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!





Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Bonesetter's Daughter

This is a novel about mother and daughter relationships that although it is about Chinese culture, the relationship issues transcend cultures.  The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan covers many issues, not just those of mother-daughter issues.   There is murder and great harshness interweaved in the story.

The book is the story of LuLing and her daughter, Ruth.  But beyond those characters, there is the story of LuLing and her mother.  LuLing was born and raised in China; she came to the United States after World War II, married and had a child (Ruth).  Ruth grew up hearing stories of LuLing's childhood and how her caretaker, Precious Auntie, raised her.  However, as LuLing began to age and show signs of possible dementia, Ruth began to question LuLing's history, as she knew it.  She found narratives written by LuLing and began to piece together the truth of LuLing's past.  Ruth found that some of what LuLing was telling her that she had thought were signs of dementia were really the truth!

As Ruth began to understand LuLing's true past history, she began to understand her mother better and realized all that her mother had gone through.  That knowledge helped her to begin the healing of their relationship.

It was an interesting story, one that went back through generations, with secrets, betrayals, love, murders, etc.  We read the book for our book group and it made for a good discussion.

Coal Run

Coal Run by Tawni O'Dell was published in 2004, but I just got around to reading it. It was her second novel.  I had thoroughly enjoyed her Back Roads, so I was glad to have come across another of her books while at the library.  The book was a quick read and a good story.

Coal Run is the name of a town that used to be an active mining community in Pennsylvania, until a mining explosion killed 96 men, and lives were changed forever. Ivan's father was one of the men killed in the explosion.  At the time of the explosion, Ivan was in kindergarten, so he grew up not really knowing his father.  He was a star high school football player who went on to play for Joe Paterno at Penn State, then was drafted by the Chicago Bears, until a knee injury ended his professional career before it even started.  After the injury, Ivan left Pennsylvania and stayed away for years.

One day Ivan received a newspaper clipping about an old childhood friend's upcoming release from prison.  Reese Raynor has been in prison for beating his wife. Ivan decides to return to Coal Run and becomes a local deputy there, while he waits for Reese's release.

The book is broken into less than a week...Sunday through Friday.  As the week progresses, Ivan is faced with the secrets and regrets that he has been carrying with him for years.

As I said, it's a good story...and, as the inside cover describes, it is

"A story about letting go of the goals of greatness for the ordinary grace of good work, family love, and an acceptance of where you come from..."

Ms. O'Dell's writing is very easy to read and leaves you feeling like you know the characters well.  Good book!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My continuing struggle with non-fiction reading

I read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand for one of my book groups.  While I thought that the story was very well-written and researched, I just didn't enjoy the story.  And it is a great story of survival.  I just don't enjoy reading about WWII Japanese prison camps. The horror of the brutality is not what I want to read for enjoyment.  That's just a personal thing and in no way do I mean to reflect badly on the book.  I know that millions have enjoyed the book, as did my book's just not my kind of reading.

The other non-fiction book that I read recently was by Pat Conroy, one of my favorite authors.  The book is called The Water is Wide.  It is the story of a year when Mr. Conroy chose to teach young children on the island of Yamacraw off of South Carolina.  It was an interesting book.  I guess I was disappointed reading it, because I love his fiction so much! This was more mundane.

Obviously, I am not a big non-fiction fan, something that I have been trying to push myself to resolve.  Still working on it...


I just finished nightwoods by Charles Frazier.  It was a quick read and I loved it.  For any who might not know or remember, he wrote Cold Mountain also.  I love his writing style.

nightwoods takes place in a small North Carolina town in the early 1960's.  There lives Luce, a single, fairly isolated woman whose sister was murdered and Luce is now left with her sister's two young children (twins).  The children appear to be somewhat psychologically wounded...they will not speak and set fires, runaway, etc.

"The first time Luce tried to take their clothes off to help them bathe was a bad day.  They cried bleak, silent tears.  The could bawl like calves or wail like beagles when they were frustrated or mad, but this was something else.  She stopped undressing them immediately but they went off into their own heads, dazed, and stayed there for hours."

Luce was living in an old abandoned Lodge on a lake as a caretaker for the Lodge.  The owner of the Lodge had died earlier, and his grandson came to check out his inheritance, which included the Lodge.  Meanwhile, Luce's sister' husband (the twins step-father) came to town.  He had been charged with his wife's murder, and was found not guilty.  Now he wanted to find the children.  He felt that they knew information that he needed.

The story introduces various other characters, such as Luce's estranged mother and father, and Maddie, a wise old neighbor.

Another great example of Mr. Frazier's writing, where he was again writing about the children:

"No apologies.  Repent was a lost word in their lexicon.  They did what they did, and moved forward despite whatever trail of ashes they left behind.  And Luce wondered if maybe that was what they had to teach her.  No looking back.  Life goes one way only and whatever opinions you hold about the past have nothing to do with anything but your own damn weakness. Nothing changes what already happened.  It will always have happened.  You either let it break you down or you don't."

Brilliant writing!  Loved this book!