TUESDAY EXCERPTS: “THE BURNING GIRL”

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by The Purple Booker.

Today’s feature is The Burning Girl, by Claire Messud, a bracing, hypnotic coming-of-age story about the bond of best friends, from the New York Times best-selling author of The Emperor’s Children.

 

Intro:  You’d think it wouldn’t bother me now.  The Burneses moved away long ago.  Two years have passed.  But still, I can’t lie in the sun on the boulders at the quarry’s edge, or dangle my toes in the cold, clear water, or hear the other girls singing, without being aware the whole time that Cassie is gone.  And then I want to say something—but you can’t, you know.  It’s like she never existed.

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Teaser:  The path, such as it was, would seem to come and go, and the greenery overhead became more dense, the sun more obscured, as if we were going ever deeper into the woods.  I tried to trace a mental map—we turned right at the broad rotted stump, we bore left where the two maple trunks had grown intertwined, we kept the water behind our left ears and its gurgly sound came near, and retreated, and came again. (p.58).

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Synopsis:  Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their birthplace, the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put her life in danger and shatter her oldest friendship. The Burning Girl is a complex examination of the stories we tell ourselves about youth and friendship, and straddles, expertly, childhood’s imaginary worlds and painful adult reality—crafting a true, immediate portrait of female adolescence.

Claire Messud, one of our finest novelists, is as accomplished at weaving a compelling fictional world as she is at asking the big questions: To what extent can we know ourselves and others? What are the stories we create to comprehend our lives and relationships? Brilliantly mixing fable and coming-of-age tale, The Burning Girl gets to the heart of these matters in an absolutely irresistible way.

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What do you think?  Do the excerpts draw you in?  Would you keep reading?

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A JOURNEY THROUGH MY SHELVES….

I shelved another print book, in this space I have designated for overflow (above).  I have several bookshelves throughout the house, and I could squeeze more books into them, but I’m trying to maintain them at their current state.  Once I am tempted to exceed the number the shelves can comfortably hold,  I know it is time to purge again.

Before the purges of 2015, I had a lot of shelves for the books I had read.  I had three bookshelves in my office; five shelves in my bedroom; two in the hallway; one in the bathroom; and two in the living room.

Now:  One shelf in my office; none in the hallway; none in the bathroom; two in my bedroom; and two in my living room.  Additionally, some overflow in the shelf atop this post….and a couple of shelves in my dining room.

BEDROOM SHELVES:

OFFICE SHELVES:

Shelves for Unread Books: In my office

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LIVING ROOM SHELVES:

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OVERFLOW SHELVES IN DINING ROOM:

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HOW MANY PHYSICAL BOOKS REMAIN TO BE READ?

Nine books remain on the Unread Bookshelves shown above…plus, this stack on the coffee table:

And….

Twelve books on my nightstands…

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The rest of my unread books are luxuriating on Pippa, my Kindle.

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I have pages here at this site on which all my purchased/read books are listed.  Periodically, I go through those numbers and show you what unread books are on my Kindle…but that will be for another day.

Do you regularly inventory your books?  Or do you enjoy just having them around?

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REPRISING A REVIEW: MIDWIVES, BY CHRIS BOHJALIAN

In December 2012, I read my first book by Bohjalian…and have gone on to find several more favorites from him.

Here is my review from back then:

It was an icy winter night in an isolated house in rural Vermont, in March 1981. An experienced midwife named Sibyl Danforth took desperate measures to save a baby’s life. She performed a C-section on a mother she believed had died of a stroke. But what if she was wrong? What if she’d accidentally killed her instead?

Told in the voice of Sibyl’s teenage daughter Connie, as well as from the midwife’s personal notes, we gradually come to know the events that transpired both during the event and afterwards. An inexperienced assistant, the clouded emotions of others, and the outrage of the medical community all converge to bring the case to a courtroom.

Even as the events afterwards unfolded, and as the past slipped seamlessly into the present, the reader is left frantically turning pages, uncertain as to what the outcome will actually be.

Will the efforts of a brilliant defense attorney and expert witnesses for the defense combat the aggressive, almost cruel methods of the state’s attorney? Will the jurors be able to sort out the facts from the conjecture offered by some of the witnesses? And what will happen to Connie Danforth’s life if her mother is convicted? And what chance of acquittal could there be, since Connie has kept a secret that could sway events and change everything?

Midwives is more than a case about medical malpractice or involuntary manslaughter. It’s also about tradition vs. alternative methods. It is about how hostility within the medical community can affect the lives of many. How perceptions often alter reality.

This is my first novel by this author, but I was thoroughly engaged throughout and will be reading more of his work. Five stars.

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WRAPPING UP AUGUST!

It’s time to look back at August!  I read more pages this month than the previous ones, but I read one less book than in July.  There were so many books to love…so it was hard to choose favorites. 

Check in at The Book Date, to see what others have read and enjoyed.

Here are my favorites, despite how difficult it was to choose:

Top Favorites:

 

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My Book Genres:

Literary Fiction:  2 books read

Contemporary Fiction:  2 books read

Historical/Contemporary Fiction:  2 books read

Mysteries/Thrillers:  8 books read!

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Click on my titles to see my reviews:

AUGUST 2017:

1.After She Fell (e-book), by Mary-Jane Riley – 323 pages – (psychological thriller) – 8/26/17

2.Before We Were Yours (e-book), by Lisa Wingate – 352 pages – (historical/contemporary fiction) – 8/12/17

3.Bookshop on the Corner, The (e-book), by Jenny Colgan – 331 pages – (contemporary fiction) – 8/3/17

4.Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Chris Bohjalian – 266 pages – (literary fiction) – 8/7/17

5.Good Daughter, The (e-book), by Karin Slaughter – 528 pages – (suspense thriller) – 8/28/17

6.Here & Gone (e-book), by Haylen Beck – 288 pages – (suspense thriller) – 8/18/17

7.Home, by Harlan Coben – 385 pages – (mystery) – 8/30/17

8.Identicals, The (e-book), by Elin Hilderbrand – 418 pages – (contemporary fiction) – 8/17/17

9.Lying Game, The (e-book), by Ruth Ware – 384 pages – (mystery) – 8/24/17

10.Other Girl, The (e-book), by Erica Spindler – 256 pages – (mystery/thriller) – 8/4/17 – (NetGalley – 8/22/17)

11.Secrets She Keeps, The (e-book), by Michael Robotham – 367 pages – (mystery) – 8/15/17

12.Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, The (e-book), by Taylor Jenkins Reid – 400 pages – (historical/contemporary fiction) – 8/21/17

13.Sunday Morning Coming Down, by Nicci French – 406 pages – (suspense thriller) – 8/1/17

14.Swimming Lessons (e-book), by Claire Fuller – 356 pages – (literary fiction) – 8/8/17

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NUMBER OF BOOKS READ IN AUGUST 2017:         14

NUMBER OF PAGES READ IN AUGUST 2017:     5060

BOOKS READ YTD:                                                      117

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Enjoy September!

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REVIEW: HOME, BY HARLAN COBEN

A decade ago, kidnappers grabbed two boys from wealthy families and demanded ransom, then went silent. No trace of the boys ever surfaced. For ten years their families have been left with nothing but painful memories and a quiet desperation for the day that has finally, miraculously arrived: Myron Bolitar and his friend Win believe they have located one of the boys, now a teenager. Where has he been for ten years, and what does he know about the day, more than half a life ago, when he was taken? And most critically: What can he tell Myron and Win about the fate of his missing friend? Drawing on his singular talent, Harlan Coben delivers an explosive and deeply moving thriller about friendship, family, and the meaning of home.

My Thoughts: From the first page, Home captures the reader. Win is in London and, following up on an anonymous e-mail, stumbles upon a situation involving a teenage boy who may be Patrick Moore. In his inimitable fashion, he attacks the men with the boy, but then the boy disappears. He calls upon Myron’s help back in the states, who quickly joins him.

How the two men finally catch up with the boy again and “rescue” him kept me enthralled, even though I don’t usually enjoy the antics of guys wanting to show their machismo.

For the rest of the story, we alternate between Win and Myron’s narratives, and we are back and forth between Europe and the states. There are meetings with the parents, whose behavior seems strange in light of recent developments. Why are Patrick’s parents so determined to keep him away from everyone? Why haven’t they done a DNA test? How does Patrick seem to be so up-to-date with contemporary life? Where is Rhys?

Finding the answers kept me turning pages, as even when parts of the story were less interesting to me, I did want to know what had happened, and whether or not Patrick was really the boy who had been kidnapped. By the end, the twists and turns that brought us to resolution reminded me of what Myron and Win always said: Sometimes you have to start at the beginning to figure out the truth. 4.5 stars.

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UPCOMING EVENTS, ETC.

I am eager to start working on this site for Bloggiesta, even though I have until late September.  So, of course, I had to do a couple of “cosmetic” things, like changing the theme, header, and background.

Instead of fussing over these technical issues, I should focus more on my reading, which includes some print books on my nightstand that I am reading, a bit at a time.  I’ve been working on America’s Queen and Home for a while.

I’m almost finished with Home!  I might even have a review up by the end of the day.

I could also do a little housework, but no…scratch that!  There is plenty of time…later.

So…many things to ponder, which means that I will waste some time trying to decide.  Do you find that trying to choose what to do next leads to fewer things accomplished?

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TUESDAY EXCERPTS: “A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE”

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by The Purple Booker.

Today’s featured book is a recent download.  A Stranger in the House, by Shari Lapena, is a domestic thriller packed full of secrets, and a twisty story that never stops—from the bestselling author of The Couple Next Door.

 

 

 

Prologue:  She doesn’t belong here.

She bolts out the back door of the abandoned restaurant, stumbling in the dark—most of the lights are burned out, or broken—her breath coming in loud rasps.  She runs like a panicked animal to where she parked the car, hardly aware of what she’s doing.  Somehow she gets the car door open.  She buckles up without thinking, wheels the car around in a screeching two-point turn, and peels out of the parking lot, swerving recklessly onto the road without even slowing down.  Something in the strip mall across the street catches her eye—but she has no time to register what she sees, because she’s already at an intersection.  She runs the red light, picking up speed.  She can’t think.

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Teaser:  Tom wants more than anything to take a swing at the detective.  But he doesn’t.  As they take their leave, Tom stands up and watches them go.  He has to stop himself from slamming the door behind them in fury.  (p.155).

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Synopsis:  Karen and Tom Krupp are happy—they’ve got a lovely home in upstate New York, they’re practically newlyweds, and they have no kids to interrupt their comfortable life together. But one day, Tom returns home to find Karen has vanished—her car’s gone and it seems she left in a rush. She even left her purse—complete with phone and ID—behind.

There’s a knock on the door—the police are there to take Tom to the hospital where his wife has been admitted. She had a car accident, and lost control as she sped through the worst part of town.

The accident has left Karen with a concussion and a few scrapes. Still, she’s mostly okay—except that she can’t remember what she was doing or where she was when she crashed. The cops think her memory loss is highly convenient, and they suspect she was up to no good.

Karen returns home with Tom, determined to heal and move on with her life. Then she realizes something’s been moved. Something’s not quite right. Someone’s been in her house. And the police won’t stop asking questions.

Because in this house, everyone’s a stranger. Everyone has something they’d rather keep hidden. Something they might even kill to keep quiet.

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I’ve been eager to get my hands on this one for ages!  What do you think?  Do you want to keep reading?

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REVIEW: HERE & GONE, BY HAYLEN BECK

 

It begins with a woman fleeing through Arizona with her kids in tow, trying to escape an abusive marriage. When she’s pulled over by an unsettling local sheriff, things soon go awry and she is taken into custody. Only when she gets to the station, her kids are gone. And then the cops start saying they never saw any kids with her, that if they’re gone than she must have done something with them…

Meanwhile, halfway across the country a man hears the frenzied news reports about the missing kids, which are eerily similar to events in his own past. As the clock ticks down on the search for the lost children, he too is drawn into the desperate fight for their return.

My Thoughts: Audra Kinney is almost at her California destination when she is pulled over. The sheriff of the nearby small town states that her car is overloaded, and that he must lighten it. He opens the trunk and finds some marijuana…which stuns her, as she knows it is not hers. She is arrested anyway. Her children are taken from the scene by an assistant to the sheriff.

Hours later, she realizes that they have been stolen, as the sheriff and his assistant are denying that there were any children with her.

Will anyone listen to her protests? Is there anyone at all who believes a word out of her mouth? Her ex-husband has done a good job of painting her as a drug addict/alcoholic with mental health issues. How can she defend herself against the wealthy ex and his mother?

The intensity of Here and Gone kept me captivated as I watched Audra’s efforts to find a compassionate person amongst those in charge. The FBI agent seems the most likely to help her, but she, too, might be persuaded by those who are lying.

Help comes from an unlikely source, but even as I felt the dawning of hope, I couldn’t stop worrying about them all until the final pages. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS, BY CHRIS BOHJALIAN

 

Emily Shepard is on the run; the nuclear plant where her father worked has suffered a cataclysmic meltdown, and all fingers point to him. Now, orphaned, homeless, and certain that she’s a pariah, Emily’s taken to hiding out on the frigid streets of Burlington, Vermont, creating a new identity inspired by her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson.

Then she meets Cameron. Nine years old and with a string of foster families behind him, he sparks something in Emily, and she protects him with a fierceness she didn’t know she possessed. But when an emergency threatens the fledgling home she’s created, Emily realizes that she can’t hide forever.

My Thoughts: Emily’s first person narrative takes the reader back and forth in time, revealing bits of her life before the meltdown, and then shows us what life in shelters and on the street looked like.

At times she was part of a posse, while at other periods of her time on the streets, she struggled to stay out of sight. She learned right away not to use her real identity, as the news commentators had made the name “Shepard” something to vilify.

I liked how Emily shared her experiences and was open about her flaws and bad choices. She revealed a nurturing side when she took 9-year-old Cameron under her wing. But then, the habit of hiding, along with the fear of being caught, led to a disastrous error in judgment that put Cameron at risk.

Because of the non-linear storytelling, I was never quite sure where we were headed, but I was always interested and engaged.

By the end of Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, I could look back on what had happened in the nine months after the meltdown, and then look ahead at what would eventually come to pass for Emily; by then, I was close to tears at times, and I was definitely invested in what would happen to her. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE BOOKSHOP ON THE CORNER, BY JENNY COLGAN

 

Nina is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.  

Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile — a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling. 

From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.

My Thoughts: When a librarian who loves books is without a library in which to utilize her talents, what can she possibly do?

In coming up with an idea to buy an old van and stash it full of beloved books, a way to surround herself with what she loved most, Nina thought she had the perfect solution.

But obstacles presented themselves over and over, like not being able to get a license to park the van in Birmingham. But since she had bought the van in Scotland, and after researching the rules there, she decided to set up shop, moving from market to market in the surrounding area.

I liked how Nina was determined to make her little bookshop a success, and finding a cottage to rent from the seemingly cross farmer made her daily life a joy for her. But there were also interesting people, some nosy, who soon became friends. Befriending the young teenager Ainslee and her brother Ben helped Nina realize that reaching out to help those in need would make her feel a part of the community.

The train engineer whose path crossed with hers was a distraction, and in the end, she realized that finding a special connection closer to home would be the answer for her. A surprising turn toward her romantic dreams.

The Bookshop on the Corner was a story about bookish love, romantic dreams, and making your own way in a new community. 4.5 stars.

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