Monday, December 31, 2012

Lincoln-my last book read in 2012

Interesting that the first book I read in 2012 was Jack Kennedy (by Chris Matthews) and the last book that I read in 2012 was Lincoln (by David Herbert Donald).  I find it even more interesting because I am not a big fan of nonfiction.  However, the lives of both of these past presidents fascinate me.  One of my goals upon retirement was to become a Lincoln scholar.  Unfortunately, that has not happened, but after seeing the movie Lincoln, my interest was renewed.  (BTW-the movie is incredible).

Lincoln by David Herbert Donald is an amazing book.  It is extraordinarily researched, and is based on Lincoln's personal papers and records.  It is a long book; however, it is a great read. I do have to confess that I found some of the book difficult to focus on, as I am not a person terribly interested in politics.  My interests always lie with who the person actually was/is.  And I thoroughly enjoyed those parts of the book that discussed Lincoln's personal life.  I have much more reading to do on Mr. Abraham Lincoln.

Anyone who is interested in Abraham Lincoln and his politics would find this to be a fascinating book.

[Just an interesting aside: I first learned of and bought this book several months ago after hearing Bill Clinton discuss it on the Today show.  He highly recommended it, and knowing what a well-read person he is, I trusted his word.  I was right to do so.]

Sunday, December 30, 2012

End of the Year Reading

It looks as if I read a great deal over the past month, but actually I finished three books that I had started earlier this year (in the fall), and read two complete books this month.  So this is a rather abbreviated review of all the books, since there are five of them!

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg has been a top seller this year.  I enjoyed it very much.  It is not really a self-help book as one might think from the title, although one could use the information for themselves to work on either breaking or developing specific habits.  What I found most fascinating was how companies are able to focus on consumers patterns/habits and shape new habits so that consumers want their products.  Examples that come to mind from the book are Proctor and Gamble, Starbucks and Target.  I also was very interested in the study of AA and how it has worked over the years to help people achieve sobriety.  The book also shared examples of how individuals have been able to identify and change behaviors for themselves. Very interesting reading.  The book is very readable and fun to read.

Dying To Be Me by Anita Moorjani has been a much talked about book this year. It is the story of the author and how when she was close to death, experienced a near-death-experience and  was healed of her cancer.  The author's point is that she had the power to heal herself.  I wasn't very taken with the whole thing, although certainly some of what she wrote is helpful in that it is important to love yourself, find your Higher Power, etc.

Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul by Deepak Chopra was written in 2009.  I was just recently (in the past two months) introduced to meditations on Abundance by Deepak Chopra and want to learn and read more of his work.  This is the first book by him that I have read.  I found it quite thought-provoking.  I underlined much in this book.  What I especially found interesting were the parts where he highlighted the similarities between Buddha and Jesus.  Very interesting.  I will be reading more of his works.  I love the awareness and thinking that his words inspire in me.  

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Meruullo was one of my book group picks.  It was odd to be reading this right after I had just begun meditating...This is a novel about a successful, happy family man, whose parents died and he and his sister needed to go to across the country to South Dakota to take care of their parent's estate.  However, when Otto goes to pick up his sister, she said she was not going, but would like for Otto to take her friend out there with him.  The friend turned out to be a rather well-known guru, who had speaking engagements along the way on their journey.  It turned out that the experience allowed Otto to view his life through someone else's eyes and it was mind-opening.  This is a fun book to read.  Parts of it were laugh-out-loud funny. 

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman was recommended by my daughter-in-law and I loved. it.  The story was good, and the writing was even better.  Many things about this writing struck me.  The story is a story from the Holocaust-of a couple who had married and were separated during the war.  Josef and his family were able to leave Prague before the Nazi invasion, but his brand-new wife, Lenka, remained with her family to await Josef's arrival in the United States, when he would send for them.  Lenka ended up in a concentration camp, believing that Josef had died.  Almost sixty years later, they meet accidentally.

"Every person has an image or a memory that they hold secret.  One that they unwrap. like a piece of hidden candy, at night.  Pass through there and you will fall into the valley of dreams."

"Her ghost will finally be at home now.  Because that's what happens when we eventually return to the ones we loved but left behind. To the ones we never forgot.  We slide into them like two perfect hands.  We fall into them like two cotton-filled clouds."

Just a great story of love never forgotten.

Monday, December 17, 2012

And Three More...

Before I begin, I need to tell you that I am thinking already about my reading goals for 2013.  Are any of you thinking about reading goals?

After reading Await Your Reply by Dan Choan earlier in the fall, I was wondering around the used book store and came across You Remind Me of Me, also by Dan Choan.  It turned out that You Remind Me of Me is his debut novel, published in 2004.  I liked it.  It is also a novel about brothers and identity, as was Await Your Reply. Knowing that Choan is an adopted child,  I find it very interesting that he continues to explore the concept of identity.

You Remind Me of Me is the story of three lives all connected in ways they are not aware of.  It all begins with a young unmarried woman in 1966 who gives up a child for adoption.  The book is about Troy Timmens, who struggles with finding his place in the world.  However, his son, Loomis, is Troy's one stronghold...the one thing that does make sense and meaning of Troy's life.  Jonah Doyle is younger than Troy.  He was raised by his mother who always seemed bitter and lacking in love.  Jonah carries horrible scars on his face from a dog attack...but those aren't as bad as the scars he carries inside his heart.  After his mother commits suicide, Jonah sets out to try to make sense of both her life and his life, trying to understand how they became who they were.

I liked the way Choan wrote the story.  It goes back and forth between years and stories, but it never seemed too confusing to me.  Each chapter is titled by a date...I think that helped.   Good book!

On a lighter note, one of my book groups had chosen Dress Me in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris.  It was also published in 2004.  I guess that I am catching up on books written that year!  The book is a collection of essays...some of which are laugh out loud funny.  A good example of his writing (about his sister):

"Growing up, she had a reputation for dishonesty, and her relentless, often inappropriate truth telling is, to her, a way of turning that around. 'I'm not going to lie to you.' she'll say, forgetting that another option is to simply say nothing."
Doesn't that sound like families?  It was great fun to read.  It is also light, quick reading, which is sometimes a perfect break between heavier books.  If you haven't read it, I recommend it!

I just finished reading The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis, Oprah's latest Book Club pick.  It is quite good.  This is also a debut novel, and I look forward to seeing more of her writing.  It is a bit reminiscent of Toni Morrison's writing.

Fifteen year old Hattie left Georgia to find a better life in 1924.  The story begins with Hattie meeting (and marrying) August and giving birth to twins.  She named them Philadelphia and Jubilee.  August thought the names were "crazy".

"Hattie's mother, if she were still alive, would have agreed with August.  She would have said Hattie had chosen vulgar names: 'low and showy' she would have called them.  But she was gone, and Hattie wanted to give her babies names that weren't already chiseled on a head stone in the family plots in Georgia, so she gave them names of promise and of hop, reaching forward names, not looking back ones."
The twins were the joy of Hattie's young life.  But after their birth, life began to get harder and Hattie lost her joy.

Each chapter is about one (sometimes two) of Hattie's children, but all intertwine as they tell the story of Hattie's life.  Hattie ended up having eleven children.  And at the end of the story, Hattie is left with a granddaughter, who completes the "twelve tribes".  And joy begins to return to Hattie's life.

And now I am off, to continue my reading...I have lots of books to finish and begin!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What a Gift!

Today my sister and I went to my Dad's to go through my Mom's Christmas stuff.  Mom died earlier this year and Dad only wanted to keep a few things.  As we went through some things, Dad came across a small, old notebook that Mom had written in.  Inside were lists of books that she wanted to read.

I just read The End of Your Life Book Club a few weeks ago and was envious of the author that he got to share reading books with his mother over the last two years of her life.  When Dad gave me this notebook, I felt like maybe this is my Mom's way of sharing, even though she is now gone.  I typed up the list and here it is:

                                                                                          

Mom’s Book List
Found 12/2/2012

Aunt Julia and The Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa

Loving Women by Pete Hamill

A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman

The Journals of John Cheever

Shadows on the Grass by Isak Dinesen

A Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel

Meridian 144 by Meg Files

Bad Girls Good Women by Rosie Thomas

Family Pictures by Sue Miller

The Locusts Have No King by Dawn Powell

Tilting at Windmills by Charles Peters

Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Carl Sagan

The Fountainhead by Aryn Rand

By Robertson Davies:  Fifth Business
                                     The Manticore
                                    World of Wonders

By Jane Smiley: Barn Blind
                            At Paradise Gate
                           Duplicate Key
                           The Age of Grief
                           The Greenlanders
                           Catskill Crafts
                           Ordinary Love and Good Will

Landscape Without Gravity by Barbara Ascher

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison


How amazing is this?  I have read a few of these books, but not most of them.  This is going to be one of my 2013 reading goals for the year! 

Here's the very most amazing thing...today is my birthday!!!  Thanks, Mom!  Miss you and love you!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Three good reads for the cold winter days coming up!

Yes, the cold weather is beginning to settle around us here in central Illinois...we have been so lucky so far...even Thanksgiving day was in the 60's, but a cold wind blew in and it has been cold ever since!  The last three books that I have read are good ones for those cold winter days (and nights) coming up...all three are fairly easy, quick reads that will keep your attention!

The first one is Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon.  This book had been presented, but not chosen at one of my book groups, but it sounded intriguing, so I suggested it for my other book group and we decided to read it.  It is basically three stories that don't really begin to tie into each other until near the end of the book.The first chapter introduces Ryan and his father Jay.  The second chapter introduces George and his girlfriend Lucy. And the third chapter tells of Miles and his twin brother Hayden. From then on, each chapter is about one of the three stories.  I have to admit that I only figured out half the mystery of the book!  It made for a great discussion!

Await Your Reply is about re-inventing one's self, over and over.  It is about identities.  It is a mystery.  The author does a quite skillful job of creating confusion and wonder as you read.  I enjoyed this book very much and am hoping that the ending means that a sequel may be in the works!

Once Upon A River by Bonnie Jo Campbell was chosen by my book group for our November meeting.  I also enjoyed it and look forward to reading more by the author.  The heroine of the story is Margo Crane, a sixteen year old whose mother took off one day and never returned.  Margo and her father remained on the river where they lived, until one day Margo is raped by her uncle.  That led quickly to the violent death of her father.  Margo was raised on the Stark River in rural Michigan and that was the only life that she knew and chose to live. After the death of her father, Margo set out to find her missing mother.  However, she had few leads and no one to rely on to help her.  She used her hunting and fishing skills to survive as she searched up the river for her mother.  Margo is a very strong female character, who seemed to have a kind of feral sense of survival.  She was a character who I ended up admiring, even though I didn't agree with some of her choices.  Good book.

And lastly, I read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  Talk about some messed up people and choices that they make!  This is a good mystery, although I have to admit it wasn't until about half way through the book that I got real interested in the story.  But after that, I couldn't put it down!  It's another mystery.  On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappeared and by all evidence it appeared that her husband Nick killed her.  Each chapter ended with a new piece of evidence, theory or fact about the case. The story is an interesting case-study in relationships gone bad.  It was a fun read.

 My wish for you: Good reading this winter!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The End of Your Life Book Club

Oh, my, this book brought up so many emotions for me, especially in the beginning.  My mom died at the end of May this year and we had always shared books and love of reading.  Unfortunately, the last couple years of her life, between her physical health and her dementia, she lost the desire to read.  Actually, that is not accurate...she still wanted to read, but was too frustrated to try to keep reading the same page over and over and not retain what she had read.  Even in her last year, she asked to borrow The Help from me, but she never did open it up to read it. 

The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe, is the story of his mother's  (Mary Ann) last two years of life after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Mary Ann and Will had always shared their love of reading and books with each other.  As they spent increasingly longer hours together at doctor visits, hospital stays, chemotherapy, etc. they formed The End of Your Life Book Club, making what they had done for years an official thing.  Both were prolific readers and their choice of books to read together were fascinating. (Happily, the list of books is included at the end of the book)

As Will wrote near the beginning of the book:

"You could say that the book club became our life, but it would be more accurate to say that our life became a book club.  Maybe it had always been one-and it took Mom's illness to make us realize that.  We didn't talk much about the club.  We talked about the books, and we talked about our lives.

We all have a lot more to read than we can read and a lot more to do than we can do.  Still, one of the things I learned from Mom is this: Reading isn't the opposite of doing; it's the opposite of dying. I will never be able to read my mother's favorite books without thinking of her-and when I pass them on and recommend them, I'll know that some of what made her goes with them; that some of my mother will live on in those readers, readers who may be inspired to love the way she loved and do their own version of what she did in the world."

Mary Ann had a very full life.  She was an extremely active and interesting woman and continued to be through-out her illness.   The book is full of her wisdom that she passed on to Will.  And thankfully, he passed on to us.  As much as I love reading, this book made me even more grateful for the gift of reading.  It was so wonderful to read this personal journey of a son and his mother.  Thanks, Will.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Life of Pi

Yes, I am probably one of the last in the book reading world to have read Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  There were a couple of reasons for this...one, I didn't think the story sounded all that interesting, and two, I had read Yann Martel's book Beatrice and Virgil and wasn't all that taken with it.   I did like Life of Pi, but I was not thoroughly mesmerized by it as others seem to have been.  However, I definitely feel that if this had been a book that I read and discussed with one of my book groups, I would have probably enjoyed it much more.  That being said, I probably would get more out of it with reading it again, so maybe I will someday.  I am curious to see how the movie is.

If there is anyone reading this blog who has not read Life of Pi,here is a very brief, incomplete summary of the basic story:  it is the story of a young Indian boy, Pi, whose family owned/runs a zoo in India. Pi grew  up with all of the animals in the zoo, so he knew their ways, etc.  His parents decided to move to Canada and the ship they are traveling on sank.  Pi found himself in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra and a tiger.  The story is about how Pi survives.

There were two features of the book that I especially enjoyed.  I liked reading of Pi's spirituality and wanting to know God...he was a Hindu, and also became a Catholic and a Muslim...all because he wanted to know God better.  The spirituality of the book was quite touching and thought-provoking, in my opinion.  The other thing that I really liked about the book was how it went back and forth from the past and the present.  I didn't find that confusing at all, which is a sign of good writing! The book did win the Man Booker Prize award.

Would I recommend it?  Yes.  Will I read it again at some point? Yes again.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

wild From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail

 wild by Cheryl Strayed has been a wildly popular book (pun intended) that I have been waiting all year (or so it seems) to come out in paperback.  It hasn't yet, but I just could no longer wait, so I bought the hardcover copy last Friday.  I began reading it Saturday night in bed and finished it yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon.  With tears in my eyes.  For quite awhile.  Apparently, I ended up feeling like I knew Cheryl well!  It's a beautiful and very powerful story that I just could not put down.

The book is a memoir of Ms. Strayed's three month journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  Alone.  Never having hiked or backpacked before.  I can't even imagine the courage summoned up for even considering such a trip, let alone actually doing it.  But it seemed, that at that time in her life, Ms. Strayed really didn't feel like she had anything to lose.  And was hoping that she might find purpose or meaning to her life.

Ms. Strayed's mother died of lung cancer when Ms. Strayed was twenty-two.  She was the oldest of her mother's children and was the one there to care for her mother through her illness.  How does a twenty-two year old female get through her mother's death?  It raised all kinds of thoughts and feelings for me, after just losing my mom a few months ago, also from lung cancer...but I had an extra forty years to know my mom before she died.  Clearly, a twenty-two year old would be so lost...

Anyway, shortly after her mother's death, her siblings went their own ways and Ms. Strayed married.  Four years later, her marriage was unraveling and so was she.  She began living a life that she soon realized she didn't want.  And one day, she came upon a guide book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and something in her grabbed at the idea...the idea of doing it by herself and picking up the pieces of her life along the trail.

Ms. Strayed began the eleven hundred mile hike in the summer of 1995.  She began with hiking boots that very soon proved to be too small and a backpack that she was unable to lift off the ground because it was so heavy.  The backpack took on the name of "Monster".  She was fearful of running into bears and rattlesnakes, and had to face those fears.  She could only hike seven to nine miles a day when she first started.  (I say "only", because she ended up being able to hike right along with the best of them..."only" is a relative term...I could have maybe hiked one mile each day with her conditions!)

Over the months, Ms. Strayed came across other hikers and they would share whatever they could with each other.  One helped her sort out what she was caring in "Monster" and lightened her load considerably.  She suffered all kinds of hardships as you can imagine, from hunger and lack of clean clothes, showers, etc. to physical injuries to terrible weather conditions.  And then at some point, she realized that she could do it.  And she did. And that changed everything for her.  She learned that she was a survivor and that she could take care of herself.


wild is a beautiful book.


Monday, October 22, 2012

11/22/63 by Stephen King

A very famous date...if you are old enough, you know exactly where you were that day and moment when you first learned that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  Stephen King's latest novel, 11/22/63, is about that time!  What would the world be like if that moment could be changed?  What would the world look like now if Kennedy had lived?  Very interesting to ponder.

Jake Epping was an English teacher who also taught GED classes in the evening.  He had his GED class write an essay about a life-changing event that had occurred to them.  One of the students wrote about his father killing his family over fifty years ago.  Jake couldn't get the event out of his mind.  Soon, Jakes' friend, Al who owned a diner, confided to Jake that the diner had a portal that led to the past...time travel. Al said that the portal led to 1958.  Al wanted to return to prevent JFK's assassination.  But Al was dying and could not carry out his "mission", so he asked Jake to take it on.  Jake realized that he could change the circumstances of his student Harry's life-changing event.

Jake entered the portal in 1958 and began his life as George Amberson.  He set out to make things right, first for Harry, his GED student, then to study Lee Harvey Oswald, so that he could prevent the assassination in 1963.  Jake starts out in Maine (where he was from), then traveled to Florida for awhile, then on to Texas.


This is a great story.  I will have to add, however, in warning, that the novel is 842 pages long.  It is a LONG book!  My only complaint about the length, though, was that the book would get really physically heavy to hold!  There aren't many books that I have ever complained about that before.  But here's the kicker...you just can't put it down!  The story is that good...the writing is that good...the whole thing is that good!  As one of my daughters said of the book "I inhaled it."

So many people (and for a long time, myself included) avoid Stephen King novels.  Too scary or whatever.  But the thing is...he is an outstanding writer.  I have read only a few of his books, and each time, I am amazed at what a great writer he is. 11/22/63 is not a scary novel...it is about time travel.


Hey, you don't even have to take my word for it... 11/22/63 won the 2012 Thriller Award for Best Novel and was also named as one of New York Times Book Reviews Top 10 Books of 2011.


Rebecca

I had not read Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier for thirty or thirty-five years, but remembered it fondly as a book that I enjoyed.  When my girls book group chose it for one of our classical reads (this year we have been reading a classic book every other month), I was pleased to return to it.  The book felt like an old friend whom I hadn't seen for a long time.  Warm, comforting and still a pleasure! 

If there is anyone out there who has not read Rebecca, it is the story of a young woman (interestingly, unnamed in the book) who goes from being a servant/companion to becoming the wife of a handsome wealthy English gentleman.  She met Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo, where she was traveling with her employer.  It was said that Maxim was traveling in order to remove himself from Manderley, his manor in England, where he had lost his beautiful wife, Rebecca,  to the sea.

The young woman and Maxim began a friendship, that soon turned to a marriage proposal and the couple wed.  After the wedding, Maxim took his new bride home to Manderley.  She was introduced to the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who very quickly made it clear that all would remain as Rebecca had left it.   Everyone talked of the beautiful Rebecca and the parties and dinners and balls that she gave.  The new Mrs. de Winter felt quite inadequate to live up to Rebecca's reputation. Soon, however, things were not as they seemed and the real fate (and nature) of Rebecca became a mystery...

Ms. Du Maurier's writing in this book is beautiful...Immediately the first line of the book was like a coming home:

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

My favorite example of Ms. Du Maurier's writing was this:

"We can never go back again, that much is certain.  The past is still too close to us.  The things we have tried to forget and put behind us would stir again, and that sense of fear, of furtive unrest, struggling at length to blind unreasoning panic-now mercifully stilled, thank God-might in some manner unforeseen become a living companion, as it had been before."
Beautiful!  Rebecca is a great old classic mystery!  Not deep, just enjoyable.  If you haven't read it, I recommend it...and if you have, read it again! You will enjoy it either way!

The Round House

I am a fan of Louise Erdrich's books.  I just want to state that right from the start!  Her latest novel is The Round House, published this year.  I don't consider it to be the best of her novels that I have read, but, that being said, I still thought that it was quite good.

The Round House is told by Joe, a thirteen year old only child of Bazil and Geraldine Coutts.  The family lived on a reservation in North Dakota.   Bazil Coutts was a well-respected tribal judge, and Geraldine was a tribal enrollment specialist.  One Sunday afternoon, Geraldine got a phone call and left the house to go to her office. When, after several hours, she had not returned home, Joe and his father borrowed a car to go find her.  She was not at her office, so they headed to the grocery store to see if she was there.  Upon realizing that the store was closed on Sunday, they headed back home.  They returned the borrowed car, then begin walking up their driveway.  As they came to the house, they saw that Geraldine was sitting in her car.  Thus begins the journey for Joe.

Geraldine had been attacked and was severely traumatized by the event.  She would not leave her bedroom or talk or share anything that had happened to her, leaving Joe and his father trying to put together pieces of exactly what had happened.

Joe wanted to help his mother heal, but she remained resistant. Meanwhile, Joe became frustrated with the lack of progress being made in the case and decided to find out who had attacked his mother.  His three childhood friends joined him.  The boys began to find some clues and evidence of the crime, and Joe began the struggle of what constitutes justice.

The book is a good story.  I especially enjoyed the stories that were included that were told by Joe's old grandfather.  The story is a good mystery with lots of humor, and serious struggles.


The Round House was a National Book Award Finalist for Fiction for 2012. (In 2009, Ms. Erdrich's novel Plague of Doves was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize). The Round House is her fourteenth novel.  Her novels are all based on Native American themes.  Ms. Erdrich's maternal grandfather was the tribal chairman for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in the 1950's (taken from Wikipedia).

(Want to know my favorite Louise Erdrich novel?  It is The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No House, published in 2001).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje was the October pick for one of my book groups.  I have to admit that I was not wildly crazy about the book, but the second half of the book did get much better (my opinion).
The story is narrated by Michael, an eleven year old boy who had been put on a ship for a three week journey to England to be with his mother, who he had not seen for years.  Michael was seated at the "cat's table" for his meals, along with two other young boys who were also traveling alone to England.  The boys did not know each other before the journey, but by the end of the three weeks, the trip became part of the makeup of their lives.  The cat's table was for "insignificant" people on the ship.  There are also some adults seated at the cat's table.  For three weeks, the boys shared adventures and lessons learned on the ship, as it traveled to England.  I didn't find their journey to be especially interesting, although others in my book group found it fascinating, so don't just go by my observation!

I did, however, find the aftermath of the journey very interesting, with Michael as an adult trying to sort out what the three week journey meant for him and how it affected his life. It was at this point that I began to really appreciate the author's writing...it was beautiful:

"I am someone who has a cold heart.  If I am beside a great grief I throw barriers up so the loss cannot go too deep or too far.  There is a wall instantly in place, and it will not fall.  Proust has this line: We think we not longer love our dead, but...suddenly we catch sight again of an old glove and burst into tears."

"Some events take a lifetime to reveal their damage and influence."

"We all have an old knot in the heart we wish to loosen and untie."

Great writing, don't you think?

Do I recommend the book?  I do, if only for the great writing in the second half of it.  I would love to hear how others felt about this book.

Just a side note: this is the same author who wrote The English Patient.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Anyone dealing with Wheat Belly?

Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis is quite an interesting, perhaps eye-opening book.  The book is about eliminating all wheat from one's diet.  Dr. Davis maintains that wheat in the modern day form is not the same wheat of old and is the cause of many health problems.   He even feels that the modern day wheat is addicting. He makes a compelling case.

"A wheat-free diet has been associated with significant benefits, including:
-Weight loss of 20, 30, even 50 pounds in the first few months
-Alleviation of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes
-Recovery from intestinal woes, like ulcerative colitis and celiac disease
-Marked improvement in overall cholesterol and LDL counts
-Improvement in bone density and reversal of osteopenia
-Cessation of skin conditions from psoriasis to oral ulcers and hair loss
-Reduction of inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis pain."

What more could you want?  The thing is, I am serious...what if he is right? He has lots of studies and patient trials to prove his point.  The book is very easy to read, although some of it was too much information for me.  But others may find it quite interesting.  Definitely a book to read and consider!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Summons to Memphis

We just spent the last five days on vacation, driving from Illinois to South Dakota and back.  Unfortunately, I can't read in the car, but I still managed to read A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor.  I loved it, just as I loved In the Tennessee Country, reviewed here earlier.  Something about those Southern novels almost always grabs me!  Mr. Taylor wrote A Summons to Memphis in 1985, his first novel after thirty-six years!  A Summons to Memphis won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1986.  In my opinion, with good reason!

As I often do, I am sharing the first line of the novel.  First lines of novels are very important to me...if the first line grabs me, I usually like the book.  This was no exception.

"The courtship and remarriage of an old widower is always made more difficult when middle-aged children are involved-especially when there are unmarried daughters."

This ends up giving a big clue to the whole book.  Not necessarily because of the marriage thing, but of the family in general that is portrayed in this novel.  The author wrote that

"...remarriage was more difficult for old widowers in Memphis than it was over in Nashville..."

"A Summons to Memphis" is about many issues summoning people to Memphis. It is the story of the George Carver family, who relocated to Memphis from Nashville after Mr. Carver was betrayed by his partner in Nashville.  He took his wife and four children, irregardless of how they felt about the move.  This move was a major event through-out the novel.  Thirty years after the family's move to Memphis, Mr. Carver's wife died.  Thus began Mr. Carver's "going out", first with older women his own age, then with much younger women.

 By this time, Josephine and Betsy Carver, the two unmarried daughters of Mr. Carver, are still living in Memphis.  The oldest son, George, had died during World War II, and the youngest son, Phillip (also unmarried) had been living in New York for years. Phillip, is the narrator of the story. His sisters would write and keep him apprised of their father's dating situation, of which amused them.  However, when Mr. Carver announced that he was getting married, Phillip was summoned to Memphis by his sisters to resolve the crisis.  Phillip then began actively recalling the past and wrongs that he perceived that his father had done to him, including sabotaging his one true love relationship, along with how his father affected the lives of Phillips' mother and siblings.  As Phillip recalls the past, he decided that the one true betrayal was his father's abruptly moving the family to Memphis from Nashville.

Phillip gets on a plane to answer his summons.  And as he arrived in Memphis, Phillip began immediately to see things in a different light.  It was very interesting to read how the author brought all to a conclusion.

This novel is about family secrets, forgiveness, understanding, and ultimately, love.

A great read!

Mudwoman

Mudwoman  is the thirty-eight novel written by Joyce Carol Oates, which is an incredibly amazing fact all by itself, but then to factor in that her novels are also quite good and insightful, makes her an even more amazing author!

Mudwoman begins in April of 1965. It begins:

"You must be readied, the woman said."

And with that beginning, the novel starts with a small child being taken by foot on a journey by her mother to what the mother called "the land of Moriah",  which was actually the mudflats beside the Black Snake River.  Once the child and mother arrived to where the mother deemed the place, the mother pushed and kicked the child down into the mudflats and left her there.  Move forward to October 2002.  M.R. (Meredith) Neukirchen is the first woman president of an Ivy League college. She made her career her life, never pursuing a family life.  She was still somewhat involved with a married man (her secret lover, as he is called in the book), and, for the most part, lived a fairly isolated life.

As you might have guessed, Meredith is Mudwoman.  Mudwoman is the child who had been abandoned in the mudflats and was miraculously discovered before it was too late.  The child was first placed in foster care for a brief time and was then adopted  by an older couple who had lost their only child, a daughter named Meredith, some years before.  Tellingly, the couple named their adopted daughter Meredith. Can you imagine how that must have been growing up...what expectations would that set up? 

One day, Meredith was driven to upstate New York for a conference.  She unexpectedly decided to rent a car and drive further upstate where her past began to seep into her consciousness. 

Although I don't think that it was ever specifically stated in the novel, it seemed to me that Meredith was slipping into some serious mental health issues as the novel progressed.  Not too unexpected given her history, and when she found her birth mother, it made an even stronger case for her descent.

I had mixed feelings about the novel.  I found it very hard to like or care about Meredith as an adult.  But I found the history of Meredith fascinating.  I did begin to care some about her near the very end of the book, when she went home to spend time with her (adoptive) father.  But the very ending of the book, put me right back into not liking her much.  I will admit, though, that it was an interesting story and it did keep my attention, so all in all, I recommend it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Orchardist

If you even can, imagine living in 1857, being nine years old.  That's when Talmadge, his sister, Elsbeth, and their mother traveled from the north-central part of the Oregon Territory into the far Northwest of the country.  Talmadge and Elsbeth's father had been killed in a mine collapse:

"When the mines collapsed, their mother did not even wait for the body of their father to be dredged up with the rest, but gathered their few belonging and set off with Talmadge and his sister at once.  They traveled north, and then west, west and then north."

The small family settled on some property that had two old apple trees. They planted some vegetables and barely existed.
Talmadge's sister, Elsbeth, was a year younger than him.  Three years after settling there, their mother died in the spring of 1860, leaving the Talmadge and Elsbeth to manage the three acre orchard that they now owned. As they sold the fruit from their orchard, they used the money to build themselves a two-room cabin.  Then in the spring of 1865, Elsbeth disappeared into the woods, and was never found or heard from again.

How does that kind of loss affect ones' life?  How does the isolation and loneliness creep into ones' existence?  By twenty years old, Talmadge had lost everyone in his life.  He remained there and gradually built the orchards up into a profitable business.  He went into town every other week to sell his fruit and visit with the few friends he had.  And so he lived for the next thirty-five years.

One day in 1900, two pregnant adolescent sisters stole some fruit from Talmadge's stand at the market in town, and then later the girls began to show up at Talmadge's orchard.  Over time, Talmadge very slowly began to earn their trust.  He began feeding them, leaving plates of food on his porch at first, as the girls would come nowhere near him.  As Talmadge hesitantly began to open his heart to the girls, they also hesitantly began to let him know them.  Sadly, about the time this happens, men with guns show up on the property and the tragedy of the sister's lives explode into even more horror.

I don't even want to share anymore of the story here, because I don't want to spoil the reading of this book for anyone...the book is that good!  The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin is her debut novel and it is outstanding.  As Talmadge becomes involved in the girl's lives and the aftermath, one cannot help but wonder and consider how it played into his emotional upheaval as he recalls his sister's disappearance.  An example of Ms. Coplin's excellent writing:

"He considered those times in life when he had uttered words to a person-Caroline Middey or Clee, or his mother, or a stranger who had long forgotten him-he wished he had never uttered, or had uttered differently, or he thought of the times he remained silent when he should have spoken as little as a single word.  He tried to recollect every word he had ever spoken to his sister, tried to detect his own meanness or thoughtlessness, his own insensitivity to certain inflections she might have employed.. How long ago it was now. At times he fretted about forgetting her, though in fact-he did not like to admit this-he had already forgotten much."  

The writing in this book is a pure joy to read.  I can't even imagine how a first time novelist can write like this!

The story is heartbreaking and uplifting and affirming of love in spite of difficult circumstances.  Talmadge is a quiet, unassuming gentleman, who faced the unthinkable and came out of it still as a loving, caring man.  I haven't even begun to give this book the credit it deserves.  Read it....you won't be disappointed!

Monday, September 3, 2012

In the Tennessee Country

"If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he rereads."



I don't know exactly what this quote (by Francois Mauriac) might tell you about me, but I thought it was interesting to have come across it right after I began reading this book! I was searching my bookshelves desperately looking for something to read late one night a few days ago and came across In the Tennessee Country by Peter Taylor.  It had been years since I had read it, and somehow, it called me.  Oh, what a good book!  I so enjoyed it! It was published in 1994, the same year that Mr. Taylor died.  I did not realize that he had written a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction book (Summons to Memphis) earlier in his life.  I haven't read it yet, but have already checked it out of the library.  Interestingly, reading about Mr. Taylor, I learned that when he died he had been publishing fiction for fifty-seven years.  As I read the short biography of Peter Taylor (at: http://www.knoxvillewritersguild.org/taylorbio.htm ), his life certainly seemed to parallel the life of Nathan Longfort, the narrator of In the Tennessee Country.

"In the Tennessee country of my forebears it was not uncommon for a man of good character suddenly to disappear.  He might be a young man or a middle-aged man or even sometimes a very old man.  Whatever the case, few questions were ever asked.  Rather, it was generally assumed that such a man had very likely felt the urging of some inner compulsion and so could not do otherwise than gather up his chattels and move on to resettle himself elsewhere."

And so the story began.  Nathan had first met Aubrey Tucker Bradshaw on the funeral train carrying Nathan's grandfather.  Aubrey was the illegitimate son of Nathan's great-uncle.  Aubrey had been taken in by Nathan's grandfather at an early age, and was considered somewhat of a black sheep by the time Nathan met him in 1916, when Nathan was about four years old.  Nathan's grandfather had been a Senator from Tennessee, and upon his death, his body was taken by train from Washington DC to Knoxville, Tennessee for burial.

The book is about Nathan's journey through life.  He had lost his father when he was nine years old and so was raised by his mother and his two aunts.  Through-out his growing up, Nathan heard stories about Aubrey, who after the funeral train ride had disappeared.  Through-out the years, Nathan would think that he spotted Aubrey whenever there were funerals for the family.  As Nathan got older, he began to search to try to learn what had become of this mysterious man.  He began collecting rumors of sightings of Aubrey, and as his mother aged, she became more open about sharing her stories of Aubrey, most notably, how he was her first love.



It is a charming book.  Much of the attraction of the story for me was the genealogical pieces of the story, along with it being a story of the South.  As Nathan pursues his interest in Aubrey over the years, he, of course, is living his own life wondering how his life would live up to the Senator and his (Nathan's) mother's expectations for him.  And, as to be expected, Nathan wonders about his own father, who had died so early in Nathan's life.

Much of the story seemed to strike a chord with me.  It is a rather lazy going, slow story, but kept my interest through-out.  I am anxious to read more of Mr. Taylor's works....

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Another Anita Shreve?

I know, I know...I recently gave a rather negative review to Where or When by Ms. Shreve, but as I stated in that post, I have read other books by her that I have enjoyed very much.  My daughter gave me Body Surfing to read several months ago, and so when I came across it on one of my several to-be-read shelves, I decided that it was time to read it so that I could return it to her!  Good decision on several points...one, it's always a good thing to return books to their owners; two, I needed something to read that very night; three, I really enjoyed the book!

Body Surfing is the story of Sydney, a twenty-nine year old once divorced, once widowed, rather lost soul.  That summer Sydney took on a position as a tutor for the daughter of a family who summers on the New Hampshire coast.  The Edwards family had two grown sons, and a eighteen year old daughter, Julie.  As Sydney settled into her position, it became clear that she was expected to do a bit more than tutor, as she began to take on some of the household duties.  She became more and more enmeshed in the family when the two sons came for a weekend.  Ben was quite successful in the real estate field, and Jeff was a professor at MIT, who was involved with another woman.  Their first night there, the brothers took Sydney out to body surf, which is something that she has always enjoyed.  As the weekend progressed both of the brothers appeared to be interested in Sydney.  And as the summer passed, Sydney and Jeff became involved, then engaged.  Ben seemed to become more distant from all of the family, but especially Sydney and Jeff.

Meanwhile, Sydney was doing her best with Julie, who appeared to be rather slow at first, but Sydney realized that Julie showed some talent for composition and so Sydney began to encourage Julie to draw and paint, which Julie ended up having a gift for.  Sydney became close to Mr. Edwards over the summer, but never felt accepted by his wife, who appeared to be cold and non-caring. Sydney is half Jewish and Mrs. Edwards is anti-Semitic.

"The woman might well look windblown, Sydney thought.  One child would marry a Jew.  A second was a lesbian.  A third, by all accounts heterosexual, had absented himself from the family indefinitely.
All this she blamed on Sydney."

One evening, Julie wandered off after dinner without anyone realizing she was gone until later in the evening.  Sydney and Jeff went out searching for her to no avail.  Late in the evening, Julie was dropped off at the house and was very intoxicated and unable or unwilling to tell Sydney where she had gone.  Since she had no friends there, Sydney, Jeff and Ben were quite concerned.  Concerns really escalated when Julie then disappeared again, eventually showing up living in Montreal with a twenty-five year old woman who Julie had met on the beach that first night she had been missing.  Julie and Jeff went to Montreal, planning to bring Julie back home, but that didn't work out as the family had planned.  

I don't think that I should go on with the story, so I don't ruin it for anyone.  It is a very well-written account of a family falling-apart, and a woman trying to figure out old rivalries and secrets.  The ending is explosive as Sydney learned the truth about the family, and about herself.  Good read.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Couple of Older Novels

I just finished reading a couple of novels that have been out for a long time, but I had not read them and I am a fan of both authors, so when they showed up on my To-Be-Read pile, it seemed like a good time to enjoy them!

After re-reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving a few months ago, I was happy to find A Widow for One Year in with my mother's books that my father had me go through to see what I wanted.  I snatched it up!  And am glad that I did!

Typical of John Irving, this is a long book, with great characterizations.  It was published in 1998 and was the ninth novel written by Irving.  The novel begins in the summer of 1958, with four year old Ruth Cole.  Ruth is the youngest of three children; however her two older brothers had died and the house was enshrined with photographs of the boys.  Each photograph was a separate story.  And the boy's death was the mother's story:

"The grief over lost children never dies; it is a grief that relents only a little.  And then only after a long while."

That summer, a young man, Eddie, had been hired to be an assistant to Ruth's father, who was a writer.  Eddie was a sixteen year old aspiring writer, who ended up doing more that summer than assisting Ruth's father.  Ruth's parents, Marion and Ted, were separated and living apart, so Eddie took on much of Ruth's care.  He also became Marion's lover.

The novel is told in three parts...the summer of 1958, the fall of 1990 and the autumn of 1995.  It is the story of Ruth and goes through the lives of Ruth, Eddie, Marion and Ted.  Interestingly, all four main characters are writers.  The stories of each of their lives is interesting, intertwined and somewhat tragic.  It kept my interest through-out and now I feel the need to not only read those Irving novels that I have not read, but re-read the ones that I have.  Should make for a good winter of reading!

I also just  completed The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver.  I am also quite a fan of Ms. Kingsolver's book so I was interested to not that this is her very first novel (written in 1988)!  I came across it at a library sale for twenty-five cents!  Quite a bargain!

 Marietta "Missy" Greer grew up in the backwoods of Kentucky determined to finish high school (without getting pregnant) and leaving the poverty behind.  She did graduate and got a job.  She worked for five years, saving up what money she could.  When Missy had enough money she bought an old beat-up VW bug.  And as soon as she showed up home with it, her mother knew that Missy would be leaving.  Missy wanted to go out west and find her future, so her mother taught her what she knew of maintaining the car (like changing tires) and Missy left.  To begin her new life, Missy decided to change her first name.  She couldn't decide what to call herself so she began considering names of towns as she drove through them.  Eventually, she decided upon "Taylor" after a town called Taylorville.  Missy didn't know where she was headed, just thought that she would know it when she got there, or until her car wouldn't go any further.

And that's how the story goes...Taylor kind of falls into situations as they arise and lives her life accordingly.  One of the biggest situations was that as she headed west, she stopped and had an young child thrust upon her.

Taylor and Turtle (the name she chose for the child) landed in Tuscon Arizona, and began their new life.  As they drove into Tuscon, a tire blew on Taylor's car, and she ended up at a tire store.  The store was called Jesus is Lord Used Tires and it was run by an older woman named Mattie.  Taylor had no money for tires, but she and Mattie began a friendship, and Mattie helped Taylor settle into Tuscon.


The rest of the book is about Taylor's resourcefulness as she and Turtle begin their new life.  It is a story about hope, love and loyalty.  And how friendships make all the difference in one's life.

Good book!  I am especially impressed with it being her first novel!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Where or When

Anita Shreve has written quite a few books, many of which I have enjoyed, but every once in awhile I read one of hers that I don't care much for.  Where or When  fits kind of in-between.  I didn't find the characters very believable, nor was the premise of the book.  Just my opinion!

Charles and Sian met at a one-week camp when they were thirteen years old, and "fell in love".  However, they had no contact after that week.  Thirty years later, they are both married to other people and Charles read that Sian had published a book of poetry. Charles decided to send Sian a note congratulating her and suggesting that they get together.  They began writing back and forth and finally meet up with each other for lunch at where else?  The camp where they met.  It had been turned into a lodge/restaurant.  So goes the story.  It ends disastrously for both.

Both characters came across unlikeable to me. They ended up acting as if they were still thirteen....sending tapes of music to each other, clinging to his shirt that he sent her, etc.  Grow up.

(I know-a rather harsh review...if you can believe in love at thirteen, maybe this book would be for you!)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

a land more kind than home

I found a land more kind than home for sale at a library...it just came out this year, so I was surprised to find it for sale.  I am glad that I picked it up.  It is the first novel by Wiley Cash and it was a good one!  I have to admit that I had a bit of a hard time getting into at first, but I am really happy that I stuck with it.  It's a good read! 

Each chapter is told by one of three main characters, Adelaide, the town mid-wife, Clem, the town sheriff and Jess.  I especially like reading books that are told in this way. The story begins in a small North Carolina town with Adelaide Lynch, a seventy-seven year old woman who had left her church a couple of years earlier after the death of a woman who was being "healed" by Pastor Chambliss.  After what Adelaide witnessed there, Adelaide said:

 "I'd been a member of that church in one way or another since I was a young woman, but things had been took too far, and I couldn't pretend to look past them no more."

So Adelaide prayed on it and decided that the church was not a safe place for children to be and she told the pastor that she was leaving the church and taking the children with her.  So once the services started, she would take the children and have Sunday school with them.  When the story takes place, Adelaide had been doing that for the past ten years.

Jess Hall and his brother, Christopher (who was known as "Stump"), were two of the children that Miss Adelaide taught in Sunday school.  Stump was fourteen and was mute, so nine-year old Jess always looked out for him.  One day, the boys were sneaking a look into their parent's bedroom window and saw something they shouldn't have seen. And the repercussions from that event led the children into shattering events.

 The author does a great job with the characters...I felt quite involved in the story, knew the characters well, and had strong feelings about the characters, including the pastor and Jess' parents. I was very impressed with the writing.

The title of the book is taken from Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again:

"[Death is] to lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth."
 Reading just that truly explains this book.  I recommend it!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Absolutist

A friend of mine sent out an article recently that John Irving had written, where Mr. Irving recommended "four really outstanding novels".  I was intrigued with the description of one novel: The Absolutist by John Boyne, an Irish writer.   The odd thing was, I had difficulty finding the book and it was just published in 2012.  I don't know why it was hard to find, but I was able to order it from Amazon.com.

The Absolutist is truly an outstanding book.  I read it in two days...couldn't put it down.   The story begins in September 1921 in Norwich, England.  Tristan Sadler was a young soldier who had returned from the War and was setting out to return letters to his best friend's sister....letters that she had written to her brother, Will.  Will had become Tristan's best friend during their training and they had fought alongside each other during the Great War.  Sadly, Will did not survive.  Will became an "absolutist".

"It's one step beyond conscientiously objecting."

An absolutist would not help the war effort in any way.

"Won't fight, won't help those who are fighting, won't work in a hospital or come to the aid of the wounded." 

The men fighting the War in this story considered absolutism to be:

"Cowardice on the most extreme level."

The last chapter of the book is "The Shame of My Actions" from 1979 London.  Tristan was now in his eighties, and he again met up with Will's sister.  There is a very unexpected twist to the end of the book, one which left me very sad.

What happens to Will becomes the story of Tristan's life.

This book is powerful.  It is a wonderfully, sad love story.  And has strong perspectives on war.  I am so glad that I found and read this book!  (Thanks, Paul!)



Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The World Below

Another author whose books I have enjoyed is Sue Miller.  The World Below was published in 2001.  I bought it at a library for twenty-five cents the other day.  It was quite a bargain!

This book goes back and forth between generations of a grandmother and her granddaughter.  The granddaughter, Cath, was left her grandmother's home in Vermont upon her aunt's death.  Cath left San Francisco to go to Vermont to live for awhile as she tried to make some sense of her life and her future.  While living in the house, she discovered her grandmother's diaries.  This discovery lead Cath into a journey of learning about her grandmother's life, including her secrets.  Life is not always as it appears.

Fascinating story.  I loved it!  Just the kind of thing I love to read. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Ice Queen

I have read several of Alice Hoffman's books...some I have really liked, others not so much.  But I have enjoyed enough of her novels to give The Ice Queen a chance! I am so glad that I did, because I loved the book, especially Ms. Hoffman's writing!

When the un-named narrator of the book was eight years old, she told her mother in an anger-filled moment that she wished that she would never see her again.  This is how the book begins:

"Be careful what you wish for.  I know that for a fact.  Wishes are brutal, unforgiving things.  They burn your tongue the moment they're spoken and you can never take them back.  They bruise and bake and come back to haunt you.  I've made far too many wishes in my lifetime, the first when I was eight years old."

How great is that writing?

"And here was the odd thing about making that wish, the one that made her disappear: it hurt."

After the death of their mother, the narrator and her brother went to live with their grandparents.  The narrator grew up to work at a reference desk in the local library.  She became an expert on the topic of death.  Upon her grandmother's death, the narrator decided to move to Florida to be closer to her brother and his family.  When her brother came to get her (in New Jersey), they were heading to Florida, driving in a thunderstorm, when the narrator spoke a wish that lightening would strike her.  Guess what happened one evening while settled in her new home in Florida...yep, lightening struck her.

The narrator joined a group at the local university who were being researched...all of the group members had been struck by lightening.  Here she heard of Seth "Lazarus" Jones, another local man who had been struck by lightening and had died for forty minutes, yet survived.  He was not part of the research group.  The narrator of the book decided that she needed to meet him, and tracked him down.  And her obsession with him began.

"Are people drawn to each other because of the stories they carry inside?"

The narrator struggles through-out the story trying to determine what is love and what is obsession and what is the difference between the two.  As she and Lazarus learn each other's stories, they begin to save each other. As the relationship ends, she says:

"This would be the moment I would never let go of, even though it caused me the greatest pain.  When I was old, when I couldn't walk or talk or see, I would still have this."

 The relationship is one of passion, secrets, love and hope.  And in the end, saving grace.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Some hot-weather reading!

We returned home last night after having spent a week in the St. Louis area at one of my daughter's home.  My husband was building bookcases for them.  Unfortunately, it ranged in the 100 to 107 degrees- hot weather all week!  Not so great weather for my husband to be out in the garage working all week, but great stay inside reading weather for me!  I finished three books over the week!

The first book that I read was The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.  Loved it!  It kept me guessing and wondering through-out most of the book.  The book is loosely based on an old Russian folktale called

The Snow Maiden by A. Ostrovskii

How fun is that?  The Snow Child is set in Alaska in the 1920's, in a very desolate, isolated setting.  Jack and Mabel went there to homestead, trying to get away from the pain of not having children. Their first winter there, they were already afraid of not being able to make it and surviving the harsh winter.  In a playful moment, they made a snow girl and used real mittens and scarf for the snow child.  The next morning, the snow child was gone, but soon, they begin catching glimpses of a young girl running in the woods, wearing the scarf and mittens.  Is this real?  Is it wishful thinking?  How could there possibly be a child living in the deep woods of Alaska?

Meanwhile, Jack and Mabel met their closest neighbors, George and Esther, who had lived in Alaska for a number of years.  Slowly, Mabel begins to let herself trust Esther and a friendship began to grow.  George and Esther and their sons started helping both Jack and Mabel learn how to survive the Alaskan winters.

Eventually, the snow girl began to come closer to Jack and Mabel's cabin and they began a tentative relationship, where she would sometimes show up, sometimes even staying to eat with them.  But she would not stay with them; she would always return to the wild.

The story goes through years in the Alaskan wilderness and is a very touching story of survival, love, mystery and faith.  I really liked this book, and highly recommend it! 

The second book that I read was Dirt by David Vann.  It, too, was a very interesting book, but in a very different way!  It was a quick read, and when I finished, my first thought was that was an odd story.  Which, of course, often seems to be right up my alley!

 Dirt is about Galen, a twenty-two year old man who lives with his mother in the old family home. He and his mother live frugally off of a family trust.  The only other family left are Galen's grandmother, who is in a nursing home, and his mother's sister and her daughter, Jennifer.   Jennifer is a high-school student, who uses Galen for sexual pleasure.  Galen is an odd duck, who thinks that he is an old soul.  However, as the book progresses, it is clear that Galen is also quite mentally ill.  He is continually trying to transform himself into something else.  And dirt plays a big part in his attempts of transformation.

When Galen's mother confronts him with his relationship with Jennifer, all hell breaks loose as Galen's limited stability unfurls itself and he tries to bring things back to "normal".

This is a rather disturbing book on several levels, but it is well-written and I found myself thinking about it quite a bit after I had finished. it.  Would I recommend it?  Depends...

And lastly, I finished The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney.  I had read her first novel The Tenderness of Wolves and had enjoyed it very much, so I was glad to come across this, her second novel. 

The Invisible Ones takes place in England and is about Romanies (or Gypsies).  I don't believe that I have ever read a book about Gypsies before, so I found this quite interesting.  The novel is a mystery that starts out with Ray Lovell, a private detective whose father was a Gypsy, being hired to find a young woman who had disappeared seven years ago.  Her father, Leon Wood, also a Gypsy, came to Ray because Ray had Gypsy blood in him  and he now believed that something bad had happened to his daughter.The daughter, Rose Wood, had married Ivo Janko who was from another Gypsy family. However, Rose disappeared soon after the marriage.  Ray took on the case and began researching the Janko family.  That's when even more mysteries erupt.  Whose child is the young Christo, what is the family disease, what became of Ivo's sister, and on and on!

The story is told in chapters alternately narrated by Ray and by JJ Smith, the  fourteen year old nephew of Ivo Janko.  I liked the way the story was told by the two perspectives.  There is also a good twist at the end!  Good book!

And now we are back home and I am planning/hoping to keep up my reading pace!  I found four books to read at a flea market type store while I was gone, so I am off to read some more!