Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Two books by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson came out in 2013 and I immediately started seeing great reviews for it, but it didn't sound especially interesting to me.  then in 2015, a second, companion type book came out and it did sound interesting, so I decided to read Life After Life first, then read A God In Ruins (the companion book).  Both books can stand alone, but reading both gave me a lot more information and understanding.

Life After Life can be summed up by the line on the back cover of the book:

"What if you could live
again and again, until you got it right?" 
Ursala Todd was born in 1910, but she died immediately.  In other chapters, Ursala Todd was born in 1910 and goes on to live interesting lives...she died in some of the lives and lived on in others.

The book was initially quite confusing for me until I caught onto what was happening.  The writing and the story (stories) are genius.  The Todd family itself was fascinating and the events of the two world wars and how they impacted England (where the Todd family lived) were well-researched and well-written.

A God In Ruins is the story of Ursala's younger brother, Teddy.

"He had been reconciled to death during the war and then suddenly the war was over and there was a next day and a next day. Part of him never adjusted to having a future."

Teddy had been a pilot in World War II and he had never expected to survive that war.  He did and
went on to marry his childhood sweetheart, Nancy, and to have a child, Viola, and a granddaughter, Bertie.  In the book, Teddy enjoyed and suffered all that a long life brings.  He and Viola struggled with their relationship, but Teddy found his love and comfort in his granddaughter, Bertie.

Both books are long and rich in details that add enormously to the stories. Life After Life is an ingenious story of what could have been.  A God In Ruins is an ingenious story in a very different way.  The ending of that book is incredulous and left me in awe.

In My Opinion-Don't Bother!

I guess it is a bit unfair of me to say "don't bother" to read these books.  Maybe someone else would like them!  They were recommended by others, so they must have liked them.  But I just didn't get it with any of them.  Two novels and two non-fictions books that I don't recommend:

1) Unless by Carol Shields-I looked forward to reading this novel as I have enjoyed some of her other books.  This one I just never connected with.  It is about a mother struggling to deal with the fact that her daughter Nora left college and went to live on the street (in Toronto) with a sign that read "Goodness".  At night Nora slept in a local shelter.  Her family (parents and 2 sisters) went at least once a week to see her.  And by that, I mean literally to see her.  She would not acknowledge them at all.  So the premise is interesting, but I never really cared about any of the characters.

2) The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick-my husband had told me that he had seen something about a movie with this name that he was interested in seeing.  When I came across the book at Barnes and Noble I thought it sounded interesting. I read over half of the book and finally gave up.  My husband suggested that I just read the last chapter to see how it ends, so I did.  The last chapter was the most interesting part of the book that I read.  Again, an interesting premise...Germany and Japan won World War II and had taken over the United States.  The US was divided into different parts, run by Germany, Japan, etc.  I just didn't care.

3) savor by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung-subtitled Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.  If you have never read anything at all about either mindful eating or mindful living, this book might be interesting for you.  I found nothing really new in the whole book.

4) Jesus Shock by Peter Kreeft-this book was one of the books recommended by Matthew Kelly for spiritual reading.  I found it redundant in parts, and somewhat disagreeable in parts.  The only two things that I really found helpful in the book were the following:

"What is the opposite of boredom? Not pleasure, not even happiness, but joy."
"She knows that 'in the end life contains only one tragedy: not to have been a saint.' (Leon Bloy's ending of The Women Who Was Poor)"

Friday, April 1, 2016

Three Very Different Books

Three books that I read in March are about as different from each other as you could find!

1) The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark was written in 1940 and I have heard of it over
the years, but never really thought about reading it until it was presented at one of my book groups.  It has been described as a "psychological western" and I could see why it would be labeled as that.  I wish that the book had been chosen by my group to read, but it wasn't.  It's one of those books that you really want to discuss with others in order to pull out all that you may have missed or not thought about. So I may have missed the point of the book.  It was very slow in the first half or so, mainly building up characterization.  It ended up being the story of three innocent men being hanged in 1885. And so the book ends with (vaguely) how the hanging affected the men who were involved in hanging the men.  I think.

2) Big Girl-How I gave up dieting and got a life by Kelsey Miller is an
interesting, kind of fun, quick book to read.  As the title states, after years of dieting, Ms. Miller gave up dieting and focused on eating intuitively.  Ms. Miller's story is easy to read and identifiable.  She
did a good job writing about how her life has gone and the struggles that she has encountered over the years.

3) the life-changing magic of tidying up by Marie Kondo is a quite small book that I have seen on
the shelves everywhere for ages.  One of my daughters read it and described it to me and I thought it sounded interesting.  It is a very small book, with very big ideas!  It is about decluttering your life and using the mantra "Does it Spark Joy?" to determine what stays. The author takes the reader through her life-long history of tidying up and then takes the reader on the journey.  It is a well-thought out process that she advocates and, although it may seem rather overwhelming, it is actually quite easy. As the author recommends, I followed the process in my bedroom with my clothes and am very pleased with the results!  The next step in the process is tackling daughter predicted that this would be a hard one for me! I'm still working up to that one....


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Two books re-read

At the recommendation of a book club friend who gave me Change of Heart by Jodi Piccult to read, I began reading it.  Shortly into the book, I realized that I had read it before.  But, I didn't remember the exact ending, so I got caught up in the story and read the whole book again. I reviewed the book here on this blog on February 13, 2009, so if you are interested in it, just put the title into the search box in the upper right of my blog and it will take you to it.  It's a good story.

I also re-read Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. Such a powerful book.  Mr. Frankl Man's Search for Meaning to look at how the prisoners dealt with their imprisonment.
wrote the book in 1959.  The book is about how men found meaning to their lives during their time in the concentration camps during WWII.  Mr. Frankl was in four different camps during the war.  He was a Jewish psychiatrist who married in 1941.  In 1942, he, his wife, his parents were deported. In the end, Mr. Frankl's parents, brother and his wife died in the camps.  His only close relative who survived the war was his sister, who had left Austria for Australia.  He wrote

Near the very beginning of the book, the author wrote:

"It is easy for the outsider to get the wrong conception of camp life, a conception mingled with sentiment and pity.  Little does he know of the hard fight for existence which raged among the prisoners.  This was an unrelenting struggle for daily bread and for life itself, for one's own sake or for that of a good friend."
 "We who have come back, by the aid of many lucky chances or miracles-whatever one may choose to call them-we know: the best of us did not return."

The book is full of stories and examples of how the men survived, or didn't, as the case may be. And the author offers what he believed to be not necessarily how survival was possible, but how to find meaning in one's survival or in one's death.  It is a deeply moving book.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Forgetting Time

Sharon Guskin's novel The Forgetting Time was another can't stop reading book. This was her debut
novel and according to her website: "She began exploring the ideas examined in THE FORGETTING TIME when she worked at a refugee camp in Thailand as a young woman and, later, served as a hospice volunteer soon after the birth of her first child. "

The novel began with thirty-nine year old Janie who decided to travel to Trinidad by herself for a much needed vacation. At a bar there, she met "Jeff" and spent time with him.  They parted ways after the trip and when she returned home, she soon realized that she was pregnant. Chapter two introduced the reader to Dr. Jerome Anderson who was being informed that he had been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, "a progressive type of dementia affecting the brain's language center", which manifests itself with a gradual loss of language.  Jerry was widower and a psychiatrist who had spent his career studying young children with memories of past lives.  He had one last book that he wanted to complete writing.

Janie had her baby, a boy named Noah.  By age four, Noah was somewhat of a difficult child.  He appeared to be quite bright, often with knowledge that Janie didn't know where he had learned.  But he also had fairly regular melt-downs, usually around taking a bath, or cleaning himself up.  His nights were often filled with terrors. He was asked to leave preschool because of his talk about guns and Harry Potter books.  And, especially concerning to Janie, he always asked when he could go home and see his mom.

Janie began taking Noah to see doctors trying to find a diagnosis for his behaviors.  One desperate night she googled "help" and "another life" and Jerry's name came up along with a video of him discussing his work with "young children who seem to recall details from previous lives."

After Janie called Jerry, he realized that this case might be the one case needed for him to complete his book.

It's quite an interesting story and includes some excerpts from real life cases.  The story turns out to be a murder mystery, along with theme of reincarnation.

I did think that the book ended a bit weakly, but in all I enjoyed it.  I have always found the study of reincarnation to be fascinating, so this was a good read for me.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

And Then All Hell Broke Loose

As soon as I heard about Richard Engel's new book, And Then All Hell Broke Loose, I felt the need
to read it.  I respect his reporting and work so that was one reason.  I think that the other reason was that my son (USMC) was deployed during the beginning of the war in Iraq, and I really wanted to see what Richard's whole take on that war was, and see if I could make any sense of it all.

My husband hasn't read the book yet, and I think that he will enjoy and follow it much more than I did.  I have little knowledge of the Middle East and the book is quite full of the history of the countries there, which is fascinating, but I was a bit lost.  As usual, I wanted more of the personal side of everything, and there wasn't as much of that I was hoping. Although, I did enjoy what was there about his personal experiences. this is a book that I will go back to as things progress in the Middle East just for some perspective.

I think that anyone with interest in what is, and has been, going on in the Middle East would find this book really interesting. Good writing, which I would expect from Richard Engel!


Benediction is the last of the Plainsong trilogy by Kent Haruf. As Plainsong and Eventide did, takes place in Holt. Colorado.  I will miss started to feel like home to me!  Maybe because I live in a small town out in the country!

Benediction is described on the back cover as "...a story about the grace that lies within us all."  Beautiful. I was a bit disappointed that the familiar characters from the first two books were not included in this third book, but as I read, it really didn't matter because Mr. Haruf develops his characters so well, that I was totally taken with the new characters.

This book is about Dad Lewis, who learned that he had terminal cancer.  Dad owned the local hardware store in town, so had been connected to the town people through-out his life.  His wife and daughter were there to care for him.  He was estranged from his son. Rather than being a book about death, it was about memories and looking back.

My favorite take from the book was how people live their lives, quietly doing good that others never know.  I have found this true about people in my own life and it is has been a grace for me to learn.

Another beautiful book and sadly, the end of the trilogy.  Mr. Haruf died in 2014, a year after Benediction was published.