Posts tagged ‘Book review’

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.

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November 10, 2017 at 2:47 pm 4 comments

The story of the used book’s margins -“Swimming Lessons” by Claire Fuller

My local library is pretty amazing.  It has been even more fun to go with 61iF2AsxQEL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgmy eight and a half year old (she would want me to include the “half”) and let her browse for books while I do the same.  I ran into “Swimming Lessons” on the new book shelves and, though I was a bit wary about the premise  (a story told through letters seems overdone), I decided to carry it on home.  And then I read it in two days because well, it was that good.

The story itself is not completely original. Woman, here Ingrid, has plans to be an independent, career woman and adventurer.  Instead falls for her womanizing professor, gets pregnant and thus finds herself stuck in the role of housewife, mother of two.  But while the premise is very familiar the weaving of the story is too amazing to not give it your full attention.

“Swimming Lessons” picks up at the end of the story, as Gil (aka philandering professor) looks out the window of a used bookstore and swears he sees Ingrid, who has been presumed dead for over ten years.  He chases her and ends up injuring himself.  His adult daughters, Nan and Flora, must come home and take care of him in their childhood home on Dorset Beach which is now filled with towers of used books.  As an aside, I can picture these towers vividly and feel that this  may be my house in about 15 years.

The story plays out with one chapter about Nan and Flora tending to their father while dealing with their history and childhood and then the next chapter is a letter from Ingrid  to Gil documenting their life together.  Before Ingrid disappeared off the shore of their home, she spent time writing Gil letters and placing them inside books through-out their home, carefully choosing the book that best suited the letter (a story about a cocktail party placed in T.S. Eliot’s play “The Cocktail Party”). This telling of Ingrid’s story is so heartfelt and lends such a wonderful prospective to what is happening in the proceeding and following chapters as Nan and Flora care for their father.  The letters add a backstory but also an emotional undercurrent that really moves the story in a thought-provoking and unexpected way.

Fuller’s writing and understanding of families, relationships and loss makes this book a meaningful experience for the reader.   I will say at the end you will not have all the answers you want, but you will have all the answers you need to keep you thinking and wondering.  That usually annoys me but here Fuller wins because she does it so well.  I have to say this is one of the best books I have read in quite a long time (with the exception of “Homegoing”).

The lesson here is if you keep returning to that same book on the library shelf and are skeptical – just check-out it.  The worst thing that can happen is you don’t like it and then you just pick another book. Unless you are me and you don’t return it on time and need a budget for library fines. But that is a story for another day.

Happy reading!

May 27, 2017 at 11:04 am Leave a comment

Easier isn’t always Better- “Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson

I need to admit that I “read” this book by listening to it on audible.com.  And yes, that is kind of a shameless plug for audible.com because now I am addicted and childishly excited when it is time for my monthly audible credit.  In my house yesterday was called “Audible Tuesday.” Okay plug over.

cover225x225.jpegThis memoir is about Jenny Lawson’s struggle with depression, anxiety, an auto-ammune disorder, and a number of other things that make life a bit of a challenge.  But those challenges in Lawson’s hands are hilarious.  Between explaining how the TSA is just collecting things for the zombie apocalypse to how God made the appendix to her love for taxidermy, Lawson takes those things that occupy her life and mind, in that endless cycle that all those who suffer from anxiety understand, and makes it funny and poignant and then funny again. It is a rare art form.

She admits that life is sloppy and scary, that self-sabotage is easy to do. But Lawson is also able to look at life in way that makes even the biggest issues seem manageable.  And as someone who can obsess about how it is even logistically possible to get my bag from one plane to another in a twenty minute lay-over or who finds herself staring at a book shelf for longer than I care to admit thinking about how important a new book lay-out might be for my sanity, I appreciate Lawson’s take on things. Yes, things could be easier without all of the things that Lawson faces, but just because it is easier doesn’t mean it is necessarily better.

This book is likely not for the easily offended or for the parent who finds every moment of parenting sacred and magical (do those people exist?) or for the person who is completely sane (do those people exist?).   But for the rest of us fumbling through life, anxiety-ridden, and worried about how many pens we have on hand, this book is for us.

 

 

October 5, 2016 at 10:45 am Leave a 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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