| Soon after claiming Rochester, NY as my place-of-birth, my family moved to the Midwest, which became the ingrained fabric of my life. As the first girl in a family bursting at the seams with competitive males, and a younger sister who was less appreciated by me then, but greatly appreciated now, and a less than shrinking violet for a mother, my life has circled the edges of one big competitive wheel ever since. Being "second" was okay as long as you did your best.
I love sports -- all "pure" sports -- and human achievement, and adventure (although I lack bravery), and the outdoors, and animals, and popcorn...I really love popcorn! I earned a B.A. in History from Michigan State more years ago than I care to admit, and at the same time, met my life-long mate. I have two grown children who are independent and seem to be happy and a husband who is content. I'm in a community that has facinating history, is beautiful and is full of interesting people. At the bookstore I get to see it all. How lucky can one get?
Pulitzer Prize winner and PEN/Faulkner Award winner for Independence Day, Richard Ford has become one of my favorite authors. Somehow good writers tell a story with so much human reality that, before the reader even knows it, he/she is drawn in to the stories of ordinary people having extraordinary life encounters. Canada is such a story. Dell Parsons, now in his sixties and a school teacher, is looking back on the life that brought him to the place he now is. His father, Bev Parsons, thirty-seven and retired from the Air Force, moves the family to Great Falls, Montana in the late fifties. Bev is a dreamer with no clue on how to make his way through life, let alone support a wife and two children. One job after another fails until, finally, he trumps up a scheme to sell stolen beef . Unable to pay off the Indians who supply the beef, he becomes desperate and decides to rob a bank. If you were in Bev's shoes, you probably would be able to feel the success of this scheme, to understand the reasoning. But, because you are the reader, you see and feel what's in store for Bev, his wife, Neeva (who goes along with his scheme) and his two children. What happens next to young Dell, as he avoids becoming a ward of the state, is a story of survival in a back roads town of Saskatchewan among disreputable characters who are also trying to escape from lives created by poor choices. It seems so unlikely that this teenage boy could survive among such rough characters and in such sparse living conditions. But survive he does, seeing his own life unfold through un-jaded eyes, feeling the fright, feeling the cold, living the pain and barely hanging on.
Richard Ford delivers such concise, morally-packed, beautifully crafted prose, that getting lost in his books is as easy as falling off a log in mid- stream.
Darwinism vs. Intelligent Design. Here's one for the books (no pun intended). Seems like heavy reading, right? But, author Lauren Grodstein sets up an interesting story-line that leads us down a thoughtful path. Andy Waite is a biology professor at a small college. He has two daughters whom he is raising alone. Twelve years earlier, his wife, Lou, left the house to pick up dinner and was killed by a drunk driver. The driver, Oliver McGee, was a teenage neighbor who had several DUI's on his record. Oliver is serving a twenty year sentence, and Andy is determined to keep him there without parole. In-the-mean-time, Andy sets up an experiment in his college lab to prove that habitual drunk drivers have DNA associated with alcoholism. But also on his agenda is a class he likes to teach called "There Is No God: Special Topics in Evolutionary Biology: Ethics and Debate." Unknowingly to Andy, Lionel Shell, a student opposed to Andy's class material and a proponent for Intelligent Design, entices fellow student and evangelical, Melissa Potter to approach Andy and ask him to be her sponsor for an independent study. Melissa brings another dimension to his life as she wheedles her way into his family day-to-day activities. Andy is that every man who craves to find what is most meaningful in his life. His moral compass can't seem to find North any more, and he struggles with his own beliefs about love and faith and science. I tried to figure out which way the author's bread was buttered, but to her credit, it's not clear which issue suits her best; a good book to ponder.
A New York Times Bestseller, The Orphan Master's Son is one of the most difficult stories I have ever read. By difficult, I mean the story line - full of violence and torture. If I had not read the non-fiction book, Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick first, I would never have thought a story like this might be near the truth. Having said that, it will be a book I won't forget! The story takes place in current day North Korea, and follows the life of Pak Jun Do who was brought up in an orphanage. His father was the Orphan Master. Through fate and recognition as a gifted young man by the superiors in the government, he is assigned various duties including kidnapping Japanese citizens for "The Dear Leader"-Kim Jung Il, intercepting and translating American radio transmissions, being given a mission to Texas as a translator, and being recognized as an imposter of a well-known general. A tale of many twists and turns with countless deceptions, it may, nevertheless be possible in a totalitarian regime who has starved millions of its own people. By focusing on one life, it becomes even more real. If you can stomach the violence ( I skimmed many of those parts), you will find a potent, skillfully written novel based on historical fact.
Written almost thirty years ago by Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic William McPherson, Testing the Current is a gem of a book that has been out of print for twenty-five years. Now reissued by New York Review Book, it is well worth savoring slowly and carefully. The only action you'll find is through the observations of young Tommy MacAllister. And wonderful observations they are! Somehow, like all good writers, McPherson gets into the head of Tommy, and through his perceptions we, the readers - presumably, older and more aware of life experiences than he - watch the progress of life as it unfolds around him. His older siblings, his parents, his neighbors, and his friends all get the introspective judgments we all make about those around us. Bringing back our own childhoods, we understand, sympathize and laugh as he faces what we knew to be true as we grew up. He does not enjoy greeting his great aunts, "...who looked formidable, like craggy fortresses within great unyielding fronts, as if they were all stony bosom from their shoulders to their thighs." and having to "...dutifully kiss their papery cheeks, avoiding if possible Cousin Maud's mole that sprouted long hairs." Dense in introspection, with long paragraphs that seep into your psyche, Testing the Current is clothed in the innocence of childhood. It is a truthfully told family story through the eyes of an eight-year-old who is unaware of the traumatic national recession during the 1930s, nor the rumblings of the coming war in Europe. Like any literary novel, it tests the reader's patience to delve deep, but well worth the effort!
This is the way history should be taught! If this was fiction, it would be amazing! I learned things in this book that I had never heard of before. What an amazing journey told in straight-forward style that is hard to put down. The characters remain unforgettable! If you love history - A MUST READ!
Rising Tide is an amazing chronicle of the great Mississippi flood of 1927. The characters that arose from the debacle are people you may never have heard about but will definitely not forget. The catastrophe catapulted Herbert Hoover to the Presidency in 1930. Hoover was appointed to head the rehabilitation program for the Mississippi Delta area and gained national attention for his efforts. It's politics as usual with all the in-fighting, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the migration of blacks North and the recovery. . .such as it was. Incredibly, over one million people were displaced by the flood. . .and not for just a few days. The role of the government in the catastrophe forever changed the relationship between federal and state responsibilities. Personalities like the Percy family, engineers--Humphreys and Eads and other main players in that era, including the rise of Huey Long make the history of the time come alive. So much more than a story about a flood, Rising Tide is a "tour d' force" of the history of the United States in the first half of the 20th century.
What a great historical book about the times, and about a feat that was thought to be "superhuman." The three runners couldn't have been more different if the author had made them fictional characters! Having grown up in the 50s -- I loved this book! FANTASTIC! A 10!
Sometimes a book takes on a life of its own, propelling the reader along like a swift stream, unable to stop or get out of the current. The Last Season by Eric Blehm is just such a book. It is about the life (and death) of Randy Morgenson, a much-loved back country ranger for the National Park Service in the High Sierras of Southern California. Even if this story was only about Morgenson's legendary knowledge of this territory, or of his fascinating childhood, or his friendships with Ansel Adams and Wallace Stegner, this would still be a compelling read. But, add to that the fact that in 1996, at the age of 54, after 30 seasons in the High Sierras, Morgenson, while on duty mysteriously disappears. Not until five years later, after search and rescue by hundreds of people, is his body found. The final pages poignantly memorialize his life and leave the reader wondering why and how his death may have occurred.
One of the most definitive books about modern-day China, Wild Swans is an astonishing picture of a country in turmoil. Told in an honest, straight forward style, it will leave you incredulous over the day-to-day lives of the Chinese throughout the 20th century. The history woven into the story is fascinating as well. This book is still banned in China. If you are at all curious about China, don't miss this book!
Think this might be boring? Too much history? Too much geology? Dry? NOT A CHANCE!! This is an entertainingly written story of a journey taken; of discoveries along the way; of adventure. But, especially it's about the wonderful uniqueness of the Great Lakes from a world's perspective. This is TERRIFIC!!!
Wow! Do you like suspense and intrigue?! Don't miss this "can't put down" thriller. John Barron becomes a detective in an elite unit in Los Angeles. But he is unable to condone a practice that has been going on for many years. He becomes involved with a "chase" that puts his own life on the chase route. And just when you think his dilemma is solved. . .
Even through this book was written 12 years ago, it has been newly updated and is one of the most concise, unbiased descriptions about the crisis in the Middle East. Tom Freidman is a journalist for the New York Times and was assigned to the Middle East for several years. He has met all of “the players”, including Sharon, Arafat and Sadam Hussein. His telling of the situations that reside there should be required reading by all the leaders of the world and every citizen who cares. His writing is highly informative, straight forward and never boring. Our book club found this to be one of the best books we have ever read!
Although this autobiography has some tough moments, it is well worth "the read!" After all, life isn't always easy. You will be amazed at this family and the hardships they endured. Each parent has a toughness that shines through, even though their weaknesses are so very evident. Your heart will ache at times, but more than anything else, you'll know that you may not have survived!! Unforgettable!
Graham Greene is one of my favorite authors. There isn't a book of his that I have read that I haven't come away in wonderment at his gifts as a writer. Greene digs into the darkest parts of human souls and somehow puts it all down on paper. The Quiet American is set in Vietnam in the early 50s. The French are still struggling to maintain their political position against the Communists, and the United States has their "toe in the door". Fowler, a British journalist is the main character along with the American - Pyle, whose reasons for being in Vietnam remain vague. The story is multi-leveled; a love story, a political expose, a moral dilemma, a thriller -- take your pick. But if you really read between the lines, you'll feel the turmoil and almost understand what happened in Vietnam. If you have seen the movie only, you will be missing the real essence of this story as well as the fabulous quality of one of the Twentieth Century's best writers.
At the close of WWII, Aldred Leith is asked to report on the changing world of the Far East -- in particular, China and Japan. His travels bring him to Kure, Japan where he meetes the Driscoll family -- a family that will forever change his life. Written in a quiet, flowing style, Hazzard's descriptions of people and places are a thing of beauty. Not an easy read, but beautifully presented!
Sometimes a reader comes to a book with apprehension and a "prove-to-me-I'll-like-it" attitude. That's how I approached The Only Kayak. But after one chapter, I began to realize what a very good writer Kim Heacox really is. His ability to convey the sense of over powering beauty in the remote regions of Glacier Bay, Alaska made this reader want to turn back the clock and explore our land the way it used to be - wide, untouched and full of pristinen beauty. Heacox has much to say and imply about what is happening to our environment, mainly from just loving it too much. As a conservationist and an employee of the National Park Service, his observations and knowledge of those who came before him (in particular, John Muir) make for a fascinating picture of this area of Alaska. His adventures, the people he meets along the way, including his future wife, make this great writing that is sometimes funny, often melancholy and always captivating. If you like Edward Abbey, John McPhee or Thoreau, this book is for you.
The first novel to come out of Afghanistan in modern times, The Kite Runner is simply written and beautifully told. The issue of friendships between classes and different ethnic groups as the government structure of the country collapses becomes a main plot of the story. Thoughtfully written, you won't soon forget this story and you will ask yourself - "what would I have done?"
The setting is a small museum outside of London, one room of which displays artifacts about some of the more sensational murders that took place between the two world wars in the late twenties and thirties. The museum is owned by the three siblings of the founder and they are about to re-sign a lease for the continuance of the museum. T complicate matters, one of the siblings, Neville Dupayne, has no interest in continuing the business. One of the contingencies of the lease is that all three siblings must sign. Of course, Neville mysteriously becomes the first victim. What happens next is pure James. Slowly she leads the reader down the path of the murderer with clues, however remote, that are there for the reader to catch. Reviews are mixed on this P.D. James mystery but if you're a true James fan, as I am, you will still find satisfaction. There is no one in the mystery field who writes a more literary "who-dunnit", or one who can set a scene so visual that the reader steps through the pages of the book right into the story. As usual, her characters are fascinating. And at age eighty-six, P.D. James is still very "hip" to the times! Even when she is not at her best, she's good.
Okay, all you fitness and running nuts out there -- this is the book for you! This book will blow your mind. Why? -- you keep asking. Entertainingly written, Dean Karnazes talks candidly about his interior determination and excessive drive to run long distances -- without stopping (makes me feel weak)!
hough the subject matter of this book is about the fanatics of the Mormon religion, it could be about religious fanaticism anywhere. It just seems disturbing to this reader that some people seem to get themselves caught up in extremes through need, weakness, total innocence or unquestioning belief. As is the cornerstone of all of Jon Krakauer's books, his research is thorough, fascinating and scary! Throughout isolated communities of Mormonism, polygamy is still practiced. Male zealots, answering only to what God tells them to do. . .including murder. . .hold sway over willing participants with Taliban-like power. This is not the book that Krakauer intended to write, but the more he researched the subject, the more he learned about the fanatical Mormons; and not just the Mormons of today, but the past history of the Mormons as well. Reading like a novel, this book is hard to put down and simply unbelievable to comprehend the "hows and whys" of this life style! As Americans, it is important for us to not look the other way and ignore what is going on around us!
Marilynne Robinson is an incredible writer! I won’t pull any punches, this is a dark, dark story but the writing is spectacular. Just don’t read it in the thick of winter when you’re feeling a little “down." Two young girls, Ruth and Lucille, are being raised first by their grandmother, then by two incompetent aunts and finally by a very eccentric aunt. Even the name of their town, “Fingerbone” leaves the reader feeling a bit edgy; in fact, the town could be considered as much a character of this book as the humans; interaction between both heavily impacts the plot. I’m certain someday, this book will be considered a classic. It’s a great book club discussion!
At once poignant, funny and exasperating, Sullivan weaves a sympathetic tale told from the child’s point of view about a family struggling during The Great Depression. Lark Erhardt observes life in her family- the relationship of her mother and father. Lark’s mother has always dreamed of owning a Cape Ann style home and is determined to have it. Lark’s Father is a gambler and therein lies the conflict. I loved the characters in this book. They are well told and you find yourself loving some and hating others!
An oldie but a goodie! You will smile all the way through this story- not because murder is a funny subject, but because the author's wit is so wonderful! This was one of the very first classic court room trial books, and it is a fascinating case taken directly from a trial in which the author won. The issues are complicated and cleverly addressed. I loved this book even though parts may seem dated.
If you like: 1) A challenge! 2) Great writing! 3) To be stretched! This is the book for you! Definitely not a casual read, this book loosely mirrors the political life of Huey Long of Louisiana. This story is steeped in moral issues - loyalty, right, power, love - an incredible piece of literature. It asks the question -does power corrupt? A great classic!!
Laurel McKelva, a widow, takes a leave of absence from her very successful job in Chicago to return to New Orleans to help care for her ailing father. Trying to be of comfort to him. Laurel must also endure her very young and selfish step mother, Fay. After her father's death, she and her step mother travel back to the family home in Mount Salus, Mississippi to make arrangements for his funeral. Laurel's jounrey is more than one of miles and sadness, but also of the heart and of coming to terms with her own past. Beautifully and memorably told, Eudora Welty's simple, visual sentences convey deep and complex relationships as only marvelous writers can do. The author has a finger on the pulse of this small southern town, understanding friendships, relatives and the inner workings of our minds. This short novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1973. A "must read" for those who love the subtle descriptive portrayals of human relationships.
It's hard to find a more prolific award-winning American writer than Stewart O'Nan. Author of Last Night at the Lobster, Faithful, Snow Angels and many more, his latest, The Odds, is a tiny book with the impact of a sledge hammer! Celebrating their 30th anniversary at Niagra Falls, (the site of their first) Marian and Art Fowler are nearly in financial ruins, both having lost their jobs, soon to lose their house and almost inevitably, to lose their marriage. What follows in the span of two short days is a character study of two people ready to risk it all to their very last dime at the casino. It's hard to like this down and out couple as they fight for their financial and marital survival. But it's not hard to like O'Nan's concise and probing writing into the human psychie. Hard to like...hard to forget!
Where have I been?! Years ago our McLean & Eakin founder, Julie Norcross, asked me if I had ever read Wendell Berry. Finally! Known as the "Philosopher of Place", Wendell Berry writes quiet books about people and places, gratitude, life and grief...and love. Hannah Coulter weaves a wise and gentle story about farmers in Kentucky. Hannah recalls her life from youth to old age. Her husband Virgil goes off to World War II, never to return, leaving her with a baby he would never see. The gracious family of her deceased husband surround her with compassion and love and never stand in her way when she falls for Nathan who has recently returned from the war Pacific Theater. Hannah and Nathan's life together would be considered ordinary-working their farm, growing their children and sending them out into the world to find their own ways, if it were not for Hannah's introspective revelations and observations. With wit and exquisite writing, Hannah Coulter leaves you feeling so much wiser and comfortable within yourself.
When you consider that the author, Lily Koppel, was walking down a street in New York City one day when she noticed a pile of old wardrobe trunks being tossed into a dumpster, the reader can only visualize the lost treasures behind the locked lids of those trunks. The management of the apartment building on Riverside Drive had decided to clean out the basement which was full of old pre-World War II trunks that had not been claimed. People were already rummaging through the contents finding flapper dresses, silk gloves, sweaters still hanging from knitting needles. In Lily's case, a doorman at the apartment building gave her a red leather diary he had found in the midst of the mess. It was a five year diary and the name inside said, “This book belongs to...Florence Wolfson.” It had been a present from her aunt on Florence's fourteenth birthday, August 1, 1929. She wrote in it faithfully until her nineteenth birthday. The Red Leather Diary transports you back in time and makes one realize that there is no such thing as an “ordinary life.” It's a wonderful time piece of nostalgia, culture, history and even mystery as the author searches for its owner and actually finds her. A fascinating read!
Author, Kristin Kimball was a “big city girl.” She never imagined herself any other way. But for an article she was writing, she traveled six hours out of New York City to interview an organic farmer. Little did she know that the interview would be a turning point in her life...not just a gradual curve, but an abrupt right angle! Mark was good looking, young, energetic, an entrepreneur full of new ideas. Shorthanded on the day of his interview, he soon had her hoeing broccoli and helping to slaughter a pig...in her new white agnes b. blouse. You might think this is just another “how I changed my life” story, but it is much more than that. With good humor and never taking herself seriously, Kimball relates her amazement about small town friendliness, open-hearted goodness and the discovery that...”good food is at the center of good life.”
Although Mrs. Queen Takes the Train won't be published until October, it's one to put on your list if you enjoy rye humor and frequent chuckles. The book is light-hearted, and yet, it makes you pause to consider just what the private life of Queen Elizabeth may be like. Elizabeth has now served sixty years as Great Britain's Queen. Wouldn't you suspect she may just want a little personal adventure of her own...adventure that only she has planned and that no one else knows about? In this warm-hearted novel, Queen Elizabeth is trying to figure out how to use her computer. She has had many lessons, but can't always remember what to do(sound familiar?). She is a bit depressed about this, and to ease her frustration, casually wanders out of her rooms to visit her favorite horse in the royal mews (a horse named Elizabeth. What else!). Along the way, the reader meets her very caring staff, from ladies-in-waiting, personal butlers, to the groom; which truly makes one wonder about personal lives in the service of a Queen. How she manages to get on the train to Scotland all by herself is for you, the reader, to find out. It's a jolly train ride!
A book club pick for the Cottage Book Club, The Weird Sisters turned out to be a real sleeper! It's hard to believe that this is the author's first novel. The writing is superb, and the character studies are amazing! The three sisters in the Andreas family-Rosalind (from As You Like It), Bianca (from The Tempest) and Cordelia (from King Lear) were named by their father who is a Shakespearian scholar and professor of English Literature at the local college. Throughout the girls' childhood, Dr. Andreas quotes lines from Shakespeare for almost every conversation in their lives, whether it be advise, or just everyday observations. Of course, the girls pick up on this and simply cannot help bringing to mind these quotes throughout their own lives. The girls are three years apart, and, as in most families, there are issues of jealousy, family love, hurt feelings, great sorrow, and joy. Brown leads the reader through the troubled lives of the sisters in their effort to figure out what lif has in store for them. The dialogue is right-on among the girls and their parents as the sisters all come home "to roost" when their mother is diagnosed with breast cancer. This is NOT a "downer" book, but one to savor and enjoy...especially if you have a sister! And believe it or not, there are times when you'll laugh-out-loud!
Mary, the youngest of four sisters, is born into a family where life is harsh. Her father, bitter from his lack of sons, works the girls from dawn to dusk. Although born with a lame leg, Mary is feisty and outspoken and full of life. When Mary turns fourteen, her father hires her out to the local vicar to help care for his ailing wife. This turns out to be an interesting, if not devastating turn of events. Mary must contend with the vicar's son, who she knows from his dealings with her sister Violet. Yet, there is a source of joy in Mary's life - there are books in the vicarage. There is little else in life that Mary wants to do, but to learn to read and write. Indeed, Mary does learn to read and write, and it is in her hand and her voice that the story is told. But at what cost? This is a small novel that packs a wallop. You will fall in love with Mary and become increasingly devastated with her tragic story. This is compelling and haunting- don't miss it! (And now on a lighter note, allow me to highlight one my favorite Caldecott candidates.)
As a knitter (and a grandma) this book has been dear to me since its release last January. Beautifully illustrated by Jon Klassen, this tells the story of a little girl who lives in a cold little town that is drab, drab,drab. When Annabelle finds a box of what looks like ordinary colored yarn, she takes it home and knits herself a sweater. With the extra yarn she knits one for her dog as well. But there was still extra yarn.....the story continues like this, with Annabelle knitting and knitting and the colorful yarn brightening up the town and making people happy. Every magical story has a villain, and in this case it is the evil Archduke, who decides he must have the yarn for himself. What will happen? This is a lovely story that illustrates the impact one kind deed can have on a community. Perfect for ages 2-5.