Thursday, March 22, 2018

Crossing to Safety

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stenger is a favorite book of mine.  I hadn't read it for a number of years, so I presented it to one of my book groups to read and it was chosen.  It was written in 1987 and was the last novel that Stenger wrote.

Crossing to SafetyCrossing to Safety is a slow moving book, with no real plot as we know plots.  It is the story of two couples who met at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in the 1930's.  At the time, both of the men were young professors and both wives were pregnant.  Sid and Charity were already the parents of two young children, and Larry and Sally were having their first child.  During the first year at Madison the couples became close friends, despite the differences in their circumstances.  Sid was quite wealthy, Larry had nothing.  However, Sid and Charity were generous with everything and their wealth didn't seem to interfere with the relationships.

This book tells the story of over thirty years of friendship between the couples.   The families go through many turmoils and different situations but were always there for each other.

The real beauty of the book is the four characters and their personalities.  Stenger does an outstanding job in developing these characters. Charity was the to be undenied leader of the pack and was not to be crossed or confronted.  Sid acquiesces to her in all.  Larry and Sally were seemingly ordinary as they watched the dynamics of the other couple, and dealt with what challenges life gave them.

The book offers much to think about and allows for great discussion!

More beach reading-The Great Alone and We Were the Lucky Ones

I continue to work on weeding out my rather large collection of books.  We bought a condo in Alabama a year ago, and, while the condo is the same size as the main floor of our home, there are no bookshelves (yet). We plan to move down there sometime in the next 18 months, so the clearing out of books has begun in earnest.  As have the discussions on the need for bookshelves in the condo!

Anyway, we went back to the beach for three weeks in February/March and I read two books while I was there.  Unfortunately or fortunately (depends on who you ask), neither book is a "keeper".

I was so greatly anticipating reading The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah as soon as it came out.  I had loved her last book (The Nightingale), so I bought The Great Alone to take with me , imagining it to be a wonderful beach read.  I was disappointed.  However, having said that, the book has received good reviews.

The Great AloneIt is a big novel about living in Alaska in 1974.  The Allbright family, consisting of Ernt,his wife Cora, and their daughter Leni moved up to Alaska after Ernt inherited a broken-down old house from a Vietnam buddy.  Ernt suffered from PTSD as a result of his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and the family felt like maybe moving would help him with his anger and restlessness issues. Of course, a geographical move wasn't the answer, but the family remained in Alaska, trying to survive the best they could. Leni fell in love with a high school friend who had his own issues to deal with.  Cora spent her time trying to keep Ernt from getting upset over anything.  Ernt became more and more paranoid and violent.

There were, of course, more characters in the book and some were quite interesting, but I never felt very involved in the story. Disappointing.

The second book that I read was for one of my book groups and was We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter.  I found this book quite interesting.  It is a novel, but is based on the author's family.  It is her first novel.

We Were the Lucky OnesThis book was about the Kurc family from Radom, Poland.  It began right before World War II and told the story of Sol and Nechuma Kurc and their family, consisting of sons Genek, Addy and Jakob and daughters Mila and Halina, along with the spouses of the Kurc children. Each member of the family made decisions about where they planned to go during the war and what they planned to do.  It was an amazing story and not the usual holocaust book.

The book is based on the author's grandfather's history.  As a child, the author had no idea of what her grandfather had been through. A year after he died, she had a high school assignment and sat down with her grandmother to interview her about her grandfather.  And that was when she learned pieces of his story.  Her grandfather was the Addy in the book. After the author completed college, her mother had a Kurc reunion and the author then began to learn more of the family's story.  Ten years later, she began researching and writing this book.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Handmaid's Tale

 The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is destined to become a classic read, if it's not already.  And, embarrassingly, I just now read it for the first time.  Yes, the book came out in 1986 and I had never read it.  I read it now at the urging of my daughter-in-law. Great recommendation!

So, if there are any readers out there who haven't read The Handmaid's Tale, I found it to be a frightening cautionary tale at this time in our lives.  If I had read it in 1986, I probably wouldn't have cared for it as much.  I found it fascinating!

The Handmaid's Tale (Movie Tie-in)In the novel the United States had been taken over and sent back to a time when women were primarily only good for "using".  There were different levels of women: the handmaid's, the wives, the aunts, the Martha's, etc.  The handmaid's purpose was to become pregnant by her "Commander" (ie. owner). Offred (of Fred-her Commander's name) was the handmaiden telling this story.  She remembered the times when she had been married to Luke and they had a young daughter. She worked and life was as we know it now.  Then the government was taken over and life changed.  She, Luke and their daughter were separated from each other.  Women were not allowed to read, there was no television or movies. Even the stores had pictures, not words, because one was not allowed to read anything.

The whole story was horrifying, yet the goodness of Offred came through.  As did the power of women.  There really wasn't anything hopeful about the book, but in the end, the reader is left hoping that Offred escapes.

I have to add, I (thankfully) always read introductions, author's notes, etc. in books.  At the end of this book is a section called "Historical Notes".  My intent was to just skim over it and as I did, I realized that it was part of the novel!  So glad that I realized that!  It really made the book for me!

I hope that this has not put anyone off from reading the book, because it is well worth the read.  It is short and easy to read, and wonderful writing.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Gravity of Birds

The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman was chosen by one of my book groups.  It is a book that has been on my TBR pile for a short while, so I was glad to pick it up to read.  I thought that I had read another novel by this author, but apparently I wrong, as this is her debut novel and it doesn't appear that any other novels by her are out there. 
The Gravity of Birds: A NovelThe book is divided into sixteen chapters.  Thirteen chapters are told in the novel's present time (2007) and the other three chapters go back in time (from 1963 to 1972) to tell the background story of the novel  The book starts in August 1963. 
The novel begins with two young girls at a beach side cabin on vacation with their parents, where the family encountered the painter Thomas Bayber, who was staying in the next-door cabin.  Forty-four years later, Thomas, who hadn't painted for the past twenty years, asked his only friend, Dennis Finch to find and sell his painting Kessler Sisters.  Bayber had become a renowned painter and Finch had been an art history professor who had become an expert on Bayber's paintings.  The Kessler Sisters was an unknown, never seen before piece.  And before Finch could sell the painting, he needed to find Alice and Natalie.  And it appears that the women have disappeared.  Finch and art authenticator, Stephen, began the search to find the women and during their search they began to unravel life-changing secrets that were kept from all parties concerned.
This was a very interesting and compelling book.  I really enjoyed the story.  , and thought that the writing was excellent. Here's a very brief sample of the writing where Alice is talking about the pain she suffered from arthritis:
"I worry there's nothing left of the person I was supposed to be, beyond the pain.  Sometimes I can't separate myself from it.  I think about how when I'm gone, then the pain will be gone, too.  We'll have finally canceled each other out.  Maybe it will be like I was never here at all."
My only criticism is that at the very end the author threw in a rather irrelevant (I thought) added secret that I thought took away from the actual story.  Having said that, it did not alter the ending nor my pleasure reading the book! 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in MoscowI finally had the time to read A Gentleman in Moscow...a book that I had been anxiously awaiting to get to since last summer.  It did not disappoint.  I thought it was an amazing book and I am predicting that it will end up in my top five books for 2018.  We'll see.  I would love to read other books as good!

This novel is not a fast-paced story, nor is it an action-packed story.  It is a quiet story about an elegant man, living a quiet life.  But there is so much to it!

This is counter-intuitive (at least for me), but for such a long book, this is going to be a very short review.  For one thing, I don't feel like I could begin to do it justice, and for another, I don't want to give anything away!

Count Alexander Rostov was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow in 1922.  He was accused of writing a poem a few years earlier that was considered to be a "call to action". The Count had lived in the hotel for the past four years in an elegant suite, so that didn't seem to be too bad of a sentence.  Until he arrived at the hotel and learned that he would no longer be living in the suite, but was moved to the attic of the hotel where servants had lived years earlier.  He was taken to his new room, which had been used as a storeroom for the past few years.  Here he was to live out his life in a tiny room, never to leave the hotel again under threat of being shot to death.

One of my favorite lines in the book was the Count stating in his court hearing when he was accused of being a man without any purpose:

"I have lived under the impression that a man's purpose is known only to God."
Great line, great writing.

So this is a story of a man sentenced to live in a hotel for the rest of his life in Moscow during incredibly turbulent times in Russia.  How he manages to have a meaningful life there is the story. An amazing book.  I loved it.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The View from Penthouse B

The View from Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman was not a book that I would have picked up to read on my own.  It was a book club pick. Once I figured out that the book was supposed to be humorous, I enjoyed it.  At first, I was skeptical! It ended up being a good book for discussion.

The View from Penthouse BThe story is about three sisters in New York City.  Gwen-Laura was a  young widow who decided to move into a penthouse after her sister Margot invited her to come live there.  Margot was divorced after her gynecological husband was imprisoned for impropriety with patients (ie. impregnating them). Margot could not really afford living in the penthouse, so it made sense to ask her younger sister to move in.  They then decided that they needed a third boarder and found Anthony, a much younger gay man who moved in.  Their other sister, Betsy, played sort of a voice of reason as Margot and Gwen-Laura begin to explore the dating world again.  The adventures included Margot's ex-husband moving into a studio apartment in the same building, and Gwen-Laura exploring the world of on-line dating.

The book was a light, funny, easy-to-read book, that is sometimes needed!

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Best Jigsaw Puzzle Ever!

It's winter here in Illinois, and it has been brutal lately, although I have to admit, not as bad as the East Coast with all the snow.  But it has been really cold here, which is one of my most un-favorite things.

But imagine my joy when I came across this jigsaw puzzle at Barnes and Noble.  It is a puzzle of book covers that have female heroines!!!  My two favorite things I can come up with about winter-reading and doing jigsaw puzzles (the only other things I can come up with are my electric blanket and fires in our fireplace).

Here is the list of book covers on the puzzle.  I am sharing it because, sadly, I have only read 22 of the 50 books. Those I have read are marked by *:

A Wrinkle In Time
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
White Teeth
*The Color Purple
*The Bell Jar
Pride and Prejudice
A Garden of Earthly Delights
In the Time of the Butterflies
The House of the Spirits
*The Joy Luck Club
*I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
*Song of Solomon
The Handmaids Tale
The Lowland
The Age of Innocence
*The Good Earth
*The Secret Life of Bees
The House of Mirth
The Awakening and Selected Stories
*A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Play It As It Lays
A Tale for the Time Being
*Wuthering Heights
*My Antonia
*Like Water for Chocolate
The Mediator
*Little Women
A Good Man is Hard to Find
*Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Night and Day
The Penelopiad
The God of Small Things
*Their Eyes Were Watching God
*bel canto
Wide Sargasso Sea
*The Optimist's Daughter
The Volcano Lover
One for the Money
*Jane Eyre
Flowering Judas and other stories

I will say that 2 of the books that I haven't read are on my TBR pile.  I would love to say that I plan to read all the others in 2018, but, in the interest of honesty, there is no way that will happen.  However, I am going to keep the list and try to whittle my way through it over the next couple of years.