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.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Did You Ever Have A Family

Did You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg has had rave reviews and been on the New York Times Best Seller List and I just kind of missed what everyone was so enthralled with.

I finished the book, but it was a bit of a chore for me.  The book was, at first glance, a story
about a disaster that occurred on the eve of a wedding, killing the bride-to-be, her fiance, and the boyfriend of the mother of the bride.  The story tells of the grieving of the mother, June Reid.  And in the story of her grief and loss, are the stories of others who were affected by the horror.  Small town secrets are told.

Sounds like something I could get into, but I just never did.  That being said, the book has had much success, so don't go by me!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Some October Reading

I just finished three books in rapid succession, each good in it's own right.

1) The Mothers by Brit Bennett.  This is the author's debut novel and I will look
forward to seeing/reading what comes after this book.  The book has had wonderful reviews, and I wasn't as taken with it as some reviewers, but, having said that, it was a good book.  It centers around three teenagers, living in southern California who are each part of a black church community.  Seventeen year old Nadia's mother had recently committed suicide, leaving her alone with her father. Her best friend, Aubrey, had moved in with her sister to avoid living with an abusive step-father, and Luke, the son of the church's pastor, had suffered a bad football injury that took away his dream of playing college football. The story was sometimes narrated by Nadia, but, more interestingly, was often told by "the Mother's", who appeared to be the older women of the church.  It seems that through-out the following years, "the Mother's" suspected secrets about the three teenagers. Years later, after Nadia had completed college and law school, she returned to the town to care for her father, and "the Mother's" stirred up old unfinished business between the three main characters.

It was an interesting story about three teenagers who each suffered in their own way with their relationships with their mothers, and how the church's "mother's" continued to not mother these children.

2) The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman.  Again, I had read great
reviews about this debut book, and was rather let down.  I found the story terribly predictable, but yet, the author did a good job portraying the characters.  It is a story that takes place in post WWII and is about two brothers who worked in their own business, and lived in a two-family home with their wives and children.  The brothers were very different from each other, as were their wives. Abe and Helen had four boys, Mort and Rose had three girls.  Rose and Helen were best friends, raising their children together. When they both ended up pregnant at the same time, they each hoped for what they didn't have-a son for Rose and Mort and a daughter for Abe and Helen.  A blizzard came while Abe and Mort were out of town and both of the women went into labor.  You can guess the rest.  The women made and lived with an impossible secret for years. As you can imagine, there was a terrible impact that affected all, even as others did not know the secret.  The author did a good job with the story, other than it being so predictable.

3) Wintering by Peter Geye. I just happened to come across this book at the
library and picked it up to take with me for the weekend.  I loved it.  I will say that I struggled mightily to figure out the relationships in the book while I was reading it, but as I got near the end, it all came together.  I think that the book was purposely written that way, but it was hard for me with my need for order.  However, as I searched online about other books by the author (he has written two other books), I learned that in his second book the Eide family was introduced.  So now I have to read that book to see what I may have missed!

Wintering is, at first read, the story of Harry Eide and his son Gus who went for a winter voyage in the border waters of Minnesota (where they were from) and Canada after Gus graduated from high school.  However, the book begins thirty years later, with Gus telling Harry's longtime love, Berit, that the now elderly and demented Harry has disappeared.  As Gus continued to seek out Berit the winter that Harry disappeared, he began telling her the story of that winter when he and his father had gone out to spend the winter in the wild, eventually telling her long-held secrets about that time.  The book is narrated by Berit, who had come to that wilderness, many many years before and knew many secrets that Gus did not know about his family and about the town.

Geye's writing is beautiful and grabbed me at the very first sentence:

"Our winters are faithful and unfailing and we take what they bring, but this season has tested even the most devout among us."
Later in the book, he wrote:

"Every person, I have come to believe, has a moment or a place in life when all four points of the compass converge, from when or where their life finally takes-for better or for worse-its fated course."
I found a definition of the word 'wintering':  "To lodge, keep, or care for during the winter: wintering the sheep in the stable".

To me, that is what the book was about: the wintering of keeping and caring for the history of Harry Eide and his family.  A beautiful book.