Book Review – Heading out to Wonderful

Cover-of-Heading-Out-To-WonderfulHeading Out to Wonderful
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

I love when a book surprises me; when my expectations aren’t very high and then the story begins to unfold and I can’t wait to turn the page to find out what happens next.  That’s exactly how I felt when reading Robert Goolrick’s Heading Out to Wonderful.

Several years ago I read Goolrick’s A Reliable Wife and walked away slightly disappointed. The book had received so much praise that my expectation level didn’t quite meet my experience, and I was left disappointed.  For that reason, I picked up Goolrick’s second novel with some mixed feelings.  More than anything, I wasn’t expecting much but felt the need to read it because the synopsis was intriguing.

What a wonderful surprise!  Set in a small town shortly after the end of WWII, Heading Out to Wonderful tells the story of a young man so hopelessly in love with another man’s wife that there’s nothing he wouldn’t do or give her to express his love.  Very quickly, his love begins to consume him to the point that the only thing that exists is his love for this woman.

Gossip spreads quickly in small towns and soon there is none who is unaware of the affair between the young butcher and the young wannabe starlet wife of the town’s richest (and meanest) resident.  And then came the ultimate betrayal by the only person in town that could hurt the young butcher….a betrayal so heinous and vile that it tips the entire town on its head and causes the townspeople to turn away from the man they all once trusted and called friend.

Heading Out to Wonderful was an exciting story with an ending that truly took me by surprise, and one that would make a great read as you while away the hours indoors this winter season.

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library and Bookmobile.

Author Spotlight and Interview – Paula McLain

By Helen McIver

Author Paula McLain

Author Paula McLain

After I reviewed Paula McLain’s new book The Paris Wife earlier this year, one of my book clubs decided to read her novel. I was volunteered to do the “Author Review” that normally accompanies a book we read. Having already delved back into Hemingway, I was more than ready. However I decided to add something extra: I contacted her and asked if she would answer a few questions about her reading habits.  She decided which questions she had time to answer, and we ended up with a few more books to read!

Paula McLain was born in Fresno, CA in 1965.  After being abandoned by both parents, she and her two sisters became wards of the California Court System, moving in and out of foster homes for the next 14 years. Eventually, she discovered she could – and wanted to – write.  She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996, and since then has been a resident at Yaddo and the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.  She is the author of two collections of poetry, a much-praised memoir called Like Family, and one previous and well-received novel, A Ticket to Ride.  Paula McLain lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her family. Visit her website,

Helen McIver:  Do you remember the last time you said to someone, “You really must read this book now?” and the book was? Are you part of a book club?

Paula McLain:  I haven’t been in a book club for years and years, but when I speak with book clubs or go into local Indy book stores, I’ll always ask for glowing recommendations. Recently I found Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic that way, and also Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder.  Loved them both

Helen McIver:  What is your favorite line from a book?

Paula McLain:  From Willa Cather’s My Antonia: “Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.”

Helen McIver:  A recent Book you bought just for the cover?

Paula McLain:  Amor Towles’, Rules of Civility. Isn’t that a great looking cover?

Helen McIver:  Have you heard any good books lately?  Driving?  In an airplane?  Did you choose the reader of your book?  Did you like the audio version of your book?

Paula McLain:  I just listened (yesterday!) to Ian McEwan’s Saturday, which was terrific.  I love him and also loved, lately, his On Chesil Beach, which I also got as a book on tape. In general, I love to be read to.

I had a lot of trouble with the casting for the audio for Paris Wife.  None of the actors they liked sounded like Hadley to me, including the one who actually was chosen. Maybe no one would have pleased me, though, since I had a strong “Hadley” voice in my head for years, which I just wasn’t going to hear again out in the world, if you know what I mean.

Helen McIver:  Do you have a genre to beach read?

Paula McLain:  Lord, I wish I had time to read on the beach. Oh, and a beach to read on!

Helen McIver:  Do you have a favorite literary adaptation on TV or film? Is there something coming out you can’t wait (Hemingway?!)

Paula McLain:  There’s a great BBC production of Jane Austen’s Persuasion that I HEART and have watched maybe fifty times….

Helen McIver:  What book is on your nightstand?

Paula McLain:  Rules of Civility.

Helen McIver:  Paper or electronic? Do you take notes?

Paula McLain:  Electronic, always. I take lots of notes, some of which I actually find again!

Helen McIver:  Is music important to your writing? (Do you listen to music when you write? When you read? Do you incorporate songs into your work that have “hidden” meaning or help set the tone?)

Paula McLain:  I have to listen to music, and keep my iPhone tuned to Pandora, on a sound dock for my whole working day. Usually something low-key and croon-y. I like whispery male singer-songerwriter types like Bon Iver……

Helen McIver:  What were your most cherished books as a child? Do you have a favorite character or hero / heroine from one of those books?

Paula McLain:  Charlotte’s Web, The Borrowers, tons of Roald Dahl.

Helen McIver:  Is there one book you wish all children would read?

Paula McLain:  Watership Down – those rabbits!

Helen McIver:  Is there one book you would like adults to read?

Paula McLain:  Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. A lot, there, about the act of storytelling. Why we tell stories and what they mean to our lives.

Helen McIver:  Do you tend to keep books, lend them out or give them away?

Paula McLain:  I horde them and lend the ones I feel evangelical about.

Helen McIver:  Any guilty reading pleasures?

Paula McLain:  People Magazine in airports! Ooh, and I love food magazines and cook books: essentially food porn!

Book Review – Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas

1247740Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas
A Review by Kathy Pestotnik

I’m lobbying for a different title for this book.  I know, I know!  That’s not up to me.  And even if it it were, I haven’t been able to come up with one. Perhaps Barbara Samuel had the same dilemma, or maybe she’s just tickled with her choice. Either way, the story that followed was not what I expected. It broke my heart.

Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas is a journey story, so the map part of the title is not all bad. The literal journey follows old Route 66, and retraces a route that mother and her two daughters took years earlier. Now, however, mother Eldora and her daughter, India, are searching desperately for India’s missing twin sister, Gypsy, who is schizophrenic and off her meds.

Interwoven into the story is the tale of mother Eldora’s troubled childhood and early adulthood, which she has never shared with anyone – especially her daughters.  A reluctant daughter India is making an effort to fulfill a promise she made to her late father by trying to take care of the mother whom she’s always thought of as vain, shallow and not terribly responsible – all while resisting a difficult decision about her own unintended pregnancy.

The promo for this book on Barbara Samuel’s website highlights the romantic element in the book. Will India and Jack’s relationship survive her accidental pregnancy? Can India make him understand her very real fear of giving birth to a child she could lose to schizophrenia in the same way she’s lost her sister?   If I’d read the promo first, I doubt that I would have read the book.  Fortunately (at least for me!) Samuel’s skill at character development is far superior to her marketing prowess, and it raises the emotional stakes in the story considerably.

Eldora’s need to be understood for who she really is –  the good, the bad and the ugly –  could ruin the tenuous relationship she has with India. For India’s part, trust and emotional investment are not her strong suits. She’s lost the language that once connected her to her twin. Can she accept the truth about Eldora? Can she forgive her mother for her failures as a mother and a wife? Can she trust herself to be a mother, a wife?  Is it wisdom or weakness to yield a share of the decision about her pregnancy to Jack?

Timing is everything. I read this book at the height of election season. I’d heard a number of politicians propounding the idea that the poor would not be poor, the unfortunate would not be unfortunate, if only we could teach them to make better decisions. In this book it’s obvious:  the poor don’t have the same set of choices.  Neither do the powerless, which includes children and the mentally ill.   Eldora’s choices were never pretty, never painless, but they accomplished the only goal for which she could afford: self-preservation.

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in traditional format and audio CD, as well as large book format.

Book Review – Backseat Saints

backseatsaintsBackseat Saints
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Several years ago, my mother-in-law passed on a book to me titled gods in Alabama about a  young woman who returns to her hometown after finally “getting out” after high school graduation.  She’d moved to Chicago and sworn to herself that she’d never return, only to be forced to return ten years later to face the ghosts of her past.

I read dozens of books every year, so – while I read a lot of really good books – it’s rare that one sticks with me.  But that’s what happened with gods in Alabama.  It took over a tiny corner of my brain and, every once in a while, I’d feel the need to pull out that file and ponder over the characters.  It was with great excitement, then, that I realized that the author – Joshilyn Jackson – had written another book featuring a very minor character from the first.  The title:  Backseat Saints.  Even the title was enough to grab my interest!

Backseat Saints tells the story of Rose Mae Lolley who was abandoned by her mother at age 8 and left to be raised by her abusive drunkard father.  Like Arlene Fleet in gods in Alabama, Rose Mae can’t wait to escape her hometown and her father’s brutal beatings.  But history has a way of repeating itself.  Though she recreates herself as Ro Grandee, the outwardly perfect wife of Thom Grandee, she continues to be that same beaten and broken little girl…only this time at the hands of her husband and his forever question, “Who is he?”

When she can finally take no more and realizes that her life is in serious jeopardy, the former Rose Mae Lolley, who has already once recreated herself as Ro Grandee, recreates herself once again as Lily Rose Wheeler.  With a new identity, she flees her husband and begins to retrace her steps back to the ghosts of her past…all the way back to her abusive father and the mother who abandoned her, and begins a desperate search for the one-time boyfriend who was the only man who’d ever shown her kindness.

Backseat Saints was a wonderful read and so much more than I’d expected.  The subject matter – spousal abuse – could easily have been a sad novel about the abuse of one woman and her hopelessness to escape.  Instead, the book was one of suspense, coupled with a bit of humor and a whole lot of Southernisms.

Backseats Saints is not a sequel to gods in Alabama, nor do the two books need to be read in order, or even together.  The are completely independent works and a reader could choose to read either book and not the other without “missing” anything.  The interesting thing about the books, however, is that the main characters from the two books cross paths and – if you read both books – you get a different perspective from each character on a shared high school classmate.  One is trying to run away from the past and that classmate, and the other is desperately attempting to find him.

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library, as is gods in Alabama by the same author.

Book Review – Bring Up the Bodies


Bring Up the Bodies
A Review by Wendy Jaensh

I loved Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall, so it was with great excitement, that I opened her new novel, Bring Up the Bodies.  By the second page I was completely confused since it wasn’t clear to me who “I” referred to:  Cromwell or Henry the VIII.  However, the writing was so beautiful that I kept reading and – within two chapters – my confusion was replaced with pleasure.

Bring Up the Bodies details the downfall of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, who was eventually convicted and beheaded under the direction of the King’s chief minister and confidant, Thomas Cromwell.  Writing from the perspective of Cromwell, Mantel does a wonderful job of using the Cromwell’s thoughts to build his character.

Much that is written about Cromwell argues that he was ruthless and self-involved, but this novel illustrates the author’s view of Cromwell’s internal dialogue. He still seems to be cold, but there is some thoughtfulness in his character, especially toward his son and his friend, Sir Thomas Wyatt, who was implicated in the plot of Anne’s supposedly treacherous sexual behavior.

Though I knew the queen’s accused lovers would eventually be put to death, the author does such a great job of sharing the emotional dialogue between Cromwell and the condemned men that I actually felt sympathy for the accused and found myself wishing they would be found innocent.

Hillary Mantel does an excellent job of bringing the sadness and horror of the 16th Century into the present. For a little while, I felt the terror they must have felt over 500 years ago because of the mastery of the author. What a great piece of historical fiction.

This book is available at The Rochester Public Library in traditional format, as well as on Audio CD and downloadable audio version.

Series Review: Faye Longchamp Mysteries


A Review by John Hunziker

I would like to share with you a series of books by the author Mary Anna Evans featuring Faye Longchamp as the amateur archeologist, heroine and looter of artifacts on her own property.

Faye is the last of her family and struggles to repair and keep up her childhood home, Joyeuse, hidden in the backwaters of the Florida Panhandle.  The biggest problem she deals with is the looming unpaid property taxes. Her way of solving the issue is central to her love/hate relationship with herself as an amateur archeologist and the fact that she is forced to loot artifacts from what should be an archeological site, the slave quarters on her own property.

Another string of the story is how her great-great-grandmother Cally, a freed slave, came to own Joyeuse in the first place and then keep it throughout the years.

As Faye begins digging in the area she finds a woman’s shattered skull and a 1960’s styled earring. If she talks to the police she has a serious problem; but not talking to the police brings its own set of problems – particularly when she returns to the area and everything is gone. Somebody knows that she knows.

There are enough strings to the story to keep everyone interested and I certainly was. My wife has begun reading this book and is also enjoying it.

There are, so far, seven books in this series: Artifacts, Relics, Effigies, Findings, Floodgates, Strangers and Plunder, with the newest, Rituals, due to be published in 2013. I would suggest reading them in order as the characters grow in depth and interests, and her relationship with Joe, described by one reviewer as “Yum,Yum,” is one I enjoyed watching develop.

I will read almost anything dealing with art, antiques and archeology; and working at the library offers many opportunities.  However, I’ve enjoyed this series so much that I have purchased these from the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.  I enjoyed them enough to own them and plan to reread them in the future. They can also be found on Amazon, and of course the library has all of the series except the first one which can be requested through interlibrary loan.

I highly recommend this series. Faye Longchamp is a heroine that makes you root for her, and the locations and plot lines in all of the books are believable and interesting.