Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Stars Are Fire

The Stars Are Fire

"Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love."
William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Anita Shreve's newest novel, The Stars Are Fire, is a book that I have had on my radar for awhile and when I saw it in paperback I grabbed it up.  It was a perfect book for my girl's weekend to Orange Beach over this past Mother's Day. I actually read two books over the long weekend...lots of time for reading on planes and sitting by the pool!
I've long been a fan of Shreve and this book did not disappoint.  The main event of the book was based on a true event that occurred in 1947 in Maine.  Maine experienced a devastating drought that summer, leading to wildfires in the fall that I read elsewhere burned over 17,000 acres and killed sixteen people.

In the novel, Grace Holland is married with two children, expecting her third.  Her husband, Gene, had returned from the war with issues that he would not discuss or deal with.  Grace spent as much with her neighbor Rosie and her children during the day when Gene is at work.  That seems to be the only time Grace has any joy in her life, other than with her children.   

As the fires got closer to their small community, Gene left with the other men to help build a fire break.  Grace fell asleep that night, waking to her daughter's screams.  She put the two children in the baby carriage and headed for the beach.  From that point on, Grace is left to deal by herself with every situation that occurs.  She was forced to summon up all her internal strength as she struggled to care for everyone around her.

There were some surprises and twists in the story that I enjoyed.  I especially loved reading of Grace's strength and determination at the end.

It was a good book, and an especially good summer beach read!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Just Kids

Just Kids by Patti Smith was the April book club read for one of my book groups.  It's not a book that I would have picked up on my own to read, but I really liked it!  Not surprisingly to me, it won the National Book Award. Again, the great thing about book groups is that they get you out of your ordinary book choices.Just Kids

Just Kids is the love story of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe.  If you don't know who they are, google it.  Both were amazing artists in their own rights.

In 1966, Patti became pregnant, had the baby and gave it up for adoption. In the spring of 1967, Patti was twenty years old,  had dropped out of college and was working in a textbook factory.  She decided to go to Brooklyn, New York (she was from New Jersey) and stay with some friends, hoping for find a job in a bookstore.  When she arrived, she found that her friends had moved.  But there was a young man staying there, and he led her to the brownstone where her friends had moved to.  He left her there and she found that her friends were not home.  Her friends didn't return that evening so Patti ended up spending the night on the steps of their place.  When the new day arrived she waited for her friends who still didn't return home, so eventually that day she headed back into the city, and slept in Central Park. This was the beginning of her summer in New York, sleeping wherever she could, trying to find work, roaming with other young kids living freely in the parks, etc.  It was also the summer that she met Robert Mapplethorpe.

After she and Robert met at a bookstore where Patti was working, she realized that he was the boy she had met her first day in Brooklyn when she went to her friend's place, and he took her to where they had moved. About a week later, she ran into him in a park, they talked and ended up going to his place.

"As if it were the most natural thing in the world we stayed together, not leaving each other's side save to go to work. Nothing was spoken; it was just mutually understood."

Both aspired to be artists and encouraged and helped each other with their works.

"We gathered our colored pencils and sheets of paper and drew like wild, feral children into the night, until, exhausted, we fell into bed."

Patti and Robert moved to the Chelsea Hotel where they lived for several years.  There was where Patti met both writers and musicians.  It was amazing to read all of the people that she knew and spent time with, including Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter and Janis Joplin.  And so many more.  They never had much money, sometimes no money. Eventually, Patti moved into writing poetry, then writing music, then performing music.  Robert became involved with photography.  Robert began to explore his homosexuality, and Patti had other relationships, but she and Robert always loved each other. 

The book ends in 1989.  It was hard to read the last couple of chapters.  Patti and Robert's love for each other was deep and abiding.  As one reviewer wrote about this book: "A touching tale of love and devotion."

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


I read Beartown by Fredrik Backman a couple of months ago and just have not felt able to blog about the book as it deserves.  I still don't.  It is an absolutely wonderful book that is full of wisdom and life lessons.  One would not suspect that a book about a hockey team for adolescent boys would be so inspiring.  

The story is about a hockey team in Sweden in Beartown.  Beartown was a very small town in the middle of a forest. The only thing going for the town was their junior hockey team.  The hockey team was good enough that it was competing in the national semi-finals.  And that meant everything for the small community. Until something happened involving the star of the team.

Kevin was the star of the team and every girl's dream.  After winning a game one night, his parents were gone and he had a party at his home.  Maya, the team manager's daughter, was at the party and the center of Kevin's attention.  Things went wrong quickly, leaving Maya traumatized.

"One of the many things snatched from the girl that night is the place where she never needed to feel afraid.  Everyone has a place like that, until it gets taken away from us.  You never get it back again.  Maya will feel afraid everywhere from now on."

After a short time went by, Maya finally told her parents what had happened, and Beartown was never the same again. As accusations flew around town, old secrets were revealed.  And the town had to figure out how to survive with each other.

The characters in the book are so well-developed that it was easy to be invested in each of them.  The love, friendship and concerns of the various townspeople were tested.  The writing in the book was superb.

"Until he put a record on. Perhaps it was something about the old record-player--the crackle in the speakers, the voices filling the room--but Isak fell completely silent.  Then he smiled.  And then he fell asleep in Peter's arms.  That's the last time Peter can remember really feeling like a good father.  The last time he had been able to tell himself that he actually knew what he was doing.  He's never told Kira that, has never told anyone.  But now he buys records in secret because he keeps hoping that feeling might come back, if only for a moment."

My favorite theme in the book was from Maya's mom:

"You never have the sort of friends you have when you're fifteen every again.  Even if you keep them for the rest of your life, it's never the same as it was then." 
So true, in various ways.  This is a great book, that I am sure will land in my top five for 2018.