attending Mandela training here in the US over for dinner one night this summer and one of them was from South Africa, so I felt a connection with Trevor and the stories from his home country.  Trevor’s honesty and humor about his early life during apartheid was shocking and entertaining. His mother is black and his father is white.  Reading how he could not walk with his dad to the park or grocery shop with his mother made me so sad.  The memoir ended too soon and I wish it had been longer.  But now he can write another book and earn another payday.

We read this one for our book club and it was universally loved. Don’t miss it!!

A Life in parts by Bryan Cranston

Title: A Life in Parts, Author: Bryan CranstonA Life in Parts. Finished 9-7-17, 4.5/5 stars, memoir, pub. 2016

Unabridged audio read superbly by author.

Bryan Cranston landed his first role at seven, when his father, a struggling actor and director, cast him in a United Way commercial. Soon, Bryan was haunting the local movie theater, memorizing and reenacting favorite scenes with his older brother. Acting was clearly the boy’s destiny—until one day his father disappeared. Suddenly, destiny took a back seat to survival.

Seeking something more stable, perhaps subconsciously trying to distance himself from his absent father, Cranston decided on a career in law enforcement. But then, a young man on a classic cross-country motorcycle trip, Cranston one day found himself stranded at a rest area in the Blue Ridge Mountains. To pass the time he read a tattered copy of Hedda Gabler, and in a flash he found himself face-to-face once again with his original calling. Suddenly he thought: This was what he wanted to do, what he would do, with the rest of his life. Act.    from Goodreads

Today I finished listening to A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston. It was read by Cranston himself and it was 8 cds. I love when actors read their own books!  I did watch one or two seasons of Breaking Bad and have seen him in other things, but I wouldn’t have picked this one up unless Diane recommended it.  Cranston’s dad was an actor and left his three kids when they were young.  Cranston and his brother survived their childhood together, living with relatives, traveling overseas, and taking motorcycle road trip across America.  Cranston has led a very bold and ambitious life and he pulls no punches.  It started a little slow, but for most of this book his stories made me laugh out loud or have a motherly concern for his wellbeing.

If you are at all interested in reading about the acting life or love Walter White then this will be a good fit for you.  Perfect for a road trip with the hubby or wife, but not suitable for kids. Lots of language and sex.

I read this on day 8 of my monthly challenge.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Title: Cat's Cradle, Author: Kurt VonnegutFinished 9-4-17, rating 4.5/ 5, classic fiction, 191 pages, pub. 1963

Told with deadpan humour & bitter irony, Kurt Vonnegut’s cult tale of global destruction preys on our deepest fears of witnessing Armageddon &, worse still, surviving it …

Dr Felix Hoenikker, one of the founding ‘fathers’ of the atomic bomb, has left a deadly legacy to the world. For he’s the inventor of ‘ice-nine’, a lethal chemical capable of freezing the entire planet. The search for its whereabouts leads to Hoenikker’s three ecentric children, to a crazed dictator in the Caribbean, to madness. Felix Hoenikker’s Death Wish comes true when his last, fatal gift to humankind brings about the end, that for all of us, is nigh…  from Goodreads

I haven’t read Vonnegut since Slaughterhouse-Five in college, a book I disliked.  So, imagine my surprise when I found myself charmed by this one.  The father of the hydrogen bomb made something even more deadly and, left in the hands of his three children, the fate of the world is in peril.  John, a writer and our narrator, finds himself drawn into the lives of these offspring and sent on an adventure that would leave the world changed forever.  This book was a hoot in its absurdity, but pointed in its observations of humanity.  Vonnegut has won me over.

This was my 13th selection for the Classics Club and I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50.  I am woefully behind!

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Title: Circling the Sun, Author: Paula McLainCircling the Sun.  Finished 7-1-17, rating 4.5/5, historical fiction, pub. 2015.

Unabridged audio read by Katharine McEwan. 12.5 hours.

Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.

Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly. 

-from Goodreads

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked this up, only that it was written by a Clevelander and someone mentioned that they liked this better than her other bestseller, The Paris Wife.  Little did I know that I would love this story of 1920’s Kenya so much.

Beryl’s upbringing was eccentric and because of that she was a fantastic main character.  Her English mother couldn’t handle her life in Kenya so she moved back to England with her son, leaving Beryl with her father.  Beryl was able to run wild as a child and was accepted by the local native tribe, at least until she was old enough to be sent away to school.  She was attacked by a tiger and lived to tell the tale.  She was fearless with horses and broke every mold a woman trainer could in the 1920’s.  Her unbridled nature led her to questionable relationships and choices, but she always maintained her independence and paid dearly for mistakes.

I don’t know how much this Beryl matches the real Beryl, but I am interested in finding out by reading Beryl Markam’s autobiography West with the Night.  I have never even seen or read Out of Africa, where Beryl is part of the tragic love triangle in this novel.  I need to rectify that soon.  She was an immensely flawed character, but that made me love her that much more.  And I loved learning about Kenya at that time as big changes were happening.

Highly recommend this one.  The audio was a wonderful way to experience this one.

So, for those of you who have seen or read Out of Africa, what did you think of Beryl?