Review: The Time Of My Life

The Time of My Life by Cecelia Ahernimages
Fiction, 484 pages
ISBN: 9780062248602
Paperback released April 23, 2013
William Morrow Paperbacks,
an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

FTC Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.

 

“Dear Lucy Silchester, You have an appointment for Monday, May 30, 2011. Yours sincerely, Life.”

 

I’m not much of a general fiction reader, yet for some writers I make exceptions. Sometimes I’m disappointed, but so far never with Ahern.

With no disrespect to the author, they have not been a challenge to read – which is a good thing. Too many times I pick up a Pulitzer or Booker winner and wonder what in the hell am I missing?

In her stories P.S., I Love You and now The Time of My Life, Ahern gives us a quirky story that is a pleasure to read and easy to recommend to others.

If I were still working at the bookstore, this is definitely one I’d put out on the end cap. (Anyone who works retail can tell you that’s pretty high praise)

The premise seems almost too much. Lucy hasn’t been treating herself, and therefore her Life, all that well. So when it literally comes calling to hold her to account for her actions, what entails teaches us all a thing or two about honesty and respect, especially when it comes to our Selves. (And yes, that is meant to be two words)

Lucy has a lot to learn and by the end of the book, the reader will be wondering what they may need to do to make their Life better and happier. Not that there are any great revelations or deep soul searching within the story that hasn’t been seen in books before, but what interested me and kept me reading was Lucy herself.

She’s flawed and faces some real tough issues, as we all have and do, but I liked her sense of humor and the fact she wasn’t so over the top miserable or whiny kept me connected. I’ve seen worse pity parties in literature – hers wasn’t hard to deal with, because really, it wasn’t that bad and definitely fixable.

The greatest lesson from reading this, is that it’s all fixable, you just have to accept the fact that your Life is a living and breathing entity, and if you ignore it, it won’t go away. It may just show up and want attention when you least expect it or want it.

Lucy finally faced hers and this book is worth the read to find out how.

JC

 

 

Sunday Salon: Books I Recommend Regularly

toptentuesday.jpgI know it’s Sunday Salon time, but I figure I’d kill two birds with one post.

Over at Top Ten Tuesday this last week, we were allowed to re-visit a topic. Since I never did this one, and it’s something I do a lot of, I thought I’d make it easy on myself and pick the week when they asked us about the Top Ten Books We Recommend.

Easy? Yeah, right.

The hard part isn’t about the recommending, but keeping it to a list of ten, which I didn’t, but what else is new?

  1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    If you’ve only seen the movie, the book is better in that some of the characters you only see briefly in the movie have a more important role in the book, especially in supporting the moral and ethical themes of the story.
  2. Shel Silverstein Books
    It’d be easy to say Where The Sidewalk Ends or The Giving Tree, but all his books are worth recommending.
  3. Watership Down by Richard Adams
    This story began as one the author told to his daughters on long car drives. It is a hero’s journey told in a form that anyone can read and follow.
  4. Harry Potter Books
    Magical and fantastical, yet like Watership Down it has themes that go way beyond a simple children’s book. Kids of all ages will love this series.
  5. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
    Besides Shogun, this novel helped in cementing my love for historical fiction. The detail is dazzling but not overdone, showcasing how valuable good research is in telling a fictional story based on real events.
  6. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
    Another historical fiction based on excellent research as well as a personal connection to the Chinese culture. At it’s core is a story about a complicated relationship that spans a lifetime and how it survives through tragedy and hardship.
  7. A. Lee Martinez books
    He writes fantastical stories with a comic flair. I don’t think I’ve ever read a horror novel that made me laugh out loud as much as his do. His characters are ones you will immediately like and the narrative very entertaining.
  8. Belgarion series by David Eddings
    Other than Mary Stewart’s books, this series will lure the reader in and never let them go until they finish. Just have some tissues handy. The story will take you places emotionally as well as imaginatively.
  9. Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy
    (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment)
    Long before Merlin was a TV series and the Arthurian legend a box office boon, Stewart was bringing these mythological characters to life, giving me (and I’m sure many other readers) a glimpse of a legend we couldn’t get enough of.
  10. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster
    (My World Book Night choice this year)
    A modern fairy tale that has a universal appeal. It’s easier to read for those who like Lewis Carroll but are unsure it’s appropriate for youngsters that won’t understand all the nuances. They may not in this book too, but that just makes it a book that should be read more than once – even by adults.
  11. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    (My World Book Night choice last year)
    You’d think that a book narrated by Death would be morose – and being set in Nazi Germany, it could be. But it isn’t  Amid tragedy, especially war, life still goes on and in many ways still carries hope and love.
  12. The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
    It’s easy to recognize the Dickensian theme running throughout this novel, but The Good Thief has excellent merits all its own. This is a book where I recommend the reader have time set aside, because once they start, it will be a hard task to walk away from it for very long.

Have you read any of these? Would you recommend them, or are there others you’d add or change on this list?

JC

 

 

 

Review: Orphan Train

OrphanTrainKlineChristin16508_fOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Fiction, 304 pages
ISBN: 9780061950728
Release date: April 2, 2013
William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

FTC Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.

As a fan of history, I was surprised to discover there is an aspect of American History I’d never heard of: Orphan Trains. Between 1854 and 1929, thousands of orphaned and abandoned children were collected and shipped to the Midwest; many ending up in situations not much different than indentured servitude.

During this time, there was no social safety net or child labor laws. It was a social experiment that was intended to improve the lives of destitute children. It may have worked for some, but in the long run, were these children better off? They children had already suffered a great deal and now were shipped off to places and families as foreign to them as their pasts and culture were to their adoptive families. As a real life rider Pat Thiessen noted, “. . . I always felt they were not my people. And they weren’t.”

This sound eerily similar to the assimilation efforts made by the American government when they forced Native American children to attend boarding schools in order to be “Americanized”.

Connecting the this past to the present, the author brings together Molly, a Native American and a product of a difficult childhood and multiple foster homes and and Vivian, an orphan train rider.

Molly and Vivian are separated by age but not much else and discover this while working together to clear Vivian’s attic. Instead of removing old items, memories are re-lived and shared; commonalities found; self-identity and self-worth developed and eventually, accepted.

When Vivian describes how it felt to be at the mercy of strangers Molly nods. She knows full well what it’s like to tamp down your natural inclinations, to force a smile when you feel numb. After a while you don’t know what your own needs are anymore. You’re grateful for the slightest hint of kindness, and then, as you get older, suspicious. Why would anyone do anything for you without expecting something in return? And anyway – most of the time they don’t. More often than not, you see the worst of people. You learn that most adults lie. That most people only look out for themselves. That you are only as interesting as you are useful to someone.

Chapters of the story vary between two times – the past of Vivian and the present of Molly. It was a challenge according to the author, but she (with the help of a wonderful editor) makes it work.

Even though there are two storylines, they work together to give a reader the sense that they are reading a single story. It is a story about relationships between people and cultures. How the perceptions and prejudices of others can undermine someone’s self-identity, but not destroy it.

Vivian and Molly are both faced with situations that at one point in their lives, they find it difficult to trust anyone. But ultimately, good people outweigh the bad and they learn it’s okay to trust.

Vivian’s life has been quiet and ordinary. As the years have passed, her losses have piled one on another like layers of shale: even if her mother lived, she would be dead now; the people who adopted her are dead; her husband in dead; she has no children. Except for the company of the woman she pays to take care of her, she is as alone as a person can be.

She has never tried to find out what happened to her family – her mother or her relatives in Ireland. But over and over, Molly begins to understand as she listens to the tapes, Vivian has come back to the idea that the people who matter in our lives stay with us, haunting our most ordinary moments. They’re with us in the grocery store, as we turn a corner, chat with a friend. They rise up through the pavement; we absorb them through our soles.

At less than three hundred pages, this will be a great read for anyone under any circumstance. The chapters are short enough that if you have to put it down to get off at the next stop, or the flight landed, or your lunch hour is over, it shouldn’t be a problem. Of course wanting to put it down is another matter. At no time did I ever feel like there was fluff or filler. Every paragraph and chapter worked and before I knew it, I was reading the last chapter.

I know there is a lot of talk going on about this book, and it is well-deserved. I’m so glad I was able to get a review copy, but I assure you, I would have gladly paid for a copy. In fact, it not only goes on my “recommendation” list but on my “books to give as a gift” list.

JC