FROM THE INTERIOR: EXCERPTS FROM “CATCHING AIR”

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Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

Let’s have some fun!  Today I am spotlighting a book from an author who is rapidly becoming a favorite:  Sarah Pekkanen, and her book Catching Air, a story that turnings an unflinching eye on the tangled relationships of two pairs of thirty-somethings.

 

 

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Intro:  Dawn Zukoski was scared of lots of things—spiders, lightning bolts, the way New York cabbies drove—but only once in her life had she known true terror.

She was eight years old back then, and visiting her elderly neighbor.  Mrs. Rita’s home was cluttered with gold-framed photos of her long-grown children and towers of Reader’s Digest magazines, and it smelled of dog pee from her two yippy terriers.  But Dawn loved going there because the cookie jar was stocked with Nilla wafers, and the television was always tuned to game shows.

Lacy curtains over the windows hid the sight of other kids on the street playing kickball or hide-and-seek on summer mornings, but Dawn could hear their shouts and cheers.  She didn’t care, though; she and Mrs. Rita were busy competing in their own games of Plinko or One Away.

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Teaser:  Then Mrs. Rita let out a whoop and clapped her hands sharply—”He landed smack-dab on the one dollar!  Did you see that, Dawn?”—and at the sudden noise, the spell was broken and the dogs charged.

Dawn fell backward, cookies spilling all around her.  “No!” she could hear Mrs. Rita yelling from what seemed like a great distance away.  Dawn thrashed and screamed, but every time she pushed one dog away, the other found its way forward, raking her face with its teeth.  The attack seemed to go on forever. (p. 2).

(I just had to include a couple of paragraphs to convey the frightening situation in its entirety).

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Blurb:  A chance to run a B&B in snowy, remote Vermont—it’s an offer Kira Danner can’t resist after six soul-crushing years of working as a lawyer in Florida. As Kira and her husband, Peter, step into a brand new life, she quells her fears about living with the B&B’s co-owners: Peter’s sexy, irresponsible brother Rand, and Rand’s wife, Alyssa…who is essentially a stranger.

For her part, Alyssa sees taking over the B&B as the latest in a string of adventures. Plus, a quiet place might help her recover from the news that she can’t bear children. But the idyllic town proves to be anything but serene: Within weeks, the sisters-in-law are scrambling to prepare for their first big booking—a winter wedding—and soon a shy, mysterious woman comes to work for them. Dawn Zukoski is hiding something; that much is clear. But what the sisters-in-law don’t realize is that Dawn is also hiding from someone…

Relatable and dynamic, Catching Air delves deeply into the vital relationships that give shape to women’s lives.

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What do you think?  Would you keep reading?  I am eager to find out what happens.

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REVIEW: ANA OF CALIFORNIA, BY ANDI TERAN

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For almost ten years, Ana Cortez had been at the mercy of the foster care system. In and out of homes, mostly in East LA, she is now at a crossroads. Next stop: a group home. Unless her social worker, Lupe Saucedo, can come up with a creative solution.

As she meets with Ms. Saucedo, Ana learns that, indeed, a new possibility is available to her. She can be placed in Northern California, in redwood country, where she can intern on a farm for the summer. And perhaps longer. The ultimate goal: emancipation.

From the first moments after her arrival in Hadley and to the home of Emmett Garber and his sister Abbie, Ana feels on trial. Every word, every glance, every misunderstanding…they all point to failure, even though she is trying hard. But nobody seems to give her a chance, especially Emmett Garber, who has his own issues and little understanding of Ana’s.

Abbie is impressed by Ana’s creativity, however, and the efforts she has made to do what is required. Small mistakes make it harder, but there are a few moments of connection developing between them.

Naturally, there is a boy, Cole Brannan, who is drawn to Ana, and she to him. But his parents have issues with the Garbers, making Cole a forbidden love. And the attraction between them evokes all of Abbie’s worst memories about her own past errors in judgment.

How do the past mistakes of all the characters play into the events of that summer and fall? Why are so many people unable to give Ana the benefit of the doubt? And, finally, what frightening event will change how everyone sees her? Will Ana finally achieve her dreams of belonging?

Throughout Ana of California, I felt myself rooting for Ana, wishing that I could somehow make others understand her and give her the chance she so sorely needs. She was an appealing character, and I could understand why she connected to the girl named Rye Moon. But I found Rye unlikeable.

Rye, with her somewhat Bohemian style, resonated with Ana. But she seemed to create situations that would evolve into trouble. Lashing out seemed to be Rye’s MO, and this behavior made it hard for this reader to connect to her.

Small town life might have appeared to be a good idea for Ana, but the smallness of the town contributed to many of the problems, too, with residents jumping to conclusions, reacting out of their own preconceptions about Ana and her life. Misunderstandings and miscommunication ran rampant. In the end, this mix added to my fascination with the story, and with my inability to put this book down. 4.5 stars.

**I received this e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE NEW NEIGHBOR, BY LEAH STEWART

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Margaret Riley has enjoyed a long life, and at ninety is sometimes annoyed with the people around her, eschewing contact with most people while lost in her own memories.

So when she notices a new neighbor across the pond, she is caught off guard. The home had been empty for a while, and Margaret had come to count on that.

But she is curious about the younger woman, who has a small child, and finds out who she is in a rather surreptitious way. And arranges for them to meet when the librarian in the village points out the younger woman’s “work wanted” ad.

Jennifer Young and four-year-old Milo have left a past behind them, and hiding the secrets of that past now informs Jennifer’s life. Another mother, Megan, whose son Ben is in Milo’s preschool class, is reaching out to Jennifer. Worried about how much she can share, Jennifer is sometimes tense and often short in her responses.

Set in mountainous Sewanee, in Tennessee, the isolation could be just what each of these characters needs. But will their slowly building connection force their secrets into the open? Will each of them lose the protection of those secrets? Or will something unexpected come to them?

The New Neighbor is told alternately with multiple narrators, primarily from the first person voice of Margaret, and Jennifer’s third person perspective. Slowly we learn about each character, the lives they have lived, and what led them to keeping the secrets they now hope to keep hidden. As the secrets slowly come out, layer by layer, they seem less devastating, in some ways. Less startling.

But then, when Margaret starts to stir the pot, stepping into what is not her business, she unleashes a whole new drama that will impact all the characters.

I enjoyed Margaret and felt for her loneliness, but soon I was disgusted with her meddling. Jennifer was trying to move past the pain of her life with an addict and the betrayal of her daughter Zoe. And Zoe was probably just a typical teen, reacting without thinking.

They all had to accept the consequences of their actions.

A story that I could not put down, this one earned 5 stars from me. Recommended for all who enjoy family drama and secrets.

I received this e-ARC from NetGalley.

KEEPING TRACK: THE TBR STACKS

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As I read blogs today, I noticed a recurring theme, one that has been a big part of my life, too, since I started book blogging.  The TBR Pile (or stack, etc.).  Some even mention the TBR Jar.

I don’t have one of those…but I do have a blog that I started in 2009, dedicated to keeping track of my unread books.  Curl up and Read was a desperate attempt to take control, since I moved into this condo in 2007 with 166 unread books that had to be boxed separately from the rest of my library.  I couldn’t mix the two.

For a while, I even had them sitting on the floor in my bedroom.

 

 

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Then I bought a shelf for them, which made them more dignified.  But creating the blog, where I track my purchases, books read and reviewed, etc., made all the difference.

My physical books are under 10 at the moment.  My Kindle books, however, have grown in numbers, since my daughter gifted me with Sparky in 2010.  Then, earlier this year, I upgraded to Pippa.

 

 

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One of my pages on the blog lists books purchased, another lists books read, with a link to the reviews.  There is a separate page for books from publishers, publicists, etc., with links to the reviews.

I also add the link to my review on the “purchased” pages.

So I can see where I am at a glance.

This morning, I counted 153 books PURCHASED in 2014, with 89 read and reviewed.

In 2015, I have purchased 47 books so far, and read and reviewed 21 of them.

My list of review books is pretty much up to date, with only three NetGalley books still to read and review, but they are being published at the end of June, July, and early August.

My review books have never been the issue, though.  I tend to overbuy…and I think that my lower numbers for this year reflect my determination to request books for review whenever possible, instead of purchasing.  To assist with my Compulsive Book Buying Disorder.

 

 

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So should I add a TBR Jar?  Right now I have a list of unread books on paper, in addition to the page in my blog, to guide me in my reading decisions.

What works for you?

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REVIEW: GOLDEN STATE, BY STEPHANIE KEGAN

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Natalie Askedahl grew up in Sacramento as the youngest of three children in a political family, regularly meeting up with the power brokers in the state’s capital.

Their parents were idealistic, but they reared their children with a kind of benign neglect, not really catering to them, but leaving them to their own devices. Natalie’s big brother Bobby was brilliant, sensitive, and looked out for her; she believed he would always be her hero, and he made her feel safe.

Now that Natalie is grown, with her own family, and enjoying her life in Berkeley with her husband and two daughters, she is distanced from her family of origin, which now consists of her aging mother, and her older sister Sara, living the hippie life in Potter Valley. None of them have seen Bobby in years, who lives in a small shack in Idaho, and he doesn’t answer their letters. But Natalie still idolizes him in her mind.

One day, her world is shattered when a bomb goes off on the Berkeley campus, where her fifteen year old daughter Julia is spending the day. Then, more bombs go off in the subsequent weeks, and while others are wondering about the “Cal Bomber,” responsible for numerous bombings over the years, Natalie is beginning to have a sinking feeling. She realizes that the bomber’s manifesto, as published in the newspaper, is sickeningly similar to a letter Bobby sent to their mother.

What Natalie does next will change everything about her life, until it is reduced to “before and after.” Promises were broken, and now Natalie and her family are in the eye of the storm, with reporters hounding them at every turn. Will her marriage be shattered in the wake of everything that transpires? Can she ever return to her job as a teacher again?

Narrated in Natalie’s first person voice, we see her horrific dilemma…and we also learn, through her memories, about how she grew up, and even some of the ways their family looked away from the hard realities in order to see themselves as good and dedicated people, with a loving family life. The challenges of facing reality, and the mental illness that has taken over her brother’s life, will be one of Natalie’s greatest tasks in the months ahead.

The characters were like real people, and I felt for everyone in the story, from the victims to the man at the center of the storm. Natalie’s husband Eric, however, in my opinion, was too focused on how others would perceive him, and how everything happening would affect his position as a partner in a prestigious law firm. He was less than sympathetic to what Natalie was experiencing. In fact, he railroaded her into taking the action that would lead to the train wreck that would become their life.

A slow build kept me glued to the pages, wondering if anything good could come of their lives. The drama unfolded and while there were no big surprises, Golden State: A Novel did pack a wallop, leaving me much to ponder. To consider how any of us could make a right choice in a situation like this one. 4.5 stars.

BOOKISH WEDNESDAY: CHECK IT OUT!

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Welcome to Wednesday, and our WWW Wednesdays hosted by Sam, at Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

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I am very engaged by my current read:  The Cry, by Helen Fitzgerald.

 

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When a baby goes missing on a lonely roadside in Australia, it sets off a police investigation that will become a media sensation and dinner-table talk across the world.

Lies, rumours and guilt snowball, causing the parents, Joanna and Alistair, to slowly turn against each other.

Finally Joanna starts thinking the unthinkable: could the truth be even more terrible than she suspected? And what will it take to make things right?

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I just finished reading another page-turner from Barbara Taylor Sissel:  Crooked Little Lies (click for my review); another book I could not put down! (A NetGalley e-ARC)

 

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A story of deception, lies, and betrayal, I could not trust any of the characters….and some were more unlikeable than others.  But I always kept rooting for Lauren, the main character, the one whose voice felt vulnerable, but not deceptive.  Confused, but not lying.  Take a chance and read it, and see what you think!

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Next, I plan to pick up a “lighter” read, set in wine country: Eight Hundred Grapes, (Goodreads link) by Laura Dave, is a story about secrets…and the consequences.

 

 

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There are secrets you share, and secrets you hide…

Growing up on her family’s Sonoma vineyard, Georgia Ford learned some important secrets. The secret number of grapes it takes to make a bottle of wine: eight hundred. The secret ingredient in her mother’s lasagna: chocolate. The secret behind ending a fight: hold hands.

But just a week before her wedding, thirty-year-old Georgia discovers her beloved fiancé has been keeping a secret so explosive, it will change their lives forever.

Georgia does what she’s always done: she returns to the family vineyard, expecting the comfort of her long-married parents, and her brothers, and everything familiar. But it turns out her fiancé is not the only one who’s been keeping secrets…

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A good week, don’t you think?  What has yours been like?  Come on and share!

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REVIEW: CROOKED LITTLE LIES, BY BARBARA TAYLOR SISSEL

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Lauren Wilder is the first character we meet in “Crooked Little Lies,” as she drives on the interstate feeder, having taken a wrong turn. We can immediately feel that something is wrong with her…there is a disorientation, a confusion, so when she describes the man she sees walking along the road, the fact that he is familiar to her is not that unusual.

Bo Laughlin is a familiar character to the residents of the small Texas town, Hardys Walk, and his quirkiness is sometimes more pronounced than at other times. But one thing is true: he is the stepbrother of Annie Beauchamp, a young woman who works in the café in town, and the two of them have something in common: their mothers are dead.

What we will learn about Lauren will change everything about how we view her. Can we believe any of her thoughts and perceptions? The man she sees, and how she watches him get into a strange car, could have been an imagining…but then someone else, Cooper Gant, saw the same thing. Where is Bo now, and is he in danger?

Meanwhile, as more of Lauren’s past comes to light (the horrible accident that left her with a brain injury and memory issues, and her subsequent abuse of pain pills), we can understand some of what she is experiencing. She is clean now, but her husband Jeff is like a hall monitor with her, and sometimes his approach seems insulting. Could he have been manufacturing some of the episodes he tells her about? Was Jeff just stressed out, or were his unlikeable characteristics just the tip of the iceberg? Were Lauren’s two kids, Drew, 14, and Kenzie, 11, at risk?

Then there is Tara, Lauren’s sister, whose involvement with Greg, a known drug addict, could be somehow connected to what happened to Bo.

The more characters I met, the more suspicious I was of everyone, and before everything finally came together, I suspected that the shadow of suspicion cast on Lauren would turn out to be someone’s trick. But whose?

As the events unfolded, the suspense kept me rapidly turning pages, not knowing who to trust or believe. With the final reveal, I felt vindicated. And happily satisfied with how it all turned out. Yes, I had pretty much guessed who was behind it all, but seeing just how it all came together was fun to watch. 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of the e-Arc from NetGalley.