Tuesday, August 23, 2016

3 Books for Summer Reading

Three more novels read this summer and I would recommend all three.  I do have to say, however, none were outstanding reads, but all good easy reads, which, of course, make them great summer reads!

1) The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty.  This was recommended to me by a friend, and I would say that of the three books listed here, it stayed with me the longest!  It is really a quite fascinating story and is partly based on real-life Louise Brooks, an actress and dancer, along with silent screen star who was born in 1906 in Kansas.

The Chaperone is about the fictional Cora Carlisle. Cora lived in Wichita and was dealing with a deceptive marriage and an empty nest as her twin sons set off for college.  Cora was casual friends with Louise's mother and when it was decided to send 15 year old Louise off to New York to audition for a dance studio, Cora offered to be Louise's chaperone.  Besides her loneliness and restlessness, Cora had another motive for wanting to go to New York.  Unbeknownst to her community, Cora had been born in New York and lived in a Catholic orphanage until she was seven and was put on the Orphan Train to Kansas, where she was raised by a couple who loved her, but never formally adopted her. And Cora wanted to learn more about where she came from.  The book is basically about finding love.  It also has some interesting history issues addressed.

2) After You by Jojo Moyes.  After You is the sequel to Me Before You.  It wasn't at all what I had expected, but it was a very good read.  That being said, I highly recommend that Me Before You be read first.  In After You, Louisa Clark was struggling to deal with the loss of Will Traynor, a man she had taken care of for six months.  Following the loss of Will, Louise had a bad accident, and had a long recovery. She was involved somewhat in a grief group and one night one of the members was picked up by Sam, one of the paramedics who had saved Louise after her accident.  Louise struggled with her attraction to Sam, while meanwhile someone from Will's past showed up and completely turned Louise's life upside down.  It was a good book and addressed the issues of dealing with loss and moving on as best one can.

3) Bodies of Water by T. Greenwood.  One of my favorite types of novels...an older woman reminiscing about her past, through flashing back in the past while dealing with the present. This story was about Billie, an eighty year old woman
living in San Diego.  Billie had been from out east, where she had married an abusive man, had two adopted daughters and in 1960 was living a quiet, unhappy life.  One day a new family moved in next door and Billie's life changed.  She became friends with Eva, the new neighbor, and their friendship grew until it became love. The rest of Billie and Eva's story was tragic and Billie went on to divorce her husband and move to California to begin a new life.  Fifty years later, Billie's sister called her to ask her to return home.  Eva's grown son had contacted Billie's sister and wanted to meet with Billie. Billie really didn't have any interest in going, but her sister convinced her to go and that visit led to much healing and answers that Billie had wondered about for the last fifty years.  A good story, worth reading!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Screwtape Letters

I loved The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.  Oddly enough, I had never read anything by him
before.  This book is a quick read, although at first I tried only reading one of the letters each day, but soon wasn't able to read only one!

This book is considered a classic and was quite entertaining, and very thought provoking.  The book is a series of letters written to "Wormwood" by his uncle "Screwtape" during WWII. Screwtape was a  highly placed official in the service of "Our Father Below".  His letters to his nephew were an attempt to train his nephew in how to bring the nephew's client to their side.

It's a brilliant piece of work!

Chasing the North Star

I had been anxiously awaiting to read this newest book, Chasing the North Star, by Robert Morgan
since first reading that he had a new book to publish. While I didn't find it to be greatly written, I did enjoy it.  It seemed a bit like Young Adult fiction, which is not usually what I would chose to read.  That being said, it held my interest and was quite readable.

Chasing the North Star is about an eighteen year old black slave, Jonah Williams, who lived on the Williams plantation in South Carolina in the year 1850.  Jonah had been a "house slave", where he was given more privileges than other slaves, including being secretly taught how to read.  He even was expected to read from the Bible to his mistress.  However, the master of the plantation did not know Jonah could read, so when he came across Jonah reading in the barn one day, the secret was out. Jonah was whipped and he impulsively decided right then and there to run away to the north where he would be free. He stole the only money that his mother had hidden away and left immediately.  He traveled across wilderness and mountains, and along the way, he continually wished that he would have been more prepared, wishing that he had shoes, paper, pencil, coat, etc.

Jonah encountered many difficulties in his journey as he struggled to avoid capture.  Along his way, he came across Angel, a slave who decided she wanted to follow and join Jonah on his quest for freedom.

"It never crossed my mind that he wanted to get away from me so bad he'd just leave the boat and start walking along the roads and trail.  A young girl never thinks a man will leave her."

 At first Jonah believed that she would slow him down, but over time it became apparent to him that he might need her. Jonah had a map in his head of how to get to Canada and that included following the North Star.

All in all, a good, but not great read.

Monday, July 25, 2016

More Summer Reading

Four more books read-two I really liked, two not as much. Here we go:

1) The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai. This was a debut novel and so, as such, I think the author may
have great potential.  It is the story of Lucy, a young, single woman who was the children's librarian and Ian, a precocious ten year old patron, whom Lucy befriended.  As Lucy got to know Ian, she learned that his mother banned many books from him that he wanted to read, and that she had enrolled Ian in "anti-gay" classes at their church.  One day before the library opened, Lucy headed to work and found Ian there with his knapsack.   He had run away from home and Lucy agreed to embark on a road trip with him, believing that she was saving him from his parents. As their trip progressed, it became unclear who was really running away from their life.

I found the end to be quite weak, but the rest of the book was fairly enjoyable.  I like the author's humor. I had come across the book for a dollar, so it was worth the read!

2) The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton. I was terribly disappointed in this book.  I have
enjoyed other books by this author so had really been looking forward to reading it.  She let me down. It has been characterized as a coming-of age novel and I suppose that it is, but I just never got that interested in the characters (of which there are many). the main protagonist of the novel is a young girl, Francie, known by many names in the book, who lives with her family along with her extended family in Wisconsin.  The family has had orchards for years and it is unclear if the orchards can continue to provide a livelihood for the families in the near future.  Francie, along with her older brother William, have many adventures in the book as they approach leaving childhood.

I am somewhat surprised that I finished the book.  I think that I kept waiting for it to get better.  And, admittedly, the last chapter was the best of the book, in my opinion.  I wish the rest of the book had been as good.

The last two books were books from my two book groups.  They were both big winners!

3) always outnumbered, always outgunned by Walter Mosley. Unbeknownst to us (my book group),
this is the first of a series of three novels about Socrates Fortlow. Socrates is a sixty-something-year- old black man who had served twenty-seven years in an Indiana prison for murder and rape.  When the book begins, Socrates had been out of prison for eight years.  Socrates had moved to the LA area upon release from prison, and had stayed out of trouble.  He lived in two rooms of an abandoned building, where he had paid rent until the owner died and then no one ever came to collect rent after that, so he lived there rent-free. As his name suggests, Socrates is full of life-wisdom

The book consists of fourteen short stories, all about Socrates' life. Each story seems to tell how Socrates dealt with different issues or dilemmas that he faced in his life in LA.  One of the topics of the stories was about his relationship with Darryl, a young black boy who he befriended and tried to take care of.

"'You stood up for yourself, Darryl,' Socrates said. 'That's all a black man could do.  You always outnumbered, you always outgunned.'"
This book was written in 1998, and, sadly, is so timely for today. A really good book.

4) These is my Words by Nancy Turner. This is one of the most interesting and easy to read, heartfelt
stories that I have read this year. It was absolutely fascinating to me. My book group loved it, too. This is "The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901", based on the author's great-grandmother's life. The diary began when Sarah was a headstrong seventeen year old woman headed to the Tuscon, Arizona area with her parents and family in 1881. On that journey, the family met Jack Elliott, a captain in the Army, who came around often. In the next three years, Sarah married a family friend, was widowed, and had a child.  Jack still came around and finally he and Sarah admitted their feelings for each other and by the end of 1885 had married each other. The book is really about the love story of Sarah and Jack and just immediately draws the reader in. Great read! One of those books that you just can't stop reading!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Some Summer Reading

Although it is already July, the weather had just made me start believing that summer is here!  I am getting a lot of reading done, but need to work on reading more during the day.  I tend to only read at night.  Anyway, here are a few good books that I have read:

1) The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth.  This was a book club read and we had a good discussion about the book.  It is a generational book, covering three generations of midwives in a family. Each of the women-grandmother, mother and daughter-share their stories, with each chapter narrated by one of them.  All three have secrets that could change the family dynamics significantly.  When the daughter/ granddaughter became pregnant, her grandmother began contemplating sharing her secret.  It was an interesting story and thinking/reading about how the different options for childbirth over the past many years has evolved was thought provoking. Some (okay, a lot) of the characters were not especially likeable and hard to feel empathy for, but I thought the grandmother's story was quite interesting. Easy summer read.

2) When We Meet Again by Kristin Harmel. This was another easy summer read, but I really liked
the story.  It was also a generational story, but in a different way.  An unemployed freelance writer, Emily, received an unexpected package from Germany one day and when she opened it, she found that it was a painting.  She then realized that she recognized the woman in the painting. The painting was of a young woman in a red dress standing in a sugarcane field with a violet sky in the background. Emily recognized it as a painting of her grandmother who was deceased. There was a note with the painting stating "Your grandfather never stopped loving her."

Emily had never known her grandfather and her grandmother never talked about him.  Her grandmother had raised Emily's father on her own.  Emily and her father were estranged, but her father was trying to become a part of her life. After the painting arrived, Emily reached out to her father for information about her grandmother and the painting. Together (reluctantly on Emily's part), they began to search for answers.

Their quest led them to connections in the sugarcane fields in Florida, the POW internment camps history from WWII, Germany and Georgia. Again, I found the grandmother's story fascinating! The story reaffirmed love and connections in families.

3) The Girl Who Wrote In Silk by Kelli Estes. This was a book recommended by a friend, and I thank her for that.  It was another good book for a summer read.  And, yes, it is again a generational book.  That seems to be a theme for my summer reading!

This story was of two young women who were years apart. Upon completion of college and much to her father's dismay, Inara decided to not take the corporate job she had been offered, but decided to turn the old family estate in the Puget Sound into a bed and breakfast. As she began to assess the work needed, she came across a piece of embroidered cloth hidden away.  It turned out to be an embroidered sleeve. Inara requested help from a university professor to learn more about the sleeve.

Meanwhile, the book also told the story of Mei Lien who had been born in Seattle and lived with her father and grandmother.  Following the Chinese Exclusion Act (from Wikipedia:The Chinese Exclusion Act was a United States federal law signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882. It was one of the most significant restrictions on free immigration in US history, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers.), Mei Lien, her family and neighbors were forced onto a ship sailing for China.  Or so they believed.

While Inara began work on the estate, she learned that a monument was being dedicated in the city park to commemorate her ggg-grandfather. However, the more Inara learned about the silk sleeve, and about Mei Lien (who Inara had found had lived in the her estate years before), the more Inara was conflicted.  Inara had learned the truth about her ggg-grandfather and it was not pretty, to say the least. 

As much as I would classify all three of these books as easy summer reads, I also have to note that I learned from each of them pieces of history that I didn't know much about.  And that especially held my interest in all of them.  Hope that you can get to the beach and read!!!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Two Turn of the Century Books

I recently read two books that were written shortly after 1900.  I guess that literally they would not be considered "turn of the century" now, since we began a new century in 2000, but I don't know what to would call them otherwise! Showing my age, I think.

As A Man Thinketh was written in 1903 by James Allen ( 1864-1912), an English author.  It is really
like a small pamphlet, only 31 pages long.  It is said to have been based on the Proverbs verse 23:7 (King James Version) which is:

"As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."
And that is the premise of the whole little book.

"The soul attracts that which it secretly harbours; that which it loves, and also that which it fears;..."
The chapters are: Thought and Character, Effect of Thought on Circumstances, Effect of Thought on Health and the Body, Thought and Purpose, The Thought-Factor in Achievement, Visions and Ideals, and Serenity, 

I didn't find it especially helpful in my journey, but it was interesting and there were certainly good points made in the book.  And I certainly agree with the premise!

Reminiscences of My Life In Camp-An African American Woman's Civil War Memoir by Susie
King Taylor was written in 1902 and was certainly an interesting read.  It is also a short book with 76 pages.  The author was born Susie Baker, born as a slave in 1848 in Georgia. She learned to read as a young child and in 1862 she headed for freedom.  She got behind federal lines and when the commander learned she could read, she was asked to run a school for both young children during the day, and adults in the evening. Thus began her service for the Union Army. She spent fours years caring for black Union soldiers, as well as teaching and other services for the Army.

This was a fascinating book in several ways: her own personal story growing up, her care of others, and after the war, her work to continue caring for those who had served in the War.  I was especially struck with some of her words (remember, written in 1902) near the end of the book:

"'I wonder if our white fellow men realize the true sense or meaning of brotherhood? For two hundred years we had toiled for them; the war of 1861 came and was ended, and we thought our race was forever freed from bondage, and that the two races could live in unity with each other, but when we read almost every day of what is being done to my race by some whites in the South, I sometimes ask, "Was the war in vain? Has it bought freedom, in the full sense of the word, or has it not made our condition more hopeless?'"

And yet, later in the book:

"'Can we forget those cruelties? No, though we try to forgive and say "No North, no South" and hope to see it in reality before the last comrade passes away.'"

I'm glad that she continued to live in hope, but it makes me sad to consider that here we are in 2016, over 100 years since she wrote those words and our country still continues to struggle with issues of equality.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Green Road

I bought The Green Road by Anne Enright mistakenly, thinking that I had read other books by her and liked them.  I realized when I got home that I had tried reading The Gathering and didn't like it, nor finished it. but I decided to give The Green Road a try.  I read the first chapter one night and didn't care for it, but the next day I thought to try one more chapter and then I was taken!

The Green Road is the story of an Irish family, the Madigans. Rosaleen and Patrick Madigan had four children, Dan, Constance, Emmet and Hannah.  The first chapter began in 1980, when the oldest, Dan, told his family that he wanted to become a priest.   Rosaleen, began moaning and crying, then took to her bed for two weeks after Dan made his pronouncement. (this confused me as I thought Irish mothers would be thrilled that their oldest son would want to become a priest). 

The story then covers the next thirty years as the four children become adults and go off to live their lives. Dan ended up living in the United States, Emmet lived in various third world countries, and Hannah lived in Dublin, leaving Constance still living near her parents.  This left Rosaleen, long ago widowed, living alone, thinking of her times with her beloved husband, Patrick, and wondering how her children felt about her. She decided to sell the family home and so her children all came home for one last Christmas together.

The writing is absolutely exquisite:

"The bed was above her, ready to fall through the plaster, the place where her father died, and her mother died, the place that later became her bed with Pat Madigan, when they moved into that room, and a kind of curse in it for the next while: no child conceived there except a few miscarried things, until Emmet was finally started and then Hanna.  The bed where Pat Madigan himself finally died, his body wasted by the cancer until all that was left of him was the scaffolding.  but, my goodness, he made a great ruin, for having been so well built, those big hinging bones, the joints getting larger and the cheekbones more proud, as the meat melted back and spirit of the man broke through."

 The characters in this book were developed as well as any I have ever read.  Great book.  I guess that I need to give The Gathering another try!