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!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Three More Books Read This Summer

These are three books that I read over the month of August.  They weren't among my favorite reads, but the fact that I completed them, unlike a couple of other books that I attempted, says something.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling was written as a play, which immediately put it
in the 'I don't especially want to read it' category, but when it was offered to me to read, I said yes and went ahead and read it.  And I am glad that I did.  I enjoyed the story.  And it is a very quick read. It was good to read about Harry as an adult.  The book is about Harry and his youngest son, Albus.  Albus has adventures at Hogwarts and many of the old characters are brought into play. It's a fun read.

Perfect by Rachel Joyce was a book I read about on my daily calendar!  Since I loved her other two books (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Love Story of Miss QueenieHennessey), I was quick to read it.  I think that this book was written (or at least published) in-between the other two books. I didn't like it nearly as well as the other books, yet the story has stayed with me, so I always consider that a sign of a good book. This story is about an eleven year old boy, Byron, whose best friend, James, told him that he read that an extra two seconds was going to be added to the world. Byron became rather upset/confused over time as he tried to figure out how and when this might happen.  Meanwhile, Byron was in the car with his mother when she accidentally
and unknowingly hit a young girl. After a few days, Byron confronted her about it and figured out that she did not know that she had done it.  They went to the home where the girl lived and his mother, out of guilt, befriended the girl's mother, who then took advantage of the guilt. Meanwhile, Byron and James were working on a plan called "Operation Perfect" trying to figure out what was really going on. In alternate chapters of the book, the story of Jim was told.  Jim was in his 50's and had been released from the local mental institution and was trying to survive.

I was glad that I finished the book, because there was quite a twist at the end.  And as I said, the book ended up being quite thought-provoking.

what we keep by Elizabeth Berg was an old book that I found on my shelves and decided to re-read.  Well, I'm sorry that I did and I'm glad that I did. It is a book about mothers and daughters. The book began with Ginny Young, traveling on a plane to see her mother whom she hadn't seen or spoken to for thirty-five years.  Ginny's sister, Sharla, had asked her to come with her to visit their mother.  Sharla told Ginny that she was sick, possibly dying and that she wanted to see their mother, so Ginny reluctantly agreed to come with her. As she was flying across the country, Ginny told
the story of her family and what had happened in the summer of 1958.  A new neighbor, Jasmine, moved in next door, and her mother ended up one day leaving the family behind and going off with Jasmine.  The girl's mother made numerous attempts to visit and/or talk to the girls, even moving back to town after a month of being gone, but the girls would not have anything to do with her, so within a year, she moved away and completely left their lives.  Only the last few pages are about actually seeing her mother.

I found the book trying too hard to pass on "wisdom" about mothers and daughters.  Some relevant, but some just too mushy and trite. And the book left me with many questions about the story that either weren't answered or I missed it.

Glad I read it? Because I feel fine about moving the book on out of my house! Sorry I read it? It was a waste of good reading time!

Recent Nonfiction that I have read

Here are three nonfiction books that I have read recently. Two I highly recommend, the other not so much!

First is Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter. I really liked this book and took a lot away from it.

This book is basically about learning how to identify and overcome trigger points in our lives.  I wish that I had read it thirty years ago when I was beginning my career.  It would have been very helpful in dealing with co-workers and staff. What I especially took away from the book was in Part Two. In this part of the book, the author talks about altering our own behavior, not the behavior of others.  And how that can change everything! The first chapter was 'The Power of Active Questions'.  The next chapter was 'The Engaging Questions'.  This chapter settled on six questions that one was to answer for themselves at the end of each day.  I incorporated some of these questions, along with other questions more pertinent to me, into my daily journal, where I track them each day (with just a check mark).  I have found this to be quite powerful for me, and very helpful to encourage changes for me. I've recommended this book to several people and I recommend it to those reading this!

In my spiritual reading, I have completed two books, both by Parker J. Palmer.  Mr. Palmer is a teacher and a Quaker. In Let Your Life Speak, subtitled Listening for the Voice of Vocation, Mr. Parker shared the story of how listening to his inner voice led him to his passion/vocation of teaching. He also shared his experience of dealing with depression. As he explained vocation:

"Today I understand vocation quite differently-not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received."

"It comes from a voice 'in there' calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God."
The last chapter of the book is "There is a season", which probably spoke to me the most.  He used the metaphor of the seasons as we take the journey from dark to light in our lives. I struggle with experiencing the seasons of fall and winter, and his words helped explain much to me:

"Autumn is a season of great beauty, but it is also a season of decline: the days grow shorter, the light is suffused, and summer's abundance decays toward winter's death. Faced with this inevitable inter, what does nature do in autumn? It scatters the seeds that will bring new growth in the spring-and scatters them with amazing abandon."
I don't know why, after almost 67 years on this earth, that this spoke to me and helped me appreciate fall, but it speaks of hope instead of death and that changes everything!

I really enjoyed studying this book and it had a very strong and positive impact on me. 

So then I decided to read Mr. Palmer's book A Hidden Wholeness. I struggled greatly with this book, mostly because I was not interested in the 'circle of trust', which the book seemed to be training one for experiencing.  I just wasn't into it.