Sunday, January 31, 2016

At the Water's Edge

 I read that At the Water's Edge is Sara Gruen's fifth novel.  I only know of her from Water for
Elephants, which I had read for one of my book groups some time back. I had found it to be good, but not great.  I picked up At the Water's Edge from the library.  I'm glad that I didn't buy it.

The story was about three privileged people, Madeline, her husband Ellis and their best friend Hank.  World War II was going on (it was 1945) and both Ellis and Hank had gotten out of serving in the military.  Ellis and Hank decided that they wanted to go to Scotland to locate the Lock Ness monster, which Ellis' father had unsuccessfully attempted thirteen years before.  They crossed the ocean despite the war going on and arrived in the small village of Drumnadrochit without lodging, ration cards or anything needed for their search.  The trio came across a small inn to stay and quickly made themselves quite disliked, as they expected to be waited upon, etc.  Hank and Ellis disappeared for days, sometimes weeks, at a time, leaving Maddie at the inn.  Maddie became friends with the people working there and with the owner.  As time went on, Maddie began to suspect secrets and her perceptions of life as she knew it began to change.

I kept hoping for the book to get better, but it never did.  Oddly, it kept reminding me of a F. Scott Fitzgerald story (think Great Gatsby, war, etc.), but the writing was not reminiscent of Fitzgerald.
In all, I found the book to be disappointing.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Our Souls at Night

Our Souls at Night is the last book written by author Kent Haruf (who wrote Plainsong) before his
death in 2014.  It's a sweet, quick read.  Actually, I was going to say that it was a simple little book (only took me about three hours to read), but it's not really as simple as it appears.

Seventy year old Addie Moore had been widowed for a number of years.  She lived in Holt, Colorado in a house by herself.  Her son Gene lived in Grand Junction and her daughter had died years ago.  She was lonely and decided to ask her widowed neighbor, Lewis Waters, if he would like to come over and sleep with her during the nights.  Not for sex, just to have someone to talk to, and not feel so alone at night.  An odd idea, but Lewis considered it and decided to try it.

Of course, the small town began to gossip, but they figured they were old and who cares?  Their adult children were not happy with the arrangement, and Addie's son forced the issue, creating problems.

During their nights together, Addie and Lewis began sharing their pasts with each other and found an emotional intimacy that neither had known before as they opened up about each of their marriages, and other issues.

It's a hopeful and charming book about second chances.  It's not a sappy ending, nor even an expected ending, but still one of hope, not sadness.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Three Good Ones

Yes, I have been busy reading this month and thoroughly enjoying it!  The only think that could be better would be sitting on a warm beach reading!  I have to be content in the thought that at least good books make the long, cold winter bearable for me.  Of course, we will see what I have to say about it by March!  Not a winter person here.  However, I have read three good books over the past couple of weeks:

1. Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson-One of the author's books was on the list that I challenged
myself to read in 2016.  That books wasn't available when I went to the bookstore, so I got this one instead.  This is the author's first novel, so I am anxious to read more of his/her? work.  It is a "psychological thriller" about a woman who wakes each day with amnesia and spends her day trying to figure out who she was and what happened to her.  Once she begins to write in a journal each day (her doctor has to call her each morning to remind her where the journal is), the pieces began to come together slowly.  And she realized that some people now in her life may not be trust-worthy.  It was a good read! I didn't find it predictable at all.

2. Plainsong by Kent Haruf-this was the January read for one of my book groups.  I had read it several years before, so was glad to read it again.  It was interesting to realize how I remembered the book. It turned out that my memory was only a part of what all was going on in the story!

This book takes place in Holt, Colorado, a small town in the middle of prairie life.  It tells the story of
eight different characters over the course of one year.  My memory of the book was that it was the story of a young pregnant girl, Victoria, going to live with Harold and Raymond, two elderly brothers who were farmers.  Well, those were only three of the eight characters!  There were also Tom Guthrie, a high school teacher, and his two boys Ike and Bobby, along with Tom's depressed wife who has left him.  And then there was Maggie who is actually the one who pulls all the characters and the stories together.

This is really a simple story that is quite beautiful.  And unknowingly to us (book group), the book is the first of a trilogy! I have already ordered the second book.  We were all curious about how the characters evolve in the future! There are many emotions going on in this book: grief, love, anger, loneliness, caring...and, in the end, "the possibilities of grace".

3. The Revenant by Michael Punke-yes, the book that the movie was made from.  I had read about
half of the book before seeing the movie.  I really enjoyed (if that could be the right word?) the book (and the movie), mostly because it was based on a true story.  I found it fascinating.  Yes, some of it is rather gruesome, but it was 1823.  Things were tough back then. I have had people comment on how unrealistic it all was.  My response?  How do you think the Indians lived back then? That's how it was.  It was fascinating to learn the early history of Hugh Glass before he headed out west and it's too bad that the movie didn't include any of that, becasue it really put a different perspective on who Hugh was . The book is a fictionalized account of what happened during a 9 month time of his life while out west, but at the end of the book there is a four and a half page historical note telling  what actually became of the characters. The movie also "Hollywooded" some of the story....the book was better.

The Nightingale

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was a must-read for me.  I bought it on one of those days that I was desperate for a really good book and, from the reviews I had read, this was the one.  I don't usually like to buy hardback books, but I did.  Thank goodness!  It was one of the top three books that I read in 2015-my second favorite book of the year.

"In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are."

This novel is about two sisters, Viann and Isabelle, during World War II in France.  The book began in 1995 with an elderly woman moving into a nursing home and her reflections on her past.  A perfect beginning for a book!

Viann and Isabelle were sisters who were living in France as the Nazi's began their invasion. Viann was the older of the two sisters and was married with a daughter.  Isabelle was eighteen years old away at school. Viann's husband was called away to serve in the war, so she and her daughter were left on the farm alone. Viann also taught in the small school there. Meanwhile, headstrong Isabelle was kicked out of her school and sent back to her father in Paris.

Isabelle went to live with Viann when it was clear that her father didn't want her around, but her outspokenness became a problem when the a Nazi Captain moved into Viann's farmhouse. As the war moved on, Isabelle began working for the Resistance, helping downed Allies travel across the mountains to Spain. She was called the Nightingale and was instrumental in helping many, many men to safety. 

The books tells about how this two very different sisters lived out the war and the different ways that they ended up helping others survive.

It is a wonderful book telling important stories.  Ms. Hannah did a great job researching for the book and her writing in this book is superb.

Isabelle's story was based on a true story that I found written about in the following article.  Very interesting.