Thursday, January 29, 2015

Nothing Too Exciting

I have recently read three books, none of which I found to be especially great.  Not that they were bad reads, each was entertaining, but nothing that I couldn't put down!

I read Transatlantic by Colum McCann for one of my book groups.  I had great difficulty getting into McCann is a wonderful writer (beautiful prose), I was really bothered by his fragmented sentences in the book.  At one point I even read a brief section to my husband, just to express my frustration so he could understand my complaints!  But besides that, I just didn't really care about what was happening in the first half of the book.  However, this was one of those rare instances where my interest peaked half way through and I began to really enjoy the book!
the book, and would have quit reading it if I wasn't reading it for book group. Although

The book begins in 1919 in Newfoundland with two aviators setting course for Ireland.  They were attempting to be the first to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean.  Then the book jumps back to around 1845 in Dublin where Frederick Douglas is trying to raise awareness and sympathy for the abolitionist cause in America. Then the book goes to 1998 in New York, with Senator George Mitchell leaving for Ireland to attempt to lead peace talks amid the violence there.

So there are three different journeys to Ireland described over 150 years time.  Interspersed in these stories are the stories of strong Irish women.  One of them, Lily Duggan, was a servant in the home where Frederick Douglas was staying.  She worked and earned passage to America. Lily's life in the United States is where I began to be interested in the book.  During the Civil War she went to work where her son was in camp.  The book goes on with her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter, all the way back to Ireland in the end.

The book has a lot of interesting comparisons and though-provoking themes in it, including race, class, and relationships. It was a good book for our group discussion.

I next read The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.  I would classify it as kind of a
book-lover's book in that it is a story about a recently widowed young man, A. J. Fikry, who owns a small bookstore on an island.  He lived a quiet lonely life and was aware that small bookstores were probably becoming a thing of the past.  He was not happy with the state of publishing and the publishers choices of books.  Once or twice a year a sales rep from a publisher he dealt with would come to the island to show him the newest books being released.  When a new sales rep showed up, he was not happy, and did not leave a good impression on her.  Sometime later, a young toddler was left in his bookshop with a note "This is Maya.  She is twenty-five months old."  Of course, A. J. does not feel that he can take care of the child, nor does he want to, until it is time for her to go and he decided that perhaps he could keep her, so he does.  Eventually A. J. opens himself up to the possibility of love and began to pursue the sales rep.  The story continues until Maya was 18 years old.   

All in all, a good book, but fairly predictable.  There were some good island characters and a mystery that added to the book.

 And finally, I read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.  It has been highly touted as the Gone
Girl for 2015.  It was a good read, but I didn't find it nearly as disturbing (in an interesting way) as Gone Girl.

The girl on the train was Rachel Watson, a divorced, unemployed, sad girl who traveled on the train every day to London in the morning and back home again each night so that her friend, at whose home she was living, would not know that she had been fired from her job months ago.  So every day on the train she passed by the house where she and her ex-husband had lived, and, where in fact, he now lived with his new wife and baby.  Near their home, Rachel began to notice a couple who was often out on their patio each morning and appeared to be in a perfect relationship.  She began fantasising about their lives, even to the point of making up names for them.

But one morning, as Rachel watched from the train window she saw the woman kissing another man, and Rachel's life began to spinning even worse than it had been.  Then the woman was reported missing.  Rachel can't stay out of it, and so it begins....

The book is a good mystery and was a fun read.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ties That Bind-Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps

Ties That Bind by Dave Isay is a collection of stories that have been collected by the StoryCorps group
over the past 10 years.  StoryCorps mission is to offer individuals "the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives."

To learn more about StoryCorps go to:

The book is divided into 3 sections: "We Saved Each Other", "Been Through Battles", and "Two Sides of the Same Heart", with each section having about 12 different short stories.  Some of the stories were quite touching, others just nice.

I think that the project is an important one for the future, so it was interesting to read some of the stories that have been preserved and learn more about StoryCorps.

The Night Birds

Here's a great book to start out a new year! The Night Birds by Thomas Maltman, published in 2007, The Night Birds.  I really wish that we were discussing it at book group, so I may present it again for vote when it is my turn in a few months!
was awarded the Alex Award, the Friends of American Writers Literary Award, and a Spur Award.  I am surprised that I hadn't heard of it until it was presented (but not chosen) at last month's book group. I had voted for it because I thought it sounded so interesting, but another book was chosen.  I still wanted to read it, so after reading the book group choice, I read

The Night Birds is set in the 1860's and 1870's in Missouri, then Minnesota.  It is the story of three generations.  Asa Stenger, a young boy, is at the heart of the book.  He was descended from German immigrants who had settled in Missouri, then moved to Minnesota.  The time period was that of the Civil War and then the Dakota Conflict (or The Sioux Uprising), a fairly unknown time of US history.

In Minnesota during this time period conflicts were still relatively common between the white settlers and the Indians.  However, cordial relationships between the settlers and the Indians were also evident.  One day, Asa's Aunt Hazel, his father's sister, unexpectedly showed up at their home.  She had been thought to be long dead, but as Asa learned, Hazel had been long-forgotten in an asylum for years.  As Hazel and Asa began to trust each other and become closer, Hazel began sharing stories of her past with Asa, including her being taken captive by and living with the Dakota Indians.  Hazel had been institutionalized after the capture and hanging of 38 of the Dakota warriors in 1862. 

Hazel's story is fascinating and interweaves history with Indian mysticism, love, loss, and forgiveness.
Her story left Asa with questions and answers that led him onto his path in life.

This is a beautifully written story that I look forward to re-reading at some point.

What are the night birds?  "...birds that led humans out of sorrow."



Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Today as I pulled up to Barnes and Noble for my weekly Bible Study the thought went through my head..."I'm going to be spending a bunch of money here today..."  The temperature was 1 degree outside.  It just felt like a book buying day. Ever have one of those? Despite piles of to-be-read books awaiting attention at home?

So, by the end of the morning I walked out with 3 new books: Canada by Richard Ford, Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo, and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.  I guess that reading, and even the anticipation of reading is my winter comfort.

Oh, I also bought a half-price tin of peanut brittle and a half-price jigsaw puzzle.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Favorite books of 2014

If my count is correct, I read 48 books in 2014.  Not as high as I would like, but decent.  When I break it down into 12 months, that's 4 books a month.  Only 2 books read were non-fiction this year.  22 of the 48 books were written by women, which means 26 were written by men, so I find that fairly impartial, but surprising.  I would have guessed that I read more books written by women.  2 books were by Joyce Carol Oates and 2 were by Marilynn Robinson.  Anyway, as I annually do, I have my list of favorite books that I read in 2014.

This year the preliminary list is 21:

The Year of Wonder-Geraldine March

Death Comes For The Archbishop: Willa Cather

Still Alice-Lisa Genova

Iron House-John Hart

Miss Pegrine’s Home for Peculiar Children-Ransom Riggs

A Town Like Alice-Nevill Shute                                                      

The Son-Philipp Meyer

The Goldfinch-Donna Tartt

The Fault in our Stars-John Green

The Grapes of Wrath-John Steinbeck

 Frog Music-Emma Donoghue
A constellation of vital phenomena: Anthony Marra

Calling Me Home-Julie Kibler

Angle of Repose-Wallace Stegner

The Invention of Wings-Sue Monk Kidd

Carthage-Joyce Carol Oates

Natchez Burning-Greg Iles

Night Fall-Nelson DeMille

Lila-Marilynn Robinson

Gilead-Marilynn Robinson                                                   

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry-Rachel Joyce

I find it interesting that 2 of the books are Young Adult, and 4 of the books are older works.  11 of the 21 were written by women, so still fairly even.

I am eliminating the last two only because they were recent re-reads.  That by no means indicates that they are not worthy of my favorite books read! That being said-

Narrowing it down to my top 11 favorites of 2014:

Still Alice-Lisa Genova
Iron House-John Hart

A Town Like Alice-Nevill Shute                                                      

The Son-Philipp Meyer

The Goldfinch-Donna Tartt

The Grapes of Wrath-John Steinbeck

Angle of Repose-Wallace Stegner
The Invention of Wings-Sue Monk Kidd

Carthage-Joyce Carol Oates

Natchez Burning-Greg Iles

Lila-Marilynn Robinson

Again, three of these books are older books.  Now to get serious: my top 6 favorites:

The Son-Philipp Meyer

The Goldfinch-Donna Tartt

Angle of Repose-Wallace Stegner

The Invention of Wings-Sue Monk Kidd

Natchez Burning-Greg Iles

Lila-Marilynn Robinson

And so it gets down to 2 books:

Natchez Burning-Greg Iles

Lila-Marilynn Robinson

And choosing between these two books is like having to pick a favorite child.  I really loved both of them, but the winner goes to this stunningly beautiful book:

Lila by Marilynn Robinson  



for December 2014-Four books

I re-read Gilead by Marilyn Robinson as it was the book chosen by one of my book groups for December.  Each time I read it, I am struck by the beauty of this book.  It is one of my very favorites, second only to To Kill A Mockingbird.  If you haven't read it, run to the library, bookstore, friends, somewhere to find it!  I first read Gilead in January of 2005.  (if you are interested in my take on the book, I reviewed it on this blog December 16, 2010 after my third time reading it)

For my other book group's choice for December we read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.  This was my second reading of this book.  I reviewed it on this blog on January 1, 2014. It, too, is an excellent read.  This book lends itself to great discussion in book groups!

In December, I also read Stephen King's newest book, Revival.  It is the story of a charismatic minister
named Charles Jacobs, who came to a small New England town and became beloved by all of his parishioners.  He befriended Jamie Morton, a small boy whose family attended the church, and shared his passion for electricity with Jamie.  However, tragedy struck the Jacobs family and Charles publicly denounced God during a church service.  He was sent away and not heard from again.

Over the years, Jamie developed an interest in guitar and began playing in bands, traveling around the country.  As can often happen in that lifestyle, he began drinking and using heroin to the point that he was destitute.  Then Jamie met up with Charles Jacob again, and that meeting led to years of consequences for Jamie.

As the jacket cover for the book states:

"Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings."

The story spans about fifty years and is quite interesting.  It has made me think more about Stephen King's writing.  I have always thought that he is a great writer (although I find some of his subject matter quite disturbing and have not read all of his books).  The more that I do read of his writing, the more I think that he puts much more into his writing than what is read on the surface.  I have never read any of his books for a book group, but I think that his writing would lend to great thought and discussion.  I will have to consider this!

The last book that I read in December was Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.  I had not read it
before because I had not seen great reviews for it.  I should have known better.  I liked the book quite a bit.  It is a simple read, but I loved the story.

Orphan Train is a historical fiction account based on the true reality of our country between 1854-1929, when orphan children were put on trains headed west to find families to either live with or be adopted by.  Often the children were taken in to be labor for the families, but there were also families who were truly looking for children to be part of their family.

I liked the way the author set up the story.  It involved two main characters: Vivian Daly, who had come to the United States in 1929 with her parents, but was soon orphaned and sent from New York City on an Orphan Train headed west.  She had a hard youth as she went from family to family.  She eventually married and ended up living on the coast of Maine.  Molly Ayers was a young seventeen year old girl who was living in foster care in Maine and had been caught stealing a book.  Her community service was to help the elderly Vivian clear out her attic.

As the two go through Vivian's belongings that have been packed away for years, slowly the story of Vivian's life emerged.  Both realized that they had had similar lives and experiences, wondering about their pasts and their families. 

It was a good story of loss, and new beginnings.