Sunday, January 1, 2017

Review of 2016 reading with favorites listed and statistics

Happy New Year 2017!  It is time for both my favorite books read in 2016 and some statistics for last year.  First, my top 17 books!

Plainsong-Kent Haruf
The Revenant-Michael Punke
Big Magic-Elizabeth Gilbert
Eventide-Kent Haruf: very good
The Signature of All Things-Elizabeth Gilbert
Memory-Philippi Grimbert
Benediction-Kent Haruf
My Name Is Lucy Barton-Elizabeth Strout
The Green Road-Anne Enright
Always outnumbered, always outgunned-Walter Mosley
These is my Words-Nancy Turner
Fates and Furies-Lauren Groff
The Underground Railroad-Colson Whitehead
Wintering-Peter Geye
Safe From the Sea-Peter Geye
The Lighthouse Road-Peter Geye
To Kill A Mockingbird-Harper Lee

Now, of course, I need to narrow this list down First of all, I have two clumps of books by the same authors, so they will be counted as only two books, instead of six.  Also, I had re-read To Kill A Mockingbird last month, and since it is always my number one book, it is out of the running!

So now to narrow this list to my top 8:

Plainsong-Kent Haruf
Eventide-Kent Haruf
Benediction-Kent Haruf
The Signature of All Things-Elizabeth Gilbert
Memory-Philippi Grimbert
My Name Is Lucy Barton-Elizabeth Strout
The Green Road-Anne Enright
Fates and Furies-Lauren Groff
The Underground Railroad-Colson Whitehead
Wintering-Peter Geye
Safe From the Sea-Peter Geye
The Lighthouse Road-Peter Geye

As much as I really loved the six books that I have clumped together, I am taking them out for the next round.  But make no mistake, I really loved those books!

Top 6 books of 2016 that I read:

The Signature of All Things-Elizabeth Gilbert
Memory-Philippi Grimbert
My Name Is Lucy Barton-Elizabeth Strout
The Green Road-Anne Enright
Fates and Furies-Lauren Groff
The Underground Railroad-Colson Whitehead

I love that four of the six are written by women.  But now the narrowing down continues:

My top 3 books:

Memory-Philippi Grimbert
My Name Is Lucy Barton-Elizabeth Strout
The Green Road-Anne Enright

And my favorite book read in 2016:

Memory by Philippi Grimbert

It is interesting that two of the top three are older books that I came across on my bookshelf while looking for something to read.  I had read them long enough ago that I did not remember them, so it was fun to re-read them and again remember why I had kept them all this time!

Statistics: I read 72 books in 2016, and 18 of them were non-fiction.  I am sure that the non-fiction number is my highest ever, so I am pleased with that! Of course, I want to go over my 72 read this year, so I am thinking that I need more beach time for reading!!!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Catching Up before 2017!

I have been remiss in blogging here, but for once, I have a decent excuse.  I had surgery on my right hand at the beginning of the month, so there's that.  It also meant that I got lots of reading in!  So this is going to be a very brief outline of what I have read and how I liked each book!

1) The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills.  This was a very controversial book when it came out, and with good reason.  I admit that when I finished it, the book left me quite skeptical.  It is non-fiction, by a then-Chicago based journalist who went to Monroesville, Alabama to do a piece (or series) about where To Kill A Mockingbird was based. The author contends that she became very close to Harper Lee and her sister Alice and all of their friends.  Harper Lee was always known as a very closed person, so the whole story didn't ring true for me. But maybe I'm wrong.  For Harper Lee fans, it is an interesting story about the town and the friends of the Lee sisters.

2) Of course after having read the above book, I had to re-read To Kill A Mockingbird, for what I would estimate the 20th time.  Cried at the very end, as I do every single time.  Best book ever.  It will be out of the running for Top Book of 2016, because I would choose it as #1 every year! 

3) Never Goin' Back by Al Roker.  I found this for $1 and, since I am a fan of Al Roker, I grabbed it up.  It is a quick read, telling about his childhood, growing up and his life-long weight struggle. It was interesting and easy to read.

4) Grace by Natashia Deon.  This was an interesting, rather monumental debut novel that was sometimes very interesting to me and other times hard to follow.  It is told by the narrator Grace who was a black slave in the South in the 1840's.  Grace was killed right after giving birth to her only child, a daughter named Josey. Grace followed Josey through-out her life ( kind of like a haunting) trying to protect her from the harsh reality of a slave's life.  This story is about several generations and stayed with me.  

5) The Nix by Nathan Hill.  Not a book I would necessarily recommend, primarily because it was so very long for what the story was.  The story itself was quite interesting, but, oh, what a wordy book! This was also a debut novel and I expect good things to come (hopefully not as verbose!).
It is a novel about a son and his mother and their struggle to reconnect years after she left the son and his father to find her own way in life. Summary: good story but way too long than needed.

6) Redemption Road by John Hart.  I love John Hart's books.  This is his third and I have really liked all of them.  Redemption Road is a mystery that kept me engaged through-out the book.  Several times I thought that I knew who did it, but I was wrong.  And when I though it was the actual killer, I then convinced myself that it wasn't! The story began with a young boy with a gun ready to kill the cop being released from prison for killing the boy's mother thirteen years ago. And meanwhile, other murdered women are showing up.  Who did it???

7) The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney.  This book had been on my radar for some time, but I didn't think that I would especially like it.  However, when I came across it for fifty cents, I decided it was worth a read, and I ended up finding it to be a good book.  It is the story of four adult children who were anticipating receiving The Nest in a few months. The Nest was an investment that their father had made years ago for them and it had, surprisingly, ended up being worth much, much more than the father had ever dreamt it would, or was intended.  And his children already had "spent" their share.  However, the oldest of the four ended up in trouble and their mother decided to use The Nest to help him.  The book is about how the four children handle this.  Good book.

And there you have it.  It is New Year's Eve and I don't anticipate finishing another book before 2017 begins.  My next post will be listing my favorites from 2016!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Two More Books by Peter Geye

A few weeks ago I posted on the book Wintering by Peter Geye.  I loved his writing enough to seek out his two earlier books.  They did not disappoint.  Geye is from Minnesota and all three of his books are placed there.

Peter Geye's first book was Safe From the Sea.  It took place in the wilds of Minnesota
and was the story of a son and his dying estranged father.  Noah lived in Boston with his wife when he received a phone call from Olaf (his father) saying he was ill.  Noah hadn't seen his father in five or six years, but felt that he needed to go see him, fearing that his father's illness was serious. When he arrived at his father's place, Noah realized how bad things were for his father. As he stayed with his father,Olaf began sharing stories from long ago, specifically about the shipwreck of the Ragnarar.  Olaf had been one of only a few survivors of that wreck thirty-five years earlier. And he had never told anyone the true story of the survival until this visit.  As he told Noah:

"Everything I just told you, it's been rotting in me all this time."

And so began some healing for both Noah and Olaf.  Understanding of that fateful night that forever changed everyone's lives settled into both of them. 

This book won the Indie Lit Award Winner for Best Literary Fiction. I found it to be a great first novel!

Peter Geye's second novel, The Lighthouse Road, was the prequel to Wintering and I was so sorry that I hadn't read it first, because it would have helped tremendously in sorting out who everyone was and their relationships to each other.

The Lighthouse Road began in 1896 with the story of a pregnant young girl,Thea Eide, who had recently arrived from Norway,.  Thea had come to Northern Minnesota to live with her aunt and uncle.  When she arrived, she learned that they had both died.  She was taken in by Hosea Grimm, a prominent townsperson, who lived there with his "adopted" daughter Rebekah. Soon Thea was sent to work as a cook in the logging camp and there she became pregnant. When winter came, the camp shut down and Thea returned to town to Hosea's home.  It was there that her son Odd was born.

The book's chapters shift back and forth from 1896 to 1920-1921.  Jump to 1920 and Odd was a young man in love with an older forbidden woman. He built an "ark" and they traveled to Duluth for a new life away from all they had known.  But history replays itself and both returned to the place they were from and there the story Wintering begins.

I found this to be a very powerful story of resilience and love.  I would strongly recommend that this be read before reading the Wintering.  Together they make a wonderful story of generations in the cold Minnesota woods.

**Note: I ordered The Lighthouse Road in paperback twice and both issues arrived beginning with page 23!  So I ended up ordering a hardcover copy of the book from the library and it was find.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Did You Ever Have A Family

Did You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg has had rave reviews and been on the New York Times Best Seller List and I just kind of missed what everyone was so enthralled with.

I finished the book, but it was a bit of a chore for me.  The book was, at first glance, a story
about a disaster that occurred on the eve of a wedding, killing the bride-to-be, her fiance, and the boyfriend of the mother of the bride.  The story tells of the grieving of the mother, June Reid.  And in the story of her grief and loss, are the stories of others who were affected by the horror.  Small town secrets are told.

Sounds like something I could get into, but I just never did.  That being said, the book has had much success, so don't go by me!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Some October Reading

I just finished three books in rapid succession, each good in it's own right.

1) The Mothers by Brit Bennett.  This is the author's debut novel and I will look
forward to seeing/reading what comes after this book.  The book has had wonderful reviews, and I wasn't as taken with it as some reviewers, but, having said that, it was a good book.  It centers around three teenagers, living in southern California who are each part of a black church community.  Seventeen year old Nadia's mother had recently committed suicide, leaving her alone with her father. Her best friend, Aubrey, had moved in with her sister to avoid living with an abusive step-father, and Luke, the son of the church's pastor, had suffered a bad football injury that took away his dream of playing college football. The story was sometimes narrated by Nadia, but, more interestingly, was often told by "the Mother's", who appeared to be the older women of the church.  It seems that through-out the following years, "the Mother's" suspected secrets about the three teenagers. Years later, after Nadia had completed college and law school, she returned to the town to care for her father, and "the Mother's" stirred up old unfinished business between the three main characters.

It was an interesting story about three teenagers who each suffered in their own way with their relationships with their mothers, and how the church's "mother's" continued to not mother these children.

2) The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman.  Again, I had read great
reviews about this debut book, and was rather let down.  I found the story terribly predictable, but yet, the author did a good job portraying the characters.  It is a story that takes place in post WWII and is about two brothers who worked in their own business, and lived in a two-family home with their wives and children.  The brothers were very different from each other, as were their wives. Abe and Helen had four boys, Mort and Rose had three girls.  Rose and Helen were best friends, raising their children together. When they both ended up pregnant at the same time, they each hoped for what they didn't have-a son for Rose and Mort and a daughter for Abe and Helen.  A blizzard came while Abe and Mort were out of town and both of the women went into labor.  You can guess the rest.  The women made and lived with an impossible secret for years. As you can imagine, there was a terrible impact that affected all, even as others did not know the secret.  The author did a good job with the story, other than it being so predictable.

3) Wintering by Peter Geye. I just happened to come across this book at the
library and picked it up to take with me for the weekend.  I loved it.  I will say that I struggled mightily to figure out the relationships in the book while I was reading it, but as I got near the end, it all came together.  I think that the book was purposely written that way, but it was hard for me with my need for order.  However, as I searched online about other books by the author (he has written two other books), I learned that in his second book the Eide family was introduced.  So now I have to read that book to see what I may have missed!

Wintering is, at first read, the story of Harry Eide and his son Gus who went for a winter voyage in the border waters of Minnesota (where they were from) and Canada after Gus graduated from high school.  However, the book begins thirty years later, with Gus telling Harry's longtime love, Berit, that the now elderly and demented Harry has disappeared.  As Gus continued to seek out Berit the winter that Harry disappeared, he began telling her the story of that winter when he and his father had gone out to spend the winter in the wild, eventually telling her long-held secrets about that time.  The book is narrated by Berit, who had come to that wilderness, many many years before and knew many secrets that Gus did not know about his family and about the town.

Geye's writing is beautiful and grabbed me at the very first sentence:

"Our winters are faithful and unfailing and we take what they bring, but this season has tested even the most devout among us."
Later in the book, he wrote:

"Every person, I have come to believe, has a moment or a place in life when all four points of the compass converge, from when or where their life finally takes-for better or for worse-its fated course."
I found a definition of the word 'wintering':  "To lodge, keep, or care for during the winter: wintering the sheep in the stable".

To me, that is what the book was about: the wintering of keeping and caring for the history of Harry Eide and his family.  A beautiful book.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

And Three More

As promised, here are the other three books that I have recently read:

1) The Innocent Sleep by Karen Perry.  This is a debut novel and I will be anxious to read more by
Ms. Perry!  We read this for book group and it was a good read! Well-developed characters and good story!

The story was about Harry and Robin who lived in Tangiers.  They had a son, Dillon.  One night, Robin was gone and Harry left young sleeping Dillon alone in their place while he ran an errand.  While Harry was gone, an earthquake happened and Dillon's body was never found.  Five years later, Harry and Robin had relocated to Ireland and one day, Harry thought that he saw Dillon.  This is the premise of the book...was Dillon alive?  And as they sorted through Harry's assertion that he saw Dillon, many secrets were revealed.

Good mystery story! I passed it on to another reader with my recommendation!  I hope they like it as well as both I did and my book group did!

2) At Risk by Alice Hoffman.  this was another read for book group.  I had read this book years ago, when it first came out, so it was a pleasure to re-read it. I am a big fan of Alice Hoffman's works.

At Risk tells the story of eleven year old Amanda Farrell who was diagnosed with AIDS, contracted when she was younger from a blood transfusion.  The news of her diagnosis was, of course, devastating for her parents, and the story is much about their struggle to come to some kind of sense of it all.  What was so fascinating and brilliant about this book was how Hoffman made each character's life at risk in some way.  Amanda's parents turn to other people and her eight year old brother Charlie was left to deal with his best friend and schoolmates ostrasizing him.  Hoffman also dealt with the hysterics of the community upon learning of Amanda's diagnosis. (It is interesting to remember that this book was written in 1989, before Hippa, etc).

What is so remarkable (and sad) about the book, is that it is still so relevant, even some thirty years later.

3) Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi.  Interestingly, I have bypassed this book for the last couple of years.  I don't know why, nor do I know why I decided to read it now, but I am glad that I did.  I
thought the book had some issues (or perhaps it was just me). I had a hard time keeping all of the characters straight.  It was enough work just keeping Boy, Snow and Bird straight!  And why didn't Boy like Snow?

The book began with Boy Novak, a young girl being raised by her single father in New York.  Her father was a rat-catcher and was quite abusive to her. Boy had finally had enough and boarded a bus, where she landed in Flax Hill, Massachusetts.  She met, then married Artura Whitman, who was a widower and had a daughter named Snow.  When Boy became pregnant and gave birth to Bird, she realized that Artura was a black man passing as white.

The back of the book states that the author  "brilliantly recasts the 'Snow White' fairy tale as a story of family secrets, race, beauty, and vanity."  Yes, I guess I can see that.  It's an interesting way to think about the story.

There is an interesting twist at the end of the book that I found confusing, not really understanding how it played into the story. This might make a good read for book group!  Perhaps someone else could figure that out!

2 Good Books!

I have read several books lately, but will put my two favorite in this post, then add the others to another post!

I loved The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. I loved that the author had the
idea/concept of a real underground railroad and that he was able to put that into such a wonderful story!  That certainly takes talent!

The concept?  What if there was a real/actual Underground Railroad that slaves could ride to safety?

The book centers around Cora, a young black slave girl, who was being horrifically treated on the plantation.  The story begins:

"The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no.  This was her grandmother talking." 
The book's chapters are divided into a character, then a place.  So the first chapter is "Ajarry", Cora's grandmother, who had been taken away from her home and put on a ship.  Actually she traveled on several ships, until she landed in Charleston and was purchased for two hundred and twenty-six dollars. The first chapter begins with Ajarry's story. Then:

"It was her grandmother talking that Sunday evening when Caesar approached Cora about the underground railroad, and she said no.  Three weeks later she said yes.  This time is was her mother talking."
The next chapter is "Georgia", then "Ridgeway" (a slave-catcher), then "South Carolina", and so on.

Through-out the book, Cora travels and seeks true freedom.   That is doing the book such an injustice to end this review there, but the book is so well-written and the story is so well told, that I just can't say more about it.

This is a fascinating, disturbing, uplifting book. You should read it.  Seriously.

And then I read Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff for one of my book groups.  Oh my, another book
you must read! But here's the thing, before you read it, you must agree that you will finish it.  Because it's pretty guaranteed that you will hate the first half of the book.  Enough to want to not only stop reading it, but throw it away! But, dear reader, persevere and you will thank me!

This book is brilliantly written!  The first half of the book is written with Lancelot's (Lotto) view of his life and his twenty-four year marriage to Mathilde.  Lotto was an incredibly narcissistic character, who believed he was an actor, then a playwright. He was estranged from his mother and obsessed with his wife. I found him unbelievably unlikable.

Ah, but then! The second half of the book is written from Mathilde's perspective about Lotto, her life, and their marriage.  But with a twist!  Mathilde had many secrets that Lotto never suspected. So her story changed everything!

Great story about love and marriage and behind closed doors! This book made for intense, wonderful discussion at book group! I loved the book!