Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Missing Mom

I am a big fan of Joyce Carol Oates books.  Once in awhile, however, her books miss with me...just not Missing Mom is a hard book to put in a like/didn't like category.  There were a few parts that I found to be outstanding writing, yet most of the book was laborious, just-shoot-me reading.  The very beginning of the book put me in tears:
good.

"Last time you see someone and you don't know it will be the last time.  And all that you know now, if only you'd known then.  But you didn't know, and now it's too late.  And you tell yourself How could I have known, I could not have known.
You tell yourself.

This is my story of missing my mother.  One day, in a way unique to you, it will be your story, too."

Anyone who has lost their mother would have to feel this.

This is a novel about Nikki Eaton, a thirty-one year old adolescent, who was still rebelling against all the her parents had stood for in their stereotypical middle class lives. 

The novel is about the year following Gwen Eaton's murder and how Nikki dealt with missing her mother.  Nikki had been working as a small town reported for a local newspaper.  She was involved with an older, married man and worked at staying removed from her mother and sister, Clare.  One day, Clare called Nikki reporting that her mother was not answering her phone and her car was not at her home.  Nikki wasn't especially concerned about her mother not being where she was supposed to be and went on with her day.

"Since speaking with Clare I'd been waiting for the phone to ring but it had not rung.  I'd been waiting for Mom to call but Mom had not called.  And I was made to realize that, if Clare hadn't called to upset me, if Mom had called in her place, I would have peered at the caller I.D. screen, seen EATON, JON and probably would not have picked up because I was working; because I didn't want to be interrupted in my work.
And it came to me Here is what you deserve: never to hear your mother's living voice again."

Nikki left work and arrived at her mother's home and found her mother murdered in her garage.  And life changed for Nikki in that moment. Gwen's murder started Nikki on a path of examining her own life.

"Something ruptured and began bleeding in my chest when I bent over my mother, when I saw my mother in that way.  It will happen to you, in a way special to you.  You will not anticipate it, you cannot prepare for it and you cannot escape it.  The bleeding will not cease for a long time."

Unfortunately, this was from page 58...it was not until page 397 that I was struck by her writing again.  The pages in-between are full of Nikki's story of living her mother's life.  She moved into her mother's home, began doing the things that her mother did, etc.  Near the end of the book, it did become interesting again, as Nikki began learning about her mother's life before she was a wife and mother.  Nikki began clearing out the attic at her mother's home and began to discover who her mother really was.  And she found things that her mother had saved.

"It was the fate of mothers, to remember.  What nobody else would know or care about.  That, when they are gone, goes with them."
 Would I recommend the book to others? Nope.  Will I read the book again? Nope.  I have already given you the best parts!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The House Girl

I was immediately taken in when I began reading The House Girl by Tara Conklin.  It is a debut novel
and I can't wait to read more of Ms. Conklin's work.  The House Girl debuted on the New York Times Bestseller List at number 29!

“Mister hit Josephine with the palm of his hand across her left cheek and it was then she knew she would run.”
Thus began the novel.  

The House Girl is about a slave, Josephine, a house girl for Miss Lu Anne Bell.  Miss Lu taught Josephine to read and to paint.  They would sometimes paint together.  Josephine had tried to escape a couple of years earlier and had been turned away at the safe house because she was nine months pregnant.  So she had been biding her time, waiting for the time she felt she could run away.  After her master hit her for absolutely no reason, she knew it was time to go.  The story started in 1852.

The book alternates between 1852 and 2004.  In 2004, attorney Lina Sparrow worked for a New York law firm and was offered the chance to work on a class action suit seeking reparations for the descendants of slaves.  In order to present a solid case, Lina was expected to produce a living descendant of a slave.  Lina lived with her father, Oscar Sparrow, a fairly well-renowned artist, who told Lina about an art show that was about to open that was featuring the work of Lu Anne Bell, an artist who had lived on a failing tobacco plantation before the Civil War.  The show was examining whether Lu Anne had actually created the featured paintings, or if they were in fact, the work of her house girl, Josephine.  Oscar suggested to Lina that perhaps a descendant of Josephine could be found for the law suit.

The novel is told in alternating chapters between Josephine and Lina.  Both of the women's stories are fascinating, and in different ways, share some similarities in the sense of identities, families, etc.

The novel seemed very well researched to me, and, as a genealogist, I was quite pleased by that.  But even more importantly, the novel was well-written, hard-to-put-down and really, what more could a reader want in a book?  It was a great read!

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Storyteller

I have read quite a few of Jodi Picoult's books, and The Storyteller is one of her very best.  I could
hardly put it down!  I especially enjoy historical novels about either the Civil War or the Holocaust, so I was anxious to read The Storyteller as soon as I had seen what it was about.

The novel is divided into three parts, and each part is divided into narrations by several main characters. There are also parts through-out the novel of Sage's grandmother's writing.

Sage was a twenty-five year old baker who began attending a grief group following the death of her mother.  There she met Josef Weber, who was dealing with his wife's death.  Josef was a ninety-five year old retired high school German teacher who was well-respected in the community.  Sage and Josef became friends and as Josef began to trust Sage he shared a long-hidden secret with her, and asked her to help him die.

Josef's secret shook Sage's world.  Sage was a Jew who had pretty much let go of her religion.  Josef's secret and request forced her to consider forgiveness, retribution, life, and death.  Sage's grandmother, Minka, was a Holocaust survivor who had written about her time in the camps.  As Josef shares more with Sage, she decides to contact Leo, a Nazi hunter, to help her determine if all is as Josef has claimed, especially to learn if Josef is who he says he is.

The story was very touching and quite interesting.  Reading Minka's time compared to Josef's time offered an unique perspective to the Holocaust events.

"There are so many ways to betray someone.
You can whisper behind his back.
           You can deceive him on purpose.
               
           You can deliver him into the hands of his enemy, when he trust you.
               
            You can break a promise.
                
            The question is, if you do any of these things, are you also betraying yourself?" 


Good book, good story, good writing!

(Side note: this book hit number 1 on the New York Times Bestseller's List at the end of March 2013)


Monday, November 25, 2013

The Burgess Boys

Did you love Olive Kitteridge?  Well, the author, Elizabeth Strout, has a new book out...The Burgess
Boys!

It's another book that I will reread at some point...When Jim and Bob Burgess were young boys a freak accident killed their father and the cause of his death haunted them both all of their lives.  Both boys left their home in Maine after finishing school and moved to New York.  Jim became a very successful, nationally known lawyer.  His younger brother, Bob, worked for Legal Aid as an attorney.  Their sister, Susan, remained in Maine where she married and divorced and was raising her son, Zach.

One day, Susan called her brothers to ask for their help...her son Zach was in serious legal trouble.  Both of the brothers returned to Maine to help...and the family dynamics began to show themselves.  Old hurts, misunderstandings, and secrets unfold.

The novel is a fascinating look at families, grief, guilt, loss and love.  The Burgess Boys is another great hit for Ms. Strout.


 

Margot and Disgrace-Two books

In trying to catch up on my blogging (as usual) I am writing about two books in this blog.  Both were read for my November book group meetings.

Margot by Jillian Cantor sounded so intriguing that all of the book group was excited to read it. 
Turned out to be somewhat of a let down.  The premise of the book is fascinating, but the writing left much to be desired.  And I hated the very predictable ending.

Anyway, the book is based on the premise that Ann Frank's older sister, Margot, had survived the war and was living in Philadelphia as Margie Franklin, hiding her identity.  She worked for a law firm and led a quiet, unassuming life.  As the film The Diary of Ann Frank came out (1959), Margot began questioning her life, past and present.

Sounds good, right?  I really struggled with the writing...I just didn't like it.  While at book group, I looked the author up online and learned that she has written several young adult books.  Aha!  That is what the writing reminded me of.  If the novel had been presented as a young adult book, it would make sense that it was written more simply and ended so predictably.  But that is not how the novel has been presented.

So fair warning...if you find the premise interesting and want to read the book...think of it as a young adult novel.  It will make much more sense to you.  

The other book that I read for November book group was Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee.  I had not read The Human Stain in the past few months and loved it so much, that this book just didn't compare to it for me.  However, the themes were similar.
anything by this author, although he has been a prize winning author in the past.  I will admit that he is a very good writer, but I didn't enjoy this novel.  Some of that may have been because I had read



David Lurie was a fifty-two year old divorced professor at a university in South Africa.  He seemed to have no positive regard for women and when he became involved with one of his students he was dismissed from the university. Upon his dismissal, he decided to go visit his daughter Lucy who worked a small farm.  David and Lucy clearly had a distant relationship.  One day three men came to Lucy's farm and an afternoon of violence ensued.  David attempted to become closer to Lucy but he seemed clueless on how to do that.

I know that this is not a very clear review of the novel, but I just didn't find it that good.  It did make for an interesting discussion at book group, with the women finding David utterly unlikeable and the men finding some redeemable qualities.

The Good Lord Bird

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride won the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction recently.  I have had it sitting on my pile of books to review for awhile.  I read The Good Lord Bird about a month or so ago.  As soon as I had read the previews of it, I knew I wanted to read it, so as soon as it came out I was at the bookstore.  I have been a fan of James McBride's work for several years and I love reading about the Civil War era, so this was right up there in interest for me.

This novel is about John Brown and the abolitionists and their activities leading into the Civil War.  It is narrated by Henry Shackleford.  Henry was a young slave boy in Kansas in 1856, when John Brown and his boys came to the area.   When John Brown and Henry's owner got into an argument, Henry was taken by John Brown.  John Brown thought that Henry was a girl, and began calling him "Onion".

Great opening lines:

"I was born a colored man and don't you forget it.  But I lived as a colored woman for seventeen years."
Beginning in the first chapter Henry describes his father and the writing is just superb. His father was a barber and a preacher and quite an eccentric fellow.  Henry's mother had died in childbirth when Henry was born.  In the first chapter of the book, the reader is introduced to Henry and his father, and to John Brown.  I was hooked right then.

The book is about the exploits of John Brown leading up to his raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859.  All told from the young Onion's point of view.  Very interesting....certainly made me curious to learn more about John Brown...was he as crazy as the book makes me sound?

One of the passages I really loved was this:

"We spent them hours reading the Bible together in the dusk and discussing its passages.  I come to enjoy them talks, for even though I'd gotten used to living a lie-being a girl-it come to me this way: Being a Negro's a lie, anyway.  Nobody sees the real you.  Nobody knows who you are inside.  You just judged on what you are on the outside whatever your color.  Mulatto, colored, black, it don't matter.  You just a Negro to the world.  But somehow, setting on the bench of that porch, conversating with her, watching the sun go down over the mountains above the Ferry, made me forget 'bout what was covering me and the fact that the Old Man was aiming to get us all minced to pieces.  I come to the understanding that maybe what was on the inside was more important, and that your outer covering didn't count so much as folks thought it did, colored or white, man or woman."

Like I said...great writing.  Clearly a book that I will reread at some point. And very deserving of the National Book Award!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

House of Sand and Fog

House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III was published in 1999 and was a Finalist for the National
Book Award for Fiction in the same year.  It was also an Oprah's Book Club pick.  Those alone are interesting enough for me to be surprised that I had never picked it up to read until last month, when it was the October read for one of my book groups.

Probably the most interesting thing to me about the book is how none of the characters were especially likable.  It was easy to feel sorry for them, but not enough to really are about them.

One of the three main characters was Colonel Behrani, who had been a wealthy officer in Iran until he and his family left there to come to the United States.  In the United States he struggled to make a living for his family and  the family found it difficult to cope with their new status as struggling emigrants.  Colonel Behrani worked hard and planned hard, determined to raise his family to the lifestyle they had been accustomed to in Iran.  When he came across a foreclosed home, he saw an opportunity to remodel the home and sell it for a profit, and possibly begin a new life.

The house had belonged to Kathy Nicolo, a divorcee who was struggling herself in many different ways (emotionally, financially, etc.).  One day, seemingly out of the blue, she was handed a court order stating that her house was going up for auction the next day, and she needed to move out immediately.  The court order stated that she and her husband had operated a business out of the home and they owed a business tax. It was a mistake, but she had not been able to correct it apparently.

 "I was picturing all the county tax mail I'd been throwing away unopened since last winter..."
Deputy Sheriff Lester Burdon was one of the police officers who had come with the court order.  Lester was a married man, who became interested in and then in love with Kathy.  He took it upon himself to help her in the battle to win her home back.

Meanwhile, Kathy had to move out, and Colonel Behrani and his family moved into the house.  The Behrani's began making improvements to the house.

And so the story begins...These three characters lead the story to a tragic ending for all.  It is a story about obsessions...Kathy's for her home, Lester for Kathy, and Colonel Behrani for a better life. 

Interestingly, reviews say it is a book "combining unadorned realism with profound empathy."  I don't see either realism or profound empathy.  I really didn't feel any empathy for any of them.  I felt sorry for them and the way their different obsessions destroyed not only their lives, but the lives of others.

Do I recommend the book?  Not really.  I just didn't related at all to any of the characters.  But perhaps another reader will.  It obviously was a popular book, so I may just be jaded!






Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Town Like Alice


A friend from book group recommended A Town Like Alice by Neil Shute and I am
really glad that he did and that I followed through and read it! It is an older book, published in 1950.  I had never heard of the book, so was curious to read it.  The author died in 1960 and when I checked what else he had written, none of his work sounded familiar to me.  However, having said that, this novel reviewed was made into a movie and the book was rated as #17 of 100 in the Readers' List of the Modern Library 100 Best Novels of the 20th century. Sounds pretty good to me!

 

A Town Like Alice is the story of the life of Jean Paget.  Jean came from England, but was living in Malaya during World War II.  She and many others were captured by the Japanese and were sent on a forced march for seven months through the jungles.  They had to keep going because wherever they went, the prisoners were not wanted and so they would have to keep moving. Eventually the prisoners were able to settle for a time and stayed there until they were rescued.  While a prisoner, Jean became friends with a couple of Australian soldiers who were also prisoners, but were able to offer some assistance with food and medicine.  However, the soldiers paid a high price for helping the women and were thought to have died.

 

After her rescue, Jean returned to England and lived a quiet life.  Years later, she received an unexpected inheritance and decided that she wanted to give something back to the village in Malaya that had helped her survive.  She left her job and traveled to Malaya to organize her gift to them.  While there, Jean learned that one of the soldiers that had helped her had survived and was living back in Australia.  She went there to search for him and while there, found what her life had been missing.

 

This book really seemed like two novels....the story in Malaya and then years later, the story of Jean's life in Australia.  Both of the stories are wonderfully courageous and up-lifting. 

 

The book is very well written and I too recommend it!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Far Cry From Kensington

A Far Cry From Kensington was written in1988 by Muriel Sparks.  Ms. Sparks had quite an extensive list of books written, but the only one that I had heard of was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  A Far Cry From Kensington was one of my book groups choice for September.

This novel is a story narrated by Mrs. Agnes "Nancy" Hawkins, who is looking back in time and telling the story of her years in postwar London.  Mrs. Hawkins was a 28 year old war-widow, who lived in a small rooming house in the Kensington area. 

"It was 1954.  I was living in furnished rooms in a tall house in South Kensington.  I was startled, some years ago, by a friend's referring to 'that rooming-house near South Kensington Underground you used to stay in'.  Milly, the owner, would have denied indignantly that it was a rooming-house, but I suppose that is what it was."

Mrs. Hawkins described herself as:

"I was massive in size, strong-muscled, huge-bosomed, with wide hips, hefty long legs, a bulging belly and fat backside; I carried ample weight with my five-foot-six of height, and was healthy with it. "

As you might surmise, this book has many amusing, sometimes laugh-out-loud moments. The characters that Mrs. Hawkins interacts with both in her residence and her work are all eccentric in some ways.  And Mrs. Hawkins felt that people felt safe with her because of her appearance and the people would then confide and trust her, so she tended to know more about her acquaintances than others would.

She became aware of things not being right at work and discovered some shady dealings going on.  She also found that things were not right at her rooming-house with one of the tenants who was receiving anonymous, threatening letters.  Of course, it was in her nature to try to resolve all of these issues.

One of my favorite parts of the book?

 "It's easy to get thin. You eat and drink the same as always, only half....I offer this advice without fee; it is included in the price of this book."

And that is how Mrs. Hawkins became Nancy to others.  She became thin and people viewed her in a different way.

The book is amusing, but not especially intriguing.  I found reading about Ms. Sparks' life much more interesting!  Ms. Sparks was born in 1918 in Edinburgh.  Although her parents were Jewish and Presbyterian, she later converted to Catholicism.  In 1937 she married Sidney Oswald Spark and had a son. They lived in Rhodesia at the time, but by 1940 she left her husband and son and returned to the UK.  Her husband was manic depressive and abusive.  They divorced.  A Far Cry From Kensington is Ms. Sparks' most autobiographical novel.
Ms. Sparks worked in Intelligence during World War II, then began writing.  She died in 2006.  I read that


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Another Challenge to Myself






Copied below is what was put out by Barnes and Noble today.  I am feeling quite ashamed to admit that I have read none of the nominated books on this longlist.  Which means when the shortlist is announced, I will not have read any...unless I can get some read before the shortlist is revealed.  Of course, then it is a guess (for me) which ones will be on the shortlist, so how do I know which to read before then???  Let me know if you have read any of these and tell me your recommendations!

"Book award season is upon us! Last week, under a new set of rules, the National Book Awards released four nominee longlists for the first time ever. This is fantastic news for book-lovers, as it gives us a chance to sample the work of double the authors. Without further ado, the talented authors who were recognized by the association:
Fiction:
Nonfiction:

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley was the August choice of one of my book groups.  It is rampant with symbolism, of which I am sure I missed a great deal of.  It may be a book that I will have to re-read at some point to discover all that I missed!

Evelyn Roe lived on her family's farm in North Carolina, where near the end of World War II, she came across what appeared to be a severely burned soldier buried in the mud.  She, of course, rescued him  and very soon realized that he was not an ordinary man.  First of all, his burns healed almost immediately, and then he became the image of Evelyn...a woman who looked just like her.  Evelyn called her "Addie".  As time went on, Addie realized that Evelyn wanted to marry and have a family, so she went off for awhile, then returned as a man...Adam.  They fell in love, married, and over the years had five daughters and built a horse-training business.

It was, at times, perhaps often, difficult for Evelyn to cover for their unusual secret, and eventually, following a terrible loss, they moved from the community to start over.  Over the years, it became evident that Evelyn was moving into middle age, but Adam was not, and Evelyn began to struggle with how this could be explained to others as she and Adam got older, with his appearance never changing, but hers getting aged.  Then one day, Adam disappeared.

This is, of course, a very brief summary of the book.  I initially had a hard time getting into the book, but there is something mysterious enough going on, that it kept my interest and I did become involved in it.  By the end of the book, I really liked it.  However, it is not a book that I would easily recommend to anyone.  There is much that is not explained in the story, and you just have to go with it.  That can sometimes be hard for one (me included), but if one can get past that, it's a good story!






Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Catching up on my summer reading

I have read several books since The Human Stain, but none have compared to it so far...yet, I keep trying!

I have read four books lately:

Stoner by John Williams.  I did enjoy this book and I do recommend it.  At face value, it appears to be
a quite simple story:  boy (William Stoner) grew up poor living on a farm in Missouri in the late 1800's.  His teacher recommended that he go on to the university, so his parents managed to send him there to study agronomy.  However, as he began to take the various courses, he found that English literature was what he wanted to study.  Of course, that meant that he would not be returning to the farm to help his father which was a disappointment to his parents.  Then he married a city-bred girl from money, and began teaching at the university.  That further estranged him from his family.  Stoner and his wife had a difficult marriage, and his wife worked at separating Stoner from their only child, Grace.  Stoner's life was a lonely, isolated sad life.  Until he met Katherine.  Stoner then found what love was about, of course, at the price of the rest of his life.  And as the back of the book states:

"Driven ever deeper within himself, Stoner rediscovers the stoic silence of his forebears and confronts an essential solitude."

Good story, good writing.  Side note: the book was written in 1965.

Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick.  I wasn't real taken with this novel, although I did
finish it, I guess, because I cared enough to find out how the story ended.  This is a story about Charlie Beale, who was a veteran of WWII and who showed up one day in the small town of Brownsburg, Virginia with a suitcase full of cash and a set of butcher knifes.  He went to Will, the local butcher, and convinced Will to give Charlie a try.  Charlie was a good butcher so he was given a job.  Meanwhile, Charlie bought property near the river where he was sleeping out of his truck.  As Charlie and the Will worked together, Charlie also became friends with Will's wife and five year old son, Sam.

Charlie seemed to be searching for a wonderful life.  He attended all of the churches, trying to find one that felt right for him.  He continued to buy up land. And then, he fell hard for the young, beautiful wife of one of the old, wealthy men in town.  Charlie and Sylvan began an extramarital affair.  Charlie bought Sylvan a house, and they would meet there to be alone.  Except that Charlies always took Sam everywhere he went, leaving the five year old boy confused and wondering what Charlie was doing.

The book ends tragically.

It is fairly well-written, but left some things unanswered that perhaps needed to be explained, like who was Charlie really?  Where did his money come from?  Etc.

Life After Life by Jill McCorkle.  This was one of my book groups choice for August.  It was an
amusing story, but didn't hold my interest real well.  It is a novel about a few residents of an independent living home, Pine Haven Retirement Center, in a small town in North Carolina, as they near the end of their lives.  Being who I am, I wanted to know much more about each person's story, so that was disappointing to me.  However, the author does a good job in such a short space of letting you know about each character.  I just wanted more!  Besides the residents of the facility, there are a couple of the staff that are also in the book.  Their lives intertwine with the residents in interesting ways, and serve to show the contrast of stages of life.

Perhaps, it is just me that didn't find the book that great...dealing with aging parents could do that!

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier.  I did enjoy this book quite a bit.  It was rather simple, yet there was a lot to it.

In 1850, Hannah Bright, a seamstress and Quaker from England, was struggling with the recent
break-up with her fiance who decided to marry someone else.  Hannah's sister, Grace, was scheduled to travel to America to marry Adam Cox, so Hannah decided to travel with Grace and start a new life for herself.  Sadly, Grace died on the ship they were traveling on, so Hannah arrived in America alone.  She made her way to Ohio where she would have to tell Adam the news that Grace had died.  When Hannah arrived in Faithwell, Ohio where Adam lived, she learned that Adam was living with his sister-in-law, who had been married to Adam's brother who had recently died.  Hannah moved into the house with them, until she met Jacob Haymaker, a local farmer, who wanted to marry her.  Hannah did not feel like she belonged anywhere and so agreed to marry Jacob.  That meant that Hannah had to move to the family home where Jacob's mother, Ruth, ruled. And Ruth did not care for Hannah, so that made life difficult as Hannah attempted to fit into the family.

Hannah had learned about the Underground Railway when she first arrived in Ohio, and she slowly became aware of activities that were going on.  As she began to notice travelers hiding, she began to help those traveling on their way to Canada ( or up north).  Her mother-in-law learned of Hannah's activities and forebade her to help anyone.

The story is about the struggle of speaking of one's beliefs, and actually living that belief.  It was quite a good story of the years before the Civil War, as slavery was pervasive in the South and the slaves were trying to escape.







Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Human Stain

The Human Stain by Phillip Roth is one of the best books that I have ever read.  That is really high
praise coming from me-I have read a lot of books. 

The opening line is perfect to lead into the story:

"It was in the summer of 1998 that my neighbor Coleman Silk---who before retiring two years earlier, had been a classics professor at nearby Athena College for some twenty-odd years as well as serving for sixteen more as the dean of faculty---confided to me that, at the age of seventy-one, he was having an affair with a thirty-four-year-old cleaning woman who worked down at the college."
 It turns out that this was not the first time that Coleman was involved in "scandulous behavior".  His retirement from Athena College came about when he was accused of racism after it became known that he had questioned in class one day "Do they exist or are they spooks?" about a couple of students who had never shown up for his class.  Unbeknownst to Coleman, the missing students were black.  Those who wanted to get rid of Coleman jumped on the wagon, and he was forced out. This part of the story seemed weak to me, but it was also quite meaningful as it turned out.

Following his retirement/forced resignation, Coleman's wife died (which he felt was caused by the charges of racism that were charged upon him and the subsequent ostracism of him by the college).  Thus as the opening line tells, Coleman began an affair with Faunia Farley, an illiterate, divorced woman, who had lost her two children in a fire.  She had been abused as a child and as a wife, so she came into the relationship with her own issues.

Coleman's neighbor, a writer named Nathan Zuckermann is the narrator of the story, beginning to end.  He came across Coleman life secret that Coleman had kept for over fifty years...kept from his wife and his four children, and all who knew him.  The secret that was Coleman's life.  The secret that he only told Faunia...and her reaction was a kind of "So?".  This secret that had become Coleman's identity, as it always had been from the start anyway.

I don't want to give away the secret.  But as it turns out, it's implications are stunning.

I read this book for one of my book groups.  We had a wonderful night of discussion!  There is just so much to this story.







Defending Jacob

I had been wanting to read Defending Jacob by William Landay for awhile, so I was glad that my book
group decided to chose it for our July read.  It is the story of a family torn apart as old truths and new accusations come to light.

The Barber family consisted of Andy, an Assistant District Attorney, Laurie, his artistic wife, and their fourteen year old son, Jacob.  One of Jacob's schoolmates, Ben,  was found brutally murdered in a city park and Andy was called to the scene.  Andy decided to lead the investigation into the stabbing and began to suspect a known pedophile who lived near the park.  However, soon some of Jacob's classmates began posting messages on Facebook about Jacob and his problems with Ben and it became known that Jacob had a "cool knife".  Police began to suspect Jacob of the murder.  Meanwhile, Andy found the knife that Jacob had and he disposed of it.  Because he thought Jacob was guilty, or because he didn't want the knife to hurt Jacob's case because he was innocent? 

Jacob's mother, Laurie, suspected that perhaps Jacob did commit the murder and, understandably, this caused a serious rift in Andy and Laurie's relationship.  That rift widened when Laurie learned that both Andy's father and his grandfather had been murderers and that his father was still in prison-facts that Andy had never shared with his family.

So, how far do you go to protect your children?  That's the gist of the book.  Very reminiscent for me of The Dinner, which I had read a couple of months ago.

The first half of the book went slowly for me, but picked up after that.  I was of the opinion that it was just a pretty good book.  Until the end.  The end pushed the book into the "very good" category for me!  A very unexpected ending!  Certainly a thought-provoking book!

And, by the way, lent itself to a good discussion for book group!



Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wilderness

Wilderness is the debut novel of Lance Weller.  I look forward to more novels from this author! I am a
little biased in that I love novels concerning the Civil War and this is a little more than just about the War in that it is also dealing with the aftermath of the War.

The novel begins with a Prologue titled "Rise Again 1965".  A woman, Jane, woke in her nursing home, remembering her three fathers:

"The man who was her father for five years and who was killed along with her mother high in the mountains.  And Jane Dao-ming sees again her second father, Abel Truman, who found her there and who brought her down and whom she knew for two days and who gave her vision to replace sight.  By the window in her studio, her breath comes hot and catches high in her chest to think of him and of her third and final father, who raised her with her second and final mother.  This third father, Glenn Makers, who adopted her and taught her what she's need to know to survive in a sighted world-arithmetic and how an apple feels when ripe and sweet and how the quality of light differs by season and by temperature-and who was hanged by the neck until dead from the branches of a black cottonwood on the banks of the Little Sugar Creek by a man named Farley for the simple reason that he was a black man with a white wife."
 She recalls asking Glenn, her third father, about Abel Truman.  Glenn told her:

"Skin started it," he finally told her.  "That war.  You know that.  Skin started it, but there was more to it than just skin, and even though Abel fought for what he fought for, you can't take a man out of his time then expect to understand him.  That's just not something you can do.  Like the war, there was more to him than just the side he was on."
Great Prologue! 

The novel is the story of Abel Truman, who had fought for the Confederacy, and headed to the Pacific after the War, trying to get away from all the memories and feelings. The story goes back and forth between 1864 and 1899.  In 1864 Abel had fought at the Battle of the Wilderness, where he was severely wounded.  In 1899, Abel was nearing the end of his life.  Before the War had started Abel had lost his infant daughter and his wife.  Those losses, along with his experiences during the War, haunted him for the rest of his life. Redemption figures in both times...from 1864 Abel comes to the realization that fighting a war over color of skin is wrong, and from 1899 Abel told a story of being human and surviving, along with caring for others.

The novel tells of an old soldier's heading "home", retelling his story and memories, good and bad.   I thought the writing was superb.  Great story!


Monday, July 8, 2013

Three Books Recommended by Friends

I recently completed reading three books recommended by various friends.  And while they were all good stories, none of the three really grabbed me.  I guess my taste is different from many others?  I don't know...it could be that I had just come off reading two very excellent books, and so these three didn't seem to meet the standard of the two before???  So readers, that may mean that you will find these three books to be quite good, so don't let my take on them slant or influence your decision to read them or not.

First one-The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  I did enjoy this book until the very end,
when I felt as if it ended all too perfectly for the main character, Victoria.

Victoria was a young girl/woman who had grown up in the foster care system.  When she aged out of the system, she was alone, trusting no one and living out on the street.  She realized that perhaps her love for flowers and the meaning of flowers could be put to use in a flower shop.  As a child, she had received a book that had the meaning of flowers and she seemed to have a gift for using that knowledge.  So when she observed a woman who appeared to own a flower shop nearby, she offered her services.  However, while doing the early morning shopping at the Flower Market, she noticed a boy about her age and as they began to get to know each other, she learned that he was a connection to her past that she did not want to remember.  Now Victoria was faced with the dilemma of facing her painful past or letting go of her chance of happiness with Grant (the boy).

As I said, it was a good story, just ended too predictably.  We did end up having a good discussion about the book at book group...lots to examine as far as the foster care system and how that can affect a person's life, etc..And I forgot to add that at the end of the book is "Victoria's Dictionary of Flowers", which I found fascinating!

Next I read The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker.  I did like this book, and the
ending  had a bit of a twist, which was a nice surprise!

Here's how the story started:

"The old man's eyes struck me first.  They rested deep in their sockets, and he seemed unable to take them off me.  Granted, everyone in the teahouse was staring at me more or less unabashedly, but he was the most brazen.  As if I were some exotic creature he'd never seen before."
Julia had gone to Burma to learn more about her father who had disappeared four years earlier.  She did not know much about his earlier life, other than he was Burmese, had come to America, and  married her mother.  He worked as an attorney.  When Julia arrived in Burma, the old man approached her and said:

"Julia Win. Born August 28, 1968, in New York City.  American mother.  Burmese father.  Your family name is a part of my story, has been a part of my life since I was born.  In the past four years I have not passed a single day without thinking of you.  I will explain everything in due course but let me first ask you my question: Do you believe in love?"

Julia's mother had given her a letter that had been written by her father in 1955 to a woman named Mi Mi.  The letter was addressed to Kalaw, a village in Burma.  The letter is all that Julia has to link her father to his past, so she leaves for Burma in search of her father, or news of him.  The old man, U Ba, approached her and began to tell her stories about her father, including his blindness as a child, and his love and devotion to Mi Mi. Mi Mi is unable to walk.  She became Tin Win's eyes, and he became her legs.  When Julia arrived in Burma, it had been 50 years since Tin Win had left Burma.

There was wisdom in this book.  At one point, Tin Win was being taken to a monastery by his "adopted" mother to learn from an eighty year old blind monk...

"Sy Kyi was hoping he would be able to take Tin Win under his wing, too, to coax him out of the darkness that beleaguered him, to teach him what he had taught her: that life is interwoven with suffering.  That in every life, without exception, illnesses are unavoidable.  That we will age, and that we cannot elude death.  These are the laws and conditions of human existence..."


Okay, despite what I said earlier, this was a good book and I do recommend it.

Lastly, I read The Alchemist by Paul Coelho. I know that it has been a wildly popular book, but I just
didn't see it.  While it is not a bad book by any means, it just seemed like a very simple tale that could have been told as a short story.  Perhaps I am wrong. 

The Alchemist is the story of a young shepherd boy seeking treasure.  He travels around to find his treasure.  I won't share the ending (moral of the story), but just think Wizard of Oz.



 











 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ordinary Grace

A book club member friend recommended Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger a month or so ago. We usually have similar tastes in books, so I was anxious to read it.  Ordinary Grace will go down as one of my most favorite books, if not my most favorite book, of 2013.
  

Ordinary Grace begins as a simple book narrated forty years after the summer of 1961 by Frank Drum, who in 1961, was a thirteen year old boy.  Frank lived in the small, quaint little town of New Bremen, Minnesota. 

"It was a summer in which death, in visitation, assumed many forms.  Accident.  Nature.  Suicide.  Murder.  You might think I remember that summer as tragic and I do but not completely so.  My father used to quote the Greek playwright Aeschylus. 'He who learns must suffer.  And even in our sleep pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.' "

Frank lived with his father, who is the town's pastor, his mother, who was rather distant, his eighteen year old sister Ariel, who was headed to Juillard in the fall of that year and his eleven year old brother Jake, who suffered from a disabling stutter.  The summer began with the gruesome discovery of a friend of Frank's who was found dead.  It was not clear if the boy was killed or if it was an accident.  And Frank wanted to find out the truth.  But soon after the boy was found, Ariel, Frank's sister, went missing. Frank had seen her leaving the house in the middle of the night several times.  The night she disappeared, she had been out with her boyfriend Karl.  Of course, all suspicion fell on Karl.  But like Ariel, Karl had his own secrets.

There are other characters in the book that play important parts in the book.  I don't want to give away much more of the story, so as not to spoil it for the reader.  I will say that the book invoked To Kill A Mockingbird for me somewhat.  It is told from a child's point of view, the father is a man of wisdom, and the children are innocent until that fateful summer.  The writing is just excellent.

Near the end of the book, Frank's brother, Jake, offered to say grace before a meal being served at the church.  Because of how much Jake suffered with his stuttering, Frank's reaction (said to himself) was :

 "O God, I prayed, just kill me now."
But Frank's mother put her hand on Jake's shoulder and Jake spoke:

"'Heavenly Father, for the blessings of this food and these friends and our families, we thank you.  In Jesus's name, amen.'
That was it.  That was all of it.  A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it.  Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word."

The book ends forty years later, when Frank went to the cemetery with his father as they did every year. There is one grave that Frank would like to visit but it was not there.  It was of Warren Redstone, an Indian man who Frank and the town had initially suspected of the crimes. When Frank was in college, he had located and visited Warren:.

"We didn't say much more.  With the exception of the summer in which our lives had converged in a few dramatic moments, we had almost nothing in common.  But when I left, Warren Redstone offered something I've never forgotten.  As I walked away he called to me and when I turned back he said, 'They're never far from us, you know.'
'Who?' I asked.
'The dead.  No more'n a breath.  You let that last one go and you're with them again.'"

This book is so full of beautiful writing:

"In the end maybe that's what the summer was about.  I was no older than Bobby and didn't understand such things then.  I've come four decades since but I'm not sure that even now I fully understand.  I still spend a lot of time thinking about the events of that summer.  About the terrible price of wisdom.  The awful grace of God."

This is a book that I will read again and again over the years.





So Many Books to Read

I have many, many book piles around my house of books that I want to read, but the pile of I want to read them now is killing me with desire!  I keep those books by my bed...that is the most luring pile of all.  What is there right now?

Defending Jacob by William Landay (which is our July book group read, so it will be probably next)

Wilderness by Lance Weller

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker (if I am being really honest, it is most likely to be read next!)

 And, sadly for my wallet, I will be heading to the used bookstore this week to pick up The Alchemist by Paul Coelho because I also am dying to read it! What makes this sad for my wallet is that I rarely leave there with only one book, no matter how firm my intentions may be.

What has been really nice is that I have been reading some really good books lately, which means that I have been reading more than usual, so hopefully, my desperation will be fulfilled soon!  But then, who knows what books may be lurking behind any corner at any time, that I simply MUST read???

I would love to hear from others what books they have on their want to read soon piles!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Dinner

I read The Dinner by Herman Koch a few weeks ago...it was the book chosen for June's book group, and
we met last night to discuss it.  Earlier last week, a friend had asked what we were reading and I had told her that the book was good, but that I wasn't sure that I would necessarily recommend it to anyone, but that I thought that it would lead to a good discussion for the book group.  I was right about the discussion!

The book is about a dinner that takes place at an elegant, expensive restaurant in Amsterdam.  The narrator of the story is Paul who with his wife Claire met up at the restaurant with Paul's brother, Serge and his wive, Babette.  The brothers appear to be quite different from each other. Serge was an up-and-coming candidate for prime minister; Paul was an unemployed teacher.  They met at the restaurant to discuss their fifteen year old sons.  The dinner began quite pleasantly with discussion of movies, wine, etc.As dinner progressed,  the conversation moved to discussing a horrific incident that their sons had been involved in which the police were investigating.

Through-out the story, Paul goes back in time to talk about incidents in his past, which began to explain his and Claire's relationship and history.  As the incident involving the boys is discussed, Paul and Claire's history lends one to examine what role these parents have played in their son's life.

By the end of the book, the glaring question in the reader's mind becomes "How far would I go to protect my child?".

The book is thought-provoking and interesting.  However, I found none of the characters likable, which I am sure was the intent of the author.  For me, that makes it a hard book to recommend.






Sunday, June 16, 2013

Broken Harbor

I'm a big fan of Tana French's novels...mysteries set in Ireland...so I was anxious to get her latest one, , from the library.  It's a good mystery, and a long book, so be prepared.  This one features detective Mikey "Scorcher" Kennedy, a detective who works the Dublin Murder Squad.  Mikey ( who was also in Faithful Place) and his new rookie partner, Richie, were assigned to a murder case out in the newly developed seaside area, now called Brianstown.  Brianstown is an up-and-coming development that was stalled as the economy took a dive.  Years ago, the area was called Broken Harbor, an area that was poor and undeveloped, where his family went for vacations.  As it turned out, the area has a lot of old, painful memories for Mikey.
Broken Harbor

The murders that Mikey was sent to investigate was of two young children and their father.  The children's mother had survived and was hospitalized. Evidence pointed to the father as the killer.

As Mikey investigated the murders, he also had to deal with his mentally ill sister, and his memories of his mother and her death.

The book was good...I enjoyed the mystery part of the book, but I was disappointed in the family history part of the story.  I wanted more.

I have to be honest and fair here...I have read all of Ms. French's book, and while I would recommend all of them, her first, In The Woods, remains my favorite!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Light Between the Oceans

The Light Between the Oceans was chosen for May by one of my book groups.  It is the debut novel by
M.L.Stedman.  I already am looking forward to more by this writer!

The first page of the book begins on the 27th of April 1926:

"On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff's edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross."

And thus begins the story.  Isabel had married Tom Sherbourne, a veteran of WWI who was seeking a peaceful life.  He was the lighthouse keeper on an Australian island and they just wanted a simple life with themselves and children.  But after four years on the island, Isabel had never been able to carry a pregnancy to term and had begun to fall into deep despair.  Then, one day, on that day of the miracle, a small boat appeared on the shore of the island and in the boat was a deceased man with a crying infant.  Isabel considers the infant a gift from God and convinced Tom that no one would ever know that the baby was not their own. Against his better judgement, Tom agreed to keep the secret and so, they named the baby Lucy and  kept her to raise as their own.

Two years passed and, while on their yearly leave into town, they are confronted with the knowledge of Lucy's mother and decisions must be made.

This book lead to a very lively discussion among the book group.  There was not a character that was unlikeable...one has great empathy and sympathy for each character, and the decisions that must be made.  It was a bit of a tear-jerker, but would have been whichever way the story went.  I was pleased that it did not end predictably.  Good story, good writing!



Obsessed

Obsessed-America's Food Addiction-And My Own is a non-fiction book written by Mika Brazezinski of
MSNBC Morning Joe show.  I know, I know...yet, another book written about food.  Yet there is something that seemed a little different about this one. Mika's contention is that as a nation of obese people, we need to "stop blaming ourselves and each other, and look at the real culprits-the food we eat and our addiction to it."  And, as she contends, we need to begin to get really honest about food addictions and how the nation has become one of obesity and food obsessions. In the book, Mika discloses her own food obsession/eating disorder of maintaining being "superthin"  Mika also shares how she confronted her very best friend with the elephant in the room---her friend's obesity.  Together they resolved that the friend, Diane would lose 75 pounds and Mika would gain 10 pounds over the course of writing the book.  She shares the insights that each had and how their food problems were quite similar.

Each chapter of the book offers insight/wisdom/observations from others around the country and how they have dealt with the struggles around food, including Jennifer Hudson, Chris Christie, Gayle King and many others.

The real point of the book is to open up discussion on how to find ways to solve food issues and become a healthy nation.  There are some very interesting points made in the book and it made me think a lot about all the issues.  Good book.



The Gravedigger's Daughter

One of my book groups read The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates for our May meeting.  I
had read and reviewed the book in March 2008, so please refer back to that blog for the long version of my review.  Suffice to say, it is still a great book!  To read it five years later and be able to discuss it with others was a joy...and a lively discussion we did have!  I thought it was interesting that when I reviewed it five years ago, I ended with saying that I would probably go back and read this book again...sure glad that I did.  She is an amazing writer...I have read several of her books and have never been disappointed.  I still highly recommend it! It ended up being a Finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. 






Friday, May 17, 2013

Blue Asylum and The Sisters

As usual, trying to catch up on my book reviews...

Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall is a Civil War era historical fiction novel, which is one of my most favorite
time periods to read about.  In this book, Iris Dunleavy was sentenced to Sanibel Asylum, convicted of madness.  Her plantation-slave-owning husband learned of her kindness and actions toward "his" slaves and wanted her "restored to a compliant Virginia plantation wife", thus her stay at the asylum, which is located on a remote island in Florida.  It was interesting to read of the various inmates at the asylum and their levels/degrees of "madness".  Iris met Ambrose Weller there who was sent there to deal with his experiences from the War.  Ambrose and Iris were attracted to each other and hoped to escape the island to be together.

The characters in this novel are very interesting.  It is much more than just a love story.  It is a story about the powerlessness of women in that time period and the intensity of war for those who fought in it.  And the cruelty and hopelessness of the people held in slavery.  A good read for the summer!

I just finished The Sisters by Nancy Jensen that I found at the library.  Turned out to be a fairly good find. 
However, I did have trouble keeping all of the characters straight.  It is a novel about sisters, generations of sisters. It was a good story and premise, but I wish that the author had found a way to make it less confusing to read.  Thankfully, there was a family tree at the beginning of the book that I could go back and reference.  I think that there is a lot in this book to ponder as one thinks back on the different sister's relationships.  But I would have to read it again to get it all straight!

I did like how the book began in 1927 and ended in 2007.  It was an interesting way to tell the stories.  Lots of family secrets in the story, which, as in real life, always come out in the end.  I always enjoy reading how those secrets impact other's lives.