Monday, October 8, 2018

Three Summer Reads

The Leavers1) The Leavers by Lisa Ko: How would you like to have your debut novel become a finalist for the National Book Award? That's what happened with The Leavers.  I found myself thinking about this book for a long time after I had finished it. Always a good sign for any book.  It was published in 2017 and has been on my reading radar for awhile.  I was quite pleased when I came across it at the used book store!  As you might guess, the book is about leaving.

One day Deming Guo's mother did not come home from work.  His mother, Polly, was an undocumented immigrant, and no one knew where she had gone.  Deming (who was eleven years old) and Polly had been living with her boyfriend, the boyfriend's sister and nephew. After Polly disappeared those living in the house found they were not able to care for Deming, so he was given up as a foster child, and was eventually adopted by a couple in upper New York.

This wasn't the first time Deming had been left by his mother. The story is told from both Deming and Polly's point of views.  Polly had plenty of "leaving" in her life, too.  It is a story of both Deming and Polly and how they had to learn to live with loss and mistakes.

2) Us Against You by Frederik Backman: Us Against You is the sequel to Beartown. Beartown is one of my favorite books that I have read this year.
So I was anxious to continue the story in the sequel.  I was disappointed.  I did not find the wisdom and caring that I loved in Beartown.  And I got tired of reading it.  The book seemed to go on and on with not much happening, at least that I cared about. I would be curious to see if others agree or disagree.

3) The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows: I heard of this book on a podcast and after hearing the review of it, I put it on my TBR list.  I finally came across it and read it.

The Truth According to UsThe Truth According to Us is historical fiction.  In 1938. Layla Beck refused to marry the man her parents wanted her to marry, and so her wealthy father refused to support her any more! She was hired by the Federal Writer's Project to write the history of a small town of Macedonia in West Virginia.  There she found a room at the Romeyn home and slowly accustomed herself to the life of not luxury! As Layla began to explore the town, she was slowly drawn into the Romeyn family.  The family consisted of Jottie, a spinster, and her brother Felix.  Also living there were Felix's two daughters, Willa and Bird.  Jottie and Felix had twin sisters, Mae and Minerva, who were married, but spent the week days living at the Romeyn house as they could not bear to be apart from each other. And there was Emmett Romeyn, the youngest brother who lived a town over.  All of the Romeyn's were interested in helping Layla learn about and write a history of Macedonia.

I found myself drawn into the story and enjoyed it very much. It is like a painting of a small Southern town where there is much history and lots of secrets!  It was a fun read.  **Side note: the author was also a co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. 


Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston is a treasure. This is a small book, but profound in it's tale. As a young writer and anthropologist, Hurston was sent to Plateau, Alabama in 1927 to interview an eighty-six year old man.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last

Cudjo Lewis was born around 1840 in Africa.  In 1927, he was the last living person transported from Africa to the United States as a slave.  By that time, transporting people for slavery was illegal, but one last ship, the Clotilda was outfitted for the purpose of illegally bringing the captured slaves to the United States.  In 1859, Cudjo had been captured and was placed on the Clotilda.

Hurston was able to befriend Cudjo and learn his story of his journey here from Africa, his time as a slave here, and then his life since slavery. The town of Plateau had been founded by the slaves from the Clotilda.  It was /is three miles from Mobile. Cudjo shared stories of his growing up in Africa, the events and feelings of his capture, his time on the ship, then the horror of slavery once he arrived in the United States.

It's both a sad and enlightening story.  Cudjo's survival through all of the events in his life was incredible.  As was his outlook. 

Hurston finished this book in 1931, but could not get it published.  It is written in Cudjo's dialect and the publishers wanted that changed.  She refused. So this incredibly piece of history was not published until 2018.  Cudjo Lewis died in 1935, so he was never able to see his words in her book. Sadly, Hurston died in 1960, so she never saw her this book published either.

Friday, September 21, 2018

New Prayers

I've been reading New Prayers by Michel Quoist since the beginning of this year.  I just never really got into it, which was sad.  Years ago I had read Prayers by the same author and loved it.  I wasn't able to find a copy of it, so I ordered this one. The prayers are mostly quite long, sometimes several pages long, which I didn't like.  The content was good, just too much of it! I did persevere and finally finished it. Do I recommend it? Not really.  I would like to be able to re-read Prayers and see if it is as good as I remembered it to be!

New Prayers

I've Been Thinking...

I heard Maria Shriver on the Today Show talking about her new book, I've
Been Thinking, earlier this year and when I had finished my last book on spirituality, I decided to get this book to read.  I'm so glad that I did.  I have really taken my time with this book, reading only one chapter at a time.  Ms. Shriver's words have touched me each day. It is a book of "Reflections, Prayers and Meditations for a Meaningful Life".

I've Been Thinking . . .: Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life

There were only a very few chapters that were not full of highlighting as I read them.  One of my very favorite lines was the following:

"Have faith that your best days are ahead of you, that your next frontier will be the most fulfilling time of your life, and that you deserve to be seen as good enough just the way you are-including by yourself."
Great book!

Promise Me, Dad

Joe Biden, former Vice President, wrote Promise Me, Dad about the year leading up to his son Beau's death.  I was expecting more about the actual family's dealing with all that was involved with Beau, but the book was, as advertised, about the last year before Beau died.  So I felt like most of the book was about Joe Biden's travels, meetings, etc. related to his work. I wanted it to be a book about the family, and that was, of course, included, but I just wasn't interested in all of the other stuff.

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose

The parts about the family dealing with Beau were heart-breaking and, if possible, made me love Joe Biden even more. 

Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was chosen by one of my book groups to read for our September gathering.  It was a book that I have toyed with picking up and reading, so I was pleased to have it chosen.  The story didn't disappoint.  It was easy to read, but was chock-full of family dynamics.  It was a great choice for book group discussion.

Little Fires Everywhere

The story is primarily of two very different families, whose lives seemingly collide at the end of the book.  The book opens with the Richardson family watching their home burn to the ground, assuming that the missing daughter had set fire to the home.  The home was in Shaker Heights, an upper-scale community where the Richardson family, consisting of the parents and their four children, lived.  One summer, an artist and free-spirit Mia and her fifteen year old daughter Pearl, came to town and rented the Richardson's rental home.  As time progressed, Mia and Pearl became intimately involved with the Richardson family.

The story touches upon adoption, secrets, loss and most especially, motherhood.  It's a good story and I recommend it for any book group!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

American Pastoral

One of my book groups chose American Pastoral by Philip Roth for our August discussion.  I don't have a lot to say about this book.  We all agreed that the 423 pages could have been 200.  My goodness, what a wordy man Philip Roth was. And the point of the book?  Everyone is searching and striving for a good, meaningful life. Okay, having said this, the reviews for the book are praising it to the heavens.

American Pastoral (American Trilogy #1)
It is the story of Swede, an all American boy, and how his life went from being a star athlete, admired by all, to being the owner of a glove manufacturing plant, to being the husband of Miss New Jersey of 1949, to one day having his whole life turned upside down when, in 1968, his sixteen year old fanatical daughter's act changed everyone's life forever.

I really enjoyed the core story in the book, but the pages and pages describing one thing killed my enthusiasm.  We deducted that because he was Philip Roth, no editors would confront his writing!