Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Bean Trees

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver was published in 1988, her first novel.  I had read it several years ago, then it was chosen to be the June read for one of my book groups.  It was a pleasure to re-read it. I would classify it as one of her more "simple" novels.  It is a short, easy to read story.

The Bean TreesMissy decided early on that she was not going to stay in rural Kentucky, become pregnant at an early age and end up stuck in a loveless marriage.  After she completed high school (an achievement on its own), she got a job working in a hospital and worked there for five years, before purchasing her own car.  With the means to leave, she set out west on a journey by herself to wherever her car would take her. She determined to change her name and ended up calling herself Taylor.

She had an eventful journey. Her car broke down in Oklahoma where she was handed a  young American Indian toddler, and once her car was functioning again she and the baby  (called Turtle) took off west once more, finally landing in Tucson, Arizona.

The story is full of adventures as Taylor and Turtle learn to navigate life as it was given to them.  This is the story of how Taylor and Turtle become a family. 

All of the characters are well-developed and you can't help but cheer Taylor and Turtle on in their adventure of becoming a family and living a life.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Hellfire Club

The Hellfire ClubThe Hellfire Club by Jake Tapper is his first novel.  Jake is a CNN anchor and I thought it was interesting and fun that he wrote a novel, especially about Washington DC in the 1950's! It wasn't the best political thriller I've ever read, but it was good.

Charlie Marder was kind of thrown into the political scene from academia.  Charlie was a history professor who unexpectedly was appointed to Congress when a seat was vacant. It turned out that his father had pulled some strings to make the appointment happen.  Charlie had served in World War II and immediately after his appointment to Congress went after a company who had made defective gas masks, of which one had not worked and led to the death of one of Charlie's soldiers.  His fellow Republicans didn't like Charlie opposing the appropriations to the company. 

One early morning, Charlie woke up in a wrecked car that wasn't his. Then he saw that there was a young woman lying dead. He had no recollection of being in the car, or of anything happening, since he had been drinking at a party/gathering at the Hellfire Club the night before.

I felt like the story was a bit disconnected and predictable at times, but also interesting.  Charlie's pregnant wife was a zoologist who went off to study wild horses in Maryland a couple of times and that was kind of hard to figure out with the story as I was reading it, but it tied together in the end. Although I thought that the tie-in was a bit far-fetched.

Tapper had Roy Cohn, Joe McCarthy, John and Bobby Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and others tied into the story at times.

The Hellfire Club is a good first novel. I'm hoping that Tapper continues to write.

a piece of the world

A Piece of the World

Christina Baker Kline wrote The Orphan Train, which I liked.  Recently, my book group read her newest book called a piece of the world.  This is another book that I read while down in Alabama sitting at the pool.  I couldn't put it down.

a piece of the world is a historical novel based on the story of Christina Olson, the subject of Andrew Wyeth's painting Christina's World.  The author did  extensive research, even meeting some of Christina Olson's family who had known Christina. Reading the author's notes at the end of the book was fascinating.

Christina Olson was born in 1893, the oldest of four children (she had three brothers).  She and her family lived in the old family home in Cushing, Maine.  The home was built about one hundred years earlier by the Hawthorne family, who had left Massachusetts trying to get away from where their name was associated with the Salem witch trials.  The Hawthorne's built a large house up on a hill.  In 1890, there was a snowstorm and a fishing vessel was stuck in the ice.  A young man, named Johan Olauson walked on the ice to his captain's cottage there, and in the spring he walked up the hill to meet the Hawthorn's spinster daughter and ended up marrying her. They settled in the big home and that is where Christina lived her life.

In this novel, Christina Olson tells her story, going back and forth in time.  The novel starts in 1939 when Christina's friend Betsy introduced her to Andy Wyeth.  Andy was a young painter in Cushing, Maine for the summer.  He and Christina became friends and he came to her house almost daily, went upstairs and painted for the day, then left.  Through-out his visits, he and Christina would visit and he learned some of her story.

Early in her childhood (age three) Christina came down with a fever and was quite ill for some time.  After she recovered, she had difficulty with all tasks, especially walking.  She seemed to have some kind of progressive bone disease and there was no cure.  She ended up dragging herself around on the ground as she got older.  Christina had been a good student and when she finished school, she was encouraged by her teacher to become a teacher, but her parents would not allow it, so Christina remained at home with her parents.  She had one failed romance and she was then done with that.

"Maybe my memories of sweeter times are vivid enough and present enough, to overcome the disappointments that followed.  And to sustain me through the rest."

Christina seemed to be a rather miserable person, keeping most people away from her.  She ended up living alone with her brother, and had very few friends.  It was interesting how she connected with Andrew.  But as Andy says:

"You're like me.  You get on with it.  I admire that."

 This book surprised me.  I had first thought that it would be about Andrew Wyeth, but it's Christina's story, just like the painting is "Christina's World".

"I think about all the ways I've been perceived by others over the years: as a burden, a dutiful daughter, a girlfriend, a spiteful wretch, an invalid...
This is my letter to the World that never wrote to Me."
I liked this book very much and would recommend it to anyone