Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Review of 2019

Another year has ended.  It's been a good year of reading for me.  I read many, many good books!  I read 60 books, with 5 of those being non-fiction.  As I count down to my top book read in 2019, first I will list the books that I read that I rated as either very good, great, or excellent:

The Clock Dance-AnneTyler
sweet water-Christina Baker Kline
The Girls-Lori Lanson?: great
Where The Crawdads Sing-Delia Owens
Ginny Moon-Benjamin Ludwig
The Glass Room-Simon Mawer
The Cloister-James Carroll
Varina-Charles Frazier
The Golden Hour-t. greenwood
Cemetery Road-Greg Iles
The Thornbirds-Colleen McCullough
Idaho-Emily Ruskovich
Breaking Water-t. greenwood
Bodies of Water-t.greenwood
The Story of Forgetting-Stefan Merrill Block
The Clockmaker’s Daughter-Kate Morton
Before We Were Yours-Lisa Wingate
The Nickel Boys-Colson Whitehead
The Historian-Elizabeth Kostova
This Tender Land-William Kent Krueger
The World That We Knew-Ann Hoffman
Olive, Again-Elizabeth Strout
The Testaments-Margaret Atwood
The Boys in the Boat-Daniel James Brown
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse-Charles Mackesy

So, 25 out of 60 were very highly rated by me.

Here's my top 10:

The Clock Dance-AnneTyler
Where The Crawdads Sing-Delia Owens
The Cloister-James Carroll
Varina-Charles Frazier
Idaho-Emily Ruskovich
The Story of Forgetting-Stefan Merrill Block
The Clockmaker’s Daughter-Kate Morton
The World That We Knew-Ann Hoffman
Olive, Again-Elizabeth Strout
The Testaments-Margaret Atwood

And now, my top 5:

The Cloister-James Carroll
Varina-Charles Frazier
The Story of Forgetting-Stefan Merrill Block
Olive, Again-Elizabeth Strout
The Testaments-Margaret Atwood

My top 3 are easy:

The Story of Forgetting-Stefan Merrill Block
Olive, Again-Elizabeth Strout
The Testaments-Margaret Atwood

Now, the going gets really tough. I loved these 3 books. It's very hard to choose. But, oddly enough, for my top favorite book of the year I am going to choose:

The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block. It is a book that I cannot get out of my mind. It was published in 2009, ten years ago! I have read it twice and still want to read it again. Powerful book!

Story of Forgetting: A Novel

My goal for 2020? I think that I want to be able to read 60 books again! Or more. So off I go to read!

2 more for December

I read The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charles Mackesy shortly before Christmas, and loved it so much that I gave it for gifts! It's a short, easy to read book with incredibly beautiful illustrations.  The narrative reminded me of Winnie the Pooh and his friends, passing on simple, important lessons.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse (B&N Exclusive Edition)

Today I finished Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and The Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep.  It has taken me forever to complete reading this, primarily because I didn't feel any interest in the book.  First of all, Harper Lee was not on trial.  According to this book, Harper Lee intended to write a book titled The Reverend about the true case of murder and fraud committed by a Reverend Maxwell.  She did a great deal of research on the case, but never published anything related to it. It took the author 276 pages to tell that story.  The author did talk to a number of people who interacted with Ms. Lee and that part was interesting to me.  But all in all, I was quite disappointed with this book. 

Sunday, December 29, 2019

December reading

I read two books in December.  That doesn't seem like much for me.  I guess that I was busier than I thought!  Plus both books were ones that had to be read quite purposely/slowly.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin OlympicsThe first book I read in December was The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.  Yes, I know, I was slow to come to this book.  First of all, it is non-fiction and secondly, it is about rowing.  Neither of which I really care about.  However, thanks to one of my book groups, this book was chosen!  I found the story to be a very interesting one.  It is about the Rowing team from the University of Washington who made it to the Olympics in Germany in 1936. It is based on the life of Joe Rantz, one of the nine rowers.  The loyalty, compassion, and trust the team had in each other led them to the Olympics.  I wish that the book had covered more of when they were actually in Germany, rather than (what seemed to me) the focus on the day-to-day rowing events.  It is truly an inspiring story of what these working-class guys in the Depression were able to do with their lives.

The second book I read in December was Inland by T'ea Obreht.  I initially had some difficulty figuring out the story, but it was good enough to persevere and I caught on and read on! The book is really two stories that intertwine together over one day. 

Inland (Barnes & Noble Book Club Edition)

One morning, in the Arizona Territories in 1893, Nora's youngest son Toby (age seven) came running from the creek to tell her that he saw tracks of "the beast".  The family had concerns about Toby's obsession about this beast that he would report seeing.  meanwhile, Nora's husband and two older sons had left the homestead.  Her husband Emmett had left sometime before to find water and as time went by, the two older sons left to try to find their father.

Meanwhile, one of the survivors of the Camel Corps was telling his story of how he had gotten involved with camels and how the Camel Corp had been organized to help clear the West of Indians. This is based on an actual true story! Because the camels could survive so long without water, it was determined that they would be much more useful than horses or mules as the military headed further west.

There are a host of characters who play notably in the stories.  There is a bit of mysticism in the stories.  It is hard to describe all that went on! This is a book that I will return to read again.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Catching Up Again

I finished four books in November and didn't get around to blogging, so I'm doing them all here.  In my defense, November was a very busy month for me!

1) Chances Are by Richard Russo.  I had never read anything by Mr. Russo and I really enjoyed this book.  It was a book club choice and I'm glad it was!  It is about three college friends who meet up on Martha's Vineyard forty-four years after graduating from the same college.  In 1971, the three men were at the same place on Martha's Vineyard with their friend Jacy.  Jacy disappeared that weekend and no one had ever heard from her since then.  Each of the boys had been in love with Jacy while in college.  So on this weekend in 2015, three very different men got together and shared where their lives had taken them, and, again, discussed what could have happened to Jacy.  It's a good mystery with a satisfying ending.

2) The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston.  I picked this up because reading the summary on the back made me think of the Outlander series.  And that this book is the first of a series.  Xanthe was a young woman who decided to move from London with her recently divorced mother to a small town in England.  Her mother was an antique collector and wanted to open a shop in the town (Marlborough) that they moved to.  Xanthe had a gift of touching some antiques and sensing their past stories.  When she becomes enchanted with a silver chatelaine ("a decorative belt hook or clasp worn at the waist with a series of chains suspended from it"...if you want to know more, google it!). Predictably, Xanthe is went back to the 1600's while she was examining the chatelaine.  An, of course, there is a love interest that develops while she is there.  It was a sweet story, but I doubt that I will go on with it.

3) Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse.  This was another book on sale at Barnes and Noble for $5.  I knew that it was a Young Adult book, but was intrigued with the description of the story so I got the book.  The book takes place in Amsterdam in 1943.  Hanneke, a young Jewish girl, finds and buys blackmarket goods that her clients request.  One day, a client asked her help to find a young Jewish girl that she had taken in, but had vanished. Hanneke does her research and begins the search for the girl in the blue coat.  The story was well-written and, obviously, easy to read.  I'm glad that I read it.

4) And last, but not least, I spent my Thanksgiving in Mexico finishing the last of the Outlander series-Written in my Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon.  I started this book last March and just had trouble finishing it.  It is a really good read, and I finally figured out that I didn't want it to end!  But I finished it and it had a great ending!  I understand that volume nine is being written and I already can't wait to read it!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Testaments

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is the sequel to The Handmaid's Tale.  The book is great.  It, too, will probably be in my top three for 2019 (along with Olive, Again). 

The Testaments (Barnes & Noble Book Club Edition)The Testaments takes place fifteen years after The Handmaid's Tale.  The story is told in chapters that vary from being written by Aunt Lydia and testaments written by two women, one from Gilead and one from Canada. Aunt Lydia's chapters tell the story of her life and her accumulation of power in Gilead.  (You will be surprised to hear of her life before Gilead!)

The book is almost like a spy novel in that someone was a mole in Gilead. And the order in Gilead began breaking apart.

It's a rather big book, but I read it in just over two days.  It's that fascinating!  I would certainly recommend that one read the Handmaid's Tale first (it's a great read, too).

Olive, Again

Let me just say this right now....this book will be in my top three for the year 2019!  Do you remember Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout?  Well, Olive is back again, older, wiser and still a bit cranky.

Olive, AgainOlive, Again is told the same way that the first book was written-as short stories featuring Olive's life in her 80's.  She goes through her time getting involved, whether she likes it or not, with other people in the small town of Crosby, Maine.

It's a great book that really touches on love and aging. I don't want to tell anything more about the book, other than it is beautifully written and one that I carried in my thoughts for days.

Read it.

Two okay books

These two books below are ones that I read in October.  One I liked, the other I didn't.

1) A Life Without Water by Marci Bolden.  This was a book group choice and has had mixed responses from the members.  Carol and John had divorced twenty years ago, after Carol fled town.  She moved away and began a new life.

One day John unexpectedly showed up at Carol's office wanting to see their daughter for her thirtieth birthday.  Turned out that John was dying and had both amends and promises that he wanted to work on, and Carol was a central part of what he needed to do.  Against her better judgment, she and John took off on a journey long overdue.

I found some of the story rather unbelievable and thought that the writing was more of a young adult style.  It's not a book I will be keeping.

2) The Child by Fiona Barton.  This book was better than the one above, but not good enough for me to keep.  It is a mystery that kept me interested.

The author brought back her character journalist Kate Waters in the story.  Kate came across a short blurb in a newspaper that was about a construction site where bones of a baby were discovered.  The short piece caught Kate's attention and she began to investigate the story.  It eventually led her to two other women one of whom had had a baby kidnapped from the hospital right after birth.  Kate had to search out people that had lived at a certain housing area in the 1980's to begin to piece the whole story together.  It's quite a good mystery!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The World That We Knew

As a regular reader would know, Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors.  Her new book, The World That We Knew, did not disappoint!  Lots of history mixed with some fantasy.  Beautiful novel.

The World That We Knew (B&N Exclusive Edition)

The story is about life, love and survival in Europe during WWII for the Jews.

In Berlin in 1941 Hanni must send her twelve year old daughter, Lea, to Paris to be taken care of by family because of the violence upon Jews occurring.  She goes to see a rabbi, and meets his daughter, Ettie, who secretly agrees to create a golem to protect Lea for the price of tickets for herself and her sister to also escape to Paris.  The golem's only mission is to keep Lea safe. The golem is made in the image of a woman and they call her Ava.

Lea and Ava left for Paris and found the family's relatives and were reluctantly taken in to live with them.  The family's maid, Marianne, had recently left so Ava took on that job.  Marianne had become close to the family's oldest son, Victor.  She had decided to return to her father's farm and left Victor a note:

"Always remember me, as I remember you."
Soon after, Victor left to fight for the Resistance.  Meanwhile, Lea had grown close to the other son, Julien.

Ettie also was hoping to join the Resistance and was finally able to find a contact.  She and Victor began working together.  Meanwhile, it became unsafe in Paris, so Ava moved Lea to a convent in the country.  Lea and Julien had grown close to each other. Her last words to Julien were "Stay alive".

It is amazing to me how Hoffman weaves so much detail, history and mysticism into this book.  I loved seeing how each of the characters evolved.

And more...

Yep, still trying to catch up here on blogging!  I have really been reading a lot lately!

1) The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott.  I really liked this book. 

The Ninth Hour

It began when Annie, pregnant with her first child, came home to her Brooklyn tenement apartment to find her husband dead by suicide. He had opened their gas tap, so a fire ensued.  Unexpectedly, Sister Savior from the Little Nursing Sister of the Sick Poor order showed up and began caring for Annie.  Soon, two other nuns came also.  The three of them spent the night with Annie in one of her friend's apartment.  The nuns got Annie's place cleaned up and linens washed so that she could return to her own place.  Annie began doing laundry at the convent, had her baby and raised the baby (Sally) with help from the sisters as Annie worked.

The book is eventually about Annie, Sally and Sally's children.  A great read.

2) Charming Billy by Alice McDermott.  I loved this book!  It is about an Irish-American charming alcoholic man.  I knew this man-it was my grandfather!  I thought of him throughout the book!

Charming Billy

The book began with the funeral of Billy Lynch.  Of course, all of his family were there, most importantly, his wife Mauve, and his cousin Dennis.

When he was young, Billy fell in love with a visiting Irish girl.  She returned to Ireland and he continued with his romantic ideas of a life with her, until his cousin Dennis told her that she had died. The story of Billy's life continued, although at times it was confusing for the reader.

This is a fascinating story, involving multiple characters-so much so, that I needed to write down a sort of family tree to keep it all straight.  It's also a very complex story, about love, loyalty, betrayal, and forgiveness.  And in the end, maybe it is a story about Dennis, told through Billy??  Alice McDermott at her best!

Still trying to catch up


I read Warlight by Michael Ondaatje for both of my book groups and really liked it.  The term warlight refers to the time during WWII in London when light were to be dimmed or blacked out.

Part One takes place in 1945. Fourteen year old Nathaniel and his sister Rachel were told that their parents were going to Singapore for a year for work. Nathaniel and Rachel had been enrolled in boarding schools for the coming school year and on holidays would be taken care of in their home by one of their parent's "colleagues".  They (the children) referred to him as "The Moth".  At the end of the summer, their father had already gone ahead to Singapore and their mother was getting ready to leave.  She packed a large steamer trunk and then left sooner than scheduled.  The children left for their schools.  They were each unhappy at their schools and after six weeks, the children slipped away from the schools and returned to their home.

Once home, they discovered their mother's steamer trunk hidden away in the basement.  She hadn't taken it with her. They were shattered to find that their mother had lied to them and left them with the stranger.  However, The Moth ended up being their safety.  He had some questionable friends, but even they were kind to the children.  At the end of Part One, the children were involved in some kind of an attack and their mother showed up.

In Part Two Nataniel revealed the events of the years after the attack after his mother had reappeared.  In those years, Nataniel sought to learn who his mother really was and where she had disappeared to all those years ago.

This book is fascinating! And the writing is superb.

"If a wound is great you cannot turn it into something that is spoken, it can barely be written."
White Houses by Amy Bloom is a historical novel based on Eleanor Roosevelt and her friend, Lorena Hickok,  know as "Hick". I am not sure why, but I did not enjoy this story as a historical novel.  Perhaps because the time of it was not terribly before my time.

White Houses

Hick was a reporter when she first met Eleanor in 1932 while covering FDR's campaign for president.  The women became fast friends and took trips together, etc. over the years.  The book is about how their relationship began and changed over the years.

Personally, I would rather have read a non-fiction account of their time together.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Beach Reading 2019

I recently returned from three weeks at the beach and got a bit of reading in.  It's certainly my favorite place to read!

1) This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger.  Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace, which I loved (and highly recommend). This Tender Land is the story of four children who, in 1932, were all in the Lincoln School in Minnesota.  The school was one of the schools where children (mostly Native American) were placed after being taken (often by force) from their homes. Lincoln School was known for its cruelty and  abuse. Odie and Albert O'Banion were placed there after their parents had died-they were only among the few who were not Native American.

This Tender Land (Signed B&N Exclusive Book)

Odie is the narrator of the story, which took place four years after the boys had been at the school. Albert was about to age out of the place, but Odie was only twelve.  That summer Odie, Albert, their mute friend Mose, and a small girl named Emma fled the school in an old canoe and headed for the Mississippi River, hoping to eventually reach St. Louis.

The story is told in two time periods, with flashbacks and present time. On their journey, they met up with some people who sought to take advantage of them, but more importantly, met others who were also on a journey and seeking a home.  It is a book of courage and hope and reminds one a bit of Huck Finn!

2) Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys.  I picked this up at Barnes and Noble where it was featured at the cafe counter for $5.  I didn't realize until I began reading it that it was a Young Adult book.  But by then, I was interested in the story and wanted to keep going.

Salt to the Sea

This is a historical novel based on the sinking of Wilhelm Gustloff. This story  is about three young refugees, each from a different country, along with a young German soldier who was stationed on the ship. The story is set in East Prussia during the winter of 1945 as the three refugees travel through the bitter winter to reach the ship that was set to take people to safety. Each of the three young people have secrets they were carrying with them.

This was a good read and I learned a piece of history that I had never heard of before.  Ms. Sepetys is an excellent writer!

[from Wikipedia: MV Wilhelm Gustloff was a German military transport ship which was sunk on 30 January 1945 by Soviet submarine S-13 in the Baltic Sea while evacuating German civilians, German officials, refugees from Prussia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Estonia and Croatia[3] and military personnel from Gotenhafen (Gdynia) as the Red Army advanced. By one estimate,[4][5] 9,400 people died, which makes it the largest loss of life in a single ship sinking in history.]

3) The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti. Just to throw this out there, this book has been compared to The Twelve Labors of Hercules, which were said to take him (Hercules) around the world to perform impossible talks.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

In this book, Samuel Hawley has taken his daughter Loo back to Olympus, MA, where her deceased mother (Lily) was from and her maternal grandmother still lived.  Loo had been raised on the road as Samuel apparently ran from his own demons, but once she came into her teen years, he wanted a more stable life for her, so they moved to Olympus.  Loo became interested in her father's past and began to try to learn more.

Every other chapter is titled Bullet Number One, Bullet Number Two, etc., up to Bullet Number Twelve.  Over his live, Samuel had been shot twelve times and each time had a specific story about Samuel's life.  It was an interesting way to tell the story of the book.  I liked the book quite a bit. It was named one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR in 2018.

Thursday, October 10, 2019


Good and bad.  Bad-I am so behind in my postings. Good-I have done lots of reading.  So I will begin going back into my head to post all of what I have read.  Here are the first two:

1) The Historian by Elizabeth Kostov.   I loved The Swan Thieves by this author, but for some reason, kept putting off reading The Historian. I think because it was about Dracula, which didn't interest me.  However, for whatever reason, I decided to read it, and I ended up really liking it!

The Historian

It's the story of a young girl who found an unusual book in her father's library.  The book was all blank pages except for the middle, where there was a woodcut of a dragon.  As she learns more about the book and her father's adventures, her father disappeared and she was left with both trying to find her father and trying to figure out all of the mysteries involved with the book.  It is very much a historical thriller.

And the book is not really about Dracula, per se.  It is more about the daughter's quest, and learning the history what her father (and others) had been studying and searching for over the years.

Fascinating book.

2) The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt by Andrea Bobotis. This was a good read.

The story started with a 1929 obituary for 14 year old Quincy Kratt.  Quincy was the son of the owner of the Kratt Mercantile Company in Bound, South Carolina.  It was believed that a worker at the store, Charlie, had shot and killed Quincy. The Kratt family was considered an important family in town, and  consisted of the parents, their two daughters, Judith and Rosemarie, and their son Quincy.  Sixty years later, Judith was still living in the Kratt family home, with a housekeeper, Olva, when she received a postcard for her sister Rosemarie stating that she was coming to the home. Rosemarie had left home at age 13, right after Quincy was killed.

The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt

With Rosemarie returning home, Judith decided that it was time to inventory the old house and all of the belongings in the house. Her inventory taking led to the story playing out in the book.

This is rather like an old Southern story, full of secrets and love.  I quite liked it!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer slipped through my radar when it came out.  I had meant to read it, but then forgot.  My daughter read it recently and recommended it to me, so I jumped at it.

The story is told in three parts: October to November, November to December, and December to End.  Each chapter is about one of three years: 1918, 1945, or 1985.

The story begins in 1985 with:

"The impossible happens once to each of us."

Greta Wells was living in Patchin Place in New York City.  Greta was out walking with her twin brother, Felix when they walked passed a hair salon.

In the window, a sign: CLOSED FOR BUSINESS.  My brother stood for a minute while Lady (a dog) considered the tree.  Felix simply said 'Gone home.'
That was the phrase: journal of a plague year."
Later that year, Greta's twin brother, Felix, died of AIDS. She had been living with a doctor, Nathan, for the past ten years.  And then he left her.for someone else. Greta was inconsolable following these two losses and finally went to a psychiatrist, Dr. Cerletti. Her aunt Ruth was with her constantly trying to help her.

Finally the doctor decided that Greta needed electroshock therapy.  He recommended twenty-five sessions, with two sessions per week. And after the first session, Greta found herself living in the same day as present only in a different room, still in Patchin Place, but in 1918.  All the same people were there in her life., but Nathan was away at war, Felix was marrying a Senator's daughter, and Ruth remained the same.  Dr. Cerletti came for Greta's next session.  And she woke in 1945. The next session she woke in 1985.  And so on.

The book made me think of reincarnation.   Greta was living an actual life in each of these years as herself.  In the end, she had to choose which year she wanted to remain in.

I loved the writing in this book.  It was sometimes hard to keep straight what year was happening, but that may just be me. The author's writing was beautiful.

"Is it better to hear of death or witness it? For I had suffered both and could not tell you.  To have a person vanish in your arms is too real for life, a blow to the bones, but to hear of it is to be utterly blind; reaching, stumbling about, hoping to touch the truth. Impossible, unbearable, what life has planned for each of us."

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Reckoning

The Reckoning

I found The Reckoning by John Grisham at the used book store.  I hadn't read any Grisham for a very long time, so decided to try it.  I was disappointed. Although the main story of the book was good, I thought the whole middle of the book was mostly word-fill.  That may be unjust, but I just didn't find telling so much of it was necessary.

One morning in 1946, Pete Banning woke and convinced himself that it was the day of reckoning, the day when he needed to go kill a local pastor.  Pete was a WWII vet who had fought in the Philippines and had been declared missing, then dead.  But he had survived and came back home to Mississippi and his family and cotton farm.  Shortly before the killing, he had committed his wife to a mental health facility.  After the killing, Pete would only say "I have nothing to say.".  He refused to help with his defense. He wouldn't allow his two children to come and see him.  He was sent to prison.

About 100 pages in the middle of the book are spent on recounting Pete's time in the Philippines.  I didn't find all that filling was needed for the story, and it bogged me down reading it. 

By the end of the book, Pete's son was in law school when he decided to learn as much as he could about why his father had killed the pastor.  And finally, after much searching, answers were found.  It's a rather unsettling ending, both for the characters in the book and for the reader.

So, all in all, I liked the book, but it's not a keeper for me.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys (Barnes & Noble Book Club Edition)

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is a short, but powerful book.  I really liked Whitehead's novel, The Underground Railroad, and The Nickel Boys did not disappoint me. 

The story is based on a real place that ran as a reform school for boys for 111 years in Florida.  Elwood was a young boy who had been inspired by the words of Martin Luther King Junior and was optimistic for his future as a young black man. He was a high school senior, taking a college class after school, when he hitched a ride with someone that he didn't know who stopped and picked him up.  Unfortunately, the car had been stolen and they were picked up by the police.  Elwood was sent to the Nickel Academy.  It was a segregated school and black boys were not treated well, to put it mildly. It was the deep South and Jim Crow was alive and thriving down there. Elwood was determined to get out of Nickel Academy as soon as possible by keeping his head down and doing his work better than others.

Elwood endured all that was involved with being at Nickel Academy...beatings, going without food, solitary, etc.. ,and felt lucky that he survived and didn't end up dead like many others who just disappeared in the night. Along his way, he made friends with some of the other boys there, especially one, Turner. It ended up that Turner kept Elwood's spirit alive.

This is a horrifying and disturbing book that is written beautifully. Colson Whitehead is truly a writer to be known for years to come.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate was a book club reading choice.  And it was a really good pick!

Avery Stafford was the descendent of two prominent Southern families.  She was called home when her fifty-seven year old father became weaker and sicker with his cancer.  Her father was a Senator and he expected Avery to take his place and serve, as all his family had.  Avery had graduated from law school and she wanted to be practising law. When Avery went with her family to a local nursing home for a celebration/political meet and greet, she was approached by an elderly woman asking if she was "Fern".  A nurse came to get the woman and called her "May".

May had mistaken Avery for May's sister. May was taken back to her room, where she began reminiscing about her childhood. She had lived on the river, with her parents, and siblings.  Her mother went into labor and had to be taken to the hospital. And May's life changed forever more.

Each chapter of this book is narrated by one of the two main characters of the book: Avery and May/Rill.  It is based on the true story of the Tennessee Children's Home Society.  It's a riveting story, I thought, and made for great book group discussion.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Last Ballad and Faithful

Two more books I have read so far this summer:

Title: The Last Ballad: A Novel, Author: Wiley Cash
1) The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash-I had read another of Wiley Cash's books and liked it, so I was interested in reading this one when I saw it.  It was a good read, telling the story of women and men working in a mill in North Carolina in 1929.  Ella May Wiggins had four children and her husband had run off from her.  She worked twelve hours a day in the mill and made $9.00 a week.  Union organizers came to town, and Ella went to their rally just out of curiosity.  She  decided to join the movement.

The novel is based on a true story about Ella May Wiggins. It's very interesting and tragic.  Real life long ago? Sometimes I wonder.  Good book!

Faithful: A Novel2) Faithful by Alice Hoffman-yes, one of my favorite authors (I seem to have many).  Faithful is a story about Shelby Richmond who as a teenager was involved in a horrific accident and was left to live with the consequences.  She received an anonymous postcard reading just "Say something", with a drawing of Shelby's house on the front of it.  Over the next few years, she would receive more of the postcards. As soon as she could, Shelby moved to New York to start her life over.  She began working at a pet shop, met Marvelle, a single mother with three children, and eventually with help from others, Shelby finds herself.  It's a beautiful book of surviving and forgiving.  Another winner for Alice Hoffman!

Book Group Reads: My Ex-Life and The Clockmaker's Daughter

As usual, I am a bit behind in my blogging.  It's hard work being retired...so much to do! These two books were from each of my book groups:

My Ex-LifeMy Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley was a quick, fun read. It's a story about David and Julie, who were married to each other a lifetime ago.  David was living in San Francisco, in a bit of a bad place...his lover had left him, and he was going to have to leave his beautiful home.  Julie was going through a divorce with her second husband, Henry.  She and Henry owned a old Victorian home near Boston that Henry wanted to sell. Julie wanted to use it and continue to run an Airbnb there, but she didn't have the money to buy Henry out. Beside that issue, Julie and Henry's daughter, Mandy, was supposed to be thinking about what colleges to apply to and she seemed interested in anything but that.

After more than thirty years, Julie called David to ask for his help.  David flew out to Boston and immediately jumped in to help solve Julie's problems. As they worked together, they slowly began to work through past issues and began to move forward in their lives.

It was a very sweet story, fairly predictable, but with a few twists.

The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton is about as far away from My Ex-Life as one could get! I really liked this story and want to read it again.  I found it to be a quite complicated book to read.  It is told by various narrators over many years. Keeping everyone straight was difficult.

The Clockmaker's Daughter (B&N Exclusive Edition)Very simply, a little girl (the clockmaker's daughter), named Birdie who was seven years old, was abandoned in London in around 1850, told that her father had left for America and would send for her when he could.  She was taken in by Mrs. Mack, who took in children for a fee and then taught them lives of crime, including thievery and prostitution.  Birdie was befriended by one of the girls she lived with who taught her how to stay safe.

In 1861, Birdie fell in love with Edward Radcliffe, who was quite wealthy.  They were married and moved to Edward's home, Birchwood Manor.

"We came to Birchwood Manor because Edward said that it was haunted.  It wasn't. Not then."
The book primarily takes place at Birchwood Manor from 1861 to the present time. In 2017, Eloide Winslow was a young woman who was working for Stratton, Cadwell & Co. in the archives.  One day a box was found in an unused cloakroom.  The box was labeled "Contents of attic desk drawer, 1966-unlisted".  When she opened the box, she found a very old satchel which contained a picture, a note and a journal with drawings/sketches. This, of course, led her off onto solving the mystery of who these people had been.

"Eloide was a nostalgic person, but she hated the charge. The word was terribly maligned. People used it as a stand-in for sentimentality, when it wasn't that at all. Sentimentality was mawkish and cloying, where nostalgia was acute and aching.  It described yearning of the most profound kind: an awareness that time's passage could not be stopped and there was no going back to reclaim a moment or a person or to do things differently."

It is really a fascinating story and so well-written.  Just a warning-take a few notes as you go to keep everything straight!

Saturday, June 8, 2019

The Story of Forgetting

Story of Forgetting: A Novel

First of all, I have to announce that I think that I may have broken two records in May: the first I am a little embarrassed about (but not really)-I bought twelve books in May; and secondly, I read eight books in May!

I really loved The Story of Forgetting, a debut novel by Stefan Merrill Block.  I fell in love with the writing.  The first line of the book: 
"I never found a way to fill all the silence."
And from the second page:

"But still.  Even if the words go straight from my mouth  to oblivion, the fundamental truth of my life is so simple, the saying of it makes me feel so foolish I can hardly bear to say it at all:
I was in love with my brother's wife." 
You just have to read each page to understand the beauty of the writing. 

The story began narrated by Abel Haggard, an elderly hunchback man who lived alone on his family's farm outside of Dallas, Texas.  Everyone who he had loved was dead or gone.  The other narrator of this book was Seth, a teenager who lived hundreds of miles away in Austin, Texas.  Seth was slowly losing his mother to Alzheimer's.  While Abel ruminated and reminisced about his life, Seth was determined to find out about his mother's past and locate her long-lost relatives in order to find out if his mother's disease had been in her family.

As Abel wrote:

"Perhaps it was better when it (the disease of his family) went unnamed.  There was a time when it was only the mysterious affliction of the Haggards, the madness that seized my mother and grandfather and great-grandfather, and undoubtedly countless others before them, but of course, in its unsparing erasure, there's no way to know for certain just how many. Just as there is no way to know how or why it makes its claims."

Seth worked hard on researching his mother's illness.  He learned of her variant of the disease that had been identified and then began visiting those people around the Austin area who had been diagnosed with the same variant.

There is a story of Isodora that is told through-out the book, sometimes beginning before a chapter but not always.  The story had been brought over to the United States by Charles and Millicent Haggard, and was passed down through the years to each generation.  Throughout the years, Seth's mother would tell him that:

"There are places where you can cross." 
She was referring to the story of Isodora, just as Abel's mother had with him.

I just found this book to be truly beautiful and so well told.  I can't wait to read more of his work!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Clifton Chronicles

Only Time Will Tell was written by Jeffrey Archer in 2011.  It is the first of seven novels of the Clifton Chronicles.  I must be crazy to have gotten involved in reading the first one, but I did at the recommendation of a friend. (I still haven't finished the last book of the Outlander series!).  My intention was to only read this first of the chronicles and then return to my to-be-read piles.  However, after the surprise ending of the book, I ordered the second one right away...and that is how the whole seven series went!  I ended up reading all of them.  Thankfully, while they appear to be quite large books, they are very easy and quick to read.  I hadn't read anything by Jeffrey Archer for over 30 years.  I think I may have been missing out.  The characters are very well developed and the writing is compelling. 

As I said the Chronicles begins with Only Time Will Tell.  It is the story of Harry Clifton, born to a widow, who worked as a waitress to make ends meet in England.  The book begins with a Prelude told by Harry's mother, Maisie, dated 1919.  The first chapter of the book begins with:
"I was told that my father was killed in the war." 
Harry had been told that his father was killed in the war and so he and his mother lived with his grandparents and his Uncle Stan.  Harry attended a private boarding school after he had earned a choral scholarship.  There he met Giles Barrington and they became best friends.  As Harry got older, he learned how his father had really died and realized that he may be the son of Giles' father.
By the end of the first book it was 1940.  Harry had been studying at Oxford and decided he would join the navy and return to Oxford after the war ended.

The Chronicles go on to tell the stories of various characters, all surrounding Harry, his family and friends.  Each section of the books is narrated by one of the characters.  The story goes on until 1992.

I was surprised at how well the author threaded in all the history of the times into the books.  So, readers, be warned, each book of the Chronicles ends with a cliff-hangar, that leaves you wanting more!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019



I had heard of Idaho on a podcast and had put in on my list of books to look for at the used book store, but it was never there.  I finally ordered it and it was worth it!  This is Emily Ruskovich's first novel and in 2018 it was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Ann was teaching piano at a local school and one day Wade Mitchell showed up requesting lessons.  Wade was the father of two young girls who attended the school.  That summer, Wade and his family went out in his truck on an adventure and suddenly out of the blue, his wife, Jenny, killed their youngest daughter.  The other daughter ran away and was never seen again.  Jenny was convicted and imprisoned for the murder.  Ann and Wade married after a time, and Ann began trying to piece together what had happened that summer day.  Meanwhile, Wade was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease and was often violent.

This story could have been like a psychological thriller, but it turned into 
a kind of psychological examination, as Ann studied the small things that she was able to learn about Jenny and why she would have killed her little girl.  Ann also tried to find Wade's other daughter who had run off.

The novel goes back and forth in time over a 50 year time span.  It is a fascinating study of a family.  I spent a lot of time thinking about this book after I read it.

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

I had wanted to read Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance for quite awhile, but just hadn't picked it up. It was chosen by one of my book groups, so that was my chance!

I was surprised how easily this book read.  It is the story of J.D. Vance and how he lived and survived his upbringing.  It is a story of success for the author's life, but is also a stunning look at what the lives of "hillbillies, rednecks or white trash" are, how they deal with what life has given them and how society works against their chances of getting out of the poverty of their lives.  The book tells the real story of what it is like to be born into poverty and the difficulties that come with that.

Vance was essentially raised by his grandmother, herself being a survivor of poverty. She was a hell-raiser and a strong influencer and proponent of her grandson.  Vance completed high school, joined the Marines, then went to college, graduated and went on to Yale Law School. He wrote "I was one lucky son of a bitch."

The book is full of interesting characters (who are real people), and Vance does a good job talking about what is needed to begin to eliminate the poverty that so many are in.

I found this to be a very readable, informative, and, at times, entertaining book.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Two more by t. greenwood

Ok, I think that these are the last two books by t. greenwood that I will read for awhile!  Both were quite good stories and were tied together by some characters and location.

Breathing Water was written in 1999 and is the story of Effie Greer. Effie had left Lake Gormlaith after no longer being able to remain in a relationship with her boyfriend Max after a terrible tragedy occurred at the lake.  Max was a drug addict and abusive and Effie had thought that she could save him.  When she left, she wandered across the country, never staying too long anywhere so that Max could not find her.  Finally, after three years of running, Effie felt safe to return to Lake Gormlaith.  She went to her grandparent's rundown cottage where and began renovating it.  She slowly allowed others, including her widowed grandmother Gussie, to enter her world and hope and forgiveness began for Effie.

Breathing Water: A NovelBodies of Water

Bodies of Water was written in 2013.  This is a story about Gussie's sister, Billie.  Billie was married at eighteen to Frankie, a verbally abusive alcoholic.  Together they had two daughters.  One day, in the summer of 1960, Billie's world changed when Ted and Eva Wilson and their children moved into the house across the street.  Very quickly, Eva and Billie and their children spent all their time together. Billie and her children always spent time at Lake during the summer, providing Billie with some reprieve from Frankie. After Eva moved in, Billie invited her and her children to come for two weeks. During that time, Billie and Eva acted upon their feelings for each other.

Later, after Billie and Eva's secret relationship was revealed, all hell broke loose.  Ted moved his family away and Billie had little contact with her.

Fifty years later, Eva's son contacted Gussie looking for Billie.  He wanted to meet with her.  Eva reluctantly flew across the country at Gussie's urging and there Billie learned some surprising secrets from the past fifty years.

Both of these books are beautifully written and both use water as a metaphor.

"Memory is the same as water.  It is a still lake bathed in moonlight, a vast ocean, a violent river ready to carry you away.  It can calm you or it can harm you; it is both more powerful and weaker than you'd think.  It is a paradox."

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Golden Hour

The Golden Hour

As promised, I read another book by T. Greenwood, this one being The Golden Hour.  I usually really like her books and this one was no exception.

This novel is about Wyn Davies.  Wyn was a young girl when she went on a shortcut in the woods and was harmed.  Twenty years later, Wyn was living in New York, working as an artist and married with a four year old daughter.  She and her husband were recently separated, when Wyn learned that her assailant may be released from prison based on new evidence. And that she may have to testify and tell what really happened that day.

Wyn's best friend had recently purchased an old cabin in Maine and needed a caretaker for it, so Wyn agreed go up there and stay for awhile.  The cabin had been empty for years and was in pretty bad shape.  While cleaning up in the basement of the cabin, Wyn came across a box full of old film canisters.  The box was labeled "Epitaphs and Prophecies".  Of course, Wyn was both curious and fascinated, so she began having the film processed and as she examined the photos and/or negatives, she began to put together the story of the former owner of the cabin.  In that process, Wyn also began to piece together her own life.

Another good book!  I love finding good books!

Two books: At the Edge of the Orchard & The Hush

At the Edge of the Orchard

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier was a book I picked up while on vacation last month.  I wish, once again, that I had read the author's notes at the end of the book to learn that some of the characters were based on real people.  If I had known that I would have enjoyed the book a little more.  The novel is divided into several sections, going back and forth in time.

The novel began telling the story of James and Sadie Goodenough who settled in Ohio in 1838.  James was determined to grow fifty apple trees so that the family could stake a claim on the property.  He was also determined to attempt to grow hybrid apples. Sadie loved the applejack (alcohol) which brought out a mean side of her.  James and Sadie had ten children so along with the struggles of trying to grow apples in the black swamp land, they had a large family to provide for.  James and Sadie ended up not caring for each other much.

By 1840, the youngest son, Robert, was traveling from Ohio to Canada, then to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Texas, until he finally settled in California in 1850.  He spent a few years gold mining there, then worked dozens of other jobs until one day he heard of the big trees in Calaveras County.  When he got there, he happened to meet William Lobb who made his living selling seeds and saplings to people in England.  He and Robert became friends, and William recognized that Robert knew about working with trees and hired him.

I don't want to give anything away, but there is a lot that happens in this novel.  It's a good read.  I recommend it!

The Hush by John Hart was a book that I was very anxious to read because I usually like his books very much.  I had a harder time liking this book because it has some mysticism in it (which is an element I usually enjoy in a book) and it just didn't seem true to his novels.  However, I still am finding myself thinking about parts of the book, so I think that I liked it better than I first thought.  The novel is based on two characters that Hart has written about before: Johnny Merrimon and Jack Cross, ten years later. 

Johnny and Jack had always been best friends, although their lives went in different directions.  Johnny lived on six thousand sacred acres, in a cabin, but sometimes up in the trees.  He was removed from other people and some were afraid of him.  Jack had gone to college and then law school and was a brand new lawyer starting a new job in a law firm.  Johnny showed up at Jack's office asking for help.  He had inherited his land when he turned eighteen, but it was sacred land and now the Indians who had come from the land wanted it back.  Johnny wanted Jack to act as his attorney.
The Hush (Signed Book)

This sacred land had many secrets, some considered it magical.  It was certainly mysterious. And dangerous.  Unexplainable things happened in the Hush.

It's a good mystery.  Another book I would recommend.
Johnny and Jack had always been best friends even though their lives took different paths.  Johnny was living on six thousand acres (Hush Arbor) of his family's sacred land.  He was fairly removed from others and had a reputation as being rather strange.  Jack had gone on to college and law school and was a brand new lawyer just starting out in a law firm. n

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Broken Girls

The Broken Girls

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James was a book group choice for March.  It was a good mystery. I liked the way it was written, going between 1950 and then to 2014.  It also was not predictable (to me, at least, nor to any of the book group).

The Broken Girls is really two stories connected and intertwined with each other.  Part of the book is about a four girls living in a boarding school called Idlewild Hall in 1950.  It was where the "unwanted girls" were sent. Those girls who caused trouble for their families in various ways were sent there.  Even in 1950, it was said that the school was haunted. The other part of the book is set in 2014, when Fiona Sheridan, a journalist, learned that the school was being restored.  Her sister had been found dead on that property twenty years earlier.  Fiona decided to write a story about Idlewood Hall, not realizing, of course, that she would be opening up all kinds of secrets.

It's a good mystery!  I recommend it!

Some Beach Time Reading

Just spent two and a half weeks at the beach and got lots of reading in sitting by the pool!  Oh, what a life!  Anyway, I loved the books that I read! I recommend all of them!

1) Cemetery Road-by Greg Iles.  Iles is one of my very favorite mystery authors, so I was at the bookstore the day this came out.  It didn't disappoint!

The first paragraph of the book sums it up:

Cemetery Road (Signed Book)"I never meant to kill my brother.  I never set out to hate my father.  I never dreamed I would bury my own son.  Nor could I have imagined that I would betray the childhood friend who saved my live, or win a Pulitzer Prize for telling a lie."
In the story Marshall McEwan, a journalist, returned to his hometown, Bienville, Mississippi, to help with his terminally ill father.  Marshall never wanted to return there for a variety of reasons, including that he felt that his father had always blamed him for his brother's death and that his lover from years before had stayed there and married his best friend. Shortly after his return one of his old friends and mentor was found dead under suspicious circumstances.

The old Southern town held many secrets and as Marshall begins to investigate, the secrets began to emerge.

Another great read by Iles.

2) The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough.  I'm not sure that any review of this book is necessary, but I wanted to add my impressions after reading it again after forty-two years (it came out in 1977).

What struck me the most is that usually most people's impression when they hear the name of the book remember it as a great love story between a priest and a younger woman.  Reading it this time, I was struck with how little that love story was a part of the whole book.  It really is a story of three generations of the Cleary family and their struggles on the ranch in Australia. The love story of Meggie and Fr. Ralph is like a thin silk thread running through the book.

I was also struck by how really good the book is.  It certainly stands the test of time.  Excellent writing.  Each chapter is centered around one of the main characters as the book goes from 1915 to 1969.

The Thorn Birds

3) Inheritance by Dani Shapiro.  This was a fascinating book.  It is a memoir about identity, love, ethics and forgiveness.

Dani was raised as an Orthodox Jew.  She was blonde haired and blue eyed and had been questioned about her Jewishness every once in awhile, but she did not have any reason to question her appearance.  She had grown up very close to her father, practicing the faith religiously with him.

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love

Years later after her parents were dead and Dani was fifty-four years old, Dani's husband decided to do a DNA test and casually asked her if she wanted to order one also.  She said that she would, even though her half-sister had done one several years before. Then pretty much forgot about it.  Until the results arrived.  Dani learned that her father was not her biological father.  She began researching the family history and eventually found that she had been conceived by artificial insemination.  Of course, Dani then felt as if her entire life had been based on a lie...the ancestors in all the pictures were not her family.

Eventually, Dani was able to learn who her biological father, contacted him and began a tenuous relationship with him and his family.

I found the book so fascinating as Dani worked through the mysteries of her family and the clues that had been forgotten in the back of her mind.