Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Plethera of Books

Four more books that I have read in the last month or so:

three story house by Courtney Miller Santo:Three thirty-something cousins came together to renovate
one of the cousin's grandmother's old historic home in Memphis.  The home was an oddly shaped, three story home that had seen much better days.  It's kind of how the three cousins were feeling about their own lives. As they work on the house, each revealed what was happening in their own lives. I didn't find it especially interesting!

The Lion by Nelson DeMille: another one of the five in the John Corey series of which I previously had read two of them.  I enjoy the John Corey character, so I think that's what I find so interesting in the books.  In this one, John was hunting and being hunted by an old nemesis from 10 years earlier-Asad Khalil, a Libyan terrorist known as "The Lion".  The Lion had returned to the United States to finish off killing those who had thwarted him the last time he was in the US, with John Corey being at the top of the list.  Good fun mystery.

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens: this was kind of an interesting one.  Joe Talbert was assigned to
write a biography for his college English class.  He went to a nursing home and found Carl Iverson.  Carl was in the nursing home because he was dying.  He had been medically paroled from prison where he was serving a life sentence for rape and murder.  Joe soon learned from a friend of Carl's that Carl was a decorated Viet Nam veteran.  When the friend shared some of Carl's history, it seemed inconceivable that Carl would have raped and murdered a young girl.

Meanwhile, Joe was dealing with his alcoholic mother and his autistic brother who lived with the mother.  Joe also was becoming friends (and hoping for more) with his next door neighbor.  As Joe worked on his assignment, he shared Carl's story with Lila, his neighbor and they began to wonder about Carl's guilt or innocence.  Joe became more convinced that Carl was innocent and wanted to prove it before Carl died.

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper: I really enjoyed this book.  Lots of humor in it. When Judd Foxman's father died, the entire family returned for the funeral.  When they arrived, their mother
announced that their father had wanted them to sit Shiva for him, despite the fact that the family had never been practising Jewish. So now they were expected to sit for seven days in the house while people came and went offering condolences, food, etc.

On top of that, Judd had recently learned that his wife had been having an affair with his boss.

So for seven days the siblings and mother are in the house together.  Old resentments and secrets began to come out, as the family attempts to learn to live together for the week.

It's a good book....much about love and marriage and family, but really funny. 

Angle of Repose

I first read Angle of Repose by Wallace Stenger about 40 years ago.  Hard to believe, but it's true!  The
book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972 and I read it shortly after. I consider it a classic and re-read it about every 10 years or so.

First of all, to explain the title-it is an engineering term that describes the angle where dirt/soil settles after being piled up. More about that later.

The novel is narrated by Lyman Ward, the grandson of Oliver and Susan Burling Ward.  Lyman was a retired professor of history who was divorced and confined to a wheelchair.  He decided that he wanted to write a biography of his grandmother and he went to live in his grandparent's old home in Green Vally, California, much to the displeasure of his son, who felt that Lyman would not be able to care for himself there.  But the caretakers of the house helped Lyman daily and he was determined to stay there.  He had old letters/correspondence between his grandmother and her best friend, along with old articles from magazines and newspapers and so he began trying to put together the history of the family from when they went out West a century earlier.

As Lyman went through the old letters, he began to learn more about Susan Burling Ward, his grandmother who had raised him.  In 1868, Susan was an educated, cultured artist, a young Quaker woman living in the East when, on New Year's Eve, she met Oliver Ward, a young ambitious sounding man who wanted to head West and become an engineer.  A week later, Oliver left for the West and Susan did not see him again for five years.  The did write to each other and over time an "understanding" came to be, so that when Oliver returned to the East they agreed to marry.

And thus the lifelong journey began.  The family moved around in the West through-out the years as Oliver worked on mines and canals.  Susan helped to support the family with her art and writings.  They had three children.

This is just such a simplified summary...there is so much more in the book.  Some of the most influential characters were Augusta Drake and her husband Thomas Hudson.  Augusta was Susan's best friend and it was the letters between Susan and Augusta that Lyman was using to write Susan's biography.  And Frank, Lyman's assistant, who was in love with Susan.  It was never made clear exactly what Susan and Frank's relationship was, but clearly it was a love relationship, if not a sexual relationship.

As Lyman worked through all the letters and articles and memories of his grandparents, he began to study the story of his life and his marriage.  Near the very end of the story, Lyman had a very disturbing dream that included his ex-wife:

"'What do you mean Angle of Repose?' she asked me when I dreamed were were talking about Grandmother's life, and I said it was the angle at which a man or woman finally lies down.  I suppose it is; and yet it was not that that I hoped to find when I began to pry around in Grandmother's life.  I thought when I began, and still think, that there was another angle in all those years when she was growing old and older, and very old, and Grandfather was matching her year for year, a separate line that did not intersect with hers.  They were vertical people, they lived by pride, and it is only by the ocular illusion of perspective that they can be said to have met.  But he had not been dead two months when she lay down and died too, and that may indicate that at that absolute vanishing point they did intersect.  They had intersected for years, for more that he especially would ever admit."
 This novel covers over 100 years and four generations of the family.  Fascinating book! 


The only way I can describe the book Lila is that it is stunningly beautiful.  Marilynne Robinson has hit Gilead is among my very most favorite books of all times; Home, the follow-up to Gilead is among one of my most favorite books, and now Lila is also.  All three of these books take place in Gilead, Iowa.  I very strongly recommend that the reader reads them in the order written.
another one out of the park.  Her book

Lila goes back into the past of Lila, the young girl who married elderly minister John Ames in the book Gilead.  Lila tells the story of Lila growing up and then her meeting and courtship with Rev. Ames.  Lila had suffered a hard and difficult childhood, never knowing who her actual family was, but being raised by Doll, who had taken Lila from where she was living and raised her along with the other drifters who Doll traveled with.  When coming to Gilead, it was a completely different style of life than what Lila had known and much of the book is about the struggle Lila had making sense of life in Gilead, and of the goodness of people.

After Lila met Rev. Ames, each seemed to have a sort of attraction to each other.  Lila, of course, was very untrusting of others and held back from the help that those in Gilead generously offered.  Shortly after she had met Rev. Ames she was thinking about him:

"He had given a sermon, 'Let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.' He said it meant that when you did a good thing it should seem to come from God, not from you. It should not feel to other people like your goodness, and it should not feel that way to you, either. Any good thing is less good the more any human being lays claim to it."
Near the end of the book, Lila was thinking about the future and how to tell her son about his life and his father.

"You turned into a perfectly fine baby.  Maybe your father has enough years left in him to see you turn into a perfectly fine boy.  And maybe not.  Old men are hard to keep."

"Old men are hard to keep"....that line broke my heart.

I felt like the entire book was full of beautiful words.  I hated ending it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Two Books by Nelson DeMille

A friend of mine recommended Night Fall by Nelson DeMille to me.  It sounded good, so I got it from

the library.  What I didn't realize was that I would be so mesmerized by it that when I finished it, I had to immediately drive to the library to get the next book in the series!
Night Fall is the third of five in a series DeMille wrote that features detective John Corey.  Corey was married to Kate, an attorney and  FBI agent.  Following Corey's  retirement from NYPD, he joined Kate on the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force. The story takes place in 2001, five years after flight TWA 800 exploded off the Long Island coast.  Corey accompanied Kate to the five year memorial of the crash.  While there, Kate shared some questions and wonderings with Corey that peaked his interest in the case.  The crash had been determined to be "mechanical failure", but as Corey began to look into it, there were people that didn't believe that was the case. Witnesses had reported seeing a guided missile hitting the plane. As Corey worked the case, even though he had been warned off of it, he learned that there may have been a couple who had inadvertently recorded the explosion.
 The story is basically about the search for the couple and the tape.  As I realized that the story was getting close to 9/11, the anxiety rose!
 This was a fascinating story, that left me with lots of questions and concerns about flight 800. 
 And so, as I said, I had to go immediately to get the next book in the series, Wild Fire.  In this story, it
is 2002 and Corey has been searching for terrorists.  Corey and Kate start out investigating the disappearance of one of their fellow FBI agents.  The agent had been sent to the Adirondacks to do surveillance at the Custer Hill Club, which consisted of a group of powerful business and political men.  Their code name was Wild Fire.
As you recall, this is during the time that the United States is contemplating war on Iraq.  The group Wild Fire have four nuclear suitcases and a plan to start a war making it appear that the other countries started it.  And so Corey and Kate came to the Custer Hill Club and all of this slowly unfolded.  How they worked the case was fascinating.
Like Night Fall, Wild Fire left me with lots of wondering and considering.  I had never read any of Nelson DeMille's books before, but these two certainly left me as a fan!



Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Invention of Wings

 The Invention of Wings is by Sue Monk Kidd.  I had read her book The Secret Life of Bees a few
years ago and really liked it, so I was looking forward to reading this one.  The Invention of Wings is an amazing book.  It is historical fiction, based on the life of Sarah Grimke.

Sarah Grimke was the daughter of an elite Charleston family who lived in the early 1800's.  The book began in 1803 with Sarah's 11th birthday, when her mother gave her Hetty "Handful" as her personal slave for a birthday present.  Sarah and Hetty became friends and Sarah taught Hetty how to read (which was against the law). Both girls were punished when it was learned what Sarah had done. Hetty was a year younger than Sarah and this made for a perfect contrast through-out the book of two women in extremely different circumstances, both yearning for more in their lives than what was imposed upon them. Both yearned for freedom in their own ways.  Eventually Sarah moved to Philadelphia and became a Quaker, until that became too restrictive for her life's work.

The story covers the years beginning in late 1803 to 1838.  Part of what I found so fascinating about the book is that it does not extend into the Civil War.  It is the story of how Sarah worked all of her life for freedom for others.  She was never comfortable with the concept of slavery and was quite vocal about it.  And, remember,  this was in early 1800's  in the South.  As Sarah got older, her work expanded into freedom and equality for all women.

Ms. Kidd did such a wonderful job with exploring Hetty's history, bringing in her mother, Charlotte, who always yearned for freedom and extracted a promise from Sarah that some day she would free her daughter, Hetty. 

It really is an amazing book and I am very interested to learn more about Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina who were both so active in the freedom movements.


I love most books by Joyce Carol Oates and Carthage was no exception.  Ms. Oates does such a
wonderful job exploring her characters and getting into some of the dark side of those characters!

Carthage is the name of the small town in the Adirondacks where one night 19-year-old Cressida Mayfield disappeared.  Cressida was the daughter of Zeno Mayfield, the former mayor of Carthage.  Cressida reminded me of those who have difficulty relating to others, and she appeared to feel that her family never loved her enough.  Her older sister, Juliet had been engaged to Brett, an Iraqi war veteran who had come home wounded, physically and mentally.  One night, unbeknownst to her family,  Cressida went out hoping to meet up with Brett.  She never returned home.  The book opens with The Search:

"That girl that got lost in the Nautauga Preserve.  Or, that girl that was killed somehow, and her body hid.
Where Zeno Mayfield's daughter had disappeared to, and whether there was much likelihood of her being found alive, or in any reasonable state between alive and dead, was a question to confound everyone in Beechum County.
Everyone who knew the Mayfields, or even knew of them.
And for those who knew the Kincaid boy-the war hero-the question was yet more confounding."
Because, it turned out, that Cressida had met up with Brett, and he was the last one to see her alive.  Her body was never found.  But Brett eventually confessed and was found guilty of her murder and sentenced to prison.

Jump ahead now to seven years later to Florida where Sabbath Mae McSwain was interviewing for a position as an intern for a psychologist/author.  The psychologist was currently researching and investigating conditions on death row for another book.

Carthage is focused on several themes.  The horrors of the after-effects of war, the tragedy of a grieving family who need answers, forgiveness, love and finally, can one ever go home again? 

Another great book by a great author.  I missed reading The Accursed by Oates, which came out before Carthage, so I need to add that one to my to-be-read list!

Friday, September 19, 2014

We Are Water

I have loved all of Wally Lamb’s books, and his latest, We Are Water, is no exception.  This is his fifth   It is a big book, as are his others, with many themes running through it, including racism, sexual abuse, love, forgiveness, and grief.
novel and the greatness of his writing carries on!

We Are Water begins with the introduction of the story of Josephus Jones’ who had been found dead in a well in 1959.  Jones was a black artist who had lived in a small cabin with his brother and a white woman.  The rumors were that there was an active chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in that area at the time, and that they had killed Jones.

Years later, Dr. Orion Oh and his family had moved to the property that included that small cabin.  Dr. Oh was a clinical psychologist, and his wife, Annie, was an artist.  They had three grown children.  Annie had fallen in love with a woman, Viveca, her art dealer, and divorced Orion.  When the book begins, Annie is preparing to marry Viveca.  Orion and her three children were left struggling with the fact that Annie was marrying a woman.

Annie had lost her mother and sister in a tragic flood when she was a young girl.  She had been rescued from the flood by her cousin, Kent.  Her father drank and so Annie had ended up spending the rest of her childhood in and out of foster homes.

Each chapter of the book is told by a separate person: it begins with Gualtiero Agnello who was an aging art dealer who had discovered Josephus Jones’ work in the 1950’s. Annie and Orion narrate most of the book, but there are also chapters narrated by Ruth Fletcher who was a widow of one of the members of the Ku Klux Klan, Andrew and Ariane who were two of the Oh’s children, and Kent Kelly who was a cousin of Annie’s.

The book is full of long buried secrets.  I am always fascinated by how the “secrets” people keep affect not only their lives, but the lives of those around them.  Nothing is ever truly secret.  Wally Lamb always does such a great job telling the intertwining the secrets and telling the stories.