Beryl W. - Reviews

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The Bird Artist (Canadian Trilogy, Bk 1)
The Bird Artist (Canadian Trilogy, Bk 1)
Author: Howard Norman
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 43
Review Date: 3/11/2010
Helpful Score: 2


A quirky book about small town life in Newfoundland in the 1800's. The characters were vey real, and exactly that, characters!
The book starts out with a confession. The writer admits to killing the keeper of the lighthouse. The rest of the story is about what led up to that murder and why. Interesting relationships between the townspeople, and an example of how people alter their lives and dreams to "get along" with the people they are surrounded by. I liked it!


The Bird Catcher
The Bird Catcher
Author: Laura Jacobs
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 9/14/2010
Helpful Score: 1


Your review A well written, unusual story that takes place in present time in New York city. Margaret and her husband Charles, a professor at Columbia are avid bird watchers. Margaret's grandfather had introduced her to the art at an early age and it was a great influence in her life. Margaret's husband was quite a bit older than she but they had a very happy marriage. The other main protagonist in the story is her long time best friend Emily who is very involved in the art scene in New York and these two interests merge as the story unfolds, with a surprising twist. Margaret herself dresses windows for Sacks Fifth Avenue which is extremely creative and described in detail so thorough and wonderful that I could picture each one, a constantly changing view showcasing different products. I had no idea it was such an art and have new admiration and appreciation for what goes into window dressing. Margaret experiences the tragedy of her husbands sudden death ultimately finding a path through her grief which involves birds. I was quite surprised to find that what she chose to do, something she also learned by watching her grandfather, is illegal.
This is a slow moving, careful, well thought out and executed story, but also one you need to be patient with. There were times that I felt it lagged a bit, especially the extended conversations about art, yet they two were necessary for the pace and timing of the plot. The art of bird watching itself is an exercise in patience and persistence so the carefully measured unfolding story felt exactly right.
Lovely use of language and metaphor, lilting in the same way a rare bird's call is. Altogether well done!!


Blue Water
Blue Water
Author: A. Manette Ansay
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 110
Review Date: 3/21/2010


This book left me breathless. To understand the meaning of forgiveness, to find hope in the hopeless, to acknowledge that we are all essentially the same, to learn to let go of hate, this story is breathtaking! A moment in time that can't be changed. A "miracle child" who is born to a couple in their 40's is six when he is killed in a car accident caused by a drunken driver. That driver, Cindy Ann, turns out to be a high school friend, a mother of three girls who are all unharmed in the crash. The ties between the grief stricken mother, Meg, and Cindy Ann go back to a time when one confided to the other a terrible secret about her stepfather, who later shot himself. Unable to cope with this the knowledge in this confidence, Meg not only turned away, but implied that Cindy Ann might be to blame for what happened. Now, more than 20 years later, Meg tries to come to terms with the fact that her former friend has killed her son, as friend's children are unhurt. Meg and her husband Rex feel she should be made to pay in some way. They bring a civil suit, but before it is decided, they decide to leave the small Wisconsin town and all the terrible memories lingering there to live on a cruising sailboat. Meg understands that the suit has been dropped. Aboard the boat, and in ports where they land, they pretend to those they meet that they are childless. Still the pain and grief is relentless untill one night, at a girl's night out with women she has met sailing, startling stories of horror and tragedy are reveiled. It is a turning point for Meg. She is driven to find answers for herself, and in doing so, risks everything she has left. One of the best books I have ever read, lilting prose, powerful sentences, astonishing tenderness!
Read this book!


The Bright Forever
The Bright Forever
Author: Lee Martin
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 54
Review Date: 1/26/2010


What a great story!!! It takes place somewhere around 1960 in a small town, any small town will do. The writer plants us firmly there and then by the many references to news, products, songs and attitudes that were abundant at that time in history. It was a time when something like this could and did happen, certainly a more trusting and complacent time. Told through the eyes and memories of the people actually involved, chapter by chapter, each voice haunting, each narrative riviting, the tension builds steadily. I felt I was there. Myself, one of the many townspeople that experienced this sad saga firsthand, only more so, given the insight into every thought and motive. How we all wish at various times in our lives, that we could go back and change the subtile timing of events to alter the destructive course that follows. How we wish that in this story!!! Regardless, all the pieces fell togethter as they did and the momentum was unstoppable. I could NOT put this book down!!! Until the truth is finally revealed, a surprise, in the final chapter. I only wish ALL books could be this well done! BRAVO!


The Center of Everything
The Center of Everything
Author: Laura Moriarty
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 55
Review Date: 3/11/2010


Evelyn Bucknow, 10 years old, living with a single mother in kansas. Life is hard and full of bad luck, bad decisions, precarious at best.
We follow Evelyn through her rocky adolesence, fueled by politics, food stamps, right wing religion, the birth of a severly handicapped
brother, and an unrequited love, and emerge on the other side much wiser and more forgiving. Sometimes what seems to be clearly right, is not, and we see that everyone has their own reasons for the choices they make. An inspiring coming of age story that goes right to the center of teen age angst, then comes out the other side with a firmly established sense of self. Who cannot remember how difficult this time in life is? An intelligent young girl growing up under very difficult circumstances learns to make the right choices for herself.


Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship
Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship
Author: Cathie Beck
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 2.1/5 Stars.
 19
Review Date: 10/6/2010
Helpful Score: 2


I'll be honest and say right away that I did not enjoy reading this book. If it had not been an early reviewers book I might not have finished it at all. It was confusing at best. As hard as Cathie tried to pull me into the experience, I could not bring myself to like either she or Denise. Their friendship seemed to be wildly frenetic and unstable, girlfriend camaraderie yes, but also a lot of drinking, lying and fighting. I understand that Cathie saw this as a life changing relationship for her, but I thought the whole thing was rather sad. Aside from the subject matter, this book was not well written. The prose was often hackneyed and trite, even childish and it certainly was not edited. In spite of what Cathie saw as a magnificent friendship, she let her friend down when she needed her most. She did not respond when Denise called her one last time. Yes, Denise was an extremely difficult person who made a habit out of driving people away, and yes, their friendship had been broken for many months due to Cathie's misguided attempt to help by calling her therapist, but she knew that Denise was feeling desperate and yet she let the moment to step up and help her pass. Very sad for both she and Denise.... ( )


Child of My Heart
Child of My Heart
Author: Alice McDermott
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 41
Review Date: 3/13/2010


Reading this beautifully told story was like stepping into, and becoming a part of the story itself, to become an additional character, or wish you were. That is how real these characters became and how much you came to care about them. Told in a gently meandering stlye, full of the rich details of nature and emotion, each sentence a song unto itself. Theresa, the only child of older parents, smart, exceptionally pretty, living on Long Island and attending a private girl's school, spends her summers caring for neighbor's pets and children. Alone much ! of the time, though not lonely, she is not a part of any social group and doesn't appear to have any girlfriends.
The story takes place in the summer of her 15th year. Her young cousin Daisy, eight years old and a favorite of hers, comes to spend
a few weeks away from her large (eight children) family. Theresa has a genuine way with children and pets, gentle, respectful, patient, appreciative,wise, weaving magical, enchanting stories and making creative, intuitive games out of simple activities. They adore her, as you come to in the course of the story. She truly cares for them, in a way the other adults in the story can't seem to bring themselves to. In fact they fall shamefully short of not only understanding, but into the catagory of negelect. This summer is a turning point in Theresa's life, and although it includes a brief, strange entanglement with an artist, father of one of her charges, it is her relationship to Daisy, "poor Daisy" that closes the door on her own idealic childhood. The author, Alice McDermott is a master of both word and mood. I was moved by this book in a way I can't quite grasp or describe, except to say that as I read it, I lived it. That I can enter the story through the skill of and author is without a doubt, remarkable! Read this book


Dog House: A Love Story
Dog House: A Love Story
Author: Carol Prisant
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
 6
Review Date: 6/12/2010
Helpful Score: 3


A delightful, honest, heartwarming book! It reads like a memoir about her married life, motherhood, her career choices and the unfolding of her love of dogs through the years. She is above all, honest about her shortcomings and questionable decisions especially where it involves her pets. That honesty is what makes the book so charming. It is also about the ebb and flow of life, accepting with grace and dignity that which is before us. She had a lovely marriage, though she makes it clear that it wasn't an especially romantic union but rather based on mutual respect and deep affection along with the shared enthusiasm for their son, dogs, gardening and renovation, in that order I believe, the last four which were cultivated over time. Like all of us she adapted to her circumstances. The reader feels a part of this story including the shock and sadness at the untimely death of her husband, who died in his own bed with his dogs nearby, his wife at his side and her shaky attempts to find a way through her grief, as if a best friend is confiding her thoughts. Through her story interspersed with the acquisition of many beloved dogs are the anecdotes, often hilarious, about their adjustment, readjustment and adaption to the wildly differing personalities and challenges placed before them by their various pets. The stories of the dogs, of longing, love and loss ( and yes, occasionally forfeit) enlarges our understanding of how we deal with all of life's uncertainties, facing love head on, letting go. Being a dog lover, animal lover and book lover, this story was well suited to me. For someone who had not grown up with dogs, the writer adapted quite well. I could really identify with her frustration as various dog "issues" arose and though I didn't wholly approve of her giving the "problem" dogs up, I know that sometimes that is the best choice and much harder to come to than you realize. She was able to find them very good homes and that is all anyone could ask. A lovely, satisfying read!


Elsewhere
Elsewhere
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 191
Review Date: 9/14/2010
Helpful Score: 1


An intriguing take on the afterlife of a 15 year old girl who is the victim of a hit and run. It takes a while for her to realize and accept her death, and then to move past the grief of what she has lost. In this afterlife you age backwards until you are a baby sent down the river of time to be reborn into a new life. Other than that, this afterlife seems strangely like life on earth, except that you can watch life on earth through observation windows for a limited time and you choose and "avocation", something you LOVE to do for the time that you are there. In this case Liz chose to place pets with new owners and she found she could speak their language so she could interpret for them. Liz finally came to terms with her with her new situation. I think the message in the book is that you need to consider what is important in life now. And for most of us that is family, friends, work we love and making the most of what comes our way! Although in this book you often get second chances! (and sometimes in real life too....) ( )


Everything: A Novel
Everything: A Novel
Author: Kevin Canty
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 8/20/2010


I had High hopes for the book Everything by Kevin Canty. I had read several good reviews, one in the Star tribune on a sunday recently.
This was the first book of his I had read, and both the title and the cover art intrigued me. I tried hard to like this book. I am not a fan of his writing style, clipped and chopped with conversations separated by blank white spaces, often not even grammatically correct. Also, each chapter jumping not only from character to character, but more disconcerting, from present to past and back again with the reader left to figure out who exactly is speaking at any given time. None of the above leads to any cohesion in the story OR identification with any of the main characters, RL, June and Layla or Betsy. Even by the end of the story I did not have a clear picture of what any of these people looked like, which to me is essential to enjoying a book. They were all dealing with painful issues in their lives, but frankly, the only two that evoked any empathy were Layla, a lonely and confused nineteen year old who becomes pregnant by a married man and Betsy, suffering with terminal cancer and her deep love for her young children. Both RL and Layla struck me as aging hippies who couldn't seem to get a grip in spite of their 'not very terrible' circumstances. I kept hoping that the ending would somehow redeem this story, but in that respect, I was also disappointed. Nothing is resolved, nor are you informed about the fates of these individuals you have been asked to try to care about. In the end, I really didn't care anyway. ( )
flagberylweidenbach | Aug 19, 2010 | edit | |


Eye Contact
Eye Contact
Author: Cammie McGovern
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 156
Review Date: 1/1/2010
Helpful Score: 1


Just finished reading "Eye Contact" by Cammie McGovern. I loved this book. It capured my interest on so many levels. A very interesting premise, a witness to a murder who could not communicate, a mystery extremely well executed! Beyond that, it
touched on other aspects of interpersonal relationships, protective parents, old and new friendships, bullying in school, trust,
and various kinds of love. It was all woven together with great skill. A book you could hardly put down, I finished it in a 24 hour
period. I don't usually read books twice, but I am certain if you reread this one, there would still be much, much more to learn!


Far from Home
Far from Home
Author: Anne DeGrace
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 2.5/5 Stars.
 12
Review Date: 6/12/2010


I received this book to read and review early. Jo runs away after giving up a baby from a teenage pregnancy. She lands in a roadside cafe owned by a woman who likes to take in strays. The story is about people passing through the cafe, and passing briefly through her life. I really liked the premise, as I find it fascinating how often people that only appear in our lives briefly can have a big impact. I felt the story was forced somehow and some of the 'appearances' were contrived. Also that Jo was not always open to what was going on around her, but she did come to realize that we each only have a 'peek' into what others are experiencing at any given time. Perhaps 'disappearing' for awhile helped her take her next step forward. A 'pause' for her to catch her breath. I wish the best for Jo, but did not feel satisified with the ending of the book. I would not go out of my way to recommend this


The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead
The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead
Author: Paul Elwork
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 6/2/2011
Helpful Score: 4


A very unusual book, and one I had a hard time putting down! The story takes place post World War I. Twin siblings Emily and Michael have lost their father in France during the war, and live a rather isolated life with their mother Naomi and a well loved family servant Mary, on the Delaware river in 1925 on a very old family estate with a rich history. Emily finds she can make an unusual sound in her ankle, a sort of popping that is disembodied. When she show this to michael, he talks her into a scheme as summer entertainment. She is hesitant but Michael pushes her to do it. At first it is fairly innocent fun with neighborhood children. Emily claims to be able to speak to the dead through a long dead aunt and the answers are "yes" and "no" by one pop or two. This situation escalates as children attending confide in their parents and Michael pushes the fraud forward with disasterous results.
The writing was lovely and lyrical, the story well done, even though the characters themselves were not especially likable. Very interesting to have the two timelines overlapping in the history of the house, and in the story. Emily eventually tries to comfort a grieving parent by reassurances that his desceased son is happy in the afterlife and this makes her feel that the deception has caused some good. When she evenually is overcome by guilt and confesses her lie, life is changed forever for many people. We all lie every day. Is it ever acceptable to deceive another, even if we think it is for their own good? How many ways do we deceive ourselves? There were many lingering questions to digest long after I finished this book.... I thought it was origional, thought provoking and especially liked the descriptions of what happened to the characters later in life. How our actions, well intentioned or not, affect ourselves and those around us is serious food for thought to ponder long after the book is back on the shelf. And possibly to come back to... ( )


The Girl With No Shadow
The Girl With No Shadow
Author: Joanne Harris
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 6/21/2010


I did not read the book "Chocolate" before I read "The Girl With No Shadow" so I had no preconceived idea of what to expect in the story or the characters, and after reading over other reviews, I'm very glad it happened that way. I was completely charmed by this story and all it's unique and wonderful characters. I was pulled in almost right away as I met Vienne, Annie and Rosette. The mystery of their past hanging over the secrets of their present made me want to know more immediately. Enter the character "Zozie" with her own irresistible, irrepressible charm (who could not be charmed by her? In spite of her secrets!) who takes an instant interest in the little threesome, add a couple of vastly different male suitors, some "practical" (and impractical) magic and you have the ingredients for an amazing story! All the charm of Paris, engaging peripheral characters, the smell of "chocolate" and descriptions of it all filled with beauty, depth, angst, hope, and yes, more magic! A wonderful, wonderful book to transport you to a world far away from your own which allows you to believe, even against your better judgement, for a little while, truly, that dreams can come true!


Her Fearful Symmetry
Her Fearful Symmetry
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
 334
Review Date: 2/15/2010
Helpful Score: 9


I am always caught up quickly by Niffenegger's thoughtful prose and interesting characters. I was drawn in and captured by the promise of a truly excellent story, completely willing to believe whatever she asked of me for the sake of the adventure. A set of twins who are long estranged for unknown reasons, one living in England, Elspeth, and one in Chicago, Edy. Only Edy has children, and they are also identical twin girls, Julia and Valentina. Elspeth dies and leaves her flat in London to the twins she has never met with the stipulation that they must live there for a year, and their parents never set foot inside. The girls, incredibly young emotionally for their age (21), close only to eachother, not knowing what else to do with their lives, decide to take on the adventure. The plot involves a cemetery, which borders their new home and employs Robert, the deceased aunt's lover, who also lives in the flat below theirs. The most interesting and likable characters in the book are Martin and Marijke who live above the girl's flat. Martin has OCD that totally controls his life and drives Marijke to leave him suddenly after a long marriage to save her own sanity. I thought I had an idea of where this was all coming together, though the process and most especially the reasoning behind it, tarnished many of the characters I had come to really like. At the heart of most of their desire is selfish gratification, at any, I repeat, ANY cost! Of course these are ghosts we are dealing with here, so maybe the same moral expectations don't apply? Regardless, as the biggest part of the plan is executed, we are asked to stretch past anything that could be remotely believable. It was there I had to ask myself... Really???? Some of the characters were likable enough until then. But I, even MY gullible self, can't keep liking someone who is just plain BAD, ghost or human! I love her writing, her creativity, her imagination, the believability of many of her characters. I love the descriptions of London, the cemetery, the weather, the emotions, the history.
Ultimately, for me, I think this was a story about people getting what they asked for and realizing too late that the price was too high, then having to live (or relive) with the consequences. One very redeeming feature was Martin's ultimate truimph! A whole wonderful book could have been written about Martin himself!


Homer & Langley
Homer & Langley
Author: E. L. Doctorow
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 33
Review Date: 8/20/2010
Helpful Score: 1


Homer and Langley Collyer were real people who lived and died in the family mansion on 5th Ave. in Manhatten. E. L. Doctorow has written a moving, disturbing fictional account of their lives. To read this book is to be inside this house with Homer, blind, and eventually deaf who lives through his music, and his brother Langley disabled by mustard gas in the First World War. After their parents death in the Spanish Influenza epidemic, their mostly solitary lives became even more so. Though they have fleeting interaction with various characters, some lasting over a period of years, Langley in particular becomes more unbalanced as time goes on. A casual collection of miscellaneous objects of interest becomes over a period of time, overwhelming. At the time of their death it had accumulated to over 130 tons of trash. In the end Langley's misguided attempts to protect them from thieves is their undoing as Langley falls victim to one of his own elaborate booby traps, and without his brother to feed the now completely blind and deaf Homer starves to death. The telling, so alive through Doctorow's words and descriptions, the way these men spring again into life, is akin to reliving their story, so beautiful and sad as you follow them through the years and step by step into their doom. Only you are left to walk away... EXCELLENT!! ( )


Identity
Identity
Author: Milan Kundera, Linda Asher (Translator)
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
 22
Review Date: 2/27/2010


A very unusual book indeed, small, but thought provoking! A story about a close relationship between two lovers, but more than that, about how we see ourselves, the one we love, and who we think we know them to be. Which part is reality and which part is fantasy? Do we ever really know? Certainly worth the read!


The Lake Shore Limited
The Lake Shore Limited
Author: Sue Miller
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.2/5 Stars.
 27
Review Date: 6/23/2010
Helpful Score: 1


I like Sue Miller very much! The characters in her stories are well fleshed out and completely believable as people. The theme of this story, painful loss and how people choose to deal with it is searing. The way we see a situation, our own situation, how we privately think about it both as it is happening and in retrospect, how all these elements balance often on chance, we see through the eyes of the four main characters. This is a story about people, flawed and very human. If you need more action in a story then you should look elsewhere. Sue Miller has a talent for making the characters that inhabit her stories as real as anyone you might know, yet she allows you the privilege of hearing their most intimate thoughts which adds unmeasurable depth to her stories, to this story! You have only to listen and observe and learn from their experience. This is a solemn look into the reactions of four people who's lives overlap during the production of a play "The Lake Shore Limited". If you are patient, reflective, there is much insight to be taken from this lovely story!


The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
Author: Tiffany Baker
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 91
Review Date: 10/6/2010
Helpful Score: 1


I found something very disquieting about this story. I think the premise was good, a female child, Truly born with an untreated hormone disorder that causes her to grow from a huge baby to an even huger adult. She also has an older sister who is perfectly proportioned and beautiful. She grows up in a small town and has a huge range of experiences, and finally comes into her own in a neat, tidy ending. As I read, I often felt irritated and impatient, rolling my inner eyes at fantastical stretches of imagination that just did not add up, or behavior that was not age appropriate for a character. In spite of the fact that this story started in 1953, the descriptions of the town and especially the one room schoolhouse did not ring true to that time. This was rural New York in the 60's, a one room school house for her youth AND her nephews? That is a stretch... I felt this book was weighed down with stereotypes also. Just about every character was one or became one. I thought it was a rather depressing story, and though I usually enjoy stories about unusual people, this one just did not ring true. A story has to be at least somewhat believable to be credible, and this was not. Sorry.


The Magician's Assistant
The Magician's Assistant
Author: Ann Patchett
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 347
Review Date: 2/2/2010
Helpful Score: 1


I greatly enjoyed this story! Such interesting characters whom you really end up caring about. One particular thing I like about reading Ann Patchett's writing is her ability to bring the people to life. This to the point that you feel like you know and understand them even if you can't identify with their situation. You CAN identify THROUGH the person she paints. A very unusual but deeply satisifying read!


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