Friday, January 31, 2014

Death Comes For The Archbishop

Death Comes For the Archbishop by Willa Cather was written in 1927. I had never read it nor had I intended to. A member of one of my book groups had recommended another of Ms. Cather’s books and I headed to the library to find it. It wasn’t there, but Death Comes for the Archbishop was there, so I decided to read it. I am glad that I did.

Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather was written in 1927. I had never read it nor had I Death Comes For The Archbishop was there, so I decided to read it. I am glad that I did.

The book is a novel about the first Archbishop of Sante Fe, New Mexico. In the novel, Fr. Jean Marie Latour was from France where he went to Seminary and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. Soon afterwards, in 1848, he was assigned to come to the United States…priests/missionaries were needed in Ohio, so Fr. Latour and his good friend Fr. Vaillant arrived in Ohio and took up there work. Soon, the United States won New Mexico in the Mexican-American War and Fr. Latour was made Bishop and sent to New Mexico to establish the diocese there. He took Fr. Vaillant with him as his vicar.

The novel tells the story of Bishop Latour’s years there as he worked to convert the people, and rein in some of the priests who had been on their own out there for years, and had strayed far from the Catholic teachings. In the end, Archbishop Latour was there for thirty-eight years. He retired there and died there.

The book is very slow moving and I was impatient with it for a bit off and on, but by the end was very moved by the whole story.

(The novel is based on the life of the first Archbishop of Sante Fe, Jean Baptist Lamy….I am sure that the reading of his life would be quite interesting)

knitting yarns-writers on knitting

Here’s a great thing that happened…both of my daughters, unbeknownst to them, gave me the same book    The great thing about it was that it was knitting yarns-writers on knitting.  The book combines two of my favorite things…reading and knitting! was for my birthday and the other was for Christmas.

As the title implies, the book is a set of essays by various authors (men and women) who knit.  They wrote essays about knitting and how knitting has related to their lives.  Some of the authors who contributed to the book are some of my favorite authors such as:  Elizabeth Berg, Andre Dubus III, Hope Edelman, Sue Grafton, Ann Hood, Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett, Anita Shreve, and Jane Smiley.

Some of the essays were great, others not as much.  But I still enjoyed reading them all and could usually relate to all of them.  Some of the authors even included a favorite knitting pattern!

I recommend the book for anyone who loves to knit, or just loves knitted things!  It was a great gift to receive! (My second copy went to my favorite knit shop for others to enjoy while there!).  

Jacob's Oath

Yes, another Holocaust book.  I had read Martin Fletcher’s book The List when it had first come out   Jacob’s Oath takes place at the end of World War II. 
and loved it, so I was excited to learn that he had completed another novel.

Jacob survived the death camp he had been in, but the rest of his family’s fate was unknown except for his younger brother who had been in the camp with him.  His brother had died in Jacob’s arms and Jacob’s oath to his brother was that when the war ended he would hunt down and kill the man who had caused the brother’s death. It was a man known to them, from their hometown.

Sarah survived the war hiding in a basement in Germany, dependent on others for her survival, while she waited for the return of her fiance who had disappeared.

As the war came to an end, Jacob returned to his home town in Heidelberg to seek his revenge.  Sarah traveled to Heidelberg hoping to meet her fiance there as that had been their plan if they had become separated.  Jacob and Sarah met in Heidelberg and fell in love. 

So now, Jacob had a future to look forward to with Sarah.  What would become of him if he murdered his brother’s killer?   Jacob faced the ultimate decision…love or revenge?  Past or future?

This is a very simplified summary of the story.  It is a well-written book, with many interesting details and facts woven into it. I do, however, have to admit that I liked The List much more.  

***Side note: if you don’t realize this…the author Martin Fletcher is the newsman who we have watched for years on television.  Brilliant man.  His parents survived the Holocaust.

The Book Thief

Am I among the last of readers to have read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak?  It’s an amazing book.  I had a little bit of a hard time first getting into it.  Luckily, I knew in advance that it is a Young Adults book, so that helped.  However, don’t let that put you off from reading it if you haven’t.

The Book Thief is Leisel Meminger, a young girl in 1939 Germany whose mother was taking her and Leisel’s brother to a foster home after Leisel’s father left the home.  Sadly, Leisel’s brother died on the trip and when he was being buried, Leisel stole a book called The Grave Digger’s Handbook.  She did not know how to read then. It was the first book that she stole.  Leisel was placed in a foster home with a loving father and a seemingly unloving, strict mother.  Leisel’s foster father teaches her to read during the long lonely nights when she awakened from nightmares and he would come to comfort her.  Thus began her long love affair with books.

Obviously, 1939 Germany is a dangerous place and time.  As Leisel settled into her new home, she met other children in the neighborhood and made good friends.  Soon, her foster family hid Max, a Jew whose father had saved Leisel’s father in World War I.  Max was hidden in the basement, and he and Leisel became close.

“You see, people may tell you that Nazi Germany was built on anti-Semitism, a somewhat overzealous leader, and a nation of hate-fed bigots, but it would all have come to nothing had the Germans not loved on particular activity.

To burn.

The Germans loved to burn things.  Shops, synagogues, Reichstags, houses, personal items, slain people, and of course, books.”

This is by no means a simple book.  It is an amazing book.  The writing is excellent, the premise is outstanding and the narration is breath-taking.  Death narrates the story.

“It’s probably fair to say that in all the years of Hitler’s reign, no person was able to serve the Fuhrer as loyally as me.  A human doesn’t have a heart like mine.  The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time.  The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst.  I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.  Still, they have one thing I envy.  Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die.”

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is another book that my daughter loaned me to read.  ***An aside: It makes me so proud that she reads such good books and either loans them to me or recommends them.  What more could an obsessed reading mother want?*** Anyway, I read it and it was chosen by one of my book groups to read, which is always great fun for me, because I love discussing the books that I have read with my book group!

The Paris Wife is a historical fiction novel about Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway.  It is the story of their meeting, their courtship and their marriage.  Hadley was 29 years old when she met the charismatic, charming 21 year old Ernest Hemingway, who swept her off her feet.  Hadley was from St. Louis and met Ernest in Chicago while there visiting a friend. they married in 1921, less than a year after first meeting.  Shortly after their marriage, they decided to move to Paris where Ernest wanted to pursue his writing.  Paris was the place to be in those years for young artist and writers and they soon began socializing with the "in" crowd.

As the title implies, the story is about the couple's years in Paris.  Those years were filled with love, sadness, betrayal, hope, and adventures.  However, it all ended badly and in 1933, Hadley divorced Ernest.   This novel portrays great love, despite the hardships.  It offers a side of Hemingway that is not often shown.

Ms. McClain (the author) wrote that she began to research and wrote the novel after having read A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, which was his story of the Paris years with Hadley.  She wrote that "I felt utterly transported into the world of 1920's Paris, and into the smaller, more profound (for me) world of Hemingway's first marriage, to Hadley Richardson."  and that she wondered "Just who was Hadley Richardson?"

Ms McClain began researching Hadley and Ernest, reading biographies of both, reading his early works and visiting the Hemingway archive at the JFK Memorial Library.  There she was able to read Hadley's letter written to Ernest during their courtship.

Hadley was the first of Ernest's four wives.  In the final pages of A Moveable Feast Ernest wrote of Hadley "I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her."  Beautiful sentiment and really kind of sums up the love that is written about in The Paris Wife.

One of the best things about the book for me was that it left me wanting to know more about both Hadley and Ernest and wanting to read (or re-read) Hemingway's works.  Always a good sign of a novel!

***Another aside: the cover of the book that most of us had is not a picture from the 1920' seems to be an apparent obvious case of trying to sell a book by its'
cover.  Shame.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Year of Wonders

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks is an amazing book and one that I definitely will reread.  I think that there will be much more to gather upon a second reading.  I have been a fan of Ms. Brooks' writing over the years, and this book is my favorite.  I think she did an amazing job researching and telling this true tale of Eyam, a town outside of London, that was infected by the plague in 1666 and how the town chose to deal with it. 

The story is told by fictional Anna Frith, a widow and mother of two boys, who became a healer and housekeeper for the local vicar and his wife.  Through Anna, the story unfolded over the year as the town suffered through devastating decisions and losses. 

"Little Edward Cooper was dead before sunset.  His brother, Jonathan, lay ill a day later, and Alexander Hadfield but two days after that.  At the end of a sennight, Mary Hadfield was widow for a second time in her life, and her two sons lay in the churchyard beside their dead father.  I was not there to see them buried, for by then I had mourning of my own to do.

My Tom died as babies do, gently and without complaint.  Because they have been such a little time with us, they seem to hold to life but weakly.  I used to wonder if it was so because the memory of Heaven still lived within them, so that in leaving here they do not fear death as we do, who no longer know with certainty where it is our spirits go.  This, I thought, must be the kindness that God does for them and for us, since He gives so many infants such a little while to bide with us."

 As the plague gained momentum in the village, the young vicar presented an enormous challenge to the  people of the quarantine the village so that the disease would not spread further.  Those who didn't want to agree to that were free to leave the village before the quarantine began.  The quarantine meant no outsiders could come to the village, and no one from the village could leave.  Supplies that were normally obtained from nearby villages and towns would be dropped off at a site where there would be no contact with each other. 

As one review said: "This is a tale of devastation, grief, and madness..."  It was also a tale of great love for others, sacrifice and honor.

Before the year's end, two thirds of the village had died to the plague.

Beautifully written, Year of Wonders is indeed that.

One Good Deed

One Good Deed-365 Days Of Trying To Be Just A Little Bit Better by Erin McHugh took me a full
year to complete.  Do you think that is a long time to take to read one small book?  Not if you follow it one day at a time.  I incorporated reading this book's daily entry into my morning routine...I read that day's entry right after reading my morning Bible and meditation readings.  It has been a good way to start my day.

As Ms. McHugh wrote after the first 100 days:

"In the back of my head now, when I wake up every day, there is a question.  But it's not 'How am I going to fulfill my good deed obligation?' It's more like 'How can I make this day a little better?' I guarantee this sounds cornier than it feels.  But it gives a little extra promise and purpose to life that I hadn't expected."  

The book is what it sounds like.  A daily reading of Ms. McHugh's year of trying to do something good for someone else each day.  I found it challenging and affirming.  Sometimes we are doing good deeds each day for others without even thinking about it.  Other times, I felt like I struggled to find something good to do on a certain day! I know-that is a sad statement, but I am trying to be honest.  Does fixing coffee for my husband (even though I don't drink coffee) in the morning count?  It did for me!

And, for me, that was the real joy of the book...the awareness of both the big things and the little ones that we do for others each day.

I loved this book and I am sad to have completed the year.  Ms. McHugh's writing is lots of fun to read.  She is honest, funny and insightful.  And best of all, inspired me to be a little bit better person each day.

The Husband's Secret

I don't believe that I have read any other books by Liane Moriarty, other than this one being reviewed-The Husband's Secret.  Based on The Husband's Secret, I look forward to reading some of her other works.  My daughter lent me this book and I was happy to read it since I had noticed it was one of the finalists for the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards.

The book centers around three different women and their individual stories, which I had a hard time with through the first part of the book, trying to keep them straight and trying to figure out how they tied together. That is probably my only criticism of the book, but it worked itself out for me by about the middle of the book.

Cecilia, who I consider the main character of the book, was a 40 year old, married, mother of three daughters, who worked part-time selling Tupperware and volunteered wherever needed in Sidney, Australia.  She was married to John Paul, one of the handsome Fitzpatrick boys.  Cecilia was beginning to notice some changes in John Paul and was a bit concerned about the relationship.  When John Paul was gone on a business trip, Cecilia was cleaning out the attic and came across an old sealed letter inside a book that was addressed 

"For my wife, Cecilia Fitzpatrick
      To be opened only in the event of my death"

Meanwhile, Tess' husband, Will, revealed that he had fallen in love with Tess' cousin/best friend.  So Tess decided to take her young son and go visit her mother in Sidney for an undetermined length of time.  When Tess arrived in Sidney, she decided to enroll her son in school-the same school where Cecilia's daughters attended.  It turned out that Connor, the adored PE teacher at the school, was an old boyfriend of Tess' and they immediately became involved upon coming across each other when Tess moved back.

The secretary of the school was Rachel, a widowed older woman whose 17 year old daughter had been murdered back in 1984 and the crime had never been solved.  Connor had been Rachel's daughter's boyfriend at the time of her death.  Rachel had always believed that Connor was her daughter's murderer, and that she would someday be able to prove her theory.

Yes, I know that this is all rather confusing...that is how I felt for awhile reading the book.

But...the author does an excellent job getting into the characters of the book and their lives.  Each of the
three main characters were well-developed and it was interesting to see how the book wove together the struggles that each of the women were dealing with.  Lots of old secrets revealed, which I always find entertaining to read.  The author also weaved in the history of the Berlin Wall (which her daughter was studying) and the subtle comparisons of that history to what was going on in the book was interesting.

Yes, if you are wondering, Cecilia opened the letter up and read it, not waiting for John Paul's death.  The contents changed everything for their relationship, and for many other people.  And I have to admit, I had not guessed the content.

Good, good book.  It will be one that I will recommend to my book groups!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Favorite Books of 2013 and a few stats

My end of the year report: by my count I read 46 books this year.  I find that to be a low number, and I am sure that my husband and family would also dispute it, but that is what I have! And of that 46, only 4 are non-fiction.  Again, hard to believe.  I am going to be more diligent about recording my reading this year of 2014 and see if my numbers improve.  Perhaps, my count is correct.  After all, I did take up knitting in January of 2013 and that did cut down on my reading time!

Anyway, as I did last year, I will narrow down my favorite reads for you.  Here are my top 15 books from my reading in 2013:

Touch-Alexi Zentner
Home-Toni Morrison                                                 
The Light Between the Oceans: ML Stedman            
The Grave Diggers Daughter: Joyce Carol Oates
Ordinary Grace-William Kent Krueger
Wilderness-Lance Weller
The Human Stain-Phillip Roth                
A Town Like Alice: Nevil Shute
A Far Cry From Kensington: Muriel Sparks
The Good Lord Bird-James McBride
The Burgess Boys-Elizabeth Strout
The Storyteller-Jodi Picult
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry-Rachel Joyce
House Girl-Tara Conklin                                            
The Book Thief-Markus Zusak

And now narrowing the list down further, here are my top 8 favorite books:

Ordinary Grace-William Kent Krueger
Wilderness-Lance Weller
The Human Stain-Phillip Roth                
The Burgess Boys-Elizabeth Strout
The Storyteller-Jodi Picult
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry-Rachel Joyce
House Girl-Tara Conklin                                            
The Book Thief-Markus Zusak

This is where it really starts getting difficult….it is interesting to me that two of these books were written several years ago (The Human Stain in 2000, and The Book Thief in 2006). I can get the list down to 5:

Wilderness-Lance Weller
The Human Stain-Phillip Roth                
The Storyteller-Jodi Picult
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry-Rachel Joyce
The Book Thief-Markus Zusak

Okay, okay….I can’t choose between my last 2 favorite reads of 2013.  They are:

Wilderness by Lance Weller and The Human Stain by Phillip Roth.

 I loved both of them.  And, as different as they seem from each other, they both tell the stories of men struggling with their pasts.  I kind of think that most of my favorite books are around that theme…interesting.

So that is it for 2013.  Happy Reading to all in 2014.  I have a huge number of books sitting on various book shelves to be read this year, so I need to get to it!

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is one of those books that I have read about
or heard about for the last two years, but just never picked it up to read.  Huge mistake.  I guess that I never knew anyone who had read it.  Well, I am here to recommend that you pick it up and read it.  I found it to be an amazing book.

This debut novel is the story of Harold Fry, a meek, mild-mannered retired Englishman who received a letter one day from a woman, Queenie, who had been a co-worker twenty years ago.  Queenie wrote that she was in hospice and wanted to write and say goodbye.  Harold wrote a note back to her and set off to post it.  However, Harold wasn't quite able to post it and began walking to the next mailbox, then the next, and the next, until he decided that he would walk the six hundred miles to see Queenie, rather than send her a note. His walking became rather superstitious in that he felt that Queenie wouldn't die as long as he was walking to her.

Meanwhile, Harold needed to let his wife, Maureen, know that he had taken on this long journey.  Harold and Maureen's marriage had become desolate years ago and much of the book is about their journey through the past and to each other.

While on his journey, Harold met or came across an odd assortment of people.  As word spread of his journey, people began to join Harold on the pilgrimage.  Being a quiet loner of a man, that was difficult for Harold at times.  And also rewarding.

"Harold walked with these strangers and listened.  He judged no one, although as the days wore on, and time and places began to melt, he couldn't remember if the tax inspector wore no shoes or had a parrot on his shoulder.  It no longer mattered.  He had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too.  The world was made up on people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time.  Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.  
He walked so surely it was as if all his life he had been waiting to get up from his chair."
I loved the writing and the kind of human spirituality of the book. It's a beautiful book, with many characters who come and go and some wonderfully written family dynamics as both Harold and Maureen struggle with their memories and thoughts.

As I previously wrote, this book was Ms. Joyce's debut novel.  It was longlisted for the2012 Man Booker Prize...what an honor that would be! She does have a new book out now called Perfect.  I can't wait to read it and see if it lives up to her first.