Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy Anniversary, blog!

Yes, 2018 marks ten years since I started this blog.  So now, I am wondering, should it be "Happy Birthday, Blog", or "Happy Anniversary, blog"? I am happy to report that I still enjoy doing it, maybe even more than when I began!  It is really hard to believe that I have been at it for ten years!

My goals for 2018?  Well, I'd like to get fifty books read, but knowing that I have four more of the Outlander series to read makes that goal difficult.  But I'm more that willing to try! I do know that sometimes I forget to add books either to the blog or to Goodreads, so I need to try to be better about tracking my reading to increase my numbers and to be more accurate!

Maybe I will even make a dent in my TBR piles.  Oh, who am I kidding?  Those piles will just get bigger.

So maybe I just need more beach time. Now, that's a goal that I am willing to work hard at!
Image result for picture of reading at the beach

2017 Reading in Review

It's hard to believe that 2017 is ending tonight!  [This has been a wonderful year personally, but it has also been a most difficult year for our country and I am very glad to see it end. I'm hopeful that much will change for the good in 2018.  I know that I plan to work hard at making that happen.] Okay, so politics aside, back to reading!  It's been a great year for reading for me, although my numbers appear somewhat low.  I am blaming that on the fact that I read four of the Outlander series books this past fall and each one of them is over one thousand pages.  So, just to put it out there, I think that they should each count as two books read! But that's not how this works.

My stats? I read forty-five books this year, with seven of them being non-fiction.  That in itself must be a record for me! So, as I do each year, I will begin with my favorite books and break it down to number one.  This year I will also share my favorite non-fiction separately.

I begin with my favorite sixteen books:

Freeman-Leonard Pitts, Jr.
The Golden Age-Joan London
Soul Catcher-Michael White
Mississippi Blood-Greg Isles
Practical Magic-Alice Hoffman
The Women in the Castle-Jessica Shattuck
Anything Is Possible-Elizabeth Strout
Memory-Philipe Grimbert
Lilac Girls-Martha Hall Kelly
Exit West-Mohsin Hamid
Redemption Road-John Hart
Days Without End-Sebastian Barry
Evicted-Matthew Desmond
Outlander series-Diana Gabaldon (this stands for four books)
New of the World-Paulette Jiles
The Alice Network-Kate Quinn

Two of these books are mysteries, and one is non-fiction. Authors are equally divided as eight men and eight women.

To break the list down further, my top favorite eight books were:

 Practical Magic-Alice Hoffman
The Women in the Castle-Jessica Shattuck
Anything Is Possible-Elizabeth Strout
Memory-Philipe Grimbert
Lilac Girls-Martha Hall Kelly
Redemption Road-John Hart
Days Without End-Sebastian Barry
New of the World-Paulette Jiles

It's interesting that Elizabeth Strout's book My Name Is Lucy Barton was on my list last year. Good author!

And now it gets harder-the top four:

Anything Is Possible-Elizabeth Strout
Memory-Philipe Grimbert
Days Without End-Sebastian Barry
New of the World-Paulette Jiles

I have to say that now it is between Memory and Days Without End.

And I have to go with Memory by Philipe Grimbert. It's not a new book, but something about this story touches me each time I read it. And here's the crazy thing...I just looked at last year's top book and it was Memory. So perhaps it should not be on the list. So by default, I guess Days Without End wins! Maybe I won't read Memory next year, so I don't have this issue!

My two favorite non-fiction books that I read this year were Evicted and Just Mercy.  I highly recommend them.

So there you have it.  I hope this list of favorite books helps with your reading.  I always love to see what books are rated highly by other readers.  I hope you do, also!

The Optimist's Daughter

The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty was written in 1972 which is when I first read it and loved it.  It was chosen for one of my book groups December read.  It's always interesting to go back and re-read a book that you remembered either loving or hating to see how the book affects you after time.  I didn't especially love the book this time reading it, although it is a good story and made for good discussion in book group.
This is a short novel that takes place in New Orleans.  Laurel is a young widow living and working in Chicago who is called back to New Orleans when her father, Judge McKelva, was going in for surgery for a detached retina.  Her father had been widowed and remarried a woman younger than Laurel.  His new wife, Fay, is a very self-centered woman who was quite put out with the Judge for going into the hospital and putting her life on hold while he had surgery.  Needless to say, Laurel finds Fay quite difficult.

Sadly, the Judge does not recover from the surgery and the family was told that he was dying.  After he died, he was taken back to their small town where Laurel and Fay had to deal with each other as they came to some kind of understanding of where each stood.

There are all kinds of family dynamics going on in this novel!  Not only does Laurel have to come to terms with her father's death, but also giving up the family home and the memories of her mother there.  It's a good book and was worth the re-read.

It is interesting to note that this book won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction!

Welty's book, The Optimist's Daughter, is beautifully written to showcase the use of the written language and that of the spoken dialect in small town Mississippi. It's a joy to read and it easily transports the reader to the South and back to the mid-1900's. The story unfolds very slowly. It opens at a somber time for the McKelva family, but we are encouraged as Judge McKelva is an optimist. The limited action picks up speed with additional characters and their interaction. The the real story is not the action, but the self reflection by Laurel, the optimist's daughter. We learn her history and follow her process of letting go. It's difficult to write a story that makes "inaction" the "action" and Welty did a wonderful job of it. It's fair to say that if the story was changed to current time, the ending might have been different -- which would make a great group discussion.
Welty's book, The Optimist's Daughter, is beautifully written to showcase the use of the written language and that of the spoken dialect in small town Mississippi. It's a joy to read and it easily transports the reader to the South and back to the mid-1900's. The story unfolds very slowly. It opens at a somber time for the McKelva family, but we are encouraged as Judge McKelva is an optimist. The limited action picks up speed with additional characters and their interaction. The the real story is not the action, but the self reflection by Laurel, the optimist's daughter. We learn her history and follow her process of letting go. It's difficult to write a story that makes "inaction" the "action" and Welty did a wonderful job of it. It's fair to say that if the story was changed to current time, the ending might have been different -- which would make a great group discussion.
Welty's book, The Optimist's Daughter, is beautifully written to showcase the use of the written language and that of the spoken dialect in small town Mississippi. It's a joy to read and it easily transports the reader to the South and back to the mid-1900's. The story unfolds very slowly. It opens at a somber time for the McKelva family, but we are encouraged as Judge McKelva is an optimist. The limited action picks up speed with additional characters and their interaction. The the real story is not the action, but the self reflection by Laurel, the optimist's daughter. We learn her history and follow her process of letting go. It's difficult to write a story that makes "inaction" the "action" and Welty did a wonderful job of it. It's fair to say that if the story was changed to current time, the ending might have been different -- which would make a great group discussion.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Alice Network

The Alice NetworkI really enjoyed The Alice Network by Kate Quinn and have already recommended it to others.  It's nice to come across a book like that! I wish that I had known the back story before I read it though.  If you are like me, read the author's note at the end of the book for the back story.

This story takes place in two different time periods. Each chapter alternates time periods and/or the two main characters. 

The story began with Charlie in 1947.  Charlotte St. Clair was a pregnant, unmarried college girl from New York who was going to Switzerland with her mother to take care of her "little problem".  However, Charlie had a different agenda, which was to try to find her cousin Rose who the family had lost contact with during the war.  Rose had lived in France and Charlie, along with her family, visited Rose's family every summer. However, during the war Rose disappeared in France which was Nazi occupied at the time.  Charlie had done some research before leaving the US and had a name of a woman who may have known something about what happened to Rose.

That woman was Evelyn Gardiner, an English woman living in London.  In 1915, Eve wanted to fight the Germans and was recruited to become a spy.  She joined the "Alice Network" working in enemy-occupied France.  Eve was given a new name, and worked under "Lili" who was considered the "queen of spies". Eve began working in a restaurant in a small town where the German soldiers gathered and there she began gathering information to pass on to Lili.

By the time Charlie finds Eve, she was living alone, isolated and drinking all the time.  But Charlie mentioned a name and unbeknownst to her, it was the same person that Eve wanted revenge on from thirty years ago.

It's a fascinating story and did not end predictably.  I was kind of hoping for a different ending and I was wrong, but not necessarily disappointed.  The actual ending of the story was probably more realistic than where my guess had gone.  Okay, not probably.

As I said at the beginning, be sure to read the author's note at the end of the book.  Very interesting story.

"Unfortunate Incident"

No USPS-I don't accept your apology for this "unfortunate incident". Apparently this book I ordered went through a fire, then was doused with water!

Christmas Books

Merry Christmas to me!!!  Can't wait to get started on these!  Never mind the piles TBR sitting all over the house!!!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Two more in the Outlander Series

Over the last two months I completed two more books in the Outlanders Series.  I read Voyager and Drums of Autumn.  And again, I loved them both.  They continue the story of Jamie and Claire Fraser.  So now I am halfway through the series of eight books.  They are huge books averaging over 1000 pages each.  I am going to try to make myself take a break and get some other reading in.  I have been able to keep up with both book groups, taking breaks with the Outlander series as needed, but am always anxious to get back to them.   So, I have left off with the Frasers now in the United States, with the Revolutionary War looming. 

If you have the time, I still highly recommend reading this series!

Half Broke Horses

Half Broke Horses: A True-Life NovelHalf Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls is described on the cover as "A True Life Novel".  It is by the author of The Glass Castle and is about the author's grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.  If you have read The Glass Castle, you know that the author's mother had many issues, to put it politely.  Reading about the grandmother's life explains a lot about how her daughter, Rosemary, turned out.  Although, that is somewhat misleading and unfair as Rosemary had rather severe mental health issues that were certainly not caused by her mother.

Lily Casey Smith was quite an interesting woman.  She was born in 1901 in Texas and by age six was helping her father break horses.  Breaking horses  seemed to develop a theme for her life.

"The problem with half-broke horses like these was that no one took the time to train them."
It appeared to me that this was pretty much her parenting style.  She believed in training her children (certainly a good thing), but to the point that she ignored the children's desires, personalities, traits and abilities. She always seemed to be afraid that her children wouldn't be able to make it in the world.

Lily left home at fifteen when she was offered a position teaching in remote frontier country.  She rode her pony five hundred miles alone to take the teaching job in Arizona. Later she went to Chicago by herself to try to attend college to get a teaching degree and experienced hard times in the big city including a marriage that was a disaster.  Lily then returned to Texas, met and married another man, Jim Smith, and together they amassed a large ranch in Arizona. Over the years, Lily learned to drive a car and fly a plane and was a staunch advocate for women's rights.  She was an interesting, strong woman.

The story is written with Lily as the narrator.  The author wrote that she saw the book as an "oral history" and wanted it told with her grandmother's voice.


Kindred by Octavia Butler was a book chosen by one of my book groups.  It was an interesting story, but I was not taken with the writing.  It felt too simple, as if it were written for pre-teens maybe.

KindredKindred is the story of twenty-six year old Dana, a black women living in Califormia with her husband.  She was suddenly "taken" from her home and woke up to living in pre-Civil War times.  There she saved Rufus, son of a vicious plantation owner, who was drowning. When Dana's life seemed threatened she was sent back to modern times.  This scenario played out over and over, as Rufus grew to adulthood, but it was only a few months time for Dana in real life.  Confused?

I find it amusing that I can totally go along with time travel in the  Outlander series, but found the premise of Kindred ridiculous.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Dragonfly in Amber

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander Series #2)
Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon is the second book of the Outlander series. This book is once again, incredibly researched and fraught with Scottish history. Another one I couldn't put down!

Twenty years had passed since Claire Randall had returned to "real time".  She had completed medical school and she and her husband Frank and their daughter Brianna lived in Boston.  Two years after Frank died, Claire and Brianna went  to Scotland so Claire could show her where Claire and Frank had gone after the war.  Shortly after arriving, they went to visit Roger Wakefield, a historian.  His uncle had been a friend of Frank and Claire's and had recently died.  While visiting with Roger, Claire became interested in his work and over the next few weeks, Roger helped Claire discover that Jamie Fraser had not died in the battle of Culloden as she had always thought.  She also got the courage up to tell Brianna about her time travel and that Brianna was really Jamie's daughter.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

News of the World

News of the World: A NovelNews of the World will definitely be in contention for my best read of the year. I loved it. The author is Paulette Jiles.  I had read Enemy Women by her several years ago and liked it.  I may re-read it to see if it was better than I remember. This book (News of the World) was a National Book Award finalist. The story takes place in 1870.  Captain Jefferson Kidd was a seventy year old widower who at the time was in Wichita Falls. Kidd was a "reader".  He chose articles from national or local newspapers and read them to audiences who usually did not have access to news. That evening an old friend of Kidd's appeared.  He had a ten year old girl named Johanna who had been taken captive by the Kiowa tribe four years before. He was returning her to her aunt and uncle who lived in Texas and who were all that remained of her family.  The friend convinced Kidd to take the girl to Texas for him. He agreed and thus began the three week journey with Johanna.  She wanted to be back with the Kiowa tribe and did not remember her life before being taken captive, so Kidd had to very slowly re-introduce her to her old life and ways.  They encountered difficulties on the journey and as they went on they began to get close to each other.

Jiles does a great job letting the reader get to know the characters intimately.  It's touching story and told well.  I loved the writing in this book.

"Maybe life is just carrying news.  Surviving to carry the news. Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed."

Monday, September 25, 2017


I read the first four or five Outlander series books when they first came out, but didn't continue with them (there are eight books right now, and I have heard that there will be two more coming).  My daughter-in-law convinced me that I need to go on with them.  However, it has been so many years since I read them, that I had to start over with the series.  So the first one, Outlander by Diane Gabaldfon, is completed.  And it was as good as I remembered!

Outlander (Outlander Series #1)Claire Randall and her husband Frank were in Scotland, reconnecting after World War II had kept them separated.  Frank was seriously researching his genealogy and Claire was just enjoying her time there.  However, one day Claire went out exploring on her own and  walked into a circle of stones.  She then found herself back in time two hundred years, still in Scotland.  In order to survive what was happening there, she had to marry Jamie Fraser.

This is a very involved historical novel, along with a rich love story.  I can't even imagine the amount of research done in order to write this book. It's amazing. I couldn't put it down and immediately began the second book!


Hooray!  I read a non-fiction book this past month!  I always have one going, but usually take my time reading it.  However, Evicted by Matthew Desmond was fascinating and read like a novel at times.  He won the Pulitzer Prize for this book last year.  It is about the housing situation for the poor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which basically reflects the housing situations across the country.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American CityThe author spent two years living in housing among eight poor families observing their difficulties navigating the never-ending cycle of renting, being evicted, making rent, living in shelters, then trying to find another place to live. The stories were fascinating and heart-breaking.  Reading how poverty influences every aspect of ones' life was eye-opening. It was estimated that 70-80% of their income was spent on housing.  Imagine how one could raise a family with that kind of obstacle. Reading about the other side-the landlords, rental managers, etc.-was also eye-opening.

I also really like that at the end of the book, the author has actual suggestions for easing these burdens.  This book needs to be taken very seriously by everyone.

The Man In My Basement

 The Man In My Basement by Walter Mosley was the September pick for one of my book groups.  Most of the book group didn't really care for the book, including me.  I just never really got the point of the whole thing.  And really didn't find any redeeming characters along the way.  The book was published in 2005 and seemed to get pretty positive reviews.
The Man in My Basement: A NovelThe book tells the story about Charles Blakey, an unemployed Black man who  lives in his family's elegant home.  He has a few close friends, but no wife or girlfriend.  One day a man showed up asking to rent Charles' basement for the summer.  At first, Charles wasn't interested, but as his financial situation became more dire, he agreed.  Anniston Bennet offered him about $50,000 for a three month stay in the up-coming summer.  Since Charles was close to losing his house, it seemed a wise offer to take.  He began cleaning out the basement and uncovered priceless heirlooms.  A friend hooked him up with an antique dealer and she and Charles began somewhat of a relationship.

Meanwhile, Anniston Bennet tells Charles his terms for his stay in the basement, which include a cell and meals.  It's bizarre.  And gets even more so as the story unfolds.

A Couple of Book-ish Events That Occurred This Month

I had a couple of interesting "bookish" things happen this past month.  And they have both been really enjoyable!

First, my son and daughter-in-law got me started on listing to podcasts.  Yes, I know, I am late to the game, but still, I made it! One of my favorite ones is called What Should I Read Next?  In this podcast, there is a guest each week who talks about their reading life, then shares their favorite three books and one book that they "hate".  After sharing these, the narrator recommends three books that she thinks the guest might like.  So over the podcast, seven books in total are discussed.  What is difficult for me, is that I listen to the podcasts while driving in the car, so I can't write down the titles I'm interested in while I'm listening!  It is good practice for my short-term memory!  So far, so good.

Secondly, I recently attended my 50th high school reunion and while there saw a good friend from high school who I had not seen for probably 40 years.  I did remember that she was a big reader, so we had a great time talking about books, book groups, book blogs, and podcasts.  She doesn't live near here anymore, but we have already touched base by email.  It was wonderful to re-connect with a serious reader!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Ever Have This Happen?

This afternoon I was listening to my very first What Should I Read Next podcast.  I'm just discovering the joy of podcasts and when this one was recommended to me, I was thrilled.  So as I was driving home on my 30 minute drive from town, I turned the first one (to me) on and was greatly enjoying it as they talked about books.  First the guest discussed her three favorite books that she recommends to others, and then she was asked to share the book she has read that she likes the least-the one book she actually hates.  The guest kind of hemmed and hawed, reportedly feeling embarrassed to admit that she hates this book.  Finally the interviewer told her, in so many words, to just put it out there, and the guest says "To Kill A Mockingbird".

I audibly, out loud, gasped!  It was as if I had been shot in the heart.

Then I questioned the guests' books that she recommended.  Could I possibly like them?  I have put two of them on my to-be-read list, so I will find out.  I kind of felt sorry for the, that she doesn't get the beauty of the book, and two, that she had to admit it to everyone! And I found my reaction to be really funny!  Thankfully, I was still in control of the car as I drove down the highway!

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Bones of Paradise

I had read The River Wife by Jonis Agee years ago and loved it, so I was happy to see that she had written another book.  Sadly for me, I wasn't nearly as enthusiastic with this book as I had been with The River Wife.  However, my reaction doesn't seem to appear to match the excellent reviews on the book, so maybe I just missed something.

The Bones of Paradise: A NovelThe story takes place in the Sand Hills of Nebraska in the 1900's.  The Wounded Knee massacre had occurred ten years earlier not far from the Sand Hills.  The book opens with JB Bennett on his way to retrieve his son from JB's father, who has raised the boy as he felt he should be raised.  JB's wife, Dulcinea, had left him about ten years before after JB let his father take their son and she lived in a nearby town.  JB was raising their younger son by himself.  As JB was headed toward his father's place, he came across the dead body of a young Lakota Sioux woman (Star). As he studied the body, JB was shot and killed. And that set up the story.

Dulcinea returned to the ranch after JB's death and was left there to deal with her resentful two teen-aged sons, her father-in-law, Drum Bennett, and her best friend, Rose, who was Star's sister.  Not only was Dulcinea dealing with who killed her husband and Star, but also her conniving father-in-law who not only wanted her sons, but wanted her land.  Meanwhile, there is the issue of how the murders tied into the Wounded Knee massacre.

It's kind of a busy story, but good enough to keep my interest in finishing it.  Not good enough to keep the book, however.

That's my new standard, since we will be moving.  Is the book good enough to keep? Nope, not this one.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Days Without End

Days without EndI read Days Without End by Sebastian Barry last year, but apparently forgot to include it in my blog.  It was chosen this year for our August book group, so I re-read it.  And I can easily say that I think this is the best book that I have read so far this year.  The writing is stunning and the characters are so very well developed.  I have been a fan of Barry for a long time, and this book is just amazing.  

The story is about two young boys who met around 1850. Thomas McNulty was an orphaned young boy who had come to America from Ireland by himself.  He met John Cole, a young boy from New England, in Missouri under a hedge escaping the rain when they were around fourteen or fifteen years old and quickly became the best of friends.  Once they left their covering, they came across a saloon looking for young boys to dress up as female dance partners for the miners who came in the saloon.  After Thomas and John got a little older, they had to leave that work and so they signed up for the army together, fighting in the Indian Wars.  It was during that time, that the boys became lovers.  During their time fighting, they found a nine year old Indian girl who they took care of and became their daughter.  Soon the Civil War began and the two boys/men signed up and left Winona with a trusted friend.  The Civil War fighting was as brutal as the Indian War.  The two were taken prisoners.  By the time they were freed, they learned that Winona's uncle wanted her back with the tribe.

In all, the story is about two boys who live through horrors and hard times, and love each other through it all.

"I almost wasn't able to say, my father died too.  I saw his body.  Hunger is  sort of fire, a furnace.  I loved my father when I was a human person formerly.  Then he died and I was hungry and then the ship.  Then nothing.  Then America.  Then John Cole.  John Cole was my love, all my love."

Slaughterhouse Five

I had never read anything by Kurt Vonnegut before.  I read a review of Slaughterhouse Five not long ago, and thought it sounded interesting, so got a copy of it.  While I did like the book, I probably am not inclined to read any other of his work.  A little too sci-fi for me.  That being said, I did like the book, so it was worth the read!Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death

Slaughterhouse Five is considered to be an anti-war book, and I would agree with that completely.  The main character clearly suffers from PTSD from his time in Germany during World War II.   The book jumps from time period to time period, so that was a bit disconcerting at first, but ended up not being an issue for my reading.  It seemed to me that the point was that war will always be.  Suffering will always be.  Whenever someone dies in the book, he says "So it goes." in a very matter of fact way.

It's an interesting book.  It would make for good discussion!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Keeper of Lost Things and Dark Matter

The Keeper of Lost Things: A NovelThe Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan was one of my book groups read for July.  We decided that it was a good "beach read".  Not heavy, just a kind of fun story.

The story is initially about Anthony Peardew, a writer, who was the keeper of people's lost things.  As he found items (a button, a glove, a piece of jigsaw puzzle, etc.), he would take them home and catalog them. They were kept in his locked study.  As he got older, he hired an assistant to help with his writing. Laura was a middle-aged divorced woman who was anxious to move away from her old life and so she applied for the job and was hired.

The book begins with a biscuit tin full of human ashes found on a train!  That was intriguing.

The book was a bit confusing, as it would go off into different stories, and it was rather hard to keep up with at first. Eventually, the stories all tied together and then it made sense.

Upon Anthony's death, Laura learned that he had left her the house and everything in it.  She was to return all of the lost items that Anthony had kept.
She started a website hoping to find the owners of the items.

There are a lot of characters in the book and, as I said, they do all end up tied together.  It was a fun, light read.

And the fifth book I read in July was Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.  Here's the funny story about this book.  I was perusing books at Barnes and Noble one day and a clerk came over to see if I needed help.  We began talking about books briefly, then he left.  A few minutes later, he returned with Dark Matter and told me that it was the best book he had read all year, said he had read it in two days non-stop, and then proceeded to describe it.  Needless to say, he was quite enthusiastic, and even though he said it was a bit science-fiction, I took a chance and bought it.  A couple of days later, our fifteen year old grandson came to visit for the week.  I told him about the book (I hadn't read it then), so he decided to read it, and finished it in less than 24 hours, and loved it.

Dark MatterA few days later I began reading it.  To a non-science-fiction-fan it was clearly science fiction, but I stuck with it.  Kind of an interesting premise about parallel universes.  A college physics professor living in Chicago with his wife, Jason decided to meet an old friend for a drink one evening and didn't return home.  He woke up elsewhere and eventually realized that there were alternate versions of himself living out different lives.  Vaguely reminiscent of It's a Wonderful Life, what would Jason's life had been like if....whatever.  So then Jason was frantic to return to his "regular" life. Etc., etc.

Just not my kind of book!  But if you are a sci-fi enthusiast, you may like it!!

Just Mercy

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I'll begin this by sharing what John Grisham wrote about this book:

“Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God’s work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope. Just Mercy is his inspiring and powerful story.”—John Grisham

Bryan Stephenson went to Georgia while doing an internship while attending Harvard Law School. During that internship, he found his calling. He began working with death row prisoners who needed his representation. The book tells the story of Walter McMillan, a black man who was accused and convicted of killing a white woman in southern Alabama. Mr. McMillan had been at a barbecue with his family and friends at the time the murder took place, yet he was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder. As the legal team investigated the case, it became clear that Mr. McMillan was innocent and after many, many long hours of work, they were able to prove his case and he was set free-after spending six years on death row.

Over the years Mr. Stephenson's team has worked with children, domestic violence victims, the mentally ill, and others who seem to just be forgotten and lost in the judicial system.

This was a very interesting book.  I felt like it got bogged down at times, getting away from the main issue, but that may have been because I tend to focus on the people's stories, not background issues.  It was a good read.

Two of the Five Books I Read in July

I read five books in July.  Here are two of them (more to follow).

Redemption Road: A Novel

1) Redemption Road by John Hart.  Yes, I read this last December, but I re-read it for July since one of my book groups chose it for our July read.  I enjoyed it just as much the second time reading it as I did the first!  It is a mystery about the disappearances of several women over many years in a small town.  Several of the women were not even listed as missing.  A former police officer had been arrested and found guilty of the murder of one of the missing women and he had been sent to prison.  Years later, upon his release, it began again.  But did he do it?  There are lots of characters in the book and the reader is kept guessing through-out, wondering who is guilty.

2) Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.  I have had this book for a couple of years  but had not read it. I presented it to one of my book groups for our August read.  It's a big book, but read fast.  It, too, is a mystery and is written in kind of a different way.  Right away, you know that someone died, but you don't learn who died under what circumstances until almost the very end of the book.  I was put off by the writing at first, but stuck with it, and ended up enjoying the story.

Big Little LiesThe story takes place in a small coastal town in California and is about several women, their lives, their relationships, their children and their secrets.  It begins six months before the parent's fundraiser night for the local elementary school. The book follows the escapades/stories of several of the kindergarten moms. There are definite groups, actually more like high school cliques, among the moms, and they have their differences between themselves. The story actually seems like a dark comedy, with  numerous funny episodes.  It was a fun, light read.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

And for June...

Four books read in June.  That seems like a low number to me, but then, that is one book per week, so maybe it is a lot to have been read! Only one book of the four was disappointing to me, so that's not a bad average. Here's what I read:

1) Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly: I really wish that I had paid attention to what was written on the back of the book (softcover).  I'll tell you why-I didn't realize that the book was based on real people's lives.  That would have made the book even more interesting.

Lilac Girls: A Novel
This is the story of three women before, during and after World War II.  One of the women was a former actress and socialite Caroline Ferriday.  Before and during the war she worked as a liaison for the French consulate, trying to bring people to the US.  Meanwhile in Poland, teenager Kasia was working in the resistance as a courier.  And in Germany, Herta was a doctor.

The book is about the Rabbits-people who were part of Mengele's experiments in Ravensbruck, which is where Kasia and Herta met, Kasia as a prisoner and Herta as a doctor in the camp.  Kasia was one of the Rabbits.

It is a hard book to read, as is any book about the concentration camp experiences. It is very well-written and thought-provoking, revealing secrets long hidden about the camps.

 "...a lilac only blossoms after a harsh winter."

2) the light we lost by Jill Santopolo.  This book has been hailed as one of the best of 2017.  I was disappointed.  The premise sounded good, but fell flat for me.

The Light We Lost
Lucy and Gabe met on 9/11 while in college in New York City and while watching the towers fall and the subsequent news that day, they became aware of a strong attraction to each other.  But the attraction didn't go anywhere, and they both moved on, finishing college and pursuing careers.  A year after college, they ran into each other and the passion was burning. However, after six months, Gabe left to pursue a job in Iraq as a photographer.  Lucy was devastated, but eventually moved on with her friend Darren.  They married and built a life together.  But every once in awhile either Gabe or Lucy would call or text each other, so they never quite lost touch.  The contact was always just enough to stir up old feelings and for Lucy to wonder about how her life would have been if she and Gabe had stayed together. And after thirteen years of not being with Gabe, she is faced with a decision....

Exit West
Long lost love, right and wrong, etc.

3) Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.  This was a book group read and I really had no interest in reading it, but since it was for book group, I read it.  And that is why I love book group-the books chosen to read are often not what I would pick up and so I am forced to read out of my comfort zone, so to speak. And it is always a good thing for me to have to do. In this case, I read the book and loved it!

The book began in an un-named Middle Eastern country where Saeed and Nadia met.  They began seeing each other, and soon Saeed convinced Nadia to move in with him and his father after his mother died.  However, the city was under lots of violent conflict and the couple learned of a "door" that for the right price would take them to another country. They had to travel that way several times as violence would escalate through-out different cities.  Saeed's father refused to go with them when they left:

"...but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind."
The writing in this story is incredible. I highly recommend this book.

4) and the last book read in June was Mischling by Affinity Konar.  Oddly, it is also a book about the concentration camps, this time taking place in Auschwitz, and Dr. Mengele. The story is about his experiments with twins.  It is horrifying, and gripping.

MischlingPearl and Sasha were taken to Auschwitz with their mother and their grandfather.  Because they were twins, they were separated from their mother and grandfather and immediately taken to Dr. Mengele's "Zoo" where other twins were kept.

"And this is where I don't remember.  This is where I want to wander my mind back and under, past the smell, past the thump-bump of the boots and the suitcases, toward some semblance of a good-bye.  Because we should have seen our loves go missing, we should have been able to watch them leave us, should have known the precise moment of our loss." 

Horrible, horrible things were done at the Zoo as Mengele conducted his awful twin experiments.  He wanted to learn if it was possible to break the twin bond, the twin feeling for the other twin. The girls survived camp life with help from others until the winter when Pearl disappeared.  She is presumed to have been killed by Mengele, but Sasha would not believe she was gone.  After the camp was liberated, Sasha continued to search for Pearl.  The twin bond was never broken. Mengele failed.

This book is about so, resistance, resilience, survival, family.  Great book.  By the way, Mischling is a term that was "used by the Third Reich to denote a person of mixed blood."

So, did you notice anything different in the blog?  Yes, I finally figured out how to put the images of the books on the blog!  It only took me 6 months and all of a sudden, I knew how to do it!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Two Other Books for May

I read two other books in May, one already reviewed, and the other a new one.

MemoryI re-read Memory (reviewed February 2016) for my book group.  It was my selection and we had a good discussion over it.  It's a very short, but powerful book, and I recommend anyone to read it!

I also read Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy. It was an interesting book.  It was written by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Sheryl lost her husband very suddenly and was left to navigate life with their two young children without him.  As she so beautifully wrote, she felt that she and her children would never feel joy again.  Her friend, Adam Grant, a psychologist, slowly helped her through her grief, telling her that she could rebound from this tragedy....that we are all built with resilience.  I loved how resilience is described as a muscle.

The book offers Sheryl's own struggles with her grief along with insight and wisdom.  Adam offers research studies.  Both were touching and fascinating.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy
Her life with her husband had been Option A.  After his death, she learned that she had to move on to Option B. There is much in this book for all of us, not just for those dealing with the death of someone.  We all need resilience for many life events over the years.

Books with sequels

I love finding a good book that continues on into other books. I read two sequels this past month and they did not disappoint.  I always recommend that readers read the original book first, then the sequel.  I know that a lot of sequels can stand alone, but I just think that too much could be missed by not reading the books sequentially.

I first read The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom in June 2011. (Review done in June 2011). I re-read the book for one of my book groups.  It was just as good as the first time.

Excitedly, I had already purchased the sequel to The Kitchen House, The Glory Over Everything, so once I finished reading The Kitchen House, I was ready to move on to the rest of the story!

Glory Over Everything
The Glory Over Everything picked up shortly after where The Kitchen House had left off. The first chapter began in Philadelphia in March of 1830 with the character Jamie, who was now thirty-three years old, living in Philadelphia. He had passed as a white man and had made a good life for himself. Only one man, Robert, knew his secret and he was loyal.  However, when Robert's son, Pan, was taken by slave-hunters, Robert asked Jamie to go down to the plantation where Robert had learned Pan was and bring him back to Philadelphia.  This meant that Jamie would have to return South where he was considered a run-away slave.  And this is how some of the other characters from The Kitchen House came into the story.

It was a good read and the author did a good job bringing both books together. And there is certainly plenty of fodder for another sequel!

The other sequel that I read last month was Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout.  I had read My Name Is Lucy Barton in June of 2016 (review done in June 2016), and Anything Is Possible is a sequel to that (in sorts). The book takes place in Amgash, Illinois which is where Lucy Barton was from.

Anything Is Possible
The book is a really a set of short stories about different characters (meant in both senses of the word) who lived in Amgash. Each story seemed to be part of another, and Lucy Barton and her family, tie into each story. And the book ended perfectly! Yes, anything is possible. Fans of Elizabeth Strout rejoice....another huge home run for her!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

April Reading

I got five books read in April.  Guess going to the beach helps me get more reading done!  I already feel the need to go back!  Here's what I read in April:

1) Burn What Will Burn by CB McKenzie.  This was a book that one of my book club members picked up in Africa (of all places!) and wanted to know how others felt about the book.  I bit and took it home to read.

Burn What Will Burn
It sounds like a good story and it was, in a way, but it is also quite different, bordering on odd.  It is the story of Bob Reynolds who was kind of hiding out in a very rural small town on Arkansas, living very isolated.  One day Bob was out walking and came across a dead body in the creek. After he told the Sheriff about seeing the body, he realized that the Sheriff had checked him (Bob) out and was suspicious of him. He was essentially told to forget that he had ever seen the body. So, of course, Bob went on to investigate on his own.

The story has a number of unusual characters who Bob interacted with.  The whole story ended up just being odd.

2) Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman.  Yes, I am a fan of Alice Hoffman and I had not read this book before.  When I read a recommendation for it, I got a used copy to read (it was published in 1995 and was her 11th novel).

Practical Magic
This book is the story of sisters and witches.  The Owens family had a long history of the women in the family being witches. Sisters Sally and Gillian Owens were orphaned and left to live with "the aunts" (whose names are never mentioned). The old, spinster aunts had been using their magic for years and years and Sally and Gillian started to notice that different things went on in the creepy old house.  And that the town people treated them differently.

Eventually, Sally married and had two daughters, but lost her husband early in the marriage.  Gillian left the area and went the opposite way of Sally, running off with men any chance she had, ending up divorced three times.  Years later, Gillian showed up at Sally's with a dead man's body in the car trunk. The sister's buried the body in the yard.  Meanwhile, Sally's daughters were growing up and going the same way as Sally and Gillian.

This is a book about magic, love, and sexuality.  It was a good read.

3) Born A Crime by Trevor Noah.  This book was a book club pick and a book that I probably would not have ever picked up to read on my own.  That's the joy of book groups...getting out of my comfort zone and reading things that I wouldn't have read otherwise.  I didn't expect to, but I really enjoyed this book!

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African ChildhoodTrevor Noah is the host of The Daily Show.  I have never seen his show, but did know who he was.  I didn't realize that he was from South Africa.  This book is autobiographical covering his childhood growing up in South Africa, the son of a black woman and a white Swedish man. Noah was raised by his mother and his story is told rather in essay form, which I found very easy to read.  Each chapter loosely covered a certain topic, including school friends, violence, relationships, racism, and being born different from the others.  His mother was determined to give him a better life and was a driving force for his success. It was an interesting story.

A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy
4) A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal. This is "A memoir of surviving Auschwitz as a young boy".  It came highly touted, but I had difficulty getting through it after awhile.  The story seemed to get bogged down and I had to make myself finish it. It is certainly an interesting story.  The author was a very young boy when taken to the death camps with his parents.  He was immediately separated from his mother, but remained with his father for some time, until they were also separated.  At the end of the war, he was placed in a Polish orphanage, where eventually (and miraculously) he was found and reunited with his mother in Germany.  It was also interesting to learn what became of the author as an adult and how he felt his experiences influenced his life.

The Women in the Castle
5) The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck.  This book was probably my favorite read of April.  It is the story of one woman, Marianne, who worked with her husband in the Resistance in WWII.  Her husband was killed and at the end of the war, Marianne sought out two other women and offered them housing in the family's old rundown castle. One of the women (Benita) had been her friend's wife.  Her friend had asked her to watch over his wife and child. The other woman was Ania, who had two sons.  The three women and three children lived in the castle with Marianna as the world they knew struggled with the aftermath of the war. Each of the three women made their way eventually to lives that vastly differed from each other.

This was a good read.  I loved how the author took it to the end and wrapped up the women's stories.  The book was inspired by the author's grandparents' memories and experiences from WWII.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

3 books for March

I found Soul Catcher by Michael White on the bargain table at the bookstore.  It caught my eye, and I'm glad it did.  It's a story about pre-Civil War times.
Soul Catcher: A Novel

Augustus Cain was a "soul catcher", a term I have never come across before.  I
t refers to those who were fugitive slave catchers.  And Augustus was one of the very best.  He was hired by a slave master to track down two of his slaves, Rosetta and Henry, who had run away and bring them back to him. Augustus set out with three other men on a journey that led them from Richmond to New York, then to Boston.  Augusta tracked the two runaways down, and as they began to return to Richmond, Augustus began healing of his own, as he got to know his captives. The story did not end predictably, but with a strong ending.  I liked it very much!
The Watery Part of the World

From the library, I borrowed The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker.  It is a book that I have been wanting to read for quite some time, so I was glad to come across it have the time to read it!  It is a good historical fiction book!

The story covers over 150 years and is loosely based on two real life events.  Aaron Burr's daughter, Theo Burr Alston, disappeared while she was on a ship headed to New York in 1813.  Theodosia Burr Alston was born in 1783, and had married Joseph Alston, Governor of South Carolina.  In The Watery Part of the World, Theo was not killed, but was found by "Old Whaley", a man who was a bit of an isolationist and somewhat feared/respected on the island where Theo washed up.  He nursed her back to health and over time, Old Whaley and Theo became a couple.

Mississippi Blood (Natchez Burning Series #3)Years later on the same island, live two descendants of Theo and Old Whaley.  They are two older sisters who have lived there all their lives and have seen the island became a popular vacation area, then become a rather abandoned area, with just the two sisters and Woodrow a sort of caretaker on the island.

The book was a very interesting read.  In real life, it was never determined for sure what happened to Theo, so I liked how the author developed the story based on a real person.

And lastly, the book I have been patiently waiting for, the third of the trilogy by Greg Iles: Mississippi Blood.  This was a really good series.  There were lots of themes going on and all three books were huge! The first book was Natchez Burning, the second was The Bone Tree, and now finally the finale.  Or was it?  The author tricked me before.  I thought that there was a hint in the first book about one of the characters who was murdered.  I kept waiting for it to come up in the third book and I was wrong and I was really disappointed about that. And now I feel like there was left an opening at the end of the third book for the story to continue.  I hope that I am right on this one!  I love his writing!

It's hard to sum up this trilogy.  It is about Penn Cage, who has been in the author's other books.  Penn's father was accused of murder of his old nurse, Viola, who had left Natchez, Mississippi some thirty years before, then returned there to die. Viola was a black woman who had lost her brother to the Double Eagles, a violent spin-off from the Ku Klux Klan. Viola had also been raped repeatedly by the members of the Double Eagles. And when she returned to Natchez, the group was still around, consisting of old men who still had their convictions.  Penn was the mayor of Natchez and as he tried and searched for evidence to prove his father innocent, his family became at risk.

I loved the series and Greg Ilse's writing.  Be prepared to not be able to put the books down!  Each one kept me up late at nights as I didn't want to stop reading them.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

February Reading

I can't believe that February had ended!  Although, I am not a winter girl, so there is no complaining here!  As a matter of fact, we spent 2 weeks at the beach in February, so that helped alot!  You would think that I would have gotten plenty of reading done, sitting by the pool, but, alas, I was just too busy! I am reading a long book right now, so it won't be included here until March. reading for February..

1) The Archivist by Martha Cooley.  This is a book that I have picked up several times to look at, but never went ahead and got it to read.  It came up on a list of books recently, so I decided to read it. I ended up liking it quite a bit.  It is the author's first novel and she will definitely be one that I will follow.

The Archivist: A Novel
The premise of the story is that letters written by T.S.Eliot to his friend (lover?) Emily Hale had been sent to a prestigious university and had been archived. Eliot's wife had been institutionalized and he had carried on a friendship and correspondence with Emily for years.

The two main characters of the book (or are they?) are Matthias Lane, a 65 year old archivist and Roberta Spire, a graduate student.  Roberta wants a look at the archived letters related to reasons that she had just learned that her parents had been Jews who escaped the Holocaust and converted to Christianity.  Because Eliot had converted to Catholicism, she was hoping to learn how her parents may have come to their conversion decision. She was not aware that the Holocaust played a role in Matt's wife's breakdown. Matt had also had to commit his wife to an asylum.

So there are many elements going on in the story, with lots of different comparisons and/or similarities.  Like Eliot, Matt was a rather isolated person, who tended to remain detached from others. His blossoming friendship with Roberta lead him to begin to realize his part in how his life had played out, in terms of his own decisions.

2) Alibi by Joseph Kanon. Alibi is a mystery that takes place in Venice post WWII. Adam Miller had just left the US Army where he had worked in Germany as an intelligence officer investigating war-crimes.  His mother, Grace, had just moved to Venice and had taken a house on the Grand Canal where Adam came to join her. Grace had become involved with a doctor, Gianni, whom she had known years earlier before marrying Adam's deceased father.  Grace took Adam to a party where he meet Claudia.  They quickly became involved and as Adam got to know her, he learned that she was an Italian Jew who had been placed in a camp during the war.  As Adam spent time with Gianni, he began to be suspicious of what Gianni had done during the war.  As he began to look into Gianni's past, things quickly escalated.  The story was a good one, but it seemed like the relationships that were developed  early in the story fell somewhat flat. I was glad to be done once I finished the book.  It had begun to drag for me.

3) The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas.  This was a book chosen for one of my book groups.  I had read it some years ago, so it was the second time for me.  It was a good, interesting story, but the ending was abrupt and unsatisfying. It made
our group wonder why she spent so much time writing the book and then ended it the way she did.

The Last Midwife: A Novel
The story took place in 1880 in a small mining town in Colorado.  Gracy Brookens was the town's only midwife and she had been accused of murdering a baby after she delivered it.  Gracy had delivered babies all her life, since she was around 10 years old.  She loved babies and working with the mothers. Of course, Gracy had not committed the murder, but clearing her name wasn't so easy. And Gracy was not too forthcoming in her defense. Gracy knew many, many secrets from all of her years delivering babies and she had a strict code...she would tell no one the secrets that she knew. And that included secrets about the baby (and the baby's family) she was accused of murdering.

Oh, did my review end abruptly?  So did the ending of the book.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

January Reading

As I said in my post yesterday on Freeman, I am changing things up a bit with this blog. I plan to wait until the end of the month and review all the books read for that month then.  There is an exception to that, however.  If I read a book that I cannot wait to share, I will post about that book at the time I have finished reading it.  We'll see how this goes.

My Father and Atticus Finch: A Lawyer's Fight for Justice in 1930s Alabama
1) My Father and Atticus Finch by Joseph Madison Beck.  I got this for Christmas (it was on my wish list) because, of course, anything Atticus-related is a must-have.  The sub-title for the book is "A Lawyer's Fight for Justice in 1930's Alabama".  The author's father was Foster Beck, an attorney in southern Alabama, who was chosen to defend a black man who had been accused of raping a white woman.  Sound familiar? The case was State of Alabama vs. Charles White, Alias.  It occurred around the time that Harper Lee was about twelve years old.

This was an interesting read and certainly there were similarities to To Kill A Mockingbird.  My problem with the book is that I felt like it could have been presented in a magazine article just as well and would have covered the facts. Admittedly, Mr. Beck's intent with the book may have been to tell the story of his father, not just about the one case, and if that is so, then the book did a fine job.  I was more interested in the actual case.  And the case was covered well.

Mere Christianity
2) Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  I began this book a while back, reading only one chapter per day for study.  The book was published in 1952 and was based on radio talks that C.S.Lewis gave between 1942 to 1944. I found it to be a rather difficult book to read.  It is what some might call "heady" and I just plowed through those parts.  My main objection to the book (which I have to add is considered a classic read) was his comments on black people and gay people. There is nothing Christian about those stances.

Spandau Phoenix
3) Spandau Phoenix by Greg Iles.  Greg Iles is one of my very favorite authors.  While perusing the very small library in our town, I happened across this book, which I had not heard of.  I checked it out of the library, and learned it was the first book that he had written.  It is about post World War 2 and Rudolph Hess, the last prisoner in Spandau Prison, died.  Or was it Rudolph Hess?  It was a good story and clearly well-researched, but I felt like it went on and on.  It's a very long book, as his books are, but usually I don't want his books to end.  This one I was praying for the end.  I was hooked enough to finish it and it was a good story, just seemed too long.

The Golden Age
4) The Golden Age by Joan London.  So now that I have complained about the books that I have read, here's one that I absolutely loved!  Both of my book groups read this book and it was highly praised by both! The story takes place primarily at The Golden Age, an old pub in Australia that had been made into a children's hospital for children with polio.  Frank Gold was the main character of the story.  He and his parents had escaped from Hungary during the war and ended up resettling in Australia.  Soon after, Frank was diagnosed with polio.  When he arrived at the Golden Age home, he was the oldest patient there. He soon met Sullivan, a young boy in the home who was in an iron lung.  Sullivan was a poet and introduced Frank to poetry and to writing poetry.  Frank's other friend in the home was Elsa, who Frank fell in love with and they developed a romance in the home.

There were a lot of wonderful characters in this book, including both of Frank's parents, Elsa's parents, and the head nurse at the Golden Age.  All of the character's had to deal with various issues, including displacement, love, hope, loss of hope, etc.  It's a beautiful book.

Saturday, January 28, 2017



I have decided to try blogging about books in a slightly different way than in the past, primarily because I seem to have trouble blogging in a timely manner after I finish a book!  So I am going to try blogging at the end of the month about books I have read that month.  There will be this post.  When I read an exceptional book, I will give that book it's own post!  And that is true of Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr., a post-civil-war novel.

This is the story of Sam Freeman, a run-away slave, who ended up in Philadelphia where he worked for years at a library.  Sam had learned to read from his mistress when he was her slave in Mississippi.  When he ran away, he left his wife there with the intention of buying her back.  While he worked to earn money, the War broke out and that delayed his plan.  Fifteen years after leaving Mississippi, the Civil War had ended and Sam decided to set out by foot to walk from Philadelphia to Mississippi to find his wife.

The book alternates between Sam's story, his wife Tilda's story, and Prudence, a strong-willed, widowed, privileged young woman from Boston who was against slavery. Prudence and her "sister" Bonnie left Boston following the War to open up a school for the former slaves living in Buford, Mississippi.

Tilda had been sold off when times got so bad that her mistress had to sell her. She was sold to an abusive slaveholder.  When the War ended, her master decided to leave his burned out farm and travel to where his beliefs in slavery would be
upheld.  He took his remaining three slaves with him, including Tilda, and they began walking west.

Prudence faced enormous resistance to opening a school for blacks in Mississippi and she paid dearly for her efforts.

This is a stunning story about the aftermath of the Civil War, as families tried to reunite and others tried to bring true freedom to those who had been slaves. Pitts is a wonderful writer (2004 Pulitzer Prize winner for his column).  The book was a great read.