Monday, September 11, 2023

The Invisible Hour

The Invisible Hour by Alice Hoffman. Oh, how I love Alice Hoffman's books! She can write and create magic so effortlessly (or it seems to me). She took the book, The Scarlett Letter, and turned it into a magical book of her own!

One day Mia Jacob’s mother, Ivy, took her young daughter Mia and ran away to join The Community, a local cult out in the country. There Ivy soon married the cult leader and became totally under his control. The Community had many, many rules, including that books were not allowed. The Community ran a farmer’s market in the local town and when Mia was old enough to work at it, her mother took her to the local Library, where the public restrooms were. Ivy was overcome with all the stacks of books, and soon her mother was allowing her to go in there on farmer market days. The librarian began to help Ivy find books that she would enjoy. 

Mia fell in love with the book, The Scarlett Letter. One day she stole it from the library and hid it in a secret panel in the barn where she could have access to it whenever she wanted. Ivy felt that the two-hundred-year-old book captured what she and her mother’s lives had become. She had never read any book that resounded so much with her. And she fell in love with the words and the author.

This is a purely magical book. I don’t know how Ms. Hoffman does it every time!

My Books

 I read five books in August but did not read any non-fiction in August. Two of the books I had seen recommended online and I was glad that I read them! I had never heard of them before.

1) The Lake House by Kate Morton. This is an older book by the author, written in 2015. It's an entertaining mystery!

The story takes place in Cornwall. Detective Sadie Sparrow was "on leave" from her job, following a rather unprofessional friendship that she had formed with a family. She went to her grandfather's cottage to spend some time and reconsider/reflect on her recent activities. One day, she went for a long walk and came upon an abandoned country home. The detective in her began researching to learn more about the estate. She learned that the Edevane family had lived there and that seventy years ago, in 1933, a baby boy had disappeared from the home. The family that had lived there left the home after the baby's disappearance and never returned. The case of the missing baby was never solved.

Soon Sadie was able to contact and connect with author Alice Edevane, who was sixteen years old when her baby brother disappeared.  Alice was an eighty-three-year-old bestselling author of detective books, who didn't seem too interested in helping Sadie....there were too many secrets involved.

This was quite a good, easy-to-read mystery! I liked it!

2) Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon. So, it turned out that I had read this a few years ago! But I read it again, and enjoyed it more this time!

This novel is set in 1853 and tells the story of the May family traveling the Oregon Trail. Daughter Naomi May had been widowed when she was only twenty years old. She and her parents and siblings left with other families from St. Joseph, Missouri to move out West. Before leaving St. Joseph, Naomi met John Lowry. It turned out that John, a half Pawnee was the guide for the wagon train. Naomi and John had an instant connection which they both tried to fight before giving in.

The journey was difficult, and fraught with uncertainty as the families encountered the hardships and deaths that occurred. Just as John and Naomi were preparing to marry while on their journey, an unspeakable tragedy happened and Naomi was separated from all she loved, including John.

This novel is a good story. It kept my interest all the way through.

3) The All of It by Jeannette Haien. This is a novel that I read about online. It was written in 2011, a small book that I read in one day. This was Ms. Haien's first novel. It seemed to be a small simple book, but there really is so much more to it.

The story takes place in a small Irish village. Kevin Dennehy was dying and the parish priest was at his bedside when Kevin declared that he and his wife were living a lie and he needed to confess it. But Kevin then died before he could tell Father Declan.  So Kevin's wife, Enda shared the story of their fifty years together as husband and wife, finally telling "The all of it."

Father Declan is left trying to sort out the morality of it all. I really loved this book, and is one I would recommend to my book group. 

4) The Touch by Colleen McCullough. I had never heard of this book by the author of The Thornbirds until I saw it written about online.  This novel was written in 2004 and takes place in Australia.

Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Drummond was living with her family in Scotland when her forty-year-old cousin, Alexander Kinross, living in Australia, wrote to his uncle, asking for one of his daughters to be his wife. Alexander had left Scotland when he was a young man in some trouble. From his letter, the Drummond family realized that Alexander was quite wealthy and Elizabeth's father promised her to Alexander and sent her off to Sydney.

When Elizabeth finally arrived she found that she did not care for Alexander...she was rather scared of him. However, she was all alone there and so went through with the marriage. It remained a loveless marriage. Eventually, Elizabeth learned of and met Alexander's long-time mistress, Ruby, and, strangely enough, Elizabeth and Ruby became close friends. Ruby had a son, Lee, who Alexander had always been very fond of and he helped Ruby with financing Lee's formal education in London.

There is a lot to the story and it is similar to The Thornbirds in many ways with the different characters and family saga. I was glad that I read it!

5) The Invisible Hour by Alice Hoffman. Will review it in my next post!

Sunday, August 27, 2023

July Reads


July has come and gone, and it's almost the end of August! I enjoyed most of my reading in July. Please notice that two of the books were non-fiction! That's a plus for me! And I'll start with those:

1) After This: When Life is Over Where Do We Go? by Claire Bidwell: Ms. Bidwell is a therapist who counsels clients dealing with grief issues. Of course, like everyone, clients wonder what happens after a loved one dies.  Will we see them again? Can we communicate with them? In her search for answers, Ms. Bidwell personally examined all the different ways that some believe will give them answers. She underwent past-life regressions, talked to psychics, and to spiritual leaders. I found the book somewhat interesting, but was tired of it by the end!

2) Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorius: This was such an interesting book! It was published 10 years ago and is the true story of the author. In 1988, the author was twelve years old, living in South Africa, when he developed a sore throat and from that point, became increasingly unwell, so that after eighteen months he could not speak and had lost control of his body.  He was given two years to live.  He was initially placed in a special-ed setting at school and was later moved to a care setting for his daily routine. He remained living at home with his parents. When Martin was around nineteen, one of his caregivers noticed that he seemed to react to certain things. She believed that Martin was "still in there". 

By the time Martin was twenty-five, he was sent for testing at the University of Pretoria and they confirmed that he was aware and could respond in his own way. At that point, his parents got a computer with software that would allow him to communicate. His life took off after that.

Side note: Martin had been misdiagnosed in the beginning. He has since been diagnosed with Locked-In Syndrome.

3) Take My Hand by Dolen Perez-Valdez: another interesting book, this is a novel based on true events. In 1973 Montgomery, Alabama a young nursing graduate (Civil) began working in the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic. She was optimistically certain that she could make a difference in the Black community where she had grown up. She is stunned to learn that she was to provide birth control to sisters who were eleven and thirteen. The sisters lived in poverty with their grandmother and father out in the country. The younger sister had not even started her period yet. However, the welfare system determined that they should be on birth control. Civil became attached to the family and tried her best to help them better their lives.  But soon a horrible event occurred and Civil's career as a nurse ended.

The novel begins and ends with Civil looking back at the case and doing an "apology tour" as she begins her retirement. A very good and important book!

4) Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese: This was a disappointing book for me. I had been looking forward to reading it for a long time, and after I read half of it, I quit. It was a DNF (did not finish) for me. I just did not find myself interested in the story of Hester and Nataniel Hawthorne. And that is about all I can tell you!

5) However, I saved the best for last. I read The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese: Now it is at the top of my 2023 favorites of the year! This novel takes place in Kerala, South India from 1900 to 1977. It tells the story of one family over three generations. The family does not know why, but at least one person in each generation drowns. It begins with a young girl (twelve years old) being sent far away on a boat following the death of her father to marry a forty-year-old widow.  Her new husband will not go near water because of the family's history of drownings. And that is how the story begins. The young girl became the matriarch of the family over the years.

This is one of the most beautifully written stories I have ever read. Truly just stunning.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

What I read in June


I read the two Pulitzer Prize winning books in June, so that was something! Also, I read three non-fiction books! And a book for my book group and then one more fiction. I'm pretty proud of myself!

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver was by far my favorite book that I read last month. It's loosely considered a modern take on David Copperhead. It would be kind of hard to believe that any readers do not know the premise of the book. Many have reported finding the book too depressing, I didn't. I was taken right away by both the characters and the writing.

Demon (real name Damian) was born into a quite dysfunctional, poverty-ridden single mother, and, luckily, had kind neighbors who watched over him as best they could. However, when his drug-addicted mother was found dead, Demon was placed into the foster care system and endured several years of one kind of abuse after another. Yet, he always (at least for the most part) rose above it. 

It is really a wonderful book and, in my opinion, deserved the Pulitzer Prize.

Trust by Hernan Diaz is the other book that won the Pulitzer Prize. It is written in a very unique fashion. The novel is divided into four "novels" written by different authors. However, by the end of the novel, everything has tied together. The first "novel" is "Bonds" about Benjamin and Helen Rask, a wealthy couple living in New York City in the 1920s.
the other "novels" are "My Life" by Andrew Bevel, "A Memoir, Remembered" by Ida Partenza, and "Futures" by Mildred Bevel.

The whole book is truly fascinating, and one that I will read again!

Foster by Claire Keegan was read for my book group. It's a very quick read-1 to 2 hours. The story took place in Ireland where a young girl was dropped off by her father to live with her mother's relatives, not knowing if she would return home or not. As soon as they arrive at the Kinsella's, the girl began to experience things she had never known. The couple were affectionate with her and slowly, she began to warm up to them. They bought her new clothes and did not expect her to work on the farm. The young girl would sometimes feel torn between her feelings for the two different families. The ending is not clear and offered up a good discussion for the book group as we shared how we felt the ending was.

Beautiful Eucharist and No Regrets were both books from Dynamic Catholic that I found great meaning in.

Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly is the third book of a trilogy. The other two books were Lilac Girls and  Lost Roses. Sunflower Sisters is about three women caught up in the Civil War.  Georgeanna Woolsey was a nurse for the Union (when most nurses were male). she and her sister traveled to Gettysburg and worked with the doctors. There they met Jemma, an enslaved girl who had run from an abusive plantation. Anne-May was the mistress of that plantation who treated her slaves cruelly. All three lives end up intertwining at the end of the novel.
As the author's other books were, this novel is based on the Woolsey family history, and their story is incredibly told. I look forward to more of the author's writing. 

Built to Move: The Ten Essential Habits to Help You Move Freely and Live Fully by Kelly Starrett is the last book that I read.  I had just finished it when I was out the next morning in the parking lot at Schnucks after a nice morning walk when a tendon in my foot ruptured. Needless to say, I haven't been able to be out walking or anything really physical since then. However, I did like the premise of the book and the ten habits that were spelled out. And after my foot recovers, I will get back into it!

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

May Reading


May's reading was good. I would rank three as my favorites for the month and the other three were good.

The Secret Book of Flora Lee by Patti Callahan Henry was my favorite, not just for the month, but also one of my favorites for the year.  It is a lovely story about two sisters and a book of stories that the older sister had written for the younger sister.  The younger sister tragically disappeared, seemingly in a flooded creek. Years later the older sister was working in a bookstore and a book with similar stories showed up. This novel is a very touching and well-written story.

Another favorite book read was Maureen by Rachel Joyce. Oddly enough, I was just perusing the bookstore and saw it.  I had no idea that there was another Harold Fry story out! This one is about Harold's wife Maureen, who still grieves for her son years later. She does not take a walking pilgrimage like Harold did, but she does get into the car and travels to see Queenie Hennesy's garden, hoping to "find" her son's spirit there. She, and the reader, was surprised at what she did find there.  It's a touching story to finish out the trilogy.

I also really like One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid. In her twenties, Emma Blair married her high school sweetheart and they traveled the world together. On their first wedding anniversary, Jesse left on a helicopter that went missing over the Pacific and was never found. Years later, Emma has finally let herself find love again with Sam and became engaged to him. And suddenly, Jesse was found alive. After years of being gone.  And he returned, expecting that he and Emma would return to their marriage and their old life. Thus is the conundrum. Can you love two men at the same time? What should Emma do? It was a good story.

I read two books by Pam Jenoff this past month and liked one, but the other left me wanting. I liked Code Name Sapphire. The story took place in 1942 when Hannah Martel's ship was turned away when she was trying to escape Germany and was headed to the United States. Hannah did not know of anyone who could go to until she recalled that her cousin, Lily, whom Hannah had spent summers with was living in Brussels. She contacted Lily and Lily took her into her home. Soon Hannah found a group working in the underground, called the Sapphire Line, who were taking people in danger to safety. One day Hannah used Lily's identification card and soon Lily, her husband, and her son were arrested and all were placed in Auschwitz. Hannah is torn between loyalties. This was a good book, based on true events. Ms. Jenoff does an excellent job at finding and researching her stories. The second book that I read by her was The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach. I had a hard time engaging with this story. It began in 1941 when Addie was sent to America by her parents to escape what was happening in Europe. She went to her aunt and uncle and at their beach house, she met the four Connally boys. As America got pulled into the war, the Connally boys were pulled in also. The rest of the book is about Addie running from herself, first to Washington DC, then to London, and finally back to America, I just never really got into the story.

And lastly, I read Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult. It was a book club read. I was surprised at how little I liked it because I usually love her books. The story was just okay for me. The dad was someone who would go off to live with wolves for long periods of time. He was obsessed with wolves. He basically considered the wolves his family, rather than his wife and two children. The wife and the son were who I found quite interesting. Both the son and daughter were keeping secrets that were long overdue to be shared.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Reading in April


April brought some good reading with it.  I can't say that any of these five books will make my top 10 list of the year, but they were all worthwhile reads.

1) The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune: I have to admit that I had a hard time getting into this book. But others had highly recommended it, so I stuck with it and was very glad that I had. It is a magical type story about forty-year-old Linus Baker, a Case Worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. Linus was suddenly assigned to investigate the Marsyas Island Orphanage to determine if it should remain open or not. Six children are living there along with a headmaster and a few other staff. The children are considered dangerous and Linus felt quite over his head with this assignment. However, as time went on, he began to see and understand both the children and staff and long-held secrets came to light.  It is quite a charming story!

2) Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio: This was recommended to me by one of my swimming classmates! it was quite good. A "blackberry winter" snowstorm hit Seattle on May 1st in 2010. Reporter Claire Aldridge was assigned to cover the story of this storm and the storm that hit Seattle on the same day in 1933. Trying to find some kind of angle for a story, Clairer discovered that a working woman had left her child one evening on the night of the story in 1933, and the child disappeared. She began digging into the story hoping to find some resolution for the ending and began uncovering clues for the unsolved abduction.  It was a good read! 

3) Three Sisters by Heather Morris: this is the third book in a series by the author. She also wrote The Tattooist of Auschwitz and Cilka's Journey. This book is about three Slovakian sisters who had promised their father that they would always take care of each other. After a time all three of the sisters ended up together in Auschwitz and then were sent on a death march in the freezing winter. The story follows their survival and goes on to follow their lives into old age. The book is based on the true story of the Meller sisters. A fascinating story of love and resilience.

4) The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin: This is a very interesting fictional story of Mary. In this story, Mary never believed that her son Jesus was the Son of God and that there had been no point in His death.  She lived alone in her old age, refusing to work with the collaborators of the Gospels, living with guilt and regret from her actions the day that Jesus died. I didn't find the story offensive at all, but just an interesting, different take on a story that we really don't know much about.

5) My Name Is Eva by Suzanne Goldring: This story was a different take on WWII stories. It was about an old woman in a nursing facility who feigned memory loss and dementia in order to not be held accountable for things she had done during the war. Her husband had been killed and she decided to find the man responsible for his mission and make him pay. She worked in Germany with prisoners returning after the war helping them with relocations, etc.  And bided her time. It wasn't the best-written book I've read, but the story itself was good.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

March Reading-a little late!


I was trying so hard to post this in a timely manner, but then time got away from me once more. I guess that I just have to say that eventually, I will get to my blogging! I had a clear favorite book that I read in March!

1) The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers: This book was in written in about 1940 when the author was twenty-three years old. It was the first book she had written.

It is a very sad, quite disturbing picture of a small town in the South in the 1930s. A deaf and mute man, John Singer is the main character of the book and the story is about the characters who come in and out of his life. All seem to put their trust in him and divulge their secrets and wants to him. 

I read this a long time ago and re-read it for my book group. It is a book that elicited a lot of discussions as each character was dissected. A good book, but not one I want to read again.

2) Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson: One of my daughters loaned this to me to read after her book group had read it. It is a good story that has dual timelines.

When Eleanor Bennett died, she left her two children a Black Cake to share together. Her two children, Benny and Byron, had been estranged from each other for some time. When their mother died she also left a voice recording for them telling a story from her past involving secrets that their mother had never told them about her life. As they began to unravel their mother's life, they learn many things, including a possible long-lost sibling. As the two children learn more, there were more questions and more mysteries to solve.

As a long-time genealogist, this was a very fun and interesting book to read!

3) Bewilderment by Richard Powers: I had a hard time getting interested in this book until it seemed to all come together for me at the end.

This was a story about Theo and Robin, a father and son trying to navigate life together after their wife and mother died. Robin was a rather strange boy who spent his time drawing/painting pictures of endangered animals. His father, Theo was an astrobiologist, who worked hard at raising this sweet boy, who one day was expelled from school after smashing another boy in the face. Doctors want to put Robin on psychoactive drugs to help with his behaviors, but Theo didn't want to. Then Theo learned of an experimental treatment that might help Robin with his control issues. 

It gets a little stranger after that, but Theo and Robin eventually find their places with each other. The saving grace of this book for me was the absolute love that Theo had for his child.

4) The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict: I have to say first of all, that the story is very well written and documented, but I ended up really strongly disliking Albert Einstein. The way he treated his wife and children was just horrible. So I had very mixed reactions to this book.

The book told the story of Mileva Maric. In 1896, she was the only woman studying physics at the university where Albert Einstein was studying. He wooed her away from her lifelong ambitions as a scientist to marry him, then went on to treat her like a little housewife, despite the fact that she was probably as brilliant, if not more so, than he was. He promised they would be equals and then went on without her, going so far as to use some of her research and writings and presenting them as his own. When she became pregnant with their first child they were not yet married. Mileva went to stay with her parents to have the baby and after the baby was born,  Albert convinced her to leave the baby with her parents (who lived in another country) and return to Switzerland without the baby so that his career would not be affected by the fact that he had a child.

And things just seemed worse from there.

Learning about Mileva's life was interesting, but a bit disturbing. This was a book that I read for my book group and we had quite a bit of discussion over it!

5) Lastly, I read Horse by Geraldine Brooks: This is a wonderful book that tells a story in a way that I had never read. This is another book that has dual timelines and is based on real events.

The story began with a young art historian,j Theo, finding a discarded old painting of a horse in his neighbor's pile of trash. And then with Jess, a scientist studying a horse's bones.

But first, the story goes back to 1850 when a young slave named Jarrett was the groom of a new foal. Jarret and the horse became inseparable as he groomed him to become a racehorse. The horse was called Darley in the early years and went on to be a record-setting winner. A young artist followed the horse's victories and painted him several times. After about three years, Darley was sold, and he was then called Lexington. And Jarrett was allowed to go with the horse.

In 1855, Jarrett and Lexington were sent to Kentucky for a couple of reasons. One to keep Jarrett out of danger with the talk of war coming, and the other was Lexington's health. 

Meanwhile, the book goes back and forth between Theo and Jess who had teamed up for the discovery of Lexington.

It is a fascinating book in terms of learning the story of both Lexington and Jarrett, racing and slavery/racism, and love. It will be undoubtedly in my top 5 books for 2023!