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.