to be sung underwater

Tom McNeal’s to be sung underwater, tells the story of Judith Whitman and what happens when we follow the plan we created for our lives without allowing any room for love. McNeal weaves the story of young Judith with present day Judith, a wife, mother, film editor, in her 40’s. We learn about her past, including her relationship with her mother and father and how Judith ended up in the middle of Nebraska living with her father while in high school. McNeal shows us Judith’s path from leaving Nebraska to California doing the job she’d always wanted with a wonderful husband and daughter. Even with all that she has, Judith’s life is missing the passion of her last summer in Nebraska with Willy Blunt, a local boy that is her first love.

This book made you want to fall in love with your high school crush all over again, and if you didn’t have one it makes you want to go back and get one. The pain that Judith feels after 25 years has only been intensified by her guilt for choosing a life without Willy. Judith’s definition of what is a good life has changed from her teenage years to mid-life, and McNeal allows the reader into her world to feel the pain that she must endure just to continue to live the life she created.

McNeal is a beautiful storyteller who grips the reader from the Prologue to Judith’s final drive home. Regret is a powerful emotion and McNeal uses it to twist the reader’s heart.

Read July 2013

The Fallen Angel

Daniel Silva’s The Fallen Angel, follows Gabriel Allon, a former Israeli spy and current art restorer, on his secret quest given to him by the Holy Father to find the murderer of a coworker, Dr. Claudia Andreatti. Allon and his beautiful Italian wife Chiara research the murder and uncover a criminal network that could bring down the Vatican.

Silva weaves the mystery with the beautiful surroundings into a great story. I was drawn not just to the murder inquiry, but also to the descriptions of the Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica, and ancient and modern day Jerusalem. The story has multiple bad guys which test the ability of our fearless spy and drag him back into the Israeli spy organization, to protect the existence of Israel and thousands of Jewish lives from an imminent attack.

Silva does delve into Israeli-Palestinian politics, but mostly from an ancient historical perspective which goes along with many of his detail descriptions of the world that Allon inhabits.

This was a very well written mystery that covers multiple countries and conspiracies, never letting our hero or the reader get a break before the next catastrophe will need to be prevented. This is the first Allon mystery that I’ve read and Silva included enticing details about past adventures that make me think this won’t be my last.

Read July 2013

Note: Received this book from a free library while walking the streets of Helena, MT. Cheers to those who inspire others to read by providing free reading material! I will need to find a way to return this back, or maybe share with others in the same manner.

Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir

Amanda Knox’s Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir, is Knox’s own story about her brief time at school in Perugia, Italy and the four years that followed in an Italian prison. I followed the case after the murder of Meredith Kercher in November 2007 and learning the story from Knox’s perspective was an exciting listen (I listened to the audiobook version).

Knox reveals how her actions caused the Perugian police to hone in on her as the suspect, but she does it without owning up to her part. She couldn’t remember what she and her boyfriend did the night of the murder only a couple of days after so the police began to suspect her of covering up. She ended up dragging 2 men through the Italian court system because she couldn’t remember what happened when she went over to Raffaele Sollecito’s apartment the night of the murder. I’m not excusing the Italian justice system for their mishandling of this case, at least from the horrific tale that Knox takes us through.

Knox’s memoir is filled with the details that I remember from the crime and her defense is that she was naive and innocent and didn’t think of how her actions would look in the light of a murder investigation. I get that she was young and unworldly, but I also understand why initially the police took her actions as guilty. And I feel this way after hearing her own words about the events.

However, based on the evidence that was finally admitted into her second trial, I cannot believe that the police let the case proceed based on the minimal evidence and intuition with which they relied. I’m relieved to know that at least one of the murderers is behind prison, although how he had his sentenced lowered is ridiculous.

This book also acts as a tutorial into the Italian legal system which is a scary place viewed from the perspective of a wrongfully convicted prisoner. And after reading this, I truly believe that Knox is innocent of the murder and its unfortunate that so many lives were ruined, including the Kercher family who lost their daughter and sister.

Read/listened July 2013

Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea

In Chelsea Handler’s Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, she looks back over her life and includes a collection of stories about her ridiculous exploits, family, and travels. Handler is primarily a comedian, not a writer, and this is apparent in this novel. While the stories can be funny, many of them fall flat.

The stories also range from a variety of topics including her love of midgets and why red haired men aren’t attractive. There is nothing that weaves the stories together, which would be a bigger problem if this were a serious literary collection. But since its not, the fact that the stories were a hodgepodge from her life didn’t really matter to me.

If I knew Handler’s comedy better, I think this book would have worked more for me. If the reader is able to put Handler’s voice and comedic timing into the reading, which I tried to do, the stories worked better. But the writing itself didn’t do this. The reader needs to do it. Which makes it a difficult read if you don’t know her comedy very well.

For a light hearted summer read, I think this book worked well enough. It was a quick read and it had some amusing stories, so I think it served its purpose as a humorous book.

Read July 2013

The Age of Miracles

Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles tells the story of the earth’s rotation slowing and what happens to as the days grow longer. Julia is 11 year old girl who plays soccer and has sleep overs with her best friend when she learns that the world is slowing. Although no one could predict what this slowing would do, it almost immediately impacts everyone in Julia’s life.

As the world around her tries to adjust to the progressively longer days, Julia is doing her best to grow up. When the governments around the world decide to remain on a 24 hour day clock to keep businesses going, the population separates by those on clock time and those on real time. As the days and nights grow the environment around Julia starts to die off. Birds. Grass. Eucalyptus Trees.

In the middle of these changes, Julia deals with the lose of friendships and first loves while watching the world and the life she knows falling apart. She gets her first bra while having to deal with her parents relationship falling apart. Life still happens even as the world changes.

Walker gives us a narrator that is in “…the age of miracles, the time when kids shot up three inches over the summer, when breasts bloomed from nothing, when voices dipped and dove.” And to this narrator the world is undergoing a negative kind of change.

This was a great story and and quick read. Walker brought me into her dystopia and made me appreciate our current world. I appreciate the sunshine and strawberries a little more today.

Read June 2013

A Discovery of Witches

Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches is the first of a trilogy about an Oxford scholar witch who meets up with an ancient vampire in the library. Diana Bishop comes from a long line of witches dating back to the Salem Witch Trials but chose to ignore this aspect of her life after her parents were killed when she was a young child. While at Oxford she requests an ancient manuscript, Ashmole 782, and discovers that its spellbound. Shortly after this find, Diana realizes she is now surrounded by other witches, vampires, and daemons while she tries to continue her research.

She is particularly drawn to a vampire, Matthew Clairmont, who sees himself as Diana’s personal bodyguard. Matthew is a 1500 year old scholar vampire who has studied everything and personally known many of the scholars in his long lifetime. His life story could fill novels but due to his character’s personality we only learn small details as Deborah learns them.

As their relationship develops, Harkness reveals the world in which the characters live where witches, vampires, and daemons coexist with humans and are bound by ancient rules. The more we learn about this world, the more Diana and Matthew are in danger. Since Diana hasn’t used her powers since she was young, we learn with her how her powers manifest and how she tries to learn how to control them.

Since this is the first of a trilogy, the story is not wrapped up at the end. Instead the reader can spend time in a world where witches and vampires fight to the death over pacts hundreds of years old. Its a good read with enjoyable characters falling in love and fighting a war for it. Can’t wait to read the next one!

Read June 2013

Invisible Monsters

Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters tells the story of how bitterness and family resentment can eat you alive. Palahniuk introduces us to Shannon McFarland who survives a brutal gun shot wound to the face. The face that she made her living off of as a model. The face that defined her life.

We witness her bitterness at life, her friends, and her family in a tale that interweaves her past and present until everything comes together at the end. Along her journey we meet Brandy Alexander, a beautiful woman in the middle of her journey from having a man’s body to completing her surgical transformation. Brandy enters Shannon’s life when she needs someone separate from her former life and Brandy takes that role with enthusiasm. They travel around the Pacific Northwest stealing and numbing their life with a lot of drugs.

The story and the characters are not laid out nice and neat at the beginning of the book. Palahniuk sucks the reader in but doesn’t divulge much information and the reader must wait for all the surprises to be revealed. Looking back I was amused at how much foreshadowing there really was, but Palahniuk writes so well that it was neatly hidden in the story and it wasn’t until after I read the book that I realized he had put so much into the back stories to foreshadow the end.

This was a great story told in a unique way by a great writer.

Read June 2013