Saturday, December 31, 2016

Catching Up before 2017!

I have been remiss in blogging here, but for once, I have a decent excuse.  I had surgery on my right hand at the beginning of the month, so there's that.  It also meant that I got lots of reading in!  So this is going to be a very brief outline of what I have read and how I liked each book!

1) The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills.  This was a very controversial book when it came out, and with good reason.  I admit that when I finished it, the book left me quite skeptical.  It is non-fiction, by a then-Chicago based journalist who went to Monroesville, Alabama to do a piece (or series) about where To Kill A Mockingbird was based. The author contends that she became very close to Harper Lee and her sister Alice and all of their friends.  Harper Lee was always known as a very closed person, so the whole story didn't ring true for me. But maybe I'm wrong.  For Harper Lee fans, it is an interesting story about the town and the friends of the Lee sisters.

2) Of course after having read the above book, I had to re-read To Kill A Mockingbird, for what I would estimate the 20th time.  Cried at the very end, as I do every single time.  Best book ever.  It will be out of the running for Top Book of 2016, because I would choose it as #1 every year! 

3) Never Goin' Back by Al Roker.  I found this for $1 and, since I am a fan of Al Roker, I grabbed it up.  It is a quick read, telling about his childhood, growing up and his life-long weight struggle. It was interesting and easy to read.

4) Grace by Natashia Deon.  This was an interesting, rather monumental debut novel that was sometimes very interesting to me and other times hard to follow.  It is told by the narrator Grace who was a black slave in the South in the 1840's.  Grace was killed right after giving birth to her only child, a daughter named Josey. Grace followed Josey through-out her life ( kind of like a haunting) trying to protect her from the harsh reality of a slave's life.  This story is about several generations and stayed with me.  

5) The Nix by Nathan Hill.  Not a book I would necessarily recommend, primarily because it was so very long for what the story was.  The story itself was quite interesting, but, oh, what a wordy book! This was also a debut novel and I expect good things to come (hopefully not as verbose!).
It is a novel about a son and his mother and their struggle to reconnect years after she left the son and his father to find her own way in life. Summary: good story but way too long than needed.

6) Redemption Road by John Hart.  I love John Hart's books.  This is his third and I have really liked all of them.  Redemption Road is a mystery that kept me engaged through-out the book.  Several times I thought that I knew who did it, but I was wrong.  And when I though it was the actual killer, I then convinced myself that it wasn't! The story began with a young boy with a gun ready to kill the cop being released from prison for killing the boy's mother thirteen years ago. And meanwhile, other murdered women are showing up.  Who did it???

7) The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney.  This book had been on my radar for some time, but I didn't think that I would especially like it.  However, when I came across it for fifty cents, I decided it was worth a read, and I ended up finding it to be a good book.  It is the story of four adult children who were anticipating receiving The Nest in a few months. The Nest was an investment that their father had made years ago for them and it had, surprisingly, ended up being worth much, much more than the father had ever dreamt it would, or was intended.  And his children already had "spent" their share.  However, the oldest of the four ended up in trouble and their mother decided to use The Nest to help him.  The book is about how the four children handle this.  Good book.

And there you have it.  It is New Year's Eve and I don't anticipate finishing another book before 2017 begins.  My next post will be listing my favorites from 2016!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Two More Books by Peter Geye

A few weeks ago I posted on the book Wintering by Peter Geye.  I loved his writing enough to seek out his two earlier books.  They did not disappoint.  Geye is from Minnesota and all three of his books are placed there.

Peter Geye's first book was Safe From the Sea.  It took place in the wilds of Minnesota
and was the story of a son and his dying estranged father.  Noah lived in Boston with his wife when he received a phone call from Olaf (his father) saying he was ill.  Noah hadn't seen his father in five or six years, but felt that he needed to go see him, fearing that his father's illness was serious. When he arrived at his father's place, Noah realized how bad things were for his father. As he stayed with his father,Olaf began sharing stories from long ago, specifically about the shipwreck of the Ragnarar.  Olaf had been one of only a few survivors of that wreck thirty-five years earlier. And he had never told anyone the true story of the survival until this visit.  As he told Noah:

"Everything I just told you, it's been rotting in me all this time."

And so began some healing for both Noah and Olaf.  Understanding of that fateful night that forever changed everyone's lives settled into both of them. 

This book won the Indie Lit Award Winner for Best Literary Fiction. I found it to be a great first novel!

Peter Geye's second novel, The Lighthouse Road, was the prequel to Wintering and I was so sorry that I hadn't read it first, because it would have helped tremendously in sorting out who everyone was and their relationships to each other.

The Lighthouse Road began in 1896 with the story of a pregnant young girl,Thea Eide, who had recently arrived from Norway,.  Thea had come to Northern Minnesota to live with her aunt and uncle.  When she arrived, she learned that they had both died.  She was taken in by Hosea Grimm, a prominent townsperson, who lived there with his "adopted" daughter Rebekah. Soon Thea was sent to work as a cook in the logging camp and there she became pregnant. When winter came, the camp shut down and Thea returned to town to Hosea's home.  It was there that her son Odd was born.

The book's chapters shift back and forth from 1896 to 1920-1921.  Jump to 1920 and Odd was a young man in love with an older forbidden woman. He built an "ark" and they traveled to Duluth for a new life away from all they had known.  But history replays itself and both returned to the place they were from and there the story Wintering begins.

I found this to be a very powerful story of resilience and love.  I would strongly recommend that this be read before reading the Wintering.  Together they make a wonderful story of generations in the cold Minnesota woods.

**Note: I ordered The Lighthouse Road in paperback twice and both issues arrived beginning with page 23!  So I ended up ordering a hardcover copy of the book from the library and it was find.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Did You Ever Have A Family

Did You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg has had rave reviews and been on the New York Times Best Seller List and I just kind of missed what everyone was so enthralled with.

I finished the book, but it was a bit of a chore for me.  The book was, at first glance, a story
about a disaster that occurred on the eve of a wedding, killing the bride-to-be, her fiance, and the boyfriend of the mother of the bride.  The story tells of the grieving of the mother, June Reid.  And in the story of her grief and loss, are the stories of others who were affected by the horror.  Small town secrets are told.

Sounds like something I could get into, but I just never did.  That being said, the book has had much success, so don't go by me!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Some October Reading

I just finished three books in rapid succession, each good in it's own right.

1) The Mothers by Brit Bennett.  This is the author's debut novel and I will look
forward to seeing/reading what comes after this book.  The book has had wonderful reviews, and I wasn't as taken with it as some reviewers, but, having said that, it was a good book.  It centers around three teenagers, living in southern California who are each part of a black church community.  Seventeen year old Nadia's mother had recently committed suicide, leaving her alone with her father. Her best friend, Aubrey, had moved in with her sister to avoid living with an abusive step-father, and Luke, the son of the church's pastor, had suffered a bad football injury that took away his dream of playing college football. The story was sometimes narrated by Nadia, but, more interestingly, was often told by "the Mother's", who appeared to be the older women of the church.  It seems that through-out the following years, "the Mother's" suspected secrets about the three teenagers. Years later, after Nadia had completed college and law school, she returned to the town to care for her father, and "the Mother's" stirred up old unfinished business between the three main characters.

It was an interesting story about three teenagers who each suffered in their own way with their relationships with their mothers, and how the church's "mother's" continued to not mother these children.

2) The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman.  Again, I had read great
reviews about this debut book, and was rather let down.  I found the story terribly predictable, but yet, the author did a good job portraying the characters.  It is a story that takes place in post WWII and is about two brothers who worked in their own business, and lived in a two-family home with their wives and children.  The brothers were very different from each other, as were their wives. Abe and Helen had four boys, Mort and Rose had three girls.  Rose and Helen were best friends, raising their children together. When they both ended up pregnant at the same time, they each hoped for what they didn't have-a son for Rose and Mort and a daughter for Abe and Helen.  A blizzard came while Abe and Mort were out of town and both of the women went into labor.  You can guess the rest.  The women made and lived with an impossible secret for years. As you can imagine, there was a terrible impact that affected all, even as others did not know the secret.  The author did a good job with the story, other than it being so predictable.

3) Wintering by Peter Geye. I just happened to come across this book at the
library and picked it up to take with me for the weekend.  I loved it.  I will say that I struggled mightily to figure out the relationships in the book while I was reading it, but as I got near the end, it all came together.  I think that the book was purposely written that way, but it was hard for me with my need for order.  However, as I searched online about other books by the author (he has written two other books), I learned that in his second book the Eide family was introduced.  So now I have to read that book to see what I may have missed!

Wintering is, at first read, the story of Harry Eide and his son Gus who went for a winter voyage in the border waters of Minnesota (where they were from) and Canada after Gus graduated from high school.  However, the book begins thirty years later, with Gus telling Harry's longtime love, Berit, that the now elderly and demented Harry has disappeared.  As Gus continued to seek out Berit the winter that Harry disappeared, he began telling her the story of that winter when he and his father had gone out to spend the winter in the wild, eventually telling her long-held secrets about that time.  The book is narrated by Berit, who had come to that wilderness, many many years before and knew many secrets that Gus did not know about his family and about the town.

Geye's writing is beautiful and grabbed me at the very first sentence:

"Our winters are faithful and unfailing and we take what they bring, but this season has tested even the most devout among us."
Later in the book, he wrote:

"Every person, I have come to believe, has a moment or a place in life when all four points of the compass converge, from when or where their life finally takes-for better or for worse-its fated course."
I found a definition of the word 'wintering':  "To lodge, keep, or care for during the winter: wintering the sheep in the stable".

To me, that is what the book was about: the wintering of keeping and caring for the history of Harry Eide and his family.  A beautiful book.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

And Three More

As promised, here are the other three books that I have recently read:

1) The Innocent Sleep by Karen Perry.  This is a debut novel and I will be anxious to read more by
Ms. Perry!  We read this for book group and it was a good read! Well-developed characters and good story!

The story was about Harry and Robin who lived in Tangiers.  They had a son, Dillon.  One night, Robin was gone and Harry left young sleeping Dillon alone in their place while he ran an errand.  While Harry was gone, an earthquake happened and Dillon's body was never found.  Five years later, Harry and Robin had relocated to Ireland and one day, Harry thought that he saw Dillon.  This is the premise of the book...was Dillon alive?  And as they sorted through Harry's assertion that he saw Dillon, many secrets were revealed.

Good mystery story! I passed it on to another reader with my recommendation!  I hope they like it as well as both I did and my book group did!

2) At Risk by Alice Hoffman.  this was another read for book group.  I had read this book years ago, when it first came out, so it was a pleasure to re-read it. I am a big fan of Alice Hoffman's works.

At Risk tells the story of eleven year old Amanda Farrell who was diagnosed with AIDS, contracted when she was younger from a blood transfusion.  The news of her diagnosis was, of course, devastating for her parents, and the story is much about their struggle to come to some kind of sense of it all.  What was so fascinating and brilliant about this book was how Hoffman made each character's life at risk in some way.  Amanda's parents turn to other people and her eight year old brother Charlie was left to deal with his best friend and schoolmates ostrasizing him.  Hoffman also dealt with the hysterics of the community upon learning of Amanda's diagnosis. (It is interesting to remember that this book was written in 1989, before Hippa, etc).

What is so remarkable (and sad) about the book, is that it is still so relevant, even some thirty years later.

3) Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi.  Interestingly, I have bypassed this book for the last couple of years.  I don't know why, nor do I know why I decided to read it now, but I am glad that I did.  I
thought the book had some issues (or perhaps it was just me). I had a hard time keeping all of the characters straight.  It was enough work just keeping Boy, Snow and Bird straight!  And why didn't Boy like Snow?

The book began with Boy Novak, a young girl being raised by her single father in New York.  Her father was a rat-catcher and was quite abusive to her. Boy had finally had enough and boarded a bus, where she landed in Flax Hill, Massachusetts.  She met, then married Artura Whitman, who was a widower and had a daughter named Snow.  When Boy became pregnant and gave birth to Bird, she realized that Artura was a black man passing as white.

The back of the book states that the author  "brilliantly recasts the 'Snow White' fairy tale as a story of family secrets, race, beauty, and vanity."  Yes, I guess I can see that.  It's an interesting way to think about the story.

There is an interesting twist at the end of the book that I found confusing, not really understanding how it played into the story. This might make a good read for book group!  Perhaps someone else could figure that out!

2 Good Books!

I have read several books lately, but will put my two favorite in this post, then add the others to another post!

I loved The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. I loved that the author had the
idea/concept of a real underground railroad and that he was able to put that into such a wonderful story!  That certainly takes talent!

The concept?  What if there was a real/actual Underground Railroad that slaves could ride to safety?

The book centers around Cora, a young black slave girl, who was being horrifically treated on the plantation.  The story begins:

"The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no.  This was her grandmother talking." 
The book's chapters are divided into a character, then a place.  So the first chapter is "Ajarry", Cora's grandmother, who had been taken away from her home and put on a ship.  Actually she traveled on several ships, until she landed in Charleston and was purchased for two hundred and twenty-six dollars. The first chapter begins with Ajarry's story. Then:

"It was her grandmother talking that Sunday evening when Caesar approached Cora about the underground railroad, and she said no.  Three weeks later she said yes.  This time is was her mother talking."
The next chapter is "Georgia", then "Ridgeway" (a slave-catcher), then "South Carolina", and so on.

Through-out the book, Cora travels and seeks true freedom.   That is doing the book such an injustice to end this review there, but the book is so well-written and the story is so well told, that I just can't say more about it.

This is a fascinating, disturbing, uplifting book. You should read it.  Seriously.

And then I read Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff for one of my book groups.  Oh my, another book
you must read! But here's the thing, before you read it, you must agree that you will finish it.  Because it's pretty guaranteed that you will hate the first half of the book.  Enough to want to not only stop reading it, but throw it away! But, dear reader, persevere and you will thank me!

This book is brilliantly written!  The first half of the book is written with Lancelot's (Lotto) view of his life and his twenty-four year marriage to Mathilde.  Lotto was an incredibly narcissistic character, who believed he was an actor, then a playwright. He was estranged from his mother and obsessed with his wife. I found him unbelievably unlikable.

Ah, but then! The second half of the book is written from Mathilde's perspective about Lotto, her life, and their marriage.  But with a twist!  Mathilde had many secrets that Lotto never suspected. So her story changed everything!

Great story about love and marriage and behind closed doors! This book made for intense, wonderful discussion at book group! I loved the book!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Three More Books Read This Summer

These are three books that I read over the month of August.  They weren't among my favorite reads, but the fact that I completed them, unlike a couple of other books that I attempted, says something.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling was written as a play, which immediately put it
in the 'I don't especially want to read it' category, but when it was offered to me to read, I said yes and went ahead and read it.  And I am glad that I did.  I enjoyed the story.  And it is a very quick read. It was good to read about Harry as an adult.  The book is about Harry and his youngest son, Albus.  Albus has adventures at Hogwarts and many of the old characters are brought into play. It's a fun read.

Perfect by Rachel Joyce was a book I read about on my daily calendar!  Since I loved her other two books (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Love Story of Miss QueenieHennessey), I was quick to read it.  I think that this book was written (or at least published) in-between the other two books. I didn't like it nearly as well as the other books, yet the story has stayed with me, so I always consider that a sign of a good book. This story is about an eleven year old boy, Byron, whose best friend, James, told him that he read that an extra two seconds was going to be added to the world. Byron became rather upset/confused over time as he tried to figure out how and when this might happen.  Meanwhile, Byron was in the car with his mother when she accidentally
and unknowingly hit a young girl. After a few days, Byron confronted her about it and figured out that she did not know that she had done it.  They went to the home where the girl lived and his mother, out of guilt, befriended the girl's mother, who then took advantage of the guilt. Meanwhile, Byron and James were working on a plan called "Operation Perfect" trying to figure out what was really going on. In alternate chapters of the book, the story of Jim was told.  Jim was in his 50's and had been released from the local mental institution and was trying to survive.

I was glad that I finished the book, because there was quite a twist at the end.  And as I said, the book ended up being quite thought-provoking.

what we keep by Elizabeth Berg was an old book that I found on my shelves and decided to re-read.  Well, I'm sorry that I did and I'm glad that I did. It is a book about mothers and daughters. The book began with Ginny Young, traveling on a plane to see her mother whom she hadn't seen or spoken to for thirty-five years.  Ginny's sister, Sharla, had asked her to come with her to visit their mother.  Sharla told Ginny that she was sick, possibly dying and that she wanted to see their mother, so Ginny reluctantly agreed to come with her. As she was flying across the country, Ginny told
the story of her family and what had happened in the summer of 1958.  A new neighbor, Jasmine, moved in next door, and her mother ended up one day leaving the family behind and going off with Jasmine.  The girl's mother made numerous attempts to visit and/or talk to the girls, even moving back to town after a month of being gone, but the girls would not have anything to do with her, so within a year, she moved away and completely left their lives.  Only the last few pages are about actually seeing her mother.

I found the book trying too hard to pass on "wisdom" about mothers and daughters.  Some relevant, but some just too mushy and trite. And the book left me with many questions about the story that either weren't answered or I missed it.

Glad I read it? Because I feel fine about moving the book on out of my house! Sorry I read it? It was a waste of good reading time!

Recent Nonfiction that I have read

Here are three nonfiction books that I have read recently. Two I highly recommend, the other not so much!

First is Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter. I really liked this book and took a lot away from it.

This book is basically about learning how to identify and overcome trigger points in our lives.  I wish that I had read it thirty years ago when I was beginning my career.  It would have been very helpful in dealing with co-workers and staff. What I especially took away from the book was in Part Two. In this part of the book, the author talks about altering our own behavior, not the behavior of others.  And how that can change everything! The first chapter was 'The Power of Active Questions'.  The next chapter was 'The Engaging Questions'.  This chapter settled on six questions that one was to answer for themselves at the end of each day.  I incorporated some of these questions, along with other questions more pertinent to me, into my daily journal, where I track them each day (with just a check mark).  I have found this to be quite powerful for me, and very helpful to encourage changes for me. I've recommended this book to several people and I recommend it to those reading this!

In my spiritual reading, I have completed two books, both by Parker J. Palmer.  Mr. Palmer is a teacher and a Quaker. In Let Your Life Speak, subtitled Listening for the Voice of Vocation, Mr. Parker shared the story of how listening to his inner voice led him to his passion/vocation of teaching. He also shared his experience of dealing with depression. As he explained vocation:

"Today I understand vocation quite differently-not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received."

"It comes from a voice 'in there' calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God."
The last chapter of the book is "There is a season", which probably spoke to me the most.  He used the metaphor of the seasons as we take the journey from dark to light in our lives. I struggle with experiencing the seasons of fall and winter, and his words helped explain much to me:

"Autumn is a season of great beauty, but it is also a season of decline: the days grow shorter, the light is suffused, and summer's abundance decays toward winter's death. Faced with this inevitable inter, what does nature do in autumn? It scatters the seeds that will bring new growth in the spring-and scatters them with amazing abandon."
I don't know why, after almost 67 years on this earth, that this spoke to me and helped me appreciate fall, but it speaks of hope instead of death and that changes everything!

I really enjoyed studying this book and it had a very strong and positive impact on me. 

So then I decided to read Mr. Palmer's book A Hidden Wholeness. I struggled greatly with this book, mostly because I was not interested in the 'circle of trust', which the book seemed to be training one for experiencing.  I just wasn't into it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

3 Books for Summer Reading

Three more novels read this summer and I would recommend all three.  I do have to say, however, none were outstanding reads, but all good easy reads, which, of course, make them great summer reads!

1) The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty.  This was recommended to me by a friend, and I would say that of the three books listed here, it stayed with me the longest!  It is really a quite fascinating story and is partly based on real-life Louise Brooks, an actress and dancer, along with silent screen star who was born in 1906 in Kansas.

The Chaperone is about the fictional Cora Carlisle. Cora lived in Wichita and was dealing with a deceptive marriage and an empty nest as her twin sons set off for college.  Cora was casual friends with Louise's mother and when it was decided to send 15 year old Louise off to New York to audition for a dance studio, Cora offered to be Louise's chaperone.  Besides her loneliness and restlessness, Cora had another motive for wanting to go to New York.  Unbeknownst to her community, Cora had been born in New York and lived in a Catholic orphanage until she was seven and was put on the Orphan Train to Kansas, where she was raised by a couple who loved her, but never formally adopted her. And Cora wanted to learn more about where she came from.  The book is basically about finding love.  It also has some interesting history issues addressed.

2) After You by Jojo Moyes.  After You is the sequel to Me Before You.  It wasn't at all what I had expected, but it was a very good read.  That being said, I highly recommend that Me Before You be read first.  In After You, Louisa Clark was struggling to deal with the loss of Will Traynor, a man she had taken care of for six months.  Following the loss of Will, Louise had a bad accident, and had a long recovery. She was involved somewhat in a grief group and one night one of the members was picked up by Sam, one of the paramedics who had saved Louise after her accident.  Louise struggled with her attraction to Sam, while meanwhile someone from Will's past showed up and completely turned Louise's life upside down.  It was a good book and addressed the issues of dealing with loss and moving on as best one can.

3) Bodies of Water by T. Greenwood.  One of my favorite types of older woman reminiscing about her past, through flashing back in the past while dealing with the present. This story was about Billie, an eighty year old woman
living in San Diego.  Billie had been from out east, where she had married an abusive man, had two adopted daughters and in 1960 was living a quiet, unhappy life.  One day a new family moved in next door and Billie's life changed.  She became friends with Eva, the new neighbor, and their friendship grew until it became love. The rest of Billie and Eva's story was tragic and Billie went on to divorce her husband and move to California to begin a new life.  Fifty years later, Billie's sister called her to ask her to return home.  Eva's grown son had contacted Billie's sister and wanted to meet with Billie. Billie really didn't have any interest in going, but her sister convinced her to go and that visit led to much healing and answers that Billie had wondered about for the last fifty years.  A good story, worth reading!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Screwtape Letters

I loved The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.  Oddly enough, I had never read anything by him
before.  This book is a quick read, although at first I tried only reading one of the letters each day, but soon wasn't able to read only one!

This book is considered a classic and was quite entertaining, and very thought provoking.  The book is a series of letters written to "Wormwood" by his uncle "Screwtape" during WWII. Screwtape was a  highly placed official in the service of "Our Father Below".  His letters to his nephew were an attempt to train his nephew in how to bring the nephew's client to their side.

It's a brilliant piece of work!

Chasing the North Star

I had been anxiously awaiting to read this newest book, Chasing the North Star, by Robert Morgan
since first reading that he had a new book to publish. While I didn't find it to be greatly written, I did enjoy it.  It seemed a bit like Young Adult fiction, which is not usually what I would chose to read.  That being said, it held my interest and was quite readable.

Chasing the North Star is about an eighteen year old black slave, Jonah Williams, who lived on the Williams plantation in South Carolina in the year 1850.  Jonah had been a "house slave", where he was given more privileges than other slaves, including being secretly taught how to read.  He even was expected to read from the Bible to his mistress.  However, the master of the plantation did not know Jonah could read, so when he came across Jonah reading in the barn one day, the secret was out. Jonah was whipped and he impulsively decided right then and there to run away to the north where he would be free. He stole the only money that his mother had hidden away and left immediately.  He traveled across wilderness and mountains, and along the way, he continually wished that he would have been more prepared, wishing that he had shoes, paper, pencil, coat, etc.

Jonah encountered many difficulties in his journey as he struggled to avoid capture.  Along his way, he came across Angel, a slave who decided she wanted to follow and join Jonah on his quest for freedom.

"It never crossed my mind that he wanted to get away from me so bad he'd just leave the boat and start walking along the roads and trail.  A young girl never thinks a man will leave her."

 At first Jonah believed that she would slow him down, but over time it became apparent to him that he might need her. Jonah had a map in his head of how to get to Canada and that included following the North Star.

All in all, a good, but not great read.

Monday, July 25, 2016

More Summer Reading

Four more books read-two I really liked, two not as much. Here we go:

1) The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai. This was a debut novel and so, as such, I think the author may
have great potential.  It is the story of Lucy, a young, single woman who was the children's librarian and Ian, a precocious ten year old patron, whom Lucy befriended.  As Lucy got to know Ian, she learned that his mother banned many books from him that he wanted to read, and that she had enrolled Ian in "anti-gay" classes at their church.  One day before the library opened, Lucy headed to work and found Ian there with his knapsack.   He had run away from home and Lucy agreed to embark on a road trip with him, believing that she was saving him from his parents. As their trip progressed, it became unclear who was really running away from their life.

I found the end to be quite weak, but the rest of the book was fairly enjoyable.  I like the author's humor. I had come across the book for a dollar, so it was worth the read!

2) The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton. I was terribly disappointed in this book.  I have
enjoyed other books by this author so had really been looking forward to reading it.  She let me down. It has been characterized as a coming-of age novel and I suppose that it is, but I just never got that interested in the characters (of which there are many). the main protagonist of the novel is a young girl, Francie, known by many names in the book, who lives with her family along with her extended family in Wisconsin.  The family has had orchards for years and it is unclear if the orchards can continue to provide a livelihood for the families in the near future.  Francie, along with her older brother William, have many adventures in the book as they approach leaving childhood.

I am somewhat surprised that I finished the book.  I think that I kept waiting for it to get better.  And, admittedly, the last chapter was the best of the book, in my opinion.  I wish the rest of the book had been as good.

The last two books were books from my two book groups.  They were both big winners!

3) always outnumbered, always outgunned by Walter Mosley. Unbeknownst to us (my book group),
this is the first of a series of three novels about Socrates Fortlow. Socrates is a sixty-something-year- old black man who had served twenty-seven years in an Indiana prison for murder and rape.  When the book begins, Socrates had been out of prison for eight years.  Socrates had moved to the LA area upon release from prison, and had stayed out of trouble.  He lived in two rooms of an abandoned building, where he had paid rent until the owner died and then no one ever came to collect rent after that, so he lived there rent-free. As his name suggests, Socrates is full of life-wisdom

The book consists of fourteen short stories, all about Socrates' life. Each story seems to tell how Socrates dealt with different issues or dilemmas that he faced in his life in LA.  One of the topics of the stories was about his relationship with Darryl, a young black boy who he befriended and tried to take care of.

"'You stood up for yourself, Darryl,' Socrates said. 'That's all a black man could do.  You always outnumbered, you always outgunned.'"
This book was written in 1998, and, sadly, is so timely for today. A really good book.

4) These is my Words by Nancy Turner. This is one of the most interesting and easy to read, heartfelt
stories that I have read this year. It was absolutely fascinating to me. My book group loved it, too. This is "The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901", based on the author's great-grandmother's life. The diary began when Sarah was a headstrong seventeen year old woman headed to the Tuscon, Arizona area with her parents and family in 1881. On that journey, the family met Jack Elliott, a captain in the Army, who came around often. In the next three years, Sarah married a family friend, was widowed, and had a child.  Jack still came around and finally he and Sarah admitted their feelings for each other and by the end of 1885 had married each other. The book is really about the love story of Sarah and Jack and just immediately draws the reader in. Great read! One of those books that you just can't stop reading!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Some Summer Reading

Although it is already July, the weather had just made me start believing that summer is here!  I am getting a lot of reading done, but need to work on reading more during the day.  I tend to only read at night.  Anyway, here are a few good books that I have read:

1) The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth.  This was a book club read and we had a good discussion about the book.  It is a generational book, covering three generations of midwives in a family. Each of the women-grandmother, mother and daughter-share their stories, with each chapter narrated by one of them.  All three have secrets that could change the family dynamics significantly.  When the daughter/ granddaughter became pregnant, her grandmother began contemplating sharing her secret.  It was an interesting story and thinking/reading about how the different options for childbirth over the past many years has evolved was thought provoking. Some (okay, a lot) of the characters were not especially likeable and hard to feel empathy for, but I thought the grandmother's story was quite interesting. Easy summer read.

2) When We Meet Again by Kristin Harmel. This was another easy summer read, but I really liked
the story.  It was also a generational story, but in a different way.  An unemployed freelance writer, Emily, received an unexpected package from Germany one day and when she opened it, she found that it was a painting.  She then realized that she recognized the woman in the painting. The painting was of a young woman in a red dress standing in a sugarcane field with a violet sky in the background. Emily recognized it as a painting of her grandmother who was deceased. There was a note with the painting stating "Your grandfather never stopped loving her."

Emily had never known her grandfather and her grandmother never talked about him.  Her grandmother had raised Emily's father on her own.  Emily and her father were estranged, but her father was trying to become a part of her life. After the painting arrived, Emily reached out to her father for information about her grandmother and the painting. Together (reluctantly on Emily's part), they began to search for answers.

Their quest led them to connections in the sugarcane fields in Florida, the POW internment camps history from WWII, Germany and Georgia. Again, I found the grandmother's story fascinating! The story reaffirmed love and connections in families.

3) The Girl Who Wrote In Silk by Kelli Estes. This was a book recommended by a friend, and I thank her for that.  It was another good book for a summer read.  And, yes, it is again a generational book.  That seems to be a theme for my summer reading!

This story was of two young women who were years apart. Upon completion of college and much to her father's dismay, Inara decided to not take the corporate job she had been offered, but decided to turn the old family estate in the Puget Sound into a bed and breakfast. As she began to assess the work needed, she came across a piece of embroidered cloth hidden away.  It turned out to be an embroidered sleeve. Inara requested help from a university professor to learn more about the sleeve.

Meanwhile, the book also told the story of Mei Lien who had been born in Seattle and lived with her father and grandmother.  Following the Chinese Exclusion Act (from Wikipedia:The Chinese Exclusion Act was a United States federal law signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882. It was one of the most significant restrictions on free immigration in US history, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers.), Mei Lien, her family and neighbors were forced onto a ship sailing for China.  Or so they believed.

While Inara began work on the estate, she learned that a monument was being dedicated in the city park to commemorate her ggg-grandfather. However, the more Inara learned about the silk sleeve, and about Mei Lien (who Inara had found had lived in the her estate years before), the more Inara was conflicted.  Inara had learned the truth about her ggg-grandfather and it was not pretty, to say the least. 

As much as I would classify all three of these books as easy summer reads, I also have to note that I learned from each of them pieces of history that I didn't know much about.  And that especially held my interest in all of them.  Hope that you can get to the beach and read!!!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Two Turn of the Century Books

I recently read two books that were written shortly after 1900.  I guess that literally they would not be considered "turn of the century" now, since we began a new century in 2000, but I don't know what to would call them otherwise! Showing my age, I think.

As A Man Thinketh was written in 1903 by James Allen ( 1864-1912), an English author.  It is really
like a small pamphlet, only 31 pages long.  It is said to have been based on the Proverbs verse 23:7 (King James Version) which is:

"As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."
And that is the premise of the whole little book.

"The soul attracts that which it secretly harbours; that which it loves, and also that which it fears;..."
The chapters are: Thought and Character, Effect of Thought on Circumstances, Effect of Thought on Health and the Body, Thought and Purpose, The Thought-Factor in Achievement, Visions and Ideals, and Serenity, 

I didn't find it especially helpful in my journey, but it was interesting and there were certainly good points made in the book.  And I certainly agree with the premise!

Reminiscences of My Life In Camp-An African American Woman's Civil War Memoir by Susie
King Taylor was written in 1902 and was certainly an interesting read.  It is also a short book with 76 pages.  The author was born Susie Baker, born as a slave in 1848 in Georgia. She learned to read as a young child and in 1862 she headed for freedom.  She got behind federal lines and when the commander learned she could read, she was asked to run a school for both young children during the day, and adults in the evening. Thus began her service for the Union Army. She spent fours years caring for black Union soldiers, as well as teaching and other services for the Army.

This was a fascinating book in several ways: her own personal story growing up, her care of others, and after the war, her work to continue caring for those who had served in the War.  I was especially struck with some of her words (remember, written in 1902) near the end of the book:

"'I wonder if our white fellow men realize the true sense or meaning of brotherhood? For two hundred years we had toiled for them; the war of 1861 came and was ended, and we thought our race was forever freed from bondage, and that the two races could live in unity with each other, but when we read almost every day of what is being done to my race by some whites in the South, I sometimes ask, "Was the war in vain? Has it bought freedom, in the full sense of the word, or has it not made our condition more hopeless?'"

And yet, later in the book:

"'Can we forget those cruelties? No, though we try to forgive and say "No North, no South" and hope to see it in reality before the last comrade passes away.'"

I'm glad that she continued to live in hope, but it makes me sad to consider that here we are in 2016, over 100 years since she wrote those words and our country still continues to struggle with issues of equality.