Sunday, April 2, 2017

3 books for March

I found Soul Catcher by Michael White on the bargain table at the bookstore.  It caught my eye, and I'm glad it did.  It's a story about pre-Civil War times.

Augustus Cain was a "soul catcher", a term I have never come across before.  It refers to those who were fugitive slave catchers.  And Augustus was one of the very best.  He was hired by a slave master to track down two of his slaves, Rosetta and Henry, who had run away and bring them back to him. Augustus set out with three other men on a journey that led them from Richmond to New York, then to Boston.  Augusta tracked the two runaways down, and as they began to return to Richmond, Augustus began healing of his own, as he got to know his captives. The story did not end predictably, but with a strong ending.  I liked it very much!

From the library, I borrowed The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker.  It is a book that I have been wanting to read for quite some time, so I was glad to come across it have the time to read it!  It is a good historical fiction book!

The story covers over 150 years and is loosely based on two real life events.  Aaron Burr's daughter, Theo Burr Alston, disappeared while she was on a ship headed to New York in 1813.  Theodosia Burr Alston was born in 1783, and had married Joseph Alston, Governor of South Carolina.  In The Watery Part of the World, Theo was not killed, but was found by "Old Whaley", a man who was a bit of an isolationist and somewhat feared/respected on the island where Theo washed up.  He nursed her back to health and over time, Old Whaley and Theo became a couple.

Years later on the same island, live two descendants of Theo and Old Whaley.  They are two older sisters who have lived there all their lives and have seen the island became a popular vacation area, then become a rather abandoned area, with just the two sisters and Woodrow a sort of caretaker on the island.

The book was a very interesting read.  In real life, it was never determined for sure what happened to Theo, so I liked how the author developed the story based on a real person.

And lastly, the book I have been patiently waiting for, the third of the trilogy by Greg Iles: Mississippi Blood.  This was a really good series.  There were lots of themes going on and all three books were huge! The first book was Natchez Burning, the second was The Bone Tree, and now finally the finale.  Or was it?  The author tricked me before.  I thought that there was a hint in the first book about one of the characters who was murdered.  I kept waiting for it to come up in the third book and I was wrong and I was really disappointed about that. And now I feel like there was left an opening at the end of the third book for the story to continue.  I hope that I am right on this one!  I love his writing!

It's hard to sum up this trilogy.  It is about Penn Cage, who has been in the author's other books.  Penn's father was accused of murder of his old nurse, Viola, who had left Natchez, Mississippi some thirty years before, then returned there to die. Viola was a black woman who had lost her brother to the Double Eagles, a violent spin-off from the Ku Klux Klan. Viola had also been raped repeatedly by the members of the Double Eagles. And when she returned to Natchez, the group was still around, consisting of old men who still had their convictions.  Penn was the mayor of Natchez and as he tried and searched for evidence to prove his father innocent, his family became at risk.

I loved the series and Greg Ilse's writing.  Be prepared to not be able to put the books down!  Each one kept me up late at nights as I didn't want to stop reading them.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

February Reading

I can't believe that February had ended!  Although, I am not a winter girl, so there is no complaining here!  As a matter of fact, we spent 2 weeks at the beach in February, so that helped alot!  You would think that I would have gotten plenty of reading done, sitting by the pool, but, alas, I was just too busy! I am reading a long book right now, so it won't be included here until March. reading for February..

1) The Archivist by Martha Cooley.  This is a book that I have picked up several times to look at, but never went ahead and got it to read.  It came up on a list of books recently, so I decided to read it. I ended up liking it quite a bit.  It is the author's first novel and she will definitely be one that I will follow.

The premise of the story is that letters written by T.S.Eliot to his friend (lover?) Emily Hale had been sent to a prestigious university and had been archived. Eliot's wife had been institutionalized and he had carried on a friendship and correspondence with Emily for years.

The two main characters of the book (or are they?) are Matthias Lane, a 65 year old archivist and Roberta Spire, a graduate student.  Roberta wants a look at the archived letters related to reasons that she had just learned that her parents had been Jews who escaped the Holocaust and converted to Christianity.  Because Eliot had converted to Catholicism, she was hoping to learn how her parents may have come to their conversion decision. She was not aware that the Holocaust played a role in Matt's wife's breakdown. Matt had also had to commit his wife to an asylum.

So there are many elements going on in the story, with lots of different comparisons and/or similarities.  Like Eliot, Matt was a rather isolated person, who tended to remain detached from others. His blossoming friendship with Roberta lead him to begin to realize his part in how his life had played out, in terms of his own decisions.

2) Alibi by Joseph Kanon. Alibi is a mystery that takes place in Venice post WWII. Adam Miller had just left the US Army where he had worked in Germany as an intelligence officer investigating war-crimes.  His mother, Grace, had just moved to Venice and had taken a house on the Grand Canal where Adam came to join her. Grace had become involved with a doctor, Gianni, whom she had known years earlier before marrying Adam's deceased father.  Grace took Adam to a party where he meet Claudia.  They quickly became involved and as Adam got to know her, he learned that she was an Italian Jew who had been placed in a camp during the war.  As Adam spent time with Gianni, he began to be suspicious of what Gianni had done during the war.  As he began to look into Gianni's past, things quickly escalated.  The story was a good one, but it seemed like the relationships that were developed  early in the story fell somewhat flat. I was glad to be done once I finished the book.  It had begun to drag for me.

3) The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas.  This was a book chosen for one of my book groups.  I had read it some years ago, so it was the second time for me.  It was a good, interesting story, but the ending was abrupt and unsatisfying. It made
our group wonder why she spent so much time writing the book and then ended it the way she did.

The story took place in 1880 in a small mining town in Colorado.  Gracy Brookens was the town's only midwife and she had been accused of murdering a baby after she delivered it.  Gracy had delivered babies all her life, since she was around 10 years old.  She loved babies and working with the mothers. Of course, Gracy had not committed the murder, but clearing her name wasn't so easy. And Gracy was not too forthcoming in her defense. Gracy knew many, many secrets from all of her years delivering babies and she had a strict code...she would tell no one the secrets that she knew. And that included secrets about the baby (and the baby's family) she was accused of murdering.

Oh, did my review end abruptly?  So did the ending of the book.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

January Reading

As I said in my post yesterday on Freeman, I am changing things up a bit with this blog. There are a couple of things: first, I have a new Chromebook to replace our desktop and I have not figured out how to share pictures on it, so, at least for now, I won't be able to put pictures of books read on the blog (and if anyone knows of a solution to this issue, please let me know!); secondly, my plan is to wait until the end of the month and review all the books read at that time.  There is an exception to that, however.  If I read a book that I cannot wait to share, I will post about that book at the time I have finished reading it.  We'll see how this goes.

1) My Father and Atticus Finch by Joseph Madison Beck.  I got this for Christmas (it was on my wish list) because, of course, anything Atticus-related is a must-have.  The sub-title for the book is "A Lawyer's Fight for Justice in 1930's Alabama".  The author's father was Foster Beck, an attorney in southern Alabama, who was chosen to defend a black man who had been accused of raping a white woman.  Sound familiar? The case was State of Alabama vs. Charles White, Alias.  It occurred around the time that Harper Lee was about twelve years old.

This was an interesting read and certainly there were similarities to To Kill A Mockingbird.  My problem with the book is that I felt like it could have been presented in a magazine article just as well and would have covered the facts. Admittedly, Mr. Beck's intent with the book may have been to tell the story of his father, not just about the one case, and if that is so, then the book did a fine job.  I was more interested in the actual case.  And the case was covered well.

2) Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  I began this book a while back, reading only one chapter per day for study.  The book was published in 1952 and was based on radio talks that C.S.Lewis gave between 1942 to 1944. I found it to be a rather difficult book to read.  It is what some might call "heady" and I just plowed through those parts.  My main objection to the book (which I have to add is considered a classic read) was his comments on black people and gay people. There is nothing Christian about those stances.

3) Spandau Phoenix by Greg Iles.  Greg Iles is one of my very favorite authors.  While perusing the very small library in our town, I happened across this book, which I had not heard of.  I checked it out of the library, and learned it was the first book that he had written.  It is about post World War 2 and Rudolph Hess, the last prisoner in Spandau Prison, died.  Or was it Rudolph Hess?  It was a good story and clearly well-researched, but I felt like it went on and on.  It's a very long book, as his books are, but usually I don't want his books to end.  This one I was praying for the end.  I was hooked enough to finish it and it was a good story, just seemed too long.

4) The Golden Age by Joan London.  So now that I have complained about the books that I have read, here's one that I absolutely loved!  Both of my book groups read this book and it was highly praised by both! The story takes place primarily at The Golden Age, an old pub in Australia that had been made into a children's hospital for children with polio.  Frank Gold was the main character of the story.  He and his parents had escaped from Hungary during the war and ended up resettling in Australia.  Soon after, Frank was diagnosed with polio.  When he arrived at the Golden Age home, he was the oldest patient there. He soon met Sullivan, a young boy in the home who was in an iron lung.  Sullivan was a poet and introduced Frank to poetry and to writing poetry.  Frank's other friend in the home was Elsa, who Frank fell in love with and they developed a romance in the home.

There were a lot of wonderful characters in this book, including both of Frank's parents, Elsa's parents, and the head nurse at the Golden Age.  All of the character's had to deal with various issues, including displacement, love, hope, loss of hope, etc.  It's a beautiful book.

Saturday, January 28, 2017


I have decided to try blogging about books in a slightly different way than in the past, primarily because I seem to have trouble blogging in a timely manner after I finish a book!  So I am going to try blogging at the end of the month about books I have read that month.  There will be this post.  When I read an exceptional book, I will give that book it's own post!  And that is true of Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr., a post-civil-war novel.

This is the story of Sam Freeman, a run-away slave, who ended up in Philadelphia where he worked for years at a library.  Sam had learned to read from his mistress when he was her slave in Mississippi.  When he ran away, he left his wife there with the intention of buying her back.  While he worked to earn money, the War broke out and that delayed his plan.  Fifteen years after leaving Mississippi, the Civil War had ended and Sam decided to set out by foot to walk from Philadelphia to Mississippi to find his wife.

The book alternates between Sam's story, his wife Tilda's story, and Prudence, a strong-willed, widowed, privileged young woman from Boston who was against slavery. Prudence and her "sister" Bonnie left Boston following the War to open up a school for the former slaves living in Buford, Mississippi.

Tilda had been sold off when times got so bad that her mistress had to sell her. She was sold to an abusive slaveholder.  When the War ended, her master decided to leave his burned out farm and travel to where his beliefs in slavery would be
upheld.  He took his remaining three slaves with him, including Tilda, and they began walking west.

Prudence faced enormous resistance to opening a school for blacks in Mississippi and she paid dearly for her efforts.

This is a stunning story about the aftermath of the Civil War, as families tried to reunite and others tried to bring true freedom to those who had been slaves. Pitts is a wonderful writer (2004 Pulitzer Prize winner for his column).  The book was a great read.

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.