Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Plethera of Books

Four more books that I have read in the last month or so:

three story house by Courtney Miller Santo:Three thirty-something cousins came together to renovate
one of the cousin's grandmother's old historic home in Memphis.  The home was an oddly shaped, three story home that had seen much better days.  It's kind of how the three cousins were feeling about their own lives. As they work on the house, each revealed what was happening in their own lives. I didn't find it especially interesting!

The Lion by Nelson DeMille: another one of the five in the John Corey series of which I previously had read two of them.  I enjoy the John Corey character, so I think that's what I find so interesting in the books.  In this one, John was hunting and being hunted by an old nemesis from 10 years earlier-Asad Khalil, a Libyan terrorist known as "The Lion".  The Lion had returned to the United States to finish off killing those who had thwarted him the last time he was in the US, with John Corey being at the top of the list.  Good fun mystery.

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens: this was kind of an interesting one.  Joe Talbert was assigned to
write a biography for his college English class.  He went to a nursing home and found Carl Iverson.  Carl was in the nursing home because he was dying.  He had been medically paroled from prison where he was serving a life sentence for rape and murder.  Joe soon learned from a friend of Carl's that Carl was a decorated Viet Nam veteran.  When the friend shared some of Carl's history, it seemed inconceivable that Carl would have raped and murdered a young girl.

Meanwhile, Joe was dealing with his alcoholic mother and his autistic brother who lived with the mother.  Joe also was becoming friends (and hoping for more) with his next door neighbor.  As Joe worked on his assignment, he shared Carl's story with Lila, his neighbor and they began to wonder about Carl's guilt or innocence.  Joe became more convinced that Carl was innocent and wanted to prove it before Carl died.

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper: I really enjoyed this book.  Lots of humor in it. When Judd Foxman's father died, the entire family returned for the funeral.  When they arrived, their mother
announced that their father had wanted them to sit Shiva for him, despite the fact that the family had never been practising Jewish. So now they were expected to sit for seven days in the house while people came and went offering condolences, food, etc.

On top of that, Judd had recently learned that his wife had been having an affair with his boss.

So for seven days the siblings and mother are in the house together.  Old resentments and secrets began to come out, as the family attempts to learn to live together for the week.

It's a good book....much about love and marriage and family, but really funny. 

Angle of Repose

I first read Angle of Repose by Wallace Stenger about 40 years ago.  Hard to believe, but it's true!  The
book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972 and I read it shortly after. I consider it a classic and re-read it about every 10 years or so.

First of all, to explain the title-it is an engineering term that describes the angle where dirt/soil settles after being piled up. More about that later.

The novel is narrated by Lyman Ward, the grandson of Oliver and Susan Burling Ward.  Lyman was a retired professor of history who was divorced and confined to a wheelchair.  He decided that he wanted to write a biography of his grandmother and he went to live in his grandparent's old home in Green Vally, California, much to the displeasure of his son, who felt that Lyman would not be able to care for himself there.  But the caretakers of the house helped Lyman daily and he was determined to stay there.  He had old letters/correspondence between his grandmother and her best friend, along with old articles from magazines and newspapers and so he began trying to put together the history of the family from when they went out West a century earlier.

As Lyman went through the old letters, he began to learn more about Susan Burling Ward, his grandmother who had raised him.  In 1868, Susan was an educated, cultured artist, a young Quaker woman living in the East when, on New Year's Eve, she met Oliver Ward, a young ambitious sounding man who wanted to head West and become an engineer.  A week later, Oliver left for the West and Susan did not see him again for five years.  The did write to each other and over time an "understanding" came to be, so that when Oliver returned to the East they agreed to marry.

And thus the lifelong journey began.  The family moved around in the West through-out the years as Oliver worked on mines and canals.  Susan helped to support the family with her art and writings.  They had three children.

This is just such a simplified summary...there is so much more in the book.  Some of the most influential characters were Augusta Drake and her husband Thomas Hudson.  Augusta was Susan's best friend and it was the letters between Susan and Augusta that Lyman was using to write Susan's biography.  And Frank, Lyman's assistant, who was in love with Susan.  It was never made clear exactly what Susan and Frank's relationship was, but clearly it was a love relationship, if not a sexual relationship.

As Lyman worked through all the letters and articles and memories of his grandparents, he began to study the story of his life and his marriage.  Near the very end of the story, Lyman had a very disturbing dream that included his ex-wife:

"'What do you mean Angle of Repose?' she asked me when I dreamed were were talking about Grandmother's life, and I said it was the angle at which a man or woman finally lies down.  I suppose it is; and yet it was not that that I hoped to find when I began to pry around in Grandmother's life.  I thought when I began, and still think, that there was another angle in all those years when she was growing old and older, and very old, and Grandfather was matching her year for year, a separate line that did not intersect with hers.  They were vertical people, they lived by pride, and it is only by the ocular illusion of perspective that they can be said to have met.  But he had not been dead two months when she lay down and died too, and that may indicate that at that absolute vanishing point they did intersect.  They had intersected for years, for more that he especially would ever admit."
 This novel covers over 100 years and four generations of the family.  Fascinating book! 


The only way I can describe the book Lila is that it is stunningly beautiful.  Marilynne Robinson has hit Gilead is among my very most favorite books of all times; Home, the follow-up to Gilead is among one of my most favorite books, and now Lila is also.  All three of these books take place in Gilead, Iowa.  I very strongly recommend that the reader reads them in the order written.
another one out of the park.  Her book

Lila goes back into the past of Lila, the young girl who married elderly minister John Ames in the book Gilead.  Lila tells the story of Lila growing up and then her meeting and courtship with Rev. Ames.  Lila had suffered a hard and difficult childhood, never knowing who her actual family was, but being raised by Doll, who had taken Lila from where she was living and raised her along with the other drifters who Doll traveled with.  When coming to Gilead, it was a completely different style of life than what Lila had known and much of the book is about the struggle Lila had making sense of life in Gilead, and of the goodness of people.

After Lila met Rev. Ames, each seemed to have a sort of attraction to each other.  Lila, of course, was very untrusting of others and held back from the help that those in Gilead generously offered.  Shortly after she had met Rev. Ames she was thinking about him:

"He had given a sermon, 'Let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.' He said it meant that when you did a good thing it should seem to come from God, not from you. It should not feel to other people like your goodness, and it should not feel that way to you, either. Any good thing is less good the more any human being lays claim to it."
Near the end of the book, Lila was thinking about the future and how to tell her son about his life and his father.

"You turned into a perfectly fine baby.  Maybe your father has enough years left in him to see you turn into a perfectly fine boy.  And maybe not.  Old men are hard to keep."

"Old men are hard to keep"....that line broke my heart.

I felt like the entire book was full of beautiful words.  I hated ending it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Two Books by Nelson DeMille

A friend of mine recommended Night Fall by Nelson DeMille to me.  It sounded good, so I got it from

the library.  What I didn't realize was that I would be so mesmerized by it that when I finished it, I had to immediately drive to the library to get the next book in the series!
Night Fall is the third of five in a series DeMille wrote that features detective John Corey.  Corey was married to Kate, an attorney and  FBI agent.  Following Corey's  retirement from NYPD, he joined Kate on the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force. The story takes place in 2001, five years after flight TWA 800 exploded off the Long Island coast.  Corey accompanied Kate to the five year memorial of the crash.  While there, Kate shared some questions and wonderings with Corey that peaked his interest in the case.  The crash had been determined to be "mechanical failure", but as Corey began to look into it, there were people that didn't believe that was the case. Witnesses had reported seeing a guided missile hitting the plane. As Corey worked the case, even though he had been warned off of it, he learned that there may have been a couple who had inadvertently recorded the explosion.
 The story is basically about the search for the couple and the tape.  As I realized that the story was getting close to 9/11, the anxiety rose!
 This was a fascinating story, that left me with lots of questions and concerns about flight 800. 
 And so, as I said, I had to go immediately to get the next book in the series, Wild Fire.  In this story, it
is 2002 and Corey has been searching for terrorists.  Corey and Kate start out investigating the disappearance of one of their fellow FBI agents.  The agent had been sent to the Adirondacks to do surveillance at the Custer Hill Club, which consisted of a group of powerful business and political men.  Their code name was Wild Fire.
As you recall, this is during the time that the United States is contemplating war on Iraq.  The group Wild Fire have four nuclear suitcases and a plan to start a war making it appear that the other countries started it.  And so Corey and Kate came to the Custer Hill Club and all of this slowly unfolded.  How they worked the case was fascinating.
Like Night Fall, Wild Fire left me with lots of wondering and considering.  I had never read any of Nelson DeMille's books before, but these two certainly left me as a fan!



Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Invention of Wings

 The Invention of Wings is by Sue Monk Kidd.  I had read her book The Secret Life of Bees a few
years ago and really liked it, so I was looking forward to reading this one.  The Invention of Wings is an amazing book.  It is historical fiction, based on the life of Sarah Grimke.

Sarah Grimke was the daughter of an elite Charleston family who lived in the early 1800's.  The book began in 1803 with Sarah's 11th birthday, when her mother gave her Hetty "Handful" as her personal slave for a birthday present.  Sarah and Hetty became friends and Sarah taught Hetty how to read (which was against the law). Both girls were punished when it was learned what Sarah had done. Hetty was a year younger than Sarah and this made for a perfect contrast through-out the book of two women in extremely different circumstances, both yearning for more in their lives than what was imposed upon them. Both yearned for freedom in their own ways.  Eventually Sarah moved to Philadelphia and became a Quaker, until that became too restrictive for her life's work.

The story covers the years beginning in late 1803 to 1838.  Part of what I found so fascinating about the book is that it does not extend into the Civil War.  It is the story of how Sarah worked all of her life for freedom for others.  She was never comfortable with the concept of slavery and was quite vocal about it.  And, remember,  this was in early 1800's  in the South.  As Sarah got older, her work expanded into freedom and equality for all women.

Ms. Kidd did such a wonderful job with exploring Hetty's history, bringing in her mother, Charlotte, who always yearned for freedom and extracted a promise from Sarah that some day she would free her daughter, Hetty. 

It really is an amazing book and I am very interested to learn more about Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina who were both so active in the freedom movements.


I love most books by Joyce Carol Oates and Carthage was no exception.  Ms. Oates does such a
wonderful job exploring her characters and getting into some of the dark side of those characters!

Carthage is the name of the small town in the Adirondacks where one night 19-year-old Cressida Mayfield disappeared.  Cressida was the daughter of Zeno Mayfield, the former mayor of Carthage.  Cressida reminded me of those who have difficulty relating to others, and she appeared to feel that her family never loved her enough.  Her older sister, Juliet had been engaged to Brett, an Iraqi war veteran who had come home wounded, physically and mentally.  One night, unbeknownst to her family,  Cressida went out hoping to meet up with Brett.  She never returned home.  The book opens with The Search:

"That girl that got lost in the Nautauga Preserve.  Or, that girl that was killed somehow, and her body hid.
Where Zeno Mayfield's daughter had disappeared to, and whether there was much likelihood of her being found alive, or in any reasonable state between alive and dead, was a question to confound everyone in Beechum County.
Everyone who knew the Mayfields, or even knew of them.
And for those who knew the Kincaid boy-the war hero-the question was yet more confounding."
Because, it turned out, that Cressida had met up with Brett, and he was the last one to see her alive.  Her body was never found.  But Brett eventually confessed and was found guilty of her murder and sentenced to prison.

Jump ahead now to seven years later to Florida where Sabbath Mae McSwain was interviewing for a position as an intern for a psychologist/author.  The psychologist was currently researching and investigating conditions on death row for another book.

Carthage is focused on several themes.  The horrors of the after-effects of war, the tragedy of a grieving family who need answers, forgiveness, love and finally, can one ever go home again? 

Another great book by a great author.  I missed reading The Accursed by Oates, which came out before Carthage, so I need to add that one to my to-be-read list!

Friday, September 19, 2014

We Are Water

I have loved all of Wally Lamb’s books, and his latest, We Are Water, is no exception.  This is his fifth   It is a big book, as are his others, with many themes running through it, including racism, sexual abuse, love, forgiveness, and grief.
novel and the greatness of his writing carries on!

We Are Water begins with the introduction of the story of Josephus Jones’ who had been found dead in a well in 1959.  Jones was a black artist who had lived in a small cabin with his brother and a white woman.  The rumors were that there was an active chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in that area at the time, and that they had killed Jones.

Years later, Dr. Orion Oh and his family had moved to the property that included that small cabin.  Dr. Oh was a clinical psychologist, and his wife, Annie, was an artist.  They had three grown children.  Annie had fallen in love with a woman, Viveca, her art dealer, and divorced Orion.  When the book begins, Annie is preparing to marry Viveca.  Orion and her three children were left struggling with the fact that Annie was marrying a woman.

Annie had lost her mother and sister in a tragic flood when she was a young girl.  She had been rescued from the flood by her cousin, Kent.  Her father drank and so Annie had ended up spending the rest of her childhood in and out of foster homes.

Each chapter of the book is told by a separate person: it begins with Gualtiero Agnello who was an aging art dealer who had discovered Josephus Jones’ work in the 1950’s. Annie and Orion narrate most of the book, but there are also chapters narrated by Ruth Fletcher who was a widow of one of the members of the Ku Klux Klan, Andrew and Ariane who were two of the Oh’s children, and Kent Kelly who was a cousin of Annie’s.

The book is full of long buried secrets.  I am always fascinated by how the “secrets” people keep affect not only their lives, but the lives of those around them.  Nothing is ever truly secret.  Wally Lamb always does such a great job telling the intertwining the secrets and telling the stories.

An Explanation for Everything

The September book read for one of my book groups was An Explanation for Everything by Lauren Grodstein.   I had read her book A Friend of the Family earlier this summer and had liked it.  

College professor Andy Waite lost his wife to a drunk driver, a young man who was convicted and sent to prison.  Andy was left with his daughters and his career.  Andy was researching the effects of alcohol on mice, in hopes of learning more about alcoholism.  He was increasingly frustrated when his results were not matching his theories.  Meanwhile, he was teaching a class called “There Is No God” which was about evolutionary theory.  He had also reluctantly agreed to act as advisor for Melissa, a student who was doing an independent study on intelligent design.  At this same time, the young man who had killed Andy’s wife came up eligible for parole, and Andy was determined that he not be released from prison. And Andy became involved with his longtime friend and neighbor, Sheila, a recovering alcoholic.

There are many themes going on in this book.  Andy’s student, Melissa, began to insinuate herself more deeply into Andy’s live, and began babysitting his daughters, leading to her becoming even more involved with him.  Melissa began introducing the family to her church and her spirituality, leading Andy to question his own beliefs.  His introductory comment to his class on There Is No God is:

“Evolution is the explanation for everything.”

But in the end, the novel begs the question through several characters:  Is there a God?  Is there faith?  Is there forgiveness?

This book raised lots of issues and we had a very spirited book group discussion over it!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

All The Light We Cannot See

A beautiful book...All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  It's a big book...530 pages, but
most chapters of the book are one, two, three, or four pages long, so it is an easy book to read.  The only thing to be aware of is that you need to pay attention to what year the chapter is referring to, because that changes frequently.

This is a World War II story about a blind French girl and a German boy and how all the events of the war impacted their lives.  Their paths don't intersect until close to the end of the book, however.

Marie-Laure became blind when she was six years old.  Her  mother had died in childbirth so she lived alone with her father in Paris where he worked at the Museum of Natural History as a master of locks.  Her father made a miniature of the neighborhood so that she could memorize the area and learn to get around.  Marie-Laure was twelve years old when the Nazis occupied Paris.  When that happened, her father took her and they moved south to Saint-Malo where her father had a reclusive uncle living, who took them in. When they left Paris, Marie-Laure's father was given a precious stone to keep safe for the Museum.

Meanwhile, in Germany, a young boy, Werner and his younger sister, Jutta, were living in an orphanage.  Werner was a master at radios, and when those in power learned of his talent he was sent to a special academy to learn more in order to serve Hitler's army.  After awhile, he was given the assignment of tracking the resistance.  And as time went on, Werner began to experience the moral dilemma of what he was doing.

This really is a beautiful book as it examines the cost of war and the impact on good and bad and making decisions. We read this book for one of my book groups and we agreed that although the title may refer to Marie-Laure's blindness, we felt more that it referred to all the good in the world.  Despite this being a book about war, it left one with the sense of goodness.  Quite an achievement!

Stella Bain

Stella Bain is author Anita Shreve's 17th novel!  That number is amazing!  I almost always enjoy her
novels, so was happy to see this newest one.  It is an easy read, yet not really a simple story.

When a young woman woke after two days in a field hospital in France during World War I, she did not remember who she was.  She thought that her name might be Stella Bain and she felt that she had worked as a nurse.  It quickly is apparent that she was an American, although she wore the uniform of a British nurse's aid.

"Stella has no idea where she has come from.  She senses it might be an unhappy place, a door she might not want to open.  But no one's entire past can be unhappy, can it? It might contain unhappy events or a tendency toward melancholy, but the whole cannot be miserable." 
After spending a month in the hospital, Stella began to work there as a nurse's aid.

"The sight is awful, the sound hollow.  Almost all the men die.
Sometimes, the doctors' screams are louder than the patients'."
During her off-time, Stella began to do sketches and portraits.  However, her private drawings are what make her wonder about her past. Then one day, she overheard a man mention the Admiralty, a building in London.  It triggered something for her.  After several months, Stella was granted a leave and she decided that she would go to London to the Admiralty to see if she could learn what significance it seemed to hold for her.

When Stella arrived in London, she was noticed by a kind woman named Lily.  Stella was quite ill and Lily had seen her leaning against a fence.  Lily asked Stella to her home and once there, Lily and her husband August took her in and cared for her.  August was a cranial surgeon and began to take interest in her.  August had been reading about "talk therapy" and was interested in seeing if it might help Stella recall her past.  He also had connections and was willing to take her to the Admiralty to help her discover what it was that seemed to draw her there.  And finally after several visits there over time, as Stella and August are leaving the Admiralty, someone calls out "Etna Bliss"...and Stella recognizes the name and then, the person who called it out.  And she remembers.

"'I have children', she says."

The story then goes back into time from 1896-1915, telling Stella's history. A history of lost love, domestic abuse, and betrayal.

The last chapter of the book takes place in 1930.

"How strange this happiness, the pain of it.  Aware of minutes, she remembers years.  She would remember every hour if she could.  To live a life and then recall that life in equal time.  What a thought" She wishes it could be done."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Calling Me Home

I really liked Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler.  It had that genealogy sense for me of learning about
one's past.

Calling Me Home is a story of long-ago, lost and forbidden love.  There are two main characters: eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle and thirty-something Dorrie.  Isabelle still lived on her own and had been going to Dorrie, a black hairdresser, for several years.  Over the years, the two women had grown close as they shared events in their lives.  One day, Isabelle asked Dorrie for a big favor.  She needed Dorrie to drive her from their town in Texas to Cincinnati for a funeral, and she needed to leave the next day.  Dorrie was willing to leave her worries and concerns about her two teenage children with her mother for a few days, and her relationship with her new boyfriend that she was afraid of committing to and get away, so she agreed to drive Isabelle to the funeral, not knowing anything about the trip.

The trip was a long one, and the two women had lots of time in the car to talk.  Isabelle began sharing some of her very guarded past with Dorrie.  It turned out that when she was a young girl, Isabelle had lived in Kentucky and had fallen in love with a young black man back in the 1930's...a very forbidden thing to do.  Through-out the journey to Cincinnati, Isabelle slowly shared the story of the relationship and the tragic way it ended. 

It was a really beautiful story and had a bit of a twist at the end.  Good writing!

A Friend of the Family and The Death of Bees

A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein was recommended to me by another great reading friend. 
I found it to be a rather disturbing book, but certainly thought-provoking.  Another one of those books that made me wonder: what would I do/how far would I do for my children?

The book is the story of two families who had been close for years, raising their children in the same community and sharing life.  Pete Dizinoff was a well-respected internist, who was happily married, but having some difficulty with accepting where his nineteen year-old son Alec was heading in life.  Alec had quit school, moved into his parent's garage apartment and was hoping to make it as an artist.  As Pete struggled with his disappointment in Alex, his best friend's daughter, Laura, showed up.  Laura was ten years older than Alec, and had a horrific past.  Alec and Laura became friends and then got involved with each other.  Pete became obsessed with his fear of what would become of Alec under Laura's spell.  His obsession took over and resulted in tragedy in every area of his life.

This was an easy book to read and was well-written.  And, as I said, thought-provoking.

I found The Death of Bees on clearance.  It sounded interesting to me so I took a chance.  I'm glad that I
did.  It's a good book.  Written by Lisa O'Donnell, it is the story of two young sisters, Marnie and Nelly, who appear to be living on their own in their run-down housing..  Their neighbor, Lennie noticed that the girls parents hadn't been around for awhile.

Lennie slowly began to take the girls in, feeding them meals and helping out as he could.  The girls would only say that their parents were on a trip to Turkey.  Over time, others began to question where the girl's parents were.  Lies and stories continued, and eventually the truth began to come out.  Meanwhile, Lennie and the girls had formed their own "family", and did not want to be separated.

The book is narrated by the three main characters and is a very easy, quick read.

Written with fierce sympathy and beautiful precision, told in alternating voices, The Death of Bees is an enchanting, grimly comic tale of three lost souls who, unable to answer for themselves, can answer only for one another.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

I have been reading lots this summer and, as usual, am trying to catch up on my blogging
about the books.  I continue to try to do better....

 A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra has won numerous awards, including the New York Times Notable Book of the Year, the Washington Post Top Ten Books of the Year, and the 2013 Discover Great New Writers Award for Fiction.  High Praise, indeed!

I have to admit that I initially had difficulty reading the book.  It is an ongoing reading challenge for me to read books that take place in other countries with characters that have unfamiliar names to me.  I have to make myself read those books.  Thus, it took me quite awhile to take on this book since it first came out.

The story takes place in Chechnya, and begins in 2004 when eight year old Havaa woke up in her  neighbors' home after the Russians had taken her father away and burned her home the night before.  The neighbor, Akhmed had found Havaa hiding in the woods with her suitcase that night.  Akhmed took Havaa to a hospital that had been abandoned and was being used to treat people by the lone doctor there, Sonja Rabina.  Sonja had no interest in getting involved with the care of the young girl.  

The story is told in such a way that the past histories of the characters end up interweaving with each other in the present.  It's a beautiful book. 

"Life: a constellation of vital phenomena-organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation."


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Yes, an older book, written in 1982, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler was one of my
book club's choices for this month.  I had read several of her books in the past, but had not read this one. 

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is a novel about families.  It is a painful story about a very sad family.  It opens with the mother, Pearl, who is eighty-five years old and dying.  Pearl was thinking back to when her husband had walked out on the family thirty-five years earlier, leaving her with three small children.  As the story progresses, it is clear that Pearl had issues...she would go off into rages with the children and be terribly abusive to them.  And as adults, the three children were clearly damaged by their mother's irrational behaviors.

The oldest child, Cody, was a cold, cruel child.  He was especially abusive to his younger brother, Ezra, who was Pearl's favorite child.  Ezra was a too kind, thoughtful child, who never stood up for himself.  Their sister Jenny was the middle child. As adults, Cody remained a cold cruel person.  Jenny became a pediatrician, seemingly always looking for the perfect family to be part of, as she went through marriages.  Ezra ended up owning a restaurant, where he set his mission to serve the food that people were homesick for:

" He'd cook what people felt homesick for-tacos like those from vendor's cars in California, which the Mexican was always pining after; and that wonderful vinegary North Carolina barbecue that Todd Duckett had to have brought by his mother several times a year in cardboard cups.  He would call it the Homesick Restaurant."

Ezra's lifelong goal and dream was to have a meal with his family where everyone stayed and finished the entire meal.  That certainly tells you something about this family!  He was always trying to arrange family meals when everyone could come together, but every meal ended the same. Someone became upset or angry and left before the meal was completed.    

Ms. Tyler's writing is beautiful (as in her other books).  An example:

"'Everything,' his father said, 'comes down to time in the end-to the passing of time, to changing.  Ever thought of that?  Anything that makes you happy or sad, isn't it all based on minutes going by?  Isn't happiness expecting something time is going to bring you?  Isn't sadness wishing time back again?  Even big things-even mourning a death: aren't you really just wishing to have the time back when that person was alive? Or photos-ever notice old photographs?  How wistful they make you feel?  Long-ago people smiling, a child who would be an old lady now, a cat that died, a flowering plant that's long since withered away and the pot itself broken or misplaced...Isn't it just that time for once is stopped that makes you wistful?  If only you could turn it back again, you think.  If only you could change this or that, undo what you have done, if only you could roll the minutes the other way, for once.'"

Great writing.  This wasn't one of my favorite books of Ms. Tyler's, but it was an interesting one, and certainly lent itself to thoughtful and animated discussion for our group.

The Kept

The Kept is author James Scott's first novel.  It's slightly dark, but a very good read.  The author does an excellent job of character development, so that I felt as if I knew the characters. Mr. Scott will be an author whose works I will look forward to reading again.

 The Kept takes place in the late 1800's in upstate New York.  It opens with midwife, Elspeth Howell, returning to her isolated home in a snowstorm following an extended absence to find that her husband and four of their five children have been murdered. As she searched through the house, she was shot.  Not knowing who was in the house, her twelve year old son, Caleb, had been hiding in the pantry closet and he thought that the three gunmen who had killed his family had returned.  Caleb had been in the barn when the family was killed, saw the gunmen, but was not found by them.  Elspeth was badly wounded and Caleb did the best he could to nurse her back to health, to the point that they could leave there.  Caleb's motive in leaving was to find the three gunmen and kill them.  Before they could leave, Caleb needed to take care of the five bodies that were left.  Because of the weather he was not able to dig in the ground, so he piled the bodies together and set them on fire.  The fire jumped to their home and burned it down also.

Thus began the journey for Caleb and Elspeth.  As they begin their trek through the snowstorms, the author brings in the history...Elspeth had worked in various towns as a midwife, and over the years, had taken each of their five children as newborns to raise as their own. At one point as they traveled, Elspeth casually mentioned to Caleb that he had been born in Watersbridge, the town where they were headed to search for the gunmen.  Why would Elspeth want to take Caleb there?  That is where she had stolen him away.  Perhaps was she trying for atonement in some way?

Once they finally got to Watersbridge, Elspeth disguised herself as a man in order to get a job, and perhaps also, so that no one might recognize her from twelve years ago. Caleb also got a job, working in a brothel cleaning and doing chores.  All the while, Caleb was searching for the three gunmen.  And one day, Caleb was recognized.

The author did a wonderful job with tying up the different stories going on in the novel.  The resolution of it all was sad, but an interesting twist, and seemed quite realistic.  It left me wondering about families and how issues are resolved.  Good book.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

where the moon isn't

where the moon isn't is a first novel by Nathan Filer.  Not only did it win the 2013 Costa Book Award
for Best First Novel, it also won the 2013 Costa Book of the Year.  High praise indeed!

[from Wikipedia: The Costa Book Awards are a set of annual literary awards recognising English-language books by writers based in Britain and Ireland. They were inaugurated for 1971 publications and known as the Whitbread Book Awards until 2006 when Costa Coffee, a subsidiary of Whitbread, took over sponsorship.]

This is a novel about many things, but it didn't seem fractured or scattered at all.  Right from the first chapter of the book, the reader learned that  Matthew Homes' older brother, Simon, died.

"I'll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother.  His name's Simon.  I think you're going to like him.  I really do.  But in a couple of pages he'll be dead.  And he was never the same after that."

When Matthew was nine years old, his family took a vacation to Ocean Cove Holiday Park. Matthew and Simon were not allowed to go to the beach by themselves. because the path to the beach was dangerous.  Matthew decided to go to the beach anyway, and Simon followed after him. Simon had Down's Syndrome and because of that Matthew was always expected to be looking out for him.  However, this time, Matthew fell on the path, and Simon had to cope with Matthew's pain and care.  Simon carried him home, which was a very difficult thing for Simon to do.  A few nights later, Matthew again decided to go down to the beach and took Simon down to the dangerous path, only this time, Simon fell.

The story is told by Matthew ten years after the accident that killed Simon.  Matthew had been in and out of psychiatric care over the past ten years.  Sadly, schizophrenia emerged.  Matthew struggled with guilt and grief, and trying to understand what had happened that fateful night.  And then he began hearing voices, often Simon's. 

The story explores mental health in various venues: how it affects the person and the family, and how a mental health system works and fails.

But the book is mostly about a brother who loved his brother, and it questions how to grieve for someone when the pain never goes away. Good book.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

2 books: The Ocean at the End of the Lane and About Grace

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is a very interesting book.  I think that I need to read
it again, or perhaps several more times, to get all that is in it.  It's a small book, but there is a lot there.  Some words used to describe the book: fantasy, fairy tale, magic, fable, myth.  All apply.

A man (whose name we never learn) returned to his childhood home area to attend a funeral and began to remember events that had occurred years ago when he was seven years old.  The events occurred both at his home and at the old farm down the road from his home.  A mean (to the boy) housekeeper turned out to be a deadly spirit.  The young girl Lettie at the old farm lived with her mother and grandmother...they seem to end up being good witches.  So as the man began to remember the events, he decided to seek out that old farmhouse and it is there that he learns more about his past.  And about memories.

It is a beautifully written book and one that I will return to at some point.

About Grace by Anthony Doerr is a first novel for the author. We have chosen his latest book for our book group to read next month, so when I saw this book, I thought I would read it and see how I liked it.  And I did like it.  I can't say that I loved it, but I did like it.  I look forward to reading more of his work.

About Grace is about David Winkler and his journey to find himself and his daughter Grace.  David
was from Alaska and had always been interested in weather, especially snow. He had the gift of seeing things before they happened (gift or curse?).  He fell in love with a married woman, and when she became pregnant with his child, they ran away to Ohio together.  The baby was named Grace.  David dreamt that Grace would die in a flood and when their place in Ohio began to flood, David began to unravel trying to save the baby, until it appeared that he was harming her, or may harm her.  Finally David realized what was happening to him and that he felt that he had no control over it and he decided that he needed to leave and get far away from Grace so that he would not harm her.

David ended up on a Caribbean island, not knowing if Grace was alive or not.  He made a solitary life for himself there and spent the next twenty-five years, wondering if Grace had died.  David was often cared for by a family that had a daughter and it was she who ultimately drew David back to the States to search for his answers.

"What were dreams?  A ladle dipped, a bucket lowered.  The deep, cool water beneath the bright surface; the shadow at the base of every tree.  Dreams were the reciprocal of each place you visited when you were awake, each hour you passed through."

This is an interesting, well-written book. 

This Dark Road to Mercy

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash is his second novel.  His first novel, A Land More Kind Than
Home, was a favorite of mine, so I was excited to see his next one while at the library. It is a quick read...I read it in one day.

The chapters of the book are each told by three characters in the story.  The main character is Easter, a twelve year old, who was placed in foster care with Ruby, her six year old sister, after finding her mother dead.  The girl's father, Wade, had terminated his parental rights years before and had been long gone. Following their mother's death, the plan was for their maternal grandparents to adopt them.  The girls had never met their grandparents, who lived in Alaska.  Out of the blue, Wade appeared wanting to get his girls back.  His legal options were nil, so he took them away one night out of their foster home, and the three of them were on the run.  Not only had Wade kidnapped the girls, but he was also being sought after by a criminal who he had stolen from. Wade is being tracked down by the girl's guardian, and by Brady Weller and by an old friend of Wade's, Robert Pruitt, who has an old vendetta for Wade and is being paid by the criminal who Wade stole from.

It is a story of trying to make things right but in the wrong way.

I wasn't nearly as taken with this book as I was with his first book.  This Dark Road to Mercy just didn't seem to have the same substance as his first.  However, I am still a fan of Wiley Cash!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bag of Bones

I don't read a lot of Stephen King books, only because often it seems that the subject matter wouldn't Bag of Bones to read.  Mr. King did not let me down!
appeal to me.  However, I do think he is an excellent writer!  One of the best at drawing the reader in to his characters.  At the recommendation of a friend, I picked up

The main character in the book, Mike Noonan, was an author and a widower whose wife had died unexpectedly four years earlier. During the four years since his wife had died Mike had not been able to write anything.  Mike learned that his wife had been pregnant when she died but had not told him.  What other secrets was she keeping from him?  He had nightmares that took place at their summer home in Maine...a place where he had not gone back to since his wife's death.  He finally decided to face his grief and return to their summer place, where more secrets emerged.  One day, he came across a three year old girl out in the middle of the road, rescued her and then met her mother, Mattie, who was also widowed.  Mattie had been married to the son of a wealthy man who intended to take her three year old child away from her.  Mike became involved in their struggles as he fell in love with both Mattie and Kyra, the little girl.

Meanwhile, at Mike's summer place (called Sara Laughs) strange things kept happening and Mike became interested in learning more about the history of the place.  Which, as it ends up, is involved in Mattie and Kyra's problems.

It's a good was hard to put down!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Guests on Earth

I have been a fan of Lee Smith's work for years, so I was excited to see that she had a new book out.  Guests on Earth, is a historical fiction novel, based on Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina.  The hospital was notable for a couple of it is where Zelda Fitzgerald was often treated, and two: it appeared to be known for its innovative methods of treatment for the mentally ill, including gardening, arts, exercise and diet.  Very new concepts back in 1936.  In 1948, the hospital caught fire and nine patients in a locked ward were killed, including Zelda.  It is still unknown what caused the fire.
The book,

The story centers around Evalina Touissant, a thirteen year old girl from New Orleans, who was orphaned when her mother died.  She was sent to the Highland Hospital shortly after the death of her mother in 1936 and was a patient there off and on over the next twelve years. Through Evalina,  the reader is introduced to various patients there, including Zelda Fitzgerald.  

I just wasn't taken with the whole story.  The concept of it sounded fascinating, but in reading it, I really never cared about any of the characters.  Perhaps if the book had been written by someone else, I would have found it more interesting.  My expectations of Ms. Smith are high, however, and this book didn't deliver.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Four Books

Yep, trying to catch up with my blogging.  I have been reading a lot lately and the blogging is getting away from me.  I will work on being more recent!  I love reading in the summer, so I hope to get lots of it done this year!

One of my book groups chose Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck for our May meeting.  I had not read
it in many, many years, so it was pretty much like reading a new book for me.  It is easy to understand why it is considered a classic, and that it won the Pulitzer Prize.  The book was first published in 1939, and has been described as an "epic of the Great Depression".

Grapes of Wrath is about the Dust Bowl migration of the Joad family from Oklahoma who had lost everything there and decided to take off for California, where the good life was promised.  Three generations set off in an old truck and as they traveled across the country they repeatedly dealt with harsh conditions, including lack of money, food, shelter, etc.  Family members became ill, a young daughter was pregnant, some died.  Once the family reached California, conditions did not improve, and were the same, if not worse.

The book tells a heart-breaking story.  It was somewhat difficult to read how hard life was in the 1930's for people who ended up losing everything and struggled to survive.  And to read of how those who did have resources were either afraid or unwilling to help others.

One reviewer described the book as: "The Grapes of Wrath summed up its era in the way that Uncle Tom’s Cabin summed up the years of slavery before the Civil War." 

I liked that comparison.  Both are important books to read to understand history.

For June, my other book group read The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin.  The wife in the The
Aviator's Wife, a historical fiction, is Anne Morrow Lindberg, wife of Charles Lindberg.  Many years ago I had read the autobiographies of Anne Morrow Lindberg, so I was curious to see how this book would compare to those.

The book begins in 1927 with Ms. Morrow traveling to Mexico City over college break to visit her family who had just moved there.  While there, she met and became friends with Charles Lindberg, who had just completed his solo trip to Paris. Charles and Anne married after some time and Charles began teaching Anne how to fly and how to be his "crew".  Anne began to see that she was expected to do as Charles wanted and to be in the background of their lives together.

The novel appears to be very well researched and covers many years and events.  I was not expecting to find Charles as dis-likeable as he was and that colored my reading somewhat, until near the end of the book when more about Charles was revealed. 

It ended up being an interesting book that sent me to Google several times to check on different events of their lives.  Fascinating.

The next book I read was Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight.  I found this to be a rather fascinating
book, in a way.  It made me incredibly thankful that I had raised my children before all of the social media was around!

Reconstructing Amelia is the story of a mother, Kate, trying to make sense of her daughter Amelia's suicide.  Amelia was a 15 year old excellent student who had never been in any trouble.  So when Kate got a call to come and pick up Amelia from school because Amelia had been suspended, she went to the school as quickly as she could and when she got there, she learned that Kate had killed herself by jumping off the roof of the school building.  Amelia's death was ruled a suicide.  Soon after, however, Kate received a text message saying that Amelia did not jump.  Kate began going through Amelia's computer and phone trying to piece together what had been going on in Amelia's life.

Through blog posts, Facebook posts, texts and emails, Kate began to learn of Amelia's life over the last few months.  And each finding opened up new questions.  Kate learned about a "club" that Amelia had joined, then quit, and how she was being treated by the other girls in the club.  And she learned about friends of Amelia's whom she had known nothing of before.  And finally, Kate learned what really happened to Amelia.

The story is told by both Kate and Amelia's perspectives, which was an interesting way to tell the story.  It is about mothers and daughters, secrets and lies, and mostly teenage angst.  It was a good book, not nearly as predictable as I would have thought. 

And finally, I read Frog Music by Emma Donoghue.  Ms. Donoghue is also the author of Room, which I really enjoyed. Frog Music is totally different from Room, but just as enjoyable, in a different way.  Frog Music is a historical fiction novel, based on a murder in San Francisco in the mid 1870's.

The story is told by Blanche Beunon, a dancer and call girl from France, who lived with Albert and his friend Ernest.  Blanche supported the three with her dancing and tricks.  Blanch and Albert also had a baby who lived on a "farm".  One day Blanche was run over by a bike ridden by Jenny Bonnet, who at first Blanche took as a male because Jenny wore pants.  It turned out that Jenny was a free spirit, who caught frogs for a living.  Jenny and Blanche became friends, and over a brief period of time, Jenny made Blanche begin to question her life...about Albert, her occupation and her baby.  Jenny and Blanche left San Francisco and their second night away, Jenny was shot through the window and killed in their room that night.

The story is about finding who killed Jenny.  Was it Albert, who Blanche had left?  Was it Ernest who was jealous of Blanche?  And where is the baby?

The story is told in flashbacks, and covers lots of history of San Francisco, including baby farms, and the smallpox epidemic.

It's a good mystery and was researched well.