Saturday, November 19, 2011

3 Books Read on My Kindle

Yes, these are the first 3 books that I have read on my Kindle.  It is hard to adjust to just saying that!  I do enjoy reading with the Kindle, but I miss having the actual books.  Two of the three books are books that I would consider purchasing at some point to have on my shelves.  Why does that sound so strange to me? Anyway, it was nice having the books on my Kindle for my recent trip to Mexico...

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach was a book that my high school book friends had chosen.  It  was a good choice.  I love baseball and there is enough baseball interaction in the book to make me happy!  It was also interesting that the book started out talking about a baseball field in Peoria, Illinois, which is where I am from! But whether you are a baseball fan or not, this story is one that I think would keep a reader quite engaged. It is not really about baseball, but rather about friends, family, commitments, and ambitions.

Henry Skrimshander is recruited to play shortstop for Westish College, a small college in Wisconsin. Henry is a quiet, mild-mannered young man who becomes a big star for the team, and appears to be destined for the big leagues.  Henry's dream is to play for the St. Louis Cardinals and the scouts begin watching him.  However, when Henry makes a routine throw that goes afoul, lives are dramatically changed.  Henry begins a downward spiral of self-doubt, while those closest to him are also affected by the throw. 

One of the things that I found interesting about the book was Henry's "Bible", The Art Of Fielding by a fictional retired short shop.  Henry carried the book around with him and referred to it often, taking the lessons in the book to heart.  I also thought that the names the author gave the characters were quite interesting: Henry Skrimshander, Pella Affenlight, Geurt Affenlight, Owen Dunne and Mike Schartz are the main characters.

As I said, all of the characters are affected by the outcome of the one bad throw that Henry made...a throw that changed lives.  The book was a very interesting concept and one that I found very enjoyable to read!

Next, I read Homer and Langley by E. L. Doctorow, which was another book group choice.  And another excellent choice.  I really liked this book!  And it made for a great discussion!  I had not realized that the story was a fictionalized account of real people until after I had finished the book.  I may have to reread it now just based on that new knowledge! 

In the book, Homer and Langley Collyer are brothers who live on 5th Avenue in New York in their deceased parent's grand mansion.  Homer had gone blind as a boy, so was fairly dependent on his brother Langley.  Langley had served in WWI and had returned home damaged by mustard gas. The brothers live pretty much as recluses, although Homer did work at one point playing music in a theater until talking films came out.  Homer did have some meaningful relationships with people who were in his life at various periods, but Langley appeared to have difficulty with relationships.  Langley collected newspapers and trash that might one day be useful.  Langley's purpose in life was to come up with a timeless newspaper, which could replace all newspapers.  Thus he collected and studied all the newspapers he could get, and catalogued news items in an effort to put them into his timeless newspaper.  The idea, to me, seemed to be that history repeats itself...nothing is ever really new.  So all events could go into this one newspaper, and then there would not be a need for other newspapers. That may not really make a lot of sense, but that is an example of how out there Langley appeared to be in the book.   The book went through the years of the 20th century, as the brothers struggled with their existence.  Langley refused to pay bills, so all utilities were turned off over the years.

The story was very sad, especially at the end, but was a very interesting read.  Since I have read the book, I came across a review that Pete Hamill had done where he tells about the real story of the brothers.  In the book, the brothers live into the 1960's, but in real life, they died in 1947. Hamill wrote:

"Far away in Brooklyn, the emerging myth of the Collyer brothers was made personal to us because one of our neighbors, a detective named Joe Whitmore, was assigned to the investigation. "You never seen anything like that place," he told my father one morning, while I listened in awe. "It's like a trip to Purgatory." His eyewitness accounts of filth, rats, newspapers stacked to ceilings, pianos everywhere (14 of them), a Model T automobile, and narrow tunnels through the densely packed trash were verified by the newspaper stories. Or, rather, Joe Whitmore verified the newspaper stories.

The cops found Homer first. He was propped up in a chair, crippled and twisted by rheumatism, his hair wild and white, his beard falling below his chest. He wore only a tattered blue bathrobe. He had starved to death. They didn't find Langley for another three weeks. Despite reports of sightings all over New York and as far away as Atlantic City, his body lay only eight feet away from Homer's, crushed by thick walls of trash he had rigged as a booby trap. Rats had been dining on his aging flesh."
Enough said.

And the third book I read on my Kindle was The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, which was recommended to me by my ten year old grandson!  I had never read it, but had read lots of reviews of it by other bloggers, so I was curious to read it for myself.  I wasn't disappointed...it was a good book, although I thought the ending was a little bit of a let down.  It is the story of a young boy, Nobody Owens, called "Bod",  whose family was murdered when he was a baby, and he is being raised in the graveyard by the ghosts who live there. Bod is in danger, however, if he leaves the graveyard, because Jack, the man who killed his family, still wants to kill Bod.

The book has many good lessons to teach.  Each of the ghosts have their own stories of life in other times.  As Bod gets older, he realizes that he is missing out on life and wants to experience for himself the lives that the ghosts have already lived.  The book is about Bod learning how to live in the real world.  A good read.






Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Quite a variety

Yes, I have another backlog of books to blog about.  I swear my life seems to get busier and busier.  I am reading more and more, which is a plus.  I finally broke down and joined the electronic book world with the purchase of a Kindle.  I have been quite quiet about it...there seems to have been some shame involved on my part, but I have to admit, I really do like it.  I am not convinced that it will ever take the place of holding a good book in my hand, but for traveling (of which I do quite a bit even if it is weekends visiting my kids) it is wonderful!  And it is very easy to use and easy to read with, so I am pleased with it.  I am reading a book on it right now and am leaving on a trip to Cancun in a couple of weeks, so I will load a couple of books on it for that trip!

The two books that I have read for my book groups are Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald, and Mudbound by Hillary Jordan.  I had just read Mudbound last summer, but read it again for my book group.  Again, a great book!  (my review of it was in my blog on 14 July 2011)  The book group really liked it and we had wonderful discussion...I highly recommend it!

I had read Fall On Your Knees about 13-14 years ago, and remembered that I had really liked it, so I was pleased that it was chosen for our book group.  It's a long book (508 pages) and very dark and disturbing with themes of secrets, incest, rape, abuse, etc.  However, Ms. MacDonald's writing is beautiful and I found quite easy to read, although the book has to be read fairly slowly in order to catch all that is happening in the story.

It is a story about the Piper family who live on Cape Breton Island (which is off of Nova Scotia).  There are four girls in the family, each with their own darkness chasing after them.  To say that the parents were dysfunctional is meaningless, because their characters went so far beyond just dysfunction.  The father of the family, James Piper, seems to be the catalyst for all that happens in the book.  Needless to say, he is not a likable character.  However, each of the girls are quite interesting, each in their own way.  They each found their individual ways of survival and some of the book is quite funny.

This book group did not like the book.  They found it disturbing and difficult to read.  Several did not finish it.  I don't know what this says about my taste in books, but I really liked it!  I like books that have lots of character development and this one does!


Next I read The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley.  I had never read any of his work, but I will be reading more of it...I loved this book!

Ptolemy is a 91 year old man, suffering from dementia and loneliness.  He lives in a small apartment by himself and has a nephew who comes by to look in on him and help him out with errands. When Reggie suddenly doesn't come by anymore, a friend of Reggie's family, 17 year old Robyn, begins helping out with Ptolemy, cleaning his (incredibly) filthy apartment, grocery shopping, etc. Ptolemy volunteers for an experimental medical program that will shorten his life, but will bring back his sharp mind for the time that he does have left to live. He investigates the mystery of his nephew's death and decides to take justice into his own hands, feeling that it is up to him to take care of the family he has left.  Through-out the book, Ptolemy remembers wisdom spoken to him by his childhood mentor Coydog McCann, who was murdered.

It is a fascinating, and moving book.  The difficulties and struggles of aging are very touchingly narrated and Ptolemy is a very likable character.  Great book!

Lastly, I finished The Gift of Peace by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.  Cardinal Bernardin wrote this book during the last two months of his life, telling the story of the last three years of his life, including the false accusation of sexual misconduct and his diagnosis of cancer.  It is a very simple and moving book; I did not find it sad at all, but very uplifting.  Cardinal Bernardin's faith is inspirational and the work that he did for others is even more inspirational. This is not really a book about dying.  It is more about living.  His sharing about his difficulty with prayer at times is so easy for others to relate to. He was a great man and through this little book, he will continue to touch others for many, many years. (Joseph Cardinal Bernardin died in 1996)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bel Canto and Fragile

I read Bel Canto for one of my book groups this month.  I don't think that I had read any books by Ann Patchett before. And I am not sure if I will read another one now or not, but I think that I will.

Bel Canto is a story about relationships during a hostage situation.  It takes place in an un-named country in South America where a famous opera singer, Roxanne Coss, is appearing and performing for Mr. Hosokawa, a Japanese businessman, who is celebrating his birthday.  The party begins elegantly, until suddenly terrorists appear, planning to take the President of the country as a hostage.  Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on who you were, The President had not come to the party, so all the guests are taken as hostages.  The guests who are not deemed as necessary for the cause are released, leaving about 60 hostages, representing various countries.

As the months pass, relationships develop between the hostages and the terrorists, many of whom are young adults and seemingly fairly innocent. I found the development of the relationships interesting and the author did a good job developing the various character, although, honestly, I did not find myself especially caring about anyone of them in particular.

I had a difficult time getting into the book until about the middle of it.  Then I was terribly disappointed with the ending of the hostage situation, and even more disappointed with the Epilogue.

So would I recommend the book?  I'm not sure.  Half of my book group LOVED the book, the other half felt as I did.  I will admit that the book made for great discussion for the group!  Since I felt like Ms. Patchett did so well with character development, I probably will read another one of her books, which I have sitting on my To-Be-Read pile already!

Fragile by Lisa Unger came out last year, and I was happy to borrow it from my daughter to read.   The story is about Charlene, a girl gone missing in a small town, that brings up memories for the adults of another young girl, Sarah, who went missing years ago and was found dead.  The story does a good job combining the adults who were friends of Sarah's and their children who are friends of Charlene. Charlene is the girlfriend of Ricky, who is the son of Jones and Maggie Cooper.  Jones is the lead detective on the case, and Maggie is a psychotherapist who works with adolescents and families.  Both Jones and Maggie had been friends with Sarah and now, their son is involved with another girl's disappearance.

I loved how the two stories were intertwined in the book.  And I was intrigued to read Chapter One of Ms. Unger's next book, Darkness, My Old Friend that was featured at the end of Fragile.  It is about Jones Cooper, taking place a year after the story in Fragile!  Definitely on my To-Be-Read list!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Somewhat behind...

I have fallen behind in my book blogging....but have been reading more, so no complaints! Being in three book groups keeps me busy...I find that I have to carefully organize my reading in order to meet the deadlines.  And, happily, I have still found time for some of my "own" reading! So that being said...two of these three books were for book groups.

Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan is the story of four girls who meet in college and stay connected after college.  They are the usual mix that one meets in college...all different, from different families and homes and mindsets.  The women face all of the usual challenges: to marry or not, to have a child or not, to work or not, etc.  This is the author's debut novel and I wasn't terribly impressed.  I had trouble caring about any of the characters, and found the stories of each fairly predictable.  Just not my kind of book, I guess.  It was chosen for one of my book groups and was a book that none of the group had read, so we went into it blindly.  Always a risk.

One of my other book groups chose Two Rivers by t. greenwood.  I had read it this a couple of years ago and really liked it. My blog for it was on January 26, 2009 if anyone cares to go back and read it. From the Barnes and Noble site: 
"T. Greenwood's new novel is a powerful, haunting tale of enduring love, destructive secrets, and opportunities that arrive in disguise . . ."
 
 An excellent book, great story, great writing!  I recommend it!

I just finished Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich.  I almost always like her books and this one was no exception.  I found it to be an excellent portrayal of a marriage unraveling, and how it affects all in the family. 

Irene discovered that her husband, Gil, was reading her private journal, so she started writing in it for him for him to read, in an effort to manipulate him into letting her go.  Irene wanted out of the marriage, so she set about it by writing things that would upset Gil.  Of course, Gil could not confront her about what she wrote or then she would know that he had been reading her journals.  Meanwhile, Irene began keeping another journal for herself.  Shadow Tag goes back and forth between her writings in the two journals.

Irene and Gil have three children, who, of course, are witness to all of the animosity, fighting and violence that went on in the marriage.  The author does an excellent job with the children's emotions and feelings.

I have to admit that I found the end of the book to be quite surprising, although the more I have thought about their relationship, perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised.  I liked the way she ended the book after the surprise. (You will just have to read it to know what I am talking about!).  Good book!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Separate Country

A Separate Country by Robert Hicks is what I chose to take with me on a recent trip to the Missouri Ozarks.  It was a great choice!  After visiting New Orleans for the first time ever this past June, this book evoked so many thoughts about the city!  As the subtitle reads "A Story of Redemption in the Aftermath of the Civil War", this is the story of a man trying to find redemption for his decisions. This is a fictionalized account of the life of Confederate General John Bell Hood, who was the last of the leading Confederate Generals to surrender in 1865.  The War had been hard on Hood who lost the use of his left arm and later lost his right leg.  He was a controversial General, appearing willing to recklessly risk his troop's lives and he left the War with a rather mixed reputation, following the loss of thousands under his command.

John Bell Hood (pictured at the right) was originally from Kentucky, but once the Civil War ended, he decided to settle in New Orleans, where he met and married Anna Marie Hedden.  He and Anna Marie had eleven children in ten years. A good part of the book is about their love story through-out their marriage.  John was not a business man, but he attempted to brokerage cotton and insurance; however, in 1878 yellow fever came to the city and as people either died or left the city, businesses failed and John lost everything. Over the next couple of years, yellow fever continued to devastate the city.  General Hood began helping with the sick, leaving his family for long periods of time.  It appeared to me that he was attempting to make amends for his War record.

There are many strong characters in the book, especially the close childhood friends of Anna Marie's who play central roles in the story, as General Hood's past catches up to him.

The story is a very sad and tragic one, but Robert Hicks tells it in a fascinating way.  I loved all the different descriptions of New Orleans and could picture right where he was talking about.   As others have remarked, this book is one about New Orleans, almost as much as it is about General John Bell Hood!

Monday, August 8, 2011

and the reading continues...

 I wish that I would read more, but I keep getting caught up in my genealogy, my grandchildren, my gardens, etc.  There is never enough time in my day!  Being retired is hard work sometimes!  Anyway, I got through two more books recently.

The first book is My Old True Love by Sheila Kay Adams (published 2004).  I got this at a book sale last year and finally got around to reading it and I really liked it!  It is another book that is based on the oral history of the author's family, which I always find interesting.

The story begins in 1854 in the Appalachian mountains when Arty Norton is nine years old and her widowed aunt dies giving birth to a baby boy.  The baby is named Larkin and Arty's family take him to raise.  Arty thinks of him as her very own baby and he calls her "Amma" for "mama".  Arty's brother, Hackley, and Larkin grow up together as best friends.  Predictably, both Larkin and Hackley grow up to fall in love with Mary.  Mary only has eyes for Hackley despite his womanizing, which continues after their marriage.  As the Civil War approaches, Hackley signs on and Larkin is left to take care of the women in the family, including Mary, who he is still in love with.  Hackley dies, and Larkin and Mary marry.

The story is told through Arty who is a very bright and insightful female, who spares no words or opinions. Arty continues to worry over Larkin through-out his life and sees what is going on with everyone.  She tells the story of mountain living, including the hunger, hardships, struggles and love.

The funny thing is that after I finished this book, I was aware of thinking (but not actually saying out loud) in the manner of speaking that the mountain people used in the book.  A sign that I really took the book in!

Unfortunately, the next book I read I didn't care too much for, although I did finish it, but I'm not sure why.  I think that I kept thinking that this couldn't really be going on.  The book I read was The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold.  The first sentence of the book:
"When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily."

Well, that was an interesting beginning...but I never really got the point of the whole story.  The whole book takes place in twenty-four hours.  Helen Knightly got a call from her mother's neighbor concerned about her mother's behavior, Helen rushed over to her mother's home.  Her mother, as we learn through-out the story, was a beautiful but mentally ill woman with whom Helen had never had a good relationship with.  But as the only child, after Helen's father died, Helen was left with the care of her mother.  Her mother lived in her own home, but Helen watched over her., and dementia had started to be taking over her mother.  I guess this particular day, Helen had had enough and she killed her mother.  The story does not improve after this...

 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Remarkable Creatures

I just finished Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. It also is a story loosely based on real characters. Born in 1799 young Mary Anning survived being struck by lightning as a baby, and appeared to be an unusual young girl.  She had a knack for finding fossils along the cliffs and beaches of Lyme Regis.  One day she met a young spinster, Elizabeth Philpot, who had moved to Lyme with her sisters.  Mary and Elizabeth shared an interest in searching the beaches and cliffs for fossils.  Elizabeth was more interested in fish fossils, while Mary searched more for other fossils.  They learned from each other and spent hours each searching in silence, but with each other, developing a lifelong friendship. They were from two very different worlds, yet their common interest forged genuine caring for each other.  Mary discovered dinosaur fossils and set the geological world upside down with her finds, although most of the men of that time were very reluctant to acknowledge that a woman had accomplished what she had.

The book is a great example of friendship between women and what great things were accomplished by women in a field that women had dared not enter!  I quite enjoyed this book!

 From an interview of the author about Remarkable Creatures (taken from the Barnes and Noble website):

"In one corner of the museum there was a small display about a woman named Mary Anning. In 1811 she and her brother found a complete specimen of an ichthyosaur, an ancient marine reptile which no one knew had even existed. (They thought it was a crocodile.) The discovery of such a creature challenged commonly held beliefs about the creation of the world. At that time there was no concept of extinction -- it would have been considered blasphemous to suggest that God might have created animals that He then allowed to die out as if they were mistakes.

Mary had no idea of the controversy her "crocodile" would set off. She was simply finding and selling fossils to make a living. That was what drew me to her story: she was a working-class woman holding her own among middle-class male scientists. There was something special about her -- underlined by the fact that she survived being struck by lightning as a baby. Indeed, some suggested that made her more intelligent."


Grieving and 2 mysteries

Yes, I am in mourning.  Borders is officially closing.  What am I to do?  I am afraid that the future will soon be a Kindle, or some such device.  I plan to hold out as long as I can, however.  I want to hold the book I am reading! I will be returning to Barnes and Noble, my old stand-by.  And, luckily for me, I have discovered a wonderful used bookstore, The Book Nook, that I have begun frequenting.  And, of course, there are libraries.  I need to put the closing of Borders in perspective, but oh, how I will miss it!  I really love Borders!  So sad.

But back to book blogging...one of my book groups chose The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch for  this month's read.  Apparently it is a popular book club choice, but I had not heard of it.  It is a rather long book (435 pages) and is a historical novel, based loosely on the author's family, which I found quite interesting.

The story takes place in 1659 in Germany.  A young boy is pulled from the river with a crudely made tattoo on his shoulder.  The local hangman, Jacob Kuisl is called in to investigate if the tattoo is related to witchcraft.  The town is frightened even more than usual because the town had gone through witch hunts and d trials seventy years earlier and the town people did not want a repeat of that.  Soon, however, more children are found with the same tattoo, most of them orphans. And some of the children are murdered.

As the local hangman, part of Jacob's job is to torture and execute people.  He is asked to torture the local midwife, who delivered his children, in order to make her confess to being a witch. Once he makes her confess, he will have to execute her and the towns people will then be able to rest easy.  But Jacob does not believe that she is guilty of being a witch or a murderer, and sets out to try to find who is behind the mystery.  His daughter, Magdalena and her friend, Simon, help Jacob determine what has been happening in the town.

This is a good mystery, and as I said, is loosely based on the author's ancestry.  I think what I found most interesting is that it never occurred to me that some one's occupation would be "hangman".  It was not a coveted position!  People feared the hangman.

I chose to read a mystery again and found Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane.  He had authored Shutter Island, which I read earlier this year and enjoyed, so I thought that I would try another of his books. And I had noticed that they had made a movie of this book, so I decided to read it first!

It is a story about a child gone missing, with the twist that perhaps the child was kidnapped/taken to protect it from it's mother.  I enjoyed the story and have noticed that there is a sequel coming out.

A good, easy read. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

More Great Summer Reading

I have really been enjoying my reading lately.  I highly recommend both of these books being reviewed in this blog!

The Devil's Dream by Lee Smith is right up there among her best.  I have always liked books by Ms. Lee, and this one was not a disappointment!

Around 1833, Moses Bailey, son of a preacher, brought his wife, Laura, up to a lonely cabin in the hills.  Moses wanted to find the voice of God for himself. Laura came from a musical family and she loved playing the fiddle.  Moses forbade music, especially the fiddle, because he believed it to be the music of the devil. Moses would take off for long periods of time, searching for God, and leaving Laura and the children to fend for themselves.  Eventually, Laura took up her fiddling whenever Moses was gone and soon her children began enjoying the music also.

So began the family legacy of country music.  The book takes the reader through generations of the Bailey family and their music as they begin performing publicly through-out the years.  It is the story of several generations covering 150 years.  I do have to admit that several times I became confused on what characters were who.  Fortunately, Ms. Lee provided a family tree at the beginning of the book, and I often had to refer to it.  Each chapter is told by a different member of the family as the years progress.  Despite that confusion, I really enjoyed the book.  The author, as always, does an excellent job developing the characters.

Next I read Mudbound by Hillary Jordan.  I had read about this book earlier and had put it on my TBR list.  Luckily for me, I found it at the used book store!  And I was glad that I had written it down earlier as a book I wanted to read.  Again, a really good book.  And even better, it was Ms. Jordan's debut novel!  And the novel won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction.  It deserved the honor!

In 1946, Henry McAllen moves his wife and children from the city living in Memphis to a run-down farm in the Mississippi Delta.  Henry had failed to mention to Laura that being a farmer was his life-long dream and when he went down to Mississippi to help out his sister for a couple of weeks, he returned to Memphis and told Laura that he had bought a farm and that they were moving there in a couple of weeks....to a farm that had no running water or electricity, and had been abandoned for a long time.  And on top of all that, Henry's racist, nasty father, Pappy, was going to be living with them.

After they arrive at the farm, they convince the local midwife, who is the wife of Hap one of Henry's tenant farmers, to work for them as a housekeeper.  Florence is a strong-willed black woman who becomes Laura's salvation. Soon, men return from the war, and among them are Florence's son, Ronsel, and Henry's brother, Jamie.  Jamie and Ronsel become friends, and begin to be seen around town together, which in 1946 Mississippi is a dangerous thing and both are warned to stop seeing each other before something bad happens.  Jamie is a charming, good-looking man, haunted by what he saw in combat.  Ronsel comes home as a decorated hero, which means pretty much nothing in the Mississippi Delta since he is a black man.  Jamie and Ronsel's friendship ends up creating great sorrow in the story.

Each chapter of this book is told by one of the main characters, Laura, Florence, Henry, Jamie, Ronsel, and Hap.  It is interesting that Pappy does not narrate any chapters, since his presence is so prominent in the story.  Yet, I am glad that he was not a narrator because he was so unlikable.

This is a very interesting book.  There is a great deal of tragedy in the story, yet it is very full of different ways love prevails and is experienced. And in the end, I felt great hope for the characters.  Very good book!!!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Scout, Atticus & Boo

I can hardly describe how excited I was to see the book Scout, Atticus & Boo by Mary McDonagh  Murphy at my favorite Canton, Illinois library! I had read about it last year when it was coming out, and then had totally forgotten about it.  In honor of To Kill A Mockingbird's 50th anniversary,  Ms. Murphy interviewed 26 various influential people (all in their own way) about their experiences of reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Anyway, the interviews are fascinating to read.  I especially enjoyed the ones by Tom Brokaw, Lee Smith, Oprah Winfrey, Alice Lee, Wally Lamb and Mary Badham (who played Scout in the movie).  I was sad that Gregory Peck is not around to add his opinion of the book!

I am sure that faithful readers of this blog have picked up that To Kill A Mockingbird is my all-time favorite novel (as the movie is also my all-time favorite).  I was either 11 or 12 years old when one weekend I was (as usual) spending the weekend with my grandparents.  My lovely, wonderful grandmother (see picture circa 1960) had the paperback edition of To Kill A Mockingbird laying out on the table, as she was in the midst of reading it.  I picked it up, and may not have put it down for the rest of the weekend.  I was absolutely enthralled with the book and finished it before it was time to go home.  That was about 50 years ago! Just another reason to love my grandmother!

Jump ahead about 11 or 12 years, and I was pregnant with my first child.  If the baby was a boy, he was to be called "Jem".  I had a girl, so no Jem!  But, again, that's how much I loved that book!

This past Christmas, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird, I gave each of my 3 children copies of both the book and the movie, telling them that it is one of my legacies to them to be sure that they had my favorite book and movie!

As you can see, I feel strongly about To Kill A Mockingbird!  And now to have found a book where others are talking about their experiences of reading the book???   Heaven!  I loved reading the different interviews.  And I was so struck with the similarities, both among the interviewees and my own experiences of reading the book.  I would say that most of those interviewed first experienced the book around the same age that I did, which I thought was very interesting!  And like some, my first reading of the book, was primarily about the children, Atticus, and Boo Radley.  It wasn't until later readings that I fully experienced and appreciated what Ms. Lee was telling about the South.

If you are a fan of To Kill A Mockingbird, read Scout, Atticus and Boo.  You will definitely appreciate all the various opinions.  Just a word of warning, however: after reading it, be prepared to re-read the book and watch the movie!

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Kitchen House

One of my daughters recommended The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom after she had read it for her book group.  I initially had some trouble getting interested in the book, but stuck with it and soon was unable to put it down!  The Kitchen House begins in 1791 and is narrated alternately by the two main characters, Lavinia and Belle.  Lavinia is an orphaned seven year old indentured servant at the Tall Oaks plantation in Virginia.  Belle is the daughter of the master of the plantation and of one of his slave mistresses.  Belle works in the kitchen house and when Lavinia arrives, Belle becomes a big sister/mother to Lavinia.  Lavinia is raised among the kitchen house slaves, who become her family.  The book covers about twenty years as Belle and Lavinia go on to live different but intertwined lives.  As Lavinia becomes older, she is sent to live with her mistresses' sister and her family, where she is taught how to live in the "white world".  Eventually, Lavinia makes her way back to Tall Oaks as an adult.  Meanwhile, Belle is left at Tall Oaks to endure a slave's life there.
 
 
Over the twenty years the violence, and corruption of the plantation is a strong contrast to the love and sense of family that exists on the plantation. It was very interesting to read about slavery in the early 1800's, compared to most of what I have read of slavery during the Civil War times.
Belle and Lavinia were both very interesting, likable characters.  I really cared about what happened to them.  I would love to read a sequel to this book to learn of what became of all of the characters.  All of the characters were interesting and rather well-developed by the author....at least enough so that the reader is left wanting more information about them!
I found the Author's Note at the end of the book to be quite fascinating.  She wrote:
A few years ago, my husband and I restored an old plantation tavern in Virginia.  While researching its past, I found an old map on which, near our home, was a notation: Negro Hill.  Unable to determine the story of its origin, local historians suggested that it most likely suggested a tragedy."

She went on to say that after a few months of pondering Negro Hill, she was inspired to begin writing a story about it, which became the prologue of the book.  From there, the book began to take off in her mind! 

I am so envious of anyone who can write a book!  Why can't I be so inspired and able?  Thank goodness, there are many that can do that!
 

 

Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout was chosen as the June read for one of my book groups.  I had read this book in April of 2009 and did a blog posting about it dated April 29, 2009.   I loved the book then and I loved it even more with this second reading!  If you haven't read it, give it a try!  And don't give up early on with it, it gets better and better!  I would love to hear reader's thoughts about the book and particularly about Olive herself! 

PS-the book made for great discussion in our book group!

Some early summer reading

I have been gone on vacation so I have gotten a little behind in my blogging!  However, I have finished three good books while missing!

Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwartz was chosen for the June selection for one of my book groups.  I had read it several times, but it was years ago.  The book was published in 2000 and was an Oprah pick.  I have always loved this book, so I was quite pleased when my group chose to read it.  It is primarily the story of Amanda Starkey, a nurse during WWI who becomes overwhelmed with her duties, and flees home to Nagawaukee Lake, where she goes to live with her sister Matilda and her young niece, Ruth.  Matilda's husband, Carl, is off fighting in the War, so the three females live together. One evening in the winter of 1919, Matilda disappears, and is later found beneath the ice where she has drowned.  Over the next few years, Amanda works hard at keeping her secrets, both about Matilda's death, and about Amanda's own past.

The story is told in chapters by different characters, moving back and forth in time.  Eventually, the family secrets are revealed and as they are, you learn the truth about the night that Matilda drowned.

The story has been described as "a gripping psychological thriller" and I would concur with that!  Each time I have read this book, I have enjoyed it more!  Fascinating characters!


Next, I read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  I realize that I may be the last woman on earth to have read this book, so I won't go into it too much.  I don't know what my reluctance was to read it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story!  I love stories told by elderly people as they tell about their pasts!  Briefly, the story is told by ninety year old Jacob as he recalls being a young man who joined the circus when he was unable to complete his veterinary schooling during the great Depression. Jacob was employed to care for the circus animals.  Jacob meets up with the various circus characters,  and falls in love with Marlena, who is married to August, a trainer who is struggling with severe mental health issues.  The circus acquires Rosie, a difficult elephant, who in the end is Jacob and Marlena's salvation!

And then I read The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff.  I struggled a bit with staying with this book for a while in the beginning, but I ended up liking it!  It is the story of Willie Upton, a graduate student in archaeology who became pregnant with her married professor while on a dig in Alaska.  Willie returns home to Templeton, New York on the very same day that a huge monster dies in Lake Glimmerglass in Templeton.  Willie's family has lived in Templeton for generations and she thinks that she will be safe to hide out there while trying to figure out what to do with her life.  However, after arriving, Willie's mother, Vi, informs her that the story about her unknown father has been a lie, and that her father was someone who lived right there in Templeton.

Willie decides that she needs to learn the truth about her ancestry and begins doing research about her family.  Dark secrets begin to be revealed, some mysteries are solved and you learn that there are more monsters than just the one from the lake! Good story!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Two Novels Russian

Instead of the Irish Reading Challenge, I should have found a Russian Reading Challenge.  Of the last five books that I have read, three have taken place or been about Russia during World War II.   And while I love reading books about the Civil War, I am not a big fan of WWII books, so it is interesting and odd that my reading has taken this turn.  Two of the three books were books chosen by my book groups!

I read City of Thieves by David Benioff for one of my book groups.  It takes place in Russia during WWII and is a novel based on the author's grandfather's experiences surviving the war.  Seventeen year old Lev decided to remain in Leningrad during the siege, even though his mother and siblings left.  Lev is caught taking items from a corpse that lay in the street. He and another young boy are taken together to the Colonel to await sentencing by him-which is usually execution.  However, the Colonel's daughter is getting married and a dozen eggs are needed for the wedding cake.  Lev and Koyla (the other boy) are given one week to find and bring back a dozen eggs, and if they are able to do so, they will be spared execution. 

The week passes with the boys experiencing horrendous conditions and they end up behind enemy lines, and become involved with others in trying to kill the German commander.

I had a hard time staying and finishing the book.  It was a bit too gruesome for me and, as stated, I don't have an interest in Russian war history.  I only finished it because it was for book group.  Luckily, for me, it was a fairly short read.  I will admit that it was very well written.  If anyone had an interest in Russian war novels, this was be an excellent choice!

So then, I went off to the library in search of a book to read and saw a book by Chaim Potok that I had not read: Old Men at Midnight.  I had read many of Chaim Potok's books years ago and really liked them, so I checked this one out.

It wasn't really about old men at midnight.  It is three stories that are linked together by the listener of the stories. The stories are all about WWII. It is the third story that  is about an old man at midnight.

The listener of the stories is a Jewish women, Ilana Davita Dinn. In the first story, "The Ark Builder, Ilana is a recent high school graduate tutoring sixteen year old Noah, who is a recent arrival from Poland to New York, where he lives with his aunt and uncle. Ilana is hired to teach the boy English.   Throughout the story, you learn that Noah was the only Jew from his town to survive the Holocaust.  Noah slowly opens up to Ilana and shares about his friendship with the caretaker of his village's synagogue.

In the second story, "The War Doctor", Ilana is a graduate student who meets a visiting lecturer, Leon,  and becomes interested in his story of his survival of the both World Wars in Russia under Stalin.  Leon had been saved by a Jewish doctor during WWI, became a KGB interrogator, and then encountered the doctor after WWII when Stalin had physicians imprisoned.  Leon himself is Jewish and is never sure when/if that is going to become an issue under Stalin's regime.

"The Trope Teacher" is the third and final story.  Ilana is now a well-known author and moves to a house next door to Benjamin Walter, a renowned history professor.  Benjamin is trying to write his memoirs and cannot seem to remember his earlier years.  Through their friendship, Ilana begins to help him recall important events during his earlier years. Benjamin had been sent to study Torah with Mr. Zapiski during one summer.  Mr. Zapiski had served in World War I with Benjamin's father, and Benjamin begins to examine what the war experience must have been for the two men.  Benjamin is the old man at midnight, who is often up late either taking care of his ill wife, or trying to write his memoirs.

As I have always found, Mr. Potok's book was very easy to read and very interesting.  He is such a great author.  Sadly, he died in 2002.  I highly recommend any of his books!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Heaven Is For Real

One of my book groups chose Heaven Is For Real for our May meeting.  It was an excellent pick.  I can't take any credit for it, however, since I had not been at the last meeting!  I was glad that they had chosen this book, as I had been hearing quite a bit about it from people on my Cursillo team, and I was curious to read it and see what all it was about.

Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo is "A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back".   Todd Burpo is young Colton's father and he is also a minister.  When Colton was four years old, he became ill and after a few days it was found that he had a ruptured appendix.  Following surgery, over the next couple of years, Colton began describing his experiences during the surgery, including watching the doctor operate on him and describing his dad's actions while surgery was going on.  Over time, Colton began sharing other interesting items, such as meeting his sister in heaven, a sister that he had no prior knowledge (his mother had miscarried the baby), and then began talking about Pop, his great grandfather, who had died thirty years before Colton was born.  Colton shared a lot about his experience in heaven with Jesus and how Jesus loves children.

The book invites very interesting discussion.  Of course, it is easy to be skeptical of Colton's experiences, wondering if they are influenced by his father's vocation.  I found the book to be very interesting and I found myself wondering over parts of it for several days after reading it.

The book is an easy, quick read and I thought made for good thinking!


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Veil of Roses

Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald was loaned to me by a friend last summer when I had forgotten to bring  something to read as we left for the pool.  I never got to it that day, but held on to it and finally read it last week.  Veil of Roses is a debut novel and is an easy read.  I did find it quite interesting to learn a bit about life in Iran for women.


Tamila (Tami) Soroush is living in Iran with her parents, who had returned to Iran from the United States when Tami was a very young girl.  Her parents soon regretted their decision to return and were hopeful that  their daughters could leave someday and enjoy the freedom that the US offers.  Tami's older sister had left Iran fifteen years earlier and never returned.  On Tami's twenty-fifth birthday, her parents gave her a one way ticket to her sister's home in Arizona.  She had three months to find a husband while in the US or she would have to return to Iran.

Tami's sister worked hard at finding Iranian men for Tami to meet and marry.  Tami was willing to go along with a marriage, as long as it meant she could stay in the US.  Tami began attending English as Second Language classes and making friends there.  She met a young man working at the local Starbucks and began feeling attracted to him, while continuing to search for an Iranian man to marry.  Tami also began pursuing photography and experiencing all of the freedoms that we take for granted. 

I found the story to be quite predictable, but I did enjoy learning more about Iran and thinking about all of the freedoms that we have.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Catching Up!

I have been lost in the early 1800' s for a few days with my genealogy research and have neglected to keep up with my book blogging!  I have read several books and am dragging myself away from the 1800's to catch up with my present!

Two of the books were for each of my book groups.  Unfortunately I had to miss book group when they  discussed Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah.  I was really disappointed that I missed the meeting because I was anxious to discuss the book with them!

Winter Garden begins with two young sisters who, along with their friend Jeff,  are putting on a play, re-enacting a story that their mother has ofter told them.  The girls, Meredith and Nina, observe their Russian born mother, Anya, become angry and upset and watch her walk away.  Anya often tells them stories about a young girl and a prince.  The girls thought that their mother would be pleased that they were putting on a play of the story.  The relationship between the young girls and Anya is complicated.  Anya appears to be quite cold and un-involved with the children. However, their father, Evan, has always been their constant. The girls are never able to understand the love between Evan and Anya, when he is so warm and caring and she is so cold.

The girls grow up and live their separate lives.  Nina becomes a photographer journalist and travels the world, keeping herself unattached emotionally.  Meredith marries Jeff, the friend who was also in the play as a child, and they have 2 children now in college.  Meredith works with her father in the family business.   Unexpectedly, Evan becomes ill and on his deathbed he makes Anya promise to tell the girls the ending of the fairy tale story that she would tell them as children.  However, Anya never told them the ending of the story.

The story Anya tells is about a young girl in war-torn Leningrad sixty years earlier.  As Anya slowly tells them pieces of the story, the daughters begin to wonder if it is Anya's story.  Nina and Meredith begin to research those times and begin to uncover their mother's past.

This quote from the back of the book kind of sums all of it up:
How can a woman know herself...if she doesn't really know her mother?
Makes you think, doesn't it?

I have to admit that I really liked this book, except for the ending.  The last chapter, Chapter 26, throws in an ending that I just found too unbelievable.  I guess that I don't want to go into it and spoil the read for others, but if anyone has read this book, I would be interested in anyone else's take on it.  I would and do recommend the book...it was a good read and I thought it did a good job exploring mother-daughter/mother-child relationships.  I will definitely read more of Ms. Hannah's books.


Next I read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.  Outstanding book.  I can't even say enough about how good this book is.  And the funny/odd thing is that I totally resisted reading it   It came out two years ago and I would pick it up every once in awhile at the book store, look at it, and put it down.  Fortunately for me, my book group chose it for the April reading, so I read it!

It is a rather long book and I am not sure that I would be able to do it any justice in trying to tell you the story.  The book is really the story about several people and they could all be books by themselves.  As a teaser, I will tell you that it is basically the story of twin boys, Marion and Shiva who were born attached at the head.  Their parents were an Indian nun, Sister Mary Joseph Praise and a British surgeon, Dr. Thomas Stone.  The twins were born in Ethiopia, which is where most of the story takes place.

It is a story of love, medicine, betrayal and grief as the book follows the two boys throughout their lives.

If you are looking for a great book to read, add this to your list!!!

I just finished The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  It is another long book, but a good story.  I enjoyed it alot.  It is the story of a very young girl who is abandoned on a ship from England headed to Australia.  All she arrives with is a small white suitcase that contains some clothes and an illustrated book of fairy tales.  When she arrives in Australia, she is all alone and the dock master takes her home, expecting to find out who is looking for her.  However, that doesn't happen and so he and his wife raise the little girl and call her "Nell".  When Nell turns twenty-one, she is told by her parents that she is not their child and she is informed of the circumstances.  Nell begins to search for her identity, going to England and learning some information about her birth family.  Nell decides to go back to Australia and pack her things and go to England to live.  However, once she returns to Australia, her estranged daughter shows up and leaves Nell's young granddaughter, Cassandra, to live with Nell.  So Nell never returns to England and never tells anyone about her search.  Upon Nell's death, Cassandra finds out pieces and takes up the search.

The story is a good mystery, with some genealogical searching going on...just my cup of tea, as the English would say!  

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bloodroot

Bloodroot by Amy Greene is the author's debut novel.  I had been wanting to read it for some time, and finally got to it.  It was a quick read and at one point, I even checked to see if it was a Young Adult novel.  That seems foolish since the content of the story wouldn't really be appropriate for young readers, but the Ms. Greene's writing style seemed quite simple to me.  I also had a bit of trouble following the story, as it would seem to rather abruptly change perspectives, being told by different people and at times, I could not figure out who the person was telling the story.  She did eventually get around to letting the reader know, but I found it confusing.  However, after saying all of this, I found myself thinking about the story quite awhile after I finished it, which is an indication of a good book for me!  And actually, the story was very good.

From the back cover of the book:

Myra Lamb is a wild girl with mysterious, haint blue eyes who grows up on remote Bloodroot Mountain.  Her grandmother, Byrdie, protects her fiercely and passes down "the touch" that bewitches people and animals alike.  But when John Odom tries to tame Myra, it sparks a shocking disaster, ripping lives apart.  Bloodroot is the dark and riveting story of the legacies-of magic and madness, faith and secrets, passion and loss-that haunt one family across the generations.

That is what initially attracted me to the book.  And it sums it up well.

Chapter One is told alternately by Byrdie Lamb and Doug Cotter.  Byrdie is Myra's grandmother, who has raised her.  Doug is a neighbor on the mountain, who has loved Myra since they were little kids.  Byrdie and Doug are dealing with the fact that Myra has fallen in love with John Odom and both are afraid that he will take Myra away from Bloodroot Mountain.   Chapter Two is then narrated by Johnny Odom and Laura Odom Blevins, the twin children that were born to Myra and John Odom.  Chapter Three is told by Myra Odom, and  the Epilogue is told by John Odom.

For me, Bloodroot was primarily about mother and child relationships.  The story takes place in the mountain country of Tennessee.   Byrdie had lost all of her children, then raised her granddaughter, Myra.  Myra left with John and their relationship quickly became abusive and difficult, which resulted in Myra being lost to Byrdie.  After much abuse, Myra got away from John, then lost her children.  Her children ended up paying a high price for John and Myra's past.

I feel as if I am being very vague about the story, but I don't want to give anything away.  I was impressed with how Ms. Greene ended the book, and as I said, I kept thinking about the story after I finished it, even as I was reading my next book!  Do I recommend the book?  Yes, I highly recommend it.  I think that it would make a good choice for a woman's reading/book group! 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Three Junes

Three Junes by Julia Glass is incredible for a debut novel.  Actually, I would consider it incredible even if it weren't a debut novel! This was our March pick for one of my book groups, and a wise choice it was!  We had a great discussion about the book and the numerous nuances occurring through-out the story.  There is really alot going on in this book as you begin to think through it.  It may seem as if nothing is really going on (no huge plot) but the characters are so well-defined and interesting, that the book held my attention all the way through and I was rather sad to have it end.

As the title implies, the book is about three Junes covering ten years of the McLeod family. It is divided up by the three Junes.  The first June (1989) is about Paul McLeod, a Scotsman recently widowed, who is on a group tour of Greece.  This section of the book is where Paul reminisces about his marriage and his three sons.  The second June (1995), begins with Paul's death and the family gathering at their home in Scotland.  This section is primarily seen through Paul's eldest son, Fenno, a gay man who had long ago moved and settled in New York. The third and last section (1999), takes place in New York, where Fenno meets Fern, a woman who had met Fenno's father Paul in Greece in 1989.

Of course, the above is a very simplistic summary of the book.  Ms. Glass' prose is beautiful and is very easy to read, although some of it needs to be re-read because of the beauty and wisdom in it. 

"Mind what you love.  For that matter, mind how you are loved."
The book touches on so many different emotions and relationship issues, including fidelity, loss, love, gratitude, and grief.  It includes issues of AIDS, sperm donation, children, parents, lovers, and siblings.  Some things remained unknown/unresolved in the story (like whose lipstick did Paul leave to Fenno?), but those issues resulted in great book group discussion!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Congratulations to Darin Strauss

I posted on this blog on January 3 of this year about a memoir, Half A Life by Darin Strauss, that I had read.  I just thought that the book was outstanding.  Well, today I read that it has won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for memoirs.  Excellent!  Good decision, NBCC!

If you haven't read Half A Life, I highly recommend it.  If you haven't seen my post about it, you can go here to see it: 
http://alifeofbooks.blogspot.com/2011/01/half-life.html

Monday, March 7, 2011

Room-Awesome novel!

Upon the recommendation of a good friend (and a great reader...well, she is also a great friend!), I got Room by Emma Donoghue from the library.  Once I started it, I absolutely could not put it down!  A great read!  It was just fascinating!


Today I am five.  I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark, I'm changed to five, abracadabra.  Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. "Was I minus numbers?"
The book opens on Jack's fifth birthday.  Jack was born in Room and that is the only place he has ever been.  He lives there with his Ma, and once in awhile Old Nick visits, but Jack stays in Wardrobe when Old Nick visits Ma.

Ma has been held captive in Room for seven years.  She and Jack have spent every single moment of Jack's live together.  She has taught him to read and has taught him games to play and made his life as "normal" as she possibly could.  But as Jack turns five, Ma decides that he is old enough to help her with their escape.  What is unknown to her is how difficult it will be if the plan succeeds, and they enter Outside.

The whole novel is narrated by Jack, which I found to add to the profound impact that the novel had on me.  Room opens up so very many questions about survival, love, and perseverance.  I am hopeful that this will be one of my book group choices, because it will make for such wonderful discussion!

Excellent book!  Thanks, Lynn!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Two Books about Women

 February's pick for one of my book groups was an Irish novel, Annie Dunne by Sebastian Barry.  It was a great pick, as it led to insightful and lively discussion.  Rather surprising for such a small, unassuming novel!

The main character is, of course, Annie Dunne, a simple Irish woman in her 60's living on a small farm in rural Wicklow with her cousin, Sarah.  The story begins in 1959.  Annie has never been married, and spent years living in her sister's home as a housekeeper.  When her sister died,  Annie's brother-in-law remarried, and sent Annie away, as she was no longer needed.  She was then homeless, and was invited by Sarah to come and live with her.  One day, her nephew, whom she helped raise while her sister was ill, came to ask if Annie would care for his son and daughter over the summer.  The children add a whole new dimension to Annie and Sarah's lives and Annie is surprised at her deep feelings for the children.  However, this pleasure is threatened when Annie learns that Sarah is being courted.  Old feelings arise in Annie.

This was really a quite fascinating book, with many sub-themes going on.  I loved how Annie incorporated things that her grandfather used to say and do into her everyday life.  The language and prose of the book is beautiful.  One of the very interesting things noted after reading the book, is that the children never were named.  They were always referred to in the book as "the boy" or "the girl".

All in all, an excellent book!

I followed Annie Dunne with Alice Hoffman's latest book, The Red Garden.  Each chapter of the book takes place in a different time period, going from 1750 to sometime in the 2000's.  All of the stories are about the town of Bearsville, MA (later changed to Blackwell in 1786).  In 1750, Hallie married William Brady and he led an expedition that landed in the area that Hallie named Bearsville, because of the bears there.  In the first story we are introduced to Hallie and the others who stayed in Bearsville.  Hallie helped the others survive their first winter in Bearsville. After the first winter, Hallie started a garden where the soil was as red as blood and everything grown there was red.

Each chapter was about descendants of the founders of Bearsville.  I did have a little trouble with following who was who, but finally let that go, and just enjoyed the stories.  It was very interesting how Ms. Hoffman tied all of the stories together, and to see how the world events over the years affected this small town and it's people.  This book also had lovely language and prose. I enjoyed the book!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

$13.50 bought all of this! Library sales rule!

Two weekends ago,  I had noticed in the Bloomington Illinois newspaper that there was a library sale going on the following weekend.  As I found myself over there last weekend, I headed to Crossroads, where the sale was going on.  I was incredibly impressed with the sale.  Not only was it well organized by categories, the fiction section was also organized on shelves by author.  I was in heaven!!!  As I browsed, I became more and more excited...there were really, really good books there!  Already, I was planning for my next visit in June when the sale was again.  I needed to be more organized in my search and have a list of authors with me!

However, I ended up being quite pleased with what I did end up getting, especially the very last book I found.  I am listing all of the books that I purchased, along with the blurb from the back of the books, in order for you to see what attracted me to the choices: 

1. Life Sentences by Laura Lippman
Author Cassandra Fallows believes she may have found the story that could become her next bestseller.
2. The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman
 Iris Greenfeder, ABD (All But Dissertation), feels the "buts" are taking over her life: all but published, all but a professor, all but married.
3. A Death In The Family by James Agee
On a sultry summer night in 1915, Jay Follet leaves his house in Knoxville Tennessee to tend his father, whom he believes is dying.
4. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Hanna Heath, an Australian rare book expert, has been offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war.
5. Remember Me by Trezza Azzopardi
Set in England against the backdrop of WWII, Remember Me is a story of pursuit of stolen goods, of missing years, and of one woman's forgotten history.
6. The Live You've Imagined by Kristina Riggle
Have you ever asked yourself, "what if?"
7. Broke Heart Blues by Joyce Carol Oates.  It didn't even matter what the blurb said.  I love her books!
In the heat of a languid July, fresh from Las Vegas, John Riddy Hart drives into the quiet upstate town of Willowsville, New York.
8. Three Junes by Julia Glass.  This was an amazing find for me and the last book that I found.  I had just looked for it that afternoon at Borders, willing to pay $25 for it, but they did not have it.  It is the March pick for one of my book groups.  Found it for $1.50!

So I headed home (actually to my daughter's home) feeling triumphant with my wonderful finds that cost me all of $9.50!

But wait, the weekend got even better.  Sunday we went to a Pancake Breakfast in the small town where my daughter lives, and their library was selling books!  So for another $4, I got the following:

1. Cast Two Shadows by Ann Rinaldi
It's 1780, and war has come to Camden, South Carolina.
2. My Old True Love by Sheila Kay Adams
The Stantons and the Nortons were families in the truest, oldest sense; extended networks of kin stretching across the mountains, everyone within hiking distance.
3. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer, tapping his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he's still alive...
4. Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier
No. 13 Hercules Buildings, Lambeth, 1792.

And there is it.  My haul of reading from the past weekend.  Now added to my already full pile of TBR books.  When will it stop?  As long as library sales continue, I will be buying books!

Wench

During our recent blizzard here in the Midwest, I read Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. 
I had come across it  at the bookstore and from the blurb on the back:

Situated in Ohio, a free territory before the Civil War, Tawawa House is an idyllic retreat for Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their enslaved black mistresses.  It's their open secret.

I was hooked!  The story sounded very interesting. But even more interesting was that at the end of the book, I read the Author's Note that reported that Tawawa Resort did actually exist.  As Ms. Perkins-Valdez stated, the resort was located near Xenia, Ohio.  It was opened in 1852, and was actually used as stated: for Southern white men to vacation with their slave/mistresses.  After it closed, it became the Ohio African University for several years, then was purchased by the African Methodist Episcopal Church and became Wilberforce University.  As the author wrote, "it continues to be the nations' oldest, private, predominantly African American university. It is believed that the children of the unions between the slave women and the slaveholders were among the early students at the university."

The book is a fictionalized account of four black women who were slaves and were brought to the resort by their owners each summer for the years that the resort was open.  The story is a fascinating look at the years right before the Civil War broke out and how the women considered what it might mean to be free.  After all, while being there at the resort they were in Ohio, a free territory.  As events occur, the women are caught up in the tragedies that occur, and each have to consider what freedom would mean, both good and bad, for each of them.

The book is a fascinating look at pre-Civil War history.  It made me think of Beloved and The Help, with all being such important studies of our history and of great survival.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Reading During a Blizzard

Yes, the Midwest's Blizzard of the century has begun.  I celebrated with reading Genealogical Resources of the Civil War Era by William Dollarhide.  While I realize that not many of this blog's readers are going to be interested in this book, it still deserves a mention!

The book is divided into four sections: Introduction, Resource Groups, Statewide Name Lists, and Best Resource Centers.  It appears to be quite comprehensive with good suggestions for online sources as well as library/book sources.  It covers both Union and Confederate service records.

I have been especially interested in Missouri Confederate records for the past few years and I was impressed with Mr. Dollarhide's list of resources.

I would definitely recommend this book to any genealogists researching Civil War service history of ancestors.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Heretic's Daughter

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent is written with an interesting perspective.  It is a historical fiction novel (right up my alley!) that takes place during the Salem Witch Trials.  The story is told through the daughter, Sarah, of Martha Carrier.

The book begins with a letter written in 1752 from Sarah to her granddaughter.  In the letter she explains that included with the letter is "my own written history", and thus, the book begins.  The story starts in 1690 when the Carrier family is moving from Billerica to neighboring Andover to live with Martha's mother.  Smallpox is prevalent in the area and any new visitors or settlers to the area are not welcome, due to the fear of people bringing smallpox to the community.  So right from the beginning, the Carrier's are not made welcome.  Soon, smallpox does arrive, and Sarah and her baby sister are sent back to Billerica to Martha's sister's family in hopes that the disease will not reach them.

Sarah's family is interesting.  Her mother, Martha, is not very affectionate with the children and Sarah finds that she loves living with Martha's sister's family, where much affection is shown, and she has a cousin, Margaret,  that Sarah becomes very close to.  Sarah's father, Thomas Carrier, is a mystery to Sarah.  He is a giant of a man, who seems to have a mysterious, forbidden past.  Sarah has two older brothers, along with her baby sister.

After Sarah and her sister had been away for a few months, they were returned home to the family.  Sarah was not happy about leaving her aunt's family, especially Margaret.

Over the next year, hysteria begins to rear up, as young girls begin accusing others of being witches.  By 1692, Martha is accused of being a witch and is taken away from the family's home and put in prison. Shortly before Martha is taken away, she tells Sarah what is happening and directs Sarah to commit heresy.  As Martha predicted, soon Martha's children are also accused and Sarah and her brothers are also put in prison, accused of witchery.

This was a fascinating story, based on true facts.  Interestingly, the author of the book is a direct descendant of Martha Carrier.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

January's Reading (so far!)

I read The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow for one of my book groups.  It is a book that I had considered reading ever since it came out, but had never gotten around to it, so I was pleased when it was chosen as one of our reads. 

The book is a non-fiction story of a forty-year friendship between eleven girls/women who grew up in Ames, Iowa.  As expected, all eleven did not remain in Ames as they grew up and they ended up in eight different states.  All of the eleven stayed in contact with each other and once a year as many of them as possible would meet up somewhere for a long weekend.   As you can imagine, over the forty years, they shared many joys and tragedies.  Most married and had children. There were divorces and deaths.  And there was enduring friendship and support.

I think that most women reading this book could identify with it, even if you only had one very best friend growing up.  Reading it brought back lots of memories of friends.

The only fault that I can find with the book is that it seemed to be too long.  About half-way through, I felt bogged down with all of the details.  Yet, saying that, I did enjoy the book. 

For my other book group, we read Black Girl/White Girl by Joyce Carol Oates.  Ms. Oates is one of my favorite authors and I had not read this book, so again, I was pleased with the choice. 

This was a very interesting book and led to great discussion in the book group.  It is the story of two young women, Genna and Minette, who end up roommates their freshman year of college in 1975.  Partly through their freshman year, Minette died in a mysterious accident.  Fifteen years later, Genna is still trying to make sense of the relationship that they had. 

From the back of the book:
In 1975 Genna Hewett-Meade's college roommate died a mysterious, violent death partway through their freshman year.  Minette Swift had been assertive, fiercely individualistic, and one of the few black girls at their exclusive, "enlightened" college-and Genna, daughter of a prominent civil defense lawyer, felt duty-bound to protect her at all costs.  But fifteen years later, while reconstructing Minette's tragic death, Genna is forced to painfully confront her own past life and identity...and her deepest beliefs about social obligation in a morally gray world.

Neither Genna nor Minette came across as likable characters.  They both had deep flaws that set them up for their tenuous relationship. And, in the end, it appears that the story may really be about Genna's father!

Very interesting book.  I did not find it very similar to Ms. Oates' other works, although the character flaws may be somewhat similar to characters in her other books.

Next I read The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova.  Excellent read!

One day Dr. Andrew Marlowe (a psychiatrist) receives a phone call from a colleague requesting Dr. Marlow to take on a patient who had been arrested for attacking a painting at the National Gallery of Art.  The patient was Robert Oliver, a well-respected artist in his own right.  Dr. Marlow is also an artist, so he is quite interested in admitting Robert to his clinic and working with him.  However, Robert is not responsive to anyone and basically refuses to talk.  As Dr. Marlow begins to unravel the mysteries surrounding Robert, he gets pulled in to Robert's life and his obsessions with the distant past. 

The story is quite a good mystery with some twists and turns.  I enjoyed it immensely!

And my most recent read was The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards.  Ms. Edwards wrote The Memory Keepers Daughter, which I had liked very much, so I was quite excited to see that she had a new book out.  This book was fascinating for me as it involved genealogy research! 

It is the story of Lucy Jarrett who returns home from Japan for a visit after having been away for quite awhile.  Her father had died under strange circumstances ten years earlier and she returned home to find that her mother was not only seeing someone, but was considering selling the family home.  One night, Lucy was wandering around the home and noticed a lock on a window seat that she had never noticed before.  Inside, Lucy discovered some objects that revealed a hidden family history.  As Lucy researches the information she becomes more involved in the history (the curse and glory of all genealogists!) and continues to unravel long ago secrets that evetually affect her family now.

This was a good "story of love lost and found".

I need to add a sad note to the end of this post.  Reynold Price died last week.  He was one of my all time favorite authors, who I consider one of the best Southern authors ever.  If you haven't read any of his books, I highly recommend them. I have been reading his memoir Clear Pictures for the past month off and on, so will review it soon.  Reynolds Price 1933-2011.

Friday, January 14, 2011

2011 Reading Challenges

Though I haven't joined the official 100 Books Challenge for the year, it is my personal challenge for myself.  If I am to complete it, I need to get a move on it....so far this year I have only read 3 books (to be reviewed next week).  But I am quite excited to announce that I have joined the Irish Reading Challenge!

And I already have my first book for the challenge!  The February book for one of my book groups is Annie Dunne by Sebastian Barry.  I would welcome any other suggestions, as I have committed to reading 4 books for the Challenge.

To join this Challenge or to read about it, go here: http://booksandmovies.colvilleblogger.com/2010/12/06/announcing-ireland-reading-challenge-2011/

Monday, January 3, 2011

My Top 21 Books of 2010


Yes, it says Top 21.  I just couldn't narrow it down to Top 20!  It was a good reading year, although I don't believe that I made my 100 books read goal that I had set.    I came in at around 75 books read.  I will try to do better this year!

Top 21 of 2010

The Glass Castle-Jeanette Walls
Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet-Jamie Ford
The Blue Orchard-Jackson Taylor
A Thousand Splendid Suns-Khaled Hosseini
The Girl Who Played With Fire-Stieg Larsson
Beach Music-Pat Conroy                                                                  
The Cellist of Sarajevo-Steven Galloway
Little Bird of Heaven-Joyce Carol Oates
Annie’s Ghosts-Steve Luxenberg
The Paperboy-Pete Dexter
Return From Heaven-Carol Bowman
Blood Memory-Greg Iles                                                      
The Greatest Generation-Tom Brokaw
The Thirteenth Tale-Diane Setterfield
The Last Child-John Hart                                                                  
The Other Side of the Bridge-Mary Lawson
The Odd Sea-Frederick Reiken
The Devil’s Punchbowl-Greg Iles
Gilead-Marilyn Robinson
Faithful Place-Tana French
Half A Life-Darin Strauss

It was really fun finding  new-to-me author Greg Iles's books this past year.  I am anxiously awaiting his newest one due out in the next couple of months!