Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Mary Coin

Mary Coin: A NovelAuthor Marisa Silver wrote a historical novel about the photograph "The Migrant Woman".  Mary Coin (fictional name) was the migrant woman in this novel.  I had a hard time reading this book.  I should have made family trees of the two main characters, because I had difficulty keeping the names of their men, their children, and their grandchildren straight.  To add to my confusion, the chapters were narrated by three characters and in different years.

The book tells a story of two women who lived two very different lives.  Mary Coin, who was born in poverty and ended up working as a migrant woman, and Vera Dare, a photographer, who lived a rather opulent life.  Yet, rather strangely, in the end, the two women had much in common.

In 1936, Mary Coin was widowed and was a migrant worker in California with three children.  As she sat by the side of a road, with her children with their  broken down car, another car passed her, turned around and came back.  Vera Dare was documenting migrant workers at the time and was in that car.  Vera got out of the car, and asked Mary if she could photograph the family.  She posed Mary and her children, took the photos and left. It was a very brief encounter. And they never met again.

Part One of the book began with Walker Dodge in 2010. Walker was a historian, a professor of cultural history, who felt that he never really knew much about his family.  Sadly, his work had taken him away from his own family so much that he and his wife divorced and he was then a part-time father to his two children.

Then the chapters were about Mary, starting in Oklahoma in 1920 as a child, ending up in 1931 in California. Next the chapters were about Vera in California, first in 1920, then in 1932. Part One finished with Mary in California in 1935-1936.

Part Two began with Vera in 1965, then Walker in 2010, back to Mary in 1982 and 1935, and ending with Walker in 2011.

So if I had the before-mentioned family tree, along with a timeline, I could have skipped a lot of my confusion.

Taken as a whole, the premise of the book was a good story. Mary Coin was chosen for one of my book groups and everyone enjoyed the story, but all of us were confused as we tried to discuss the book, trying to figure out who went with who. Would I recommend the book? Only with a warning to the reader to take notes!  Is it staying with me on our move? No.

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward is a book that I had been wanting to read since it came out.  I was wandering through the local library the other day and saw it there, so I finally got it to read!  It was an interesting story and I think the book would make an excellent book group choice.

Sing, Unburied, Sing is a generational story.  Each chapter is told by a different narrator, with the main character, JoJo, narrating seven chapters, his mother, Leonie, narrating five chapters, and a "ghost" character, Richie, narrating three of the chapters. It is the story of Leonie, JoJo, Kayla (JoJo's younger sister) and Missy (Leonie's friend) traveling through rural Mississippi to pick up JoJo's father, Michael, who was being released from prison.
Sing, Unburied, Sing

JoJo's mother was black and his father was white.  JoJo (who was thirteen years old), his mother, and his sister lived with Leonie's parents. His paternal grandparents (Michael's parents) would not have anything to do with the family because they were black. Leonie was not consistently there to parent, so JoJo and Kayla were being raised by Leonie's parents,  Pop and Mam.  Mam was  dying and Pop was grieving, as were the other characters in their own ways.

There is much in the story about love, hardship, grief and questions.  JoJo and Leonie are each are haunted by those who have died.  Leonie is haunted by her brother Given's death, and JoJo encounters the spirit of Richie, a thirteen year old, who had been in prison years ago (who Pap had known and told stories about to JoJo).

It's kind of a complicated, yet simple story, very rich with meaning.  It was a good book.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018


LOVE HER WILD by Atticus is a book of poetry that I was so lucky to have found at the used book store.  I have been wanting this book for a long time! I love Atticus' work and have a Pinterest board of his poetry. And that's how much I love what he has to say!

His poems are usually quite short and exactly to the point!

"The beautiful thing
about young love
is the truth
in our hearts that it will last forever."

Love Her Wild

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Bean Trees

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver was published in 1988, her first novel.  I had read it several years ago, then it was chosen to be the June read for one of my book groups.  It was a pleasure to re-read it. I would classify it as one of her more "simple" novels.  It is a short, easy to read story.

The Bean TreesMissy decided early on that she was not going to stay in rural Kentucky, become pregnant at an early age and end up stuck in a loveless marriage.  After she completed high school (an achievement on its own), she got a job working in a hospital and worked there for five years, before purchasing her own car.  With the means to leave, she set out west on a journey by herself to wherever her car would take her. She determined to change her name and ended up calling herself Taylor.

She had an eventful journey. Her car broke down in Oklahoma where she was handed a  young American Indian toddler, and once her car was functioning again she and the baby  (called Turtle) took off west once more, finally landing in Tucson, Arizona.

The story is full of adventures as Taylor and Turtle learn to navigate life as it was given to them.  This is the story of how Taylor and Turtle become a family. 

All of the characters are well-developed and you can't help but cheer Taylor and Turtle on in their adventure of becoming a family and living a life.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Hellfire Club

The Hellfire ClubThe Hellfire Club by Jake Tapper is his first novel.  Jake is a CNN anchor and I thought it was interesting and fun that he wrote a novel, especially about Washington DC in the 1950's! It wasn't the best political thriller I've ever read, but it was good.

Charlie Marder was kind of thrown into the political scene from academia.  Charlie was a history professor who unexpectedly was appointed to Congress when a seat was vacant. It turned out that his father had pulled some strings to make the appointment happen.  Charlie had served in World War II and immediately after his appointment to Congress went after a company who had made defective gas masks, of which one had not worked and led to the death of one of Charlie's soldiers.  His fellow Republicans didn't like Charlie opposing the appropriations to the company. 

One early morning, Charlie woke up in a wrecked car that wasn't his. Then he saw that there was a young woman lying dead. He had no recollection of being in the car, or of anything happening, since he had been drinking at a party/gathering at the Hellfire Club the night before.

I felt like the story was a bit disconnected and predictable at times, but also interesting.  Charlie's pregnant wife was a zoologist who went off to study wild horses in Maryland a couple of times and that was kind of hard to figure out with the story as I was reading it, but it tied together in the end. Although I thought that the tie-in was a bit far-fetched.

Tapper had Roy Cohn, Joe McCarthy, John and Bobby Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and others tied into the story at times.

The Hellfire Club is a good first novel. I'm hoping that Tapper continues to write.

a piece of the world

A Piece of the World

Christina Baker Kline wrote The Orphan Train, which I liked.  Recently, my book group read her newest book called a piece of the world.  This is another book that I read while down in Alabama sitting at the pool.  I couldn't put it down.

a piece of the world is a historical novel based on the story of Christina Olson, the subject of Andrew Wyeth's painting Christina's World.  The author did  extensive research, even meeting some of Christina Olson's family who had known Christina. Reading the author's notes at the end of the book was fascinating.

Christina Olson was born in 1893, the oldest of four children (she had three brothers).  She and her family lived in the old family home in Cushing, Maine.  The home was built about one hundred years earlier by the Hawthorne family, who had left Massachusetts trying to get away from where their name was associated with the Salem witch trials.  The Hawthorne's built a large house up on a hill.  In 1890, there was a snowstorm and a fishing vessel was stuck in the ice.  A young man, named Johan Olauson walked on the ice to his captain's cottage there, and in the spring he walked up the hill to meet the Hawthorn's spinster daughter and ended up marrying her. They settled in the big home and that is where Christina lived her life.

In this novel, Christina Olson tells her story, going back and forth in time.  The novel starts in 1939 when Christina's friend Betsy introduced her to Andy Wyeth.  Andy was a young painter in Cushing, Maine for the summer.  He and Christina became friends and he came to her house almost daily, went upstairs and painted for the day, then left.  Through-out his visits, he and Christina would visit and he learned some of her story.

Early in her childhood (age three) Christina came down with a fever and was quite ill for some time.  After she recovered, she had difficulty with all tasks, especially walking.  She seemed to have some kind of progressive bone disease and there was no cure.  She ended up dragging herself around on the ground as she got older.  Christina had been a good student and when she finished school, she was encouraged by her teacher to become a teacher, but her parents would not allow it, so Christina remained at home with her parents.  She had one failed romance and she was then done with that.

"Maybe my memories of sweeter times are vivid enough and present enough, to overcome the disappointments that followed.  And to sustain me through the rest."

Christina seemed to be a rather miserable person, keeping most people away from her.  She ended up living alone with her brother, and had very few friends.  It was interesting how she connected with Andrew.  But as Andy says:

"You're like me.  You get on with it.  I admire that."

 This book surprised me.  I had first thought that it would be about Andrew Wyeth, but it's Christina's story, just like the painting is "Christina's World".

"I think about all the ways I've been perceived by others over the years: as a burden, a dutiful daughter, a girlfriend, a spiteful wretch, an invalid...
This is my letter to the World that never wrote to Me."
I liked this book very much and would recommend it to anyone

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Stars Are Fire

The Stars Are Fire

"Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love."
William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Anita Shreve's newest novel, The Stars Are Fire, is a book that I have had on my radar for awhile and when I saw it in paperback I grabbed it up.  It was a perfect book for my girl's weekend to Orange Beach over this past Mother's Day. I actually read two books over the long weekend...lots of time for reading on planes and sitting by the pool!
I've long been a fan of Shreve and this book did not disappoint.  The main event of the book was based on a true event that occurred in 1947 in Maine.  Maine experienced a devastating drought that summer, leading to wildfires in the fall that I read elsewhere burned over 17,000 acres and killed sixteen people.

In the novel, Grace Holland is married with two children, expecting her third.  Her husband, Gene, had returned from the war with issues that he would not discuss or deal with.  Grace spent as much with her neighbor Rosie and her children during the day when Gene is at work.  That seems to be the only time Grace has any joy in her life, other than with her children.   

As the fires got closer to their small community, Gene left with the other men to help build a fire break.  Grace fell asleep that night, waking to her daughter's screams.  She put the two children in the baby carriage and headed for the beach.  From that point on, Grace is left to deal by herself with every situation that occurs.  She was forced to summon up all her internal strength as she struggled to care for everyone around her.

There were some surprises and twists in the story that I enjoyed.  I especially loved reading of Grace's strength and determination at the end.

It was a good book, and an especially good summer beach read!