Posts tagged ‘Book club picks’

Filling the void – “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens

I will begin by saying when I read the description of this book I was not particularly won 51c9IKSZT9L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
over.  But for some reason, it still landed in my book pile.  Perhaps my concern was about the natural world focus which is not typically my favorite kind of book. I am not usually a fan of long rambling descriptions of the natural world and how it preys on the lives of the characters.   So when the jacket said the main character found her friends “in the seagulls and lessons in the sand” I may have rolled my eyes.  But what I am admitting is that after finishing this book my prejudice against this type of book is now just embarrassing.  This book was fascinating, heartbreaking and quite simply amazing.

Kya is the youngest in a large family of Swamp trash, living in the marshland in North Carolina.  At a very young age, she watches the tides, the turtles, the frogs, feeds the seagulls with her sister, runs barefoot in the marsh grasses.  Her father is a drunken-abusive veteran  who one by one drives the other family members away – first her mother, then each sibling, leaving just six-year-old Kya and her father.  Eventually even her father leaves.  And so, Kya is alone finding ways to make money to survive – mussel digging and smoking fish to deliver to the local store down on the water.  To the small town several miles down the marshes, she becomes the legendary “Marsh Girl” uneducated, dressed in rags, and solitary.

Over time, two boys appear in her life. One you know from the first page of the book is killed years later and the other becomes her greatest advocate.  The death of the one serves as the suspenseful element of the book but seemed less important to me than the story of Kya’s life itself.   Truly, what makes this book so beautiful is not the suspense of a “who-done-it” thriller but rather the stark loneliness of Kya’s life which leaves her to became a great observer of  the natural world around her.

Delia’s writing of Kya and her life in the marsh, her survival, but also her understanding of the magic of things, that other people take for granted in a land that was cast-off as unsustainable for valuable life, is really what makes this book.  Kya knows feathers and the value of the rare colors of birds that leave the feathers behind. She understand shells and sand patterns.  She can tell what the sky will bring later in the day and what tides are safe to navigate.  Some of these passages remind me of the beautiful passages in “All the Light We Cannot See” where you could feel the sea shells in your hands.  Here you can smell the salt-air and hear the wind.  Delia writes beautiful observations that softly land on the page and take your breath when they do:

“Autumn leaves don’t fall, they fly. They take their time and wander on this their only chance to soar.”

The author’s background in writing about the natural world serves her ability to develop Kya’s character in an unexpected way.   Because of Kya’s existence in this wild life, you can feel how raw she is, how innocent and unassuming, but also how resilient.  She is gritty and real, living on the constant edge of her fight or flight instincts.

Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would. If consequences resulted from her behaving differently then they too were functions of life’s fundamental core.

I really can’t say much more because to get into the plot would truly diminish the magic of the writing and the book.  Again, not because the plot is poorly crafted but because to write it out will sound far more simplistic than it truly is. I will say the last 20 pages of the book my heart was twisted in knots, desperately rooting for Kya and an eventual end to her lonely existence. But, conflicted because I also wanted that end only in the way that would make her connection with others meaningful to her because that is what seemed to matter most.   The kind of character that moves you that deeply is rare and I am so grateful she landed in my to-read pile despite my earlier reluctance.

As I listen to the crickets outside, autumn is in the air with its foggy mornings, brilliant leaves, pumpkins and crisp air. And so I can only hope your days are full of sweaters, cups of tea, and pages of wonderful characters.  And if you run across those characters let me know where I can find them too.

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September 30, 2018 at 9:58 pm 5 comments

Tiny House People – “Caroline: Little House, Revisited” by Sarah Miller

If you are a woman who grew up in the 70s or 80s the chances are pretty high that at Unknown-1.jpegsome point you read “The Little House on the Prairie” books.   So the fact that Miller has written a book revisiting the story from the viewpoint of Laura’s Ma (Caroline) is pretty exciting for those of us who are LHOP fans.  And the book really didn’t disappoint.  It is a study of pioneer life as a mother, wife, and woman just like the LHOP books were a study of pioneer life of a young girl as she goes through all the stages of childhood to adulthood.

More specifically, this book follows the life of the Ingalls family as they make the trek in a covered wagon from Minnesota to Kansas.  To further complicate life, Caroline finds out she is pregnant right before they begin their journey – so, if life in a wagon sounds amazingly comfortable then just imagine it pregnant with two smalls kids in tow.

Miller’s strengths are in her thorough research of the topic and her detailed descriptions.  Her insight into the life of a pioneer family from the stitching of the cover for a wagon to the sweetening of bread over a fire with molasses to how to halt a prairie fire is certainly  insightful and in a lot of parts is interesting.  Unfortunately, where Miller tends to lose momentum, is in the story itself and connection to the narrator.  Caroline seems cold and removed even with the soft edges Miller tries to give her and the day-to-day detailed tasks start to feel as tedious as they likely actually were.  I was reminded as they started building their one room house on the Kansas prairie that there are a lot of shows based on this premise of tiny house living.  And as I suspected, this insight into tiny house living with two small children is nowhere in my life plans.

There is some momentum towards the end of the book, but as all LHOP fans know (SPOILER HERE), the Ingalls family winds up moving back to Minnesota after all of that  work setting up a homestead in Kansas which just seems to deflate the story like a balloon.  Ending the novel on that note left me feeling disappointed and like I had also made a lot of cornbread with molasses for nothing.  In truth, I wish I liked molasses more than I do.

 

 

January 3, 2018 at 7:38 pm Leave a comment

Expectation is the mother of something – My year end book round-up thing

IMG_5512.jpgI read an unusually large amount of books this year (72 to be exact).  The only way I can really account for this large number is an entire Spring, Summer and Autumn of evenings on our new porch.  The space is peaceful – even with my children and dog tumbling through it.  I found that even when I have worked a long day I just needed reading time in that space. So I guess what I am saying is that I am the shallow person that needs pretty spaces while I read and if that happens then 72 books are totally within my grasp.  IMG_5515.jpg

In all of those piles of books I read this year there were great finds, disappointments and just plain ridiculousness that made me wonder how the author landed with any kind of book deal let alone was acclaimed by some list or carried some kind award winning stamp of approval.  Here is my list.

Favorite Books that made me think: 

  1.  Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and Birth of the FBI by David Grann – This book covers the history of the Osage tribe as well as their systematic murders by the white people in their community wanting their wealth.  It is a story that is shocking in and of itself, the fact that it is true is devastating.  This book made me realize how very little I know about Native American history even just in the last one hundred years but also how few books there are that cover that period of history.
  2. The Round House by Louise Edrich – I have not read anything by Edrich before and this book was beautiful, sad and compelling.  Edrich chronicles Native American life but perhaps most importantly reservation life.  The story is told through the eyes of a boy, Joe, who learns that his mother has been savagely attacked and raped.  After the crime, Joe watches his parents try to return to some normalcy while failing miserably.  Between the tribal justice system (which includes Joe’s father) and the white justice system (which does not seem to care), Joe decides that the only way he can find out who attacked his mother is by investigating the crime himself with his friends.   There are a lot of books about boys trying to solve something that has changed their lives but this book is something more.  It is a deep look at Native American culture, white culture has hindered any hope of a future and how even in the most vulnerable moments for our children parents will fail them.
  3. We Crossed the Bridge and it Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Perlman – Before we made any decisions about how to handle refugees from Syria we all should have read this book.  It is akin to where we tell a story about someone who sounds like you living through war and having to leave everything but then say but they are actually Syrian.  It is lawyers, scholars, mothers, students, it is you and I living through something harrowing and expecting the world to care.  But we didn’t.
  4. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – To me this was the best book I read this year. It is a three hundred year history of a family in Ghana that at one point splinters into tribal royalty and into slavery.  It is brilliantly written and, even though the characters change frequently, there is a connection from generation to generation that keeps the reader invested.  I absolutely loved it.

Favorite Suspense Books: 

  1.     The Dry by Jane Harper – I was hesitant to read this one because of all of the critical acclaim but Harper earned it. This is the story of Aaron Faulk coming home to a painful past in his Australian home town while wrestling with the appearance that his childhood friend has murdered his family and killed himself.
  2. The Good Daughter by Karen Slaughter – If you like suspense books you just should read Slaughter. Her books are just well done all the way around.
  3. The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg – I am new to Lackberg but her novels set in Fjallbacka, Sweden have that wonderful blend of likable characters that find themselves dealing with a murder in their small town and suspense. These character driven mystery novels have become my favorite blend in this genre.

Books that me wonder why they were considered so amazing:

  1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – This book was everywhere. Acclaimed, talked about, chased after.  But I really didn’t like it, didn’t find it enlightening and was really frustrated by it.  I sometimes wonder if books about such a tough topic that receive critical acclaim make it hard for readers to just be honest about how it resonated with them, instead of just nodding and saying “yes, so deep and insightful.”  Let’s just admit here and now that even the great Toni Morrison has a miss now and then and it is okay to not love everything that examines our nation’s painful past and current race relations. Just because it attempts to create a space for discourse does not render it quality or literature.
  2. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger – This book made some good points but completely lost me on some of the political points as well as completely frustrating me when tribe is used as an excuse to lose our sense of what makes a community healthy and meaningful.  We have to be smarter and better than that.
  3. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman – I really hate to add this to the list but this book was disappointing for me.  It is meant to be prequel to Hoffman’s “Practical Magic” and that had such appeal and Reese Witherspoon loved it so there’s that. I felt a bit like these were a lot of short stories Hoffman has written that she then wove together to create a bigger story and then it became the prequel so it was marketable.

Nice Surprises that are wonderful reads:

  1. My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith – it is sunny and set in a gorgeous place, read it on a cold day when you are wishing to travel.
  2. Bruno Chief of Police by Martin Walker – it is a mystery but also such a great focus on Southern French culture and food that it was just too lovely to not enjoy. Read it when you have a good bottle of wine and cheese on hand.
  3. The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne – This is her first book and it was a compelling story of what life would be if you were born out of your mother’s captivity but still loved your father who had held her captive.  There is a level of writing here that really makes me curious to see what Dionne writes next. Read it when you want a good suspense novel with some excellent writing.
  4. Who Thought this was a Good Idea by Alyssa Mastromonaco – written by President Obama’s deputy chief of staff this book has so many funny moments but is also such a great reminder of how hard being a woman in politics is and makes you hope that the days of this type of integrity are not a thing of the past. Read it when politics are depressing you and you have a good drink in hand so you can really forget about our current woes.

Never ever pick up:   No matter who says otherwise I would beg you not to read books by Victora Aveyard (Red Queen series), B.A. Paris (I know they sound good in the descriptions but trust me), Shari Lapena (maybe the first one she wrote but otherwise no), or maybe anything else Paula Hawkins writes.

And so ends 2017. May your 2018 be filled with joy, happiness and lovely places to curl up with a good book.

 

 

December 30, 2017 at 6:34 pm Leave a comment

The End of the Affair and the beginning of another – “Before We were Yours” and “Column of Fire”

It is inevitable. You have a writer you love and you look forward to their new works in that nerdy breathy way we crazy readers do. And then the new book falls a bit flat and you start to reassess your reader-to-writer relationship.  Was it really love? Was I crazy? Should we have broken up sooner?

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I am afraid this is where I am with Ken Follett’s newest book “A Column of Fire.” Now don’t get me wrong, a writer who can spend 800 pages writing about the construction of a cathedral and make it dramatic and engaging is brilliant. So, Follett will always have my love for that.  But this third installment in the Kingsbridge series just didn’t hold me in the same way.  Even setting the book during the rein of Bloody Mary and Elizabeth the First didn’t keep me interested.  Which is impressive because the Tudors hold my interest in the way that many folks love the Real Housewives shows – it is a rich, bloody, back-stabbing mess.  I have thought long and hard about what this book was missing and for me I think it was character connection.  It was clear who the protagonists were but I wasn’t wildly rooting for them.  This left their destinies a bit uninteresting for me.  I guess for me Ned Willard can’t hold a candle to Jack and perhaps therein lies the rub.  If you have traveled this far with Kingsbridge this book is still worth the read but I just don’t think it holds up quite as well as the other two.

This leads me to my new love affair with Lisa Wingate the author of “Before We were Yours.” This is another historical fiction book set on the Mississippi River in the late 1930s.   It focuses on the illegal kidnapping of hundreds of children by Georgia Tann who ran the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage in Memphis.  Wingate has used fictional children and families to illustrate the destruction that Georgia Tann wrought on low income families and single mothers for more than 20 years. In a time when adoption records were sealed and with powerful judges, doctors, and police officers receiving kickbacks and bribes from Tann, families who lost their children to the orphanage were powerless to recover them.  While many of these children were adopted by families of better financial means this did not keep them safe from abuse, neglect and

Unknown-2.jpegin some cases death.   Perhaps some of the most famous cases of such abusive adoptions were those of movie stars June Allyson and  Joan Crawford (Mommy dearest anyone?) who both adopted children from Tann.

Wingate’s story is beautifully woven regardless of the harrowing historical backdrop.  She uses the strong unbreakable ties of siblings and the importance of  the need to feel rooted in who we truly are to carry the characters through decades of loss, change and then renewal.  Her ability to set the stage for the reader with her descriptions and a strong sense of place seemed to imply that the places we surround ourselves with are just as important as the people that surround us.  Our sense of place (the water we played in as children, the porch we sat on, the tree we climbed, the flowers we always smelled in the Spring) is a part of who we are just as much as family – and recovering both can be enormously healing.

While I did struggle a bit with part of the modern day story line that is interwoven with the past, Wingate’s writing was strong enough to pull it off.  And strong enough to make me wonder what else has this Wingate written and why is our relationship just starting?

I guess the long and short of it is, I am quite fickle in my author love affairs and I am always happy to be swept off my feet by a new author.   Now I am back with a newish-old love, Celeste Ng, and so far her second book is living up to all the hype.

November 10, 2017 at 2:47 pm 4 comments

Lots of time to read this weekend? I have ideas…

These types of weekends are usually time for me to catch up with friends but also, being the bookish introvert that I am, I need lots of time to curl up and read.  If you find yourself with some time for the latter here are some reads I have really enjoyed lately. They might be good ones to add to that pile on that table right next to you (you know the pile).

  1. “The Little French Bistro” by Nina George – this book is just lovely, not amazing, not a pulitzer, but really a tribute to many middle-aged women, that either by choice or by circumstance, have to reinvent their lives.  After forty years of marriage, Marianne gets up from a dinner in Paris with her self-absorbed husband and walks out.  She finds herself, after a few misadventures, in Brittany. There is the quirky cast of characters, the beautiful setting and great food.  This is a quick read that leaves you wanting to go to Brittany but I settled and had a glass of wine while I read it instead.
  2. “The Girls” by Emma Cline – For quite some time I have been weirdly fascinated by the Mason Clan and cults in general.  I don’t mean that I am fascinated with the bloodshed part but more about that thing in a person that has to be broken for them to end up in a cult. It has to be the right mix of brokenness, masterminding, and timing – and it oddly happens so frequently.  Cline in “The Girls” tries her hand at a fictional telling of something similar to what happened with Mason and his followers.  It was truly well done, though disturbing.  And I may have accidentally read it in a day and a half.
  3. Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard-  I landed on this book because my friend suggested I read the “Red Queen” and I got the wrong book.  That said my accidental science fiction young adult reading was pretty fun.  This is really a new twist on the whole the main character is a strong young woman who thinks she is ordinary but she isn’t thing that we all have become very familiar with.  It is simple, quick and fun.  My one warning is it leads you into reading the next book which is absolutely awful. So just be prepared to either not really know what happens to the characters or know you will have to go on to read a really terrible book. You have been warned.
  4. If you are looking for a good suspense book I have a few I have liked recently – “The Perfect Stranger” by Megan Miranda, “The Child” by Fiona Barton, “The Marsh King’s Daughter” by Karen Dione.  The last one being my favorite, Dione’s first book is really well crafted.

On my reading list this weekend,  I need to finish “The Sinner” by Petra Hammesfahr (which is pretty bizarre so far) so I can somehow excuse buying Karin Slaughter’s new book. I guess I really should read the other 50 books I have on my “to read” stack already but what’s the fun in that?

Happy Labor Day weekend my fellow readers!images-1.jpeg

September 1, 2017 at 3:44 pm 1 comment


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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