Sunday, March 29, 2015

Six books-lots to catch up on!

I have lots of catching up to do with my books....I have been working hard this winter on genealogy and, while I have been reading a lot, I haven't done well with keeping up on reviews.  So this is a catch-up blog today, with brief reviews of the past six books that I have read.

I'll begin with my two least favorite:

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon: this book sounded good when I read the reviews, so I was anxious to get to it.  It was an interesting story, but I didn't find it very believable (which, admittedly may have been the point)...Two girls lived with their mother in Vermont in an old farmhouse.  One day their mother disappeared.  The girls searched for clues to try to find out what became of their mother and the older girl found a diary under the floorboards that had been written years before by Sara Harrison Shea.  Sara had been found dead in the field behind the farmhouse in 1908, shortly after her daughter had died.  To sum the book up, can you bring the dead back?

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson: a nice book that had characters that were difficult to relate to and weren't especially likable.   Major Pettigrew is a very proper Englishman described as an "elderly" (in quotes by me...he was 68!) widower who fell in love with a woman in his village who was either Pakistani or Indian (it's never made clear in the book), and his proper English neighbors did not really welcome the relationship.  Nor did his son.  Suffice to say, all turned out well in the end.

Canada by Richard Ford: this was a book that I had been interested in reading for some time and when I saw it on the clearance shelves at Barnes and Noble, I picked it up.  It is interesting, because while I was reading the book, I felt like it was really going nowhere, yet since I've finished it, I find myself thinking about it quite a bit.  It is the story of a young boy, Dell, whose parents robbed a bank and were taken to prison, leaving the boy and his twin sister alone in their house.  The sister took off and a family friend friend came to get him.  His mother had arranged for her friend to take her son to Canada so he wouldn't be placed into foster care.  The woman left the boy with her brother, who was himself running from the US law.  The boy was left with a charming, yet deeply disturbed man, along with the characters who worked for the man.  This ended up being quite an interesting book.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler: I have always been a fan of Anne Tylers' books and this one was no exception. It is the story of four generations of Whitshanks, a Baltimore family.  Lots of secrets and stories carry through the four generations.  I loved it!

The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson: I really liked this book, too.  It is a story based on history from Mississippi in the 1940's.  A young black soldier was killed on his way home from serving in the war, and a young black female attorney who worked for Thurgood Marshall was sent down there to try to find justice.  I thought it was a fascinating tale...the woman who had asked for help was an author of a book that the young attorney had grown up with that was kind of a fairy tale, based there in Mississippi.   A good read.

Ruby by Cynthia Bond: A fascinating book that I will need to read again sometime in order to get everything out of it!  It is also a book about the South and race and was a great read.  Ruby was raised in Liberty, Texas a place of terrible violence.  She left Liberty for New York as soon as she could when she was a young woman.  Years later, she was called back and then never left, but became what appeared to be a mentally unstable woman.  However, an old friend who never stopped loving her rejected what others thought and came to her.  It's quite a beautiful story, but much more complicated than what I am writing here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Paying Guests

I read The Paying Guest by Sarah Waters for one of my book groups.  We met to discuss it yesterday
and agreed that perhaps the English just have different tastes in books, as it is a best seller over in England.  But then another member pointed out that it is also a best seller here, so that shot down that theory.  While we ended up having quite a good discussion about that book, it wasn’t wildly received by any of us.

The story takes place in 1922 outside of London.  Frances Wray lived in a big, old house with her mother.  Her father and two brothers had died, and they were left there alone to try to manage the home and the expenses.  After deliberation Frances and her mother decided to rent out some rooms to help with their debts, something they would never have dreamed of doing before.  Frances and her mother rented out part of their upstairs to Lenny and Lillie Barber, a working class couple, who came from a very different lifestyle than Frances and her mother.

The first half of the book was somewhat interesting, as the four people living together began to know each other and develop relationships among themselves.  Frances slowly fell in love with Lillie and the first half of the book is spent developing that relationship.

The second half of the book became a mystery who-done-it.  But it lost my interest at that point.  I found it slow-going.  And I never cared about any of the characters.  I didn’t find any of them especially likable.  There were a few twists at the end that added a bit of interest but all-in-all, I just wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone.    

What I Know For Sure

I received Oprah Winfrey’s new book, What I Know For Sure, for Christmas.  I had picked it up at
the library earlier, read a few pages, and took it back.  I didn’t want to keep reading it because I was taken with all of it immediately and wanted my own copy! As trite as it sounds, I found this book to be one of the most inspirational books I have ever read.  While I am not a huge Oprah fan, I do respect all that she has done, and find her spirituality to be quite on target with my own beliefs.  I found myself wanting to mark every page for something written on it, and finally realized that I just couldn’t do that.  I had to accept that I found the whole book inspirational. 

The book is a compilation of her monthly columns in the Oprah magazine.  So each essay is quite short, but distinct.  It is divided into sections: Joy, Resilience, Connection, Gratitude, Possibility, Awe, Clarity and Power.

"You have the choice this very moment-the only moment you have for certain.  I hope you aren't so wrapped up in nonessential stuff that you forget to really enjoy yourself-because this moment is about to be over.  I hope you'll look back and remember today as the day you decided to make every one count, to relish each hour as if there would never be another."
The book also has a small bookmark ribbon attached!  Bonus.

The Homesman

I recently read The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout.  It was written in 1988.  I was not familiar
with his works, but he was quite an accomplished author of Western fiction, with fourteen other books written about the Wild West!  The Homesman won two awards in that category.  It has been made into a movie starring Tommy Lee Jones as the homesman.  I am looking forward to seeing it.

The Homesman takes place in Nebraska in the 1850’s.  I found the story very interesting.  It is primarily about the women pioneers and how difficult life was.  For many women (and probably men) the hard life shattered both their mental and physical health.  The families were unable to care for the women, and so a homesman would be found to escort the women back East to their families there or to institutions where they would be cared for.   

In the book, four of the wives living in the area had gone mad, and something needed to be done for them.  However, none of the men in the area would step up to take the women back East, so a spinster, Mary Bee Cuddy, volunteered to take them back to Iowa where there were people who would then take the women on to their final destination.  As Mary Bee was making preparations for the journey (which would take four or five weeks in a covered wagon), she came upon a man hanging from a tree, a noose around his neck, still sitting on his horse (the point being when the horse took off, the man would be killed).  It turned out that the man, George Briggs, had jumped claim to another man’s land while the man was gone, and the neighbors found him and rather than outright killing him, put him on his horse with a noose around his neck, thus avoiding killing him themselves. Mary Bee, knowing that she could not handle the four mad women by herself, agreed to save Mr. Briggs if he would do whatever she asked.  He consented and, in that way, she got a companion to travel with her.

The journey was full of hardships, including Indian attacks, and bad weather.  And, of course, two very different people traveling very close together.

I was surprised by how taken I was with this story.  The stories of the four mad women were fascinating.  The story ended up much differently than expected.  One of my book groups read this and the other members did not like the ending.  I kind of did like it…it was quite unexpected and it contrasted strength and resilience.

The very most interesting part for me was reading the Afterword of the book.  The Afterword was written by Glendon Swarthout’s son and he described how the book was based on research and actual stories of the pioneer women.  Fascinating.