Friday, August 31, 2018

A Disappointing Read

I'm not even sure where I picked up One Day at a Time 2017: A husband and wife's 87-day road trip through 22 states in the US on two Harley Softails by Hollie Bell-Schinzing. Did I win it in a goodreads giveaway? Was it an Amazon First Read? In any event, I had the book in my Kindle library and while I'm waiting for several books from the library, I decided to give this book a try.

This was the description on goodreads:
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to just pick up and ride your motorcycle around this big beautiful country? Hollie lives in Rochester, New York with her husband Bonz. They have been together for over 30 years. With Bonz newly retired and the kids leaving to go off on their own adventures they needed something to reconnect. Join them on their journey through 22 states, many national parks and a couple of biker rallies. Hollie requested three months off work (with no pay), and her employer was gracious enough to allow this. So that was it, June, July and August of 2017 off they went to discover not only the USA but also themselves. No real plans and no reservations, flying by the seat of their pants, join them in seeing what it is like to ride a Harley on the open road for 87 days, one day at a time. 
Top on my bucket list is to visit all 50 states. And I'd love to just pop in the car and make my way from one state to the next, covering all 13 states that I haven't yet been to. I really thought that this book would have me green with envy and ready to pack my bag and hop in the car.

My guess is that Bell-Schinzing's friends asked her to blog while on her adventure. She does mention a blog. If this book is the manuscript of her blog, okay, I get it. I blogged while on our trip to Italy 3 years ago. You can check out The Pellegrinos Do Italy here. I tried to write at least something every day. Some days I was tired and I just wanted to get something posted. I didn't proof read, I didn't care about using the same words over and over. I just wanted it posted. Other times I tried to more fully convey everything I'd experienced that day. But if I were to publish my blog and present it as a book, I would carefully proofread. I'd embellish my writing to make it more readable - and more universally interesting. Bell-Schinzing did neither.

I did wonder a couple of times if I would have found One Day at a Time more interesting if I was a biker. I'm not a biker, though. However, I've been to some of the biker spots in Robbinsville, NC that were mentioned and I do understand the attraction of those spots and how interesting they can be. You don't need to be a biker to be able to understand that.

A few times, Bell-Schinzing writes about discrimination against bikers. I suppose it exists. But the way she expressed herself made it seem as though she has a chip on her shoulder.

It turns out, too, that my husband and I were driving the Tail of the Dragon (on the NC/TN border) just a few weeks after Bell-Schinzing and her husband biked it. She mentioned that they were warned on the day before they'd planned their ride that seven people had died on the Dragon already in 2017. And that two more bikers had gotten killed on the day before their ride. I guess I'm glad I didn't know that.

There was also a bit about Graham County being a dry county and about the only restaurant in the county that serves alcohol. I knew Graham County was dry, but didn't realize that you could have a drink at a steak house located between two tennis courts. And here is a perfect example of where I wish the author had given a little bit more context and more details.

She also briefly mentions that she was a recovering alcoholic and that her husband was part Native American. So briefly that I wonder why she bothered to include those facts. Both should have been excluded or expanded. Other than knowing that Hollie and Bonz like to take naps and that Bonz needs to eat regularly, I didn't get to know either one of them as people.

When Bell-Schinzing mentions that having a Go-Pro would be fun, but how boring would it be for other people to watch her unedited videos, I wondered why she didn't feel the same way about what appears to be her unedited blog.

The details of their checking into and out of motels could have been made more interesting. The same goes for the descriptions of meals they ate and restaurants they patronized.

A brief nod is made to alcoholism on Native American reservations, but it is thrown in totally out of context. That would have been a great place to embellish.

I expected to read more about our National Parks system than I did. (My bucket list includes visiting several National Parks.)

I caught lots of typos (desert instead of dessert, things like that). She placed some cities in the wrong states. She overused the word awesome. Being more descriptive would have enhanced her writing. Ironically, in the "About the Author," Bell-Schinzing writes that she's already started on her next book but does not expect it to be out for awhile because "really good things in life take time." Hollie and Bonz returned home from their bike trip in August 2017 and this book was published in 2017. Maybe more time and some friendly editors would have helped. The story of their trip has a lot of potential. It just didn't deliver.

The book concludes with Maybe it is time to take a new look at our surroundings where we live and start to discover some of the "things to do" around our own area and continue to play tourists for a bit. Life is way too short to forget to play, while learning to live our new life one day at a time. I couldn't agree with Hollie more here!

Would I recommend? No.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Marvelous Misadventures of Ingrid Winter

When The Emperor of Shoes expired off my iPad while I was on vacation, I had to come up with something to read - quick! I scanned thru all the books I've accumulated through Amazon First Reads and ultimately selected to download The Marvelous Misadventures of Ingrid Winter by J.S. Draggsholt.

It wasn't exactly what I expected. While it was mostly set in Sweden and the main character was totally Scandinavian, it made me realize that young mothers across the globe have more in common than the differences they might have. I could have plunked Ingrid Winter into New Jersey and the story would have made perfect sense.

This was Book #1 in a series, but it didn't seem like it. Ingrid and her husband have a little phrase they'd recite to each other when they were trying to connect. It seemed as though there should have been some back story. Actually, it seemed the back story was missing from most of the key points in the plot.

The book was silly. Ingrid Winter has a wild imagination but it seems as though she also has some skeletons in her closet. But why?

The language was very easy to read. The names were easy to follow. The translation was very well done.

But would I recommend it? Nope. Not really. Especially not to folks who buy a nice new house prior to selling - or listing - their current homes.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Swimming Lessons

I love epistolary fiction. I love when letters are used to move a story forward. I expected this to be that book. It was not.

Swimming Lesson by Claire Fuller is about family dysfunction, flailing marriages, disappearances and dying on one's own terms despite efforts from loved ones.

Letters did play a prominent role in the telling of this tale, but they were letters unsent, letters possibly undiscovered. The novel alternates between the present after (father) Gil's accident and Nan and Flora's discovery that Gil is dying and letters that (mother) Ingrid wrote to Gil years earlier, leading up to her disappearance. Ingrid writes each letter and then hides in one of the many - seriously many - books that Gil collects.

I love Fuller's use of language. It's lyrical but not in an overly flowery way. I love the use of letter writing as a way to pull in another narrator. And I loved that at the end of each letter, there was a note into what book the letter was hidden in. There was always some connection. As a book lover, I appreciated that.

But that's about all I loved. There were no characters that I found at all likable. Not that I need to like the characters in order to like the book. They're all caricatures of common characters found in other books. The older sister taking on the mom role. The younger sister never growing up. A lecherous older man. A young woman who ignores the signs. The best friends. In this book in particular, none of the characters show any growth, except perhaps Ingrid. Maybe.

What was most disappointing to me was the ending. Yes, readers learn the whole back story. But I wanted more. I wanted a different type of discovery. I wanted things that I'm not going to write about here because I don't want to spoil this book for anyone else.

Thursday, August 2, 2018


I received a copy of the historical fiction HANK from a giveaway in the hopes that I would give it a favorable review. I really wanted to like the book. The premise sounded really good.
Thirteen-year-old Hank Kemp is four-feet-nine inches and ninety-seven pounds of pure intelligence. Despite growing up in a poverty-stricken African American community in the 1950s South, Hank still dares to dream. Although he has been abandoned by his drifter father, his hardworking mother provides an endless supply of unconditional love and support.
Shortly after he wins the spelling bee at his junior high, Hank's promising world shatters when his mother dies in a fire. Soon, his mother's friend, Lillie, takes Hank in and begins raising him as one of her own. While Hank struggles through his grief and rekindles his strong determination to succeed in life, he is helped along the way by a kindly teacher, an attorney, and the Spoorville community as they band together to keep Hank out of foster care. As his father reenters his life and Hank's journey propels him toward high school graduation and an exciting future, he learns that success is better achieved with help from those able to see what he can be.
In this inspiring coming-of-age story, a young African American growing up in the fifties America must carve his own path in life after his mother dies, with assistance from a caring community.  
My hopes and expectations were not met. First of all, I'm not 100% sure if this book was meant to be a middle grade historical fiction novel or if it was written for an older audience. My review is based on the assumption that this was a book meant to be grade by fifth graders learning about the Civil Rights Movement.

My biggest disappointment was the lack of historical context in the novel. There were passing references to historical events like school integration, the celebration of Juneteenth, the transition from party lines to dial-direct telephones. As an adult familiar with what was being referenced, I got it. I don't believe that a child would walk away knowing anything more about the south during the 1950s by reading this book other than the fact that black children in the 1950s needed to walk to school.

I don't think a child would understand the mentions of welfare or the system. As an adult, I want to know why Aunt Lillie who was relatively young with older children hadn't looked for a job prior to being told that she couldn't be a foster parent to Hank while she was collecting welfare.

There is little evidence of Hank's grief over the loss of his mother. A few times, Lillie seems as though she misses Hank's mother, Mary. This is another aspect of the story that would have benefitted from being much more fleshed out. The characters of Hank and Ruth Ann were the most developed of all the characters, but I really wanted to know them better. If I didn't know that Lillie was in her late 30s, I would have thought she was in her 60s.

After Ruth Ann moves, Mrs. Bennett (Lillie) misses her because she helped with housework. Hank and Billy Ray miss her because she used to cook for them. We are told repeatedly what a close knit family they are. Missing someone solely because of the chores that aren't getting done makes no sense.

Peck includes lots of little details that serve as distractions and don't add anything to the story. An example of this is when a different person speaks at the high school graduation than the one that was originally scheduled to speak and was listed in the program. That didn't serve to move the story ahead at all.

And finally, the paperback edition that I read was riddled with typos and capitalization and usage errors.

I think that the story of Harold Andrew Nelson Kemp Bennett held a lot of promise. The book I read would be a great starting point for his story but wasn't worthy as a finished product. I love children's historical fiction and I was hoping to find an appropriate novel about life in the south in the 1950s to pass along to my granddaughter who will be in fifth grade this coming fall. I won't be passing it on.

If Claudette A. Peck writes another historical fiction novel based on her own younger years, I would love to be a critique partner prior to publication.