I never would have thought I’d be found reading a book with Oprah’s name in the title. I tend to avoid even the Oprah book...moreLiving Oprah by Robyn Okrant
I never would have thought I’d be found reading a book with Oprah’s name in the title. I tend to avoid even the Oprah book club selections, not because I have anything personally against her, but because it doesn't seem right that anyone should have as much influence over people’s lives as she has now. I don’t think we should give that much control to anybody so I’ve shied away from getting too involved. Also, like a lot of other people, book hype pushes me away from a book rather than toward it and let’s face it, any book with her name in the title is going to get hype. However, I have a friend whose reading tastes are very similar to mine and she thought I’d enjoy it as a light read, so I agreed to try it.
The author decided that for a period of one year, Jan 1-Dec 31, she would watch the Oprah show daily and follow every suggestion Oprah gave. It was a sort of sociological experiment to see why people are so devoted to the megastar/media mogul. She bought the clothes Oprah said everyone “must” have, used her decorating ideas, exercised and ate as Oprah said she should (signing a contract along with millions of other followers to be her “best self”) and conducted relationships with her friends and her husband according to Oprah’s suggestions. She tried the recipes and products the show promoted and followed her ideas for keeping a clean house (aware of the irony that Oprah probably hasn’t done her own housework in a long time). I was exhausted at the end of her year and I just read about it; I can only imagine how she felt.
I was afraid when I began the book that it would be a gushing testimonial to how amazing and wonderful Oprah is, but it wasn’t that at all. The author was honest about what worked and what didn’t. Some of her experiments changed her life for the good, others not so much. At times the project put a strain on her marriage and on their finances but on the whole her husband supported her. What I found interesting was that when the year was over and Jan 1 rolled around again, she had difficulty stopping. She had let Oprah do so much of her thinking for her and make so many of her decisions that it was hard to cut the cord and be her own person again. That, to me, was rather alarming and just increased my uneasiness about the whole Oprah-mania thing.
All in all it was an interesting experiment to read about. The author writes well and is able to keep the reader interested from start to finish. Any frustration I felt was more with Oprah than with the author’s experience. It surprises me that Oprah, who I believe is a intelligent woman, still considers herself a credible source of wisdom and advice for the ordinary American woman who struggles to make ends meet while holding down a job, raising kids, keeping a marriage healthy and a house clean and organized. Maybe she did begin to see the growing gulf that separates her from other women and maybe that’s partly why she stopped doing the show, who knows?
I want to be clear that though I'm not an Oprah fan, I'm also not an Oprah-basher. She built a fabulous life and career for herself from very humble beginnings and I admire that. Also her philanthropy is well known and commendable; there's no question she has done a lot of good. Whether you’re a fan or not, this book makes for interesting reading so I do recommend it. (less)
At first I thought the title was weak, even silly, but having read the book I see now how perfect it is. It is a story about summer and love, though n...moreAt first I thought the title was weak, even silly, but having read the book I see now how perfect it is. It is a story about summer and love, though not of the romance genre that is currently so popular. This story has depth and the characters are realistically flawed. The tone of the book reminded me of Edith Wharton's "Ethan Frome" and Richard Blackmore's "Lorna Doone", unsentimental love stories that don't pretend lovers all live happily ever after.
Ellie Dillahan is married to a farmer who lost his first wife and child in a farm accident. She had been hired as housekeeper after their deaths, then one day the farmer said they might as well marry, and so they did. One summer day a stranger shows up in town taking pictures of people at a funeral Ellie is attending. They meet and a relationship develops. For one of them it's love, for the other it's a pleasant summer pastime. The histories of both will influence how their relationship moves forward.
I recommend this book to any reader who likes realism in relationships stories or anyone who is charmed by Ireland and her people. I can't go so far as to agree with some of the blurbs on the back cover that call it "heart-stopping" and "as close to perfection as may be possible", but is a good story and very well written. (less)
Harold and Maureen Fry are a couple we recognize immediately. They are neighbours from down the street or maybe an aunt and uncle in our own family. T...moreHarold and Maureen Fry are a couple we recognize immediately. They are neighbours from down the street or maybe an aunt and uncle in our own family. They are settled, unremarkable people, as most of us are when looked at from a distance, but up close the picture looks different. The passive facade thinly covers years of living with unspeakable pain.
When Harold receives word that an old friend is dying, he writes back with all the usual expressions of concern and sets out on the short walk to the mailbox. Something in him is unsatisfied with the inadequacy of his note, so he walks past the first mailbox thinking he'll drop it in the next one. He passes that one too, and after several more, decides he will walk the length of England and deliver the note by hand.
Maureen at first doesn't know why he hasn't come home, and after he calls, doesn't understand. Angry, afraid and humiliated, she tells their curious neighbour that Harold is in bed with a twisted ankle. As the days pass, the truth comes out, becomes public, and Harold's pilgrimage stirs the imagination of the nation. As always, what the press portrays is nothing at all like what is really going on in the lives of Harold and Maureen.
I was drawn to this book by the word "Pilgrimage" in the title - I love a tale about somebody walking somewhere - but came to love it for it's insight into human frailty and our capacity to carry on in the most difficult circumstances. Many times while I was reading I would come across a well-worded thought and think "Yes! That's exactly the way it is." I think most people will find something of themselves - their own fears, disappointments, hopes - in this couple.
I enjoyed the writing. The dialogue is good and the sentences uncluttered. British authors seem able to say things in fewer words than the rest of us, and to state them simply without wringing all possible emotion out of them. Look at these lines where Harold turns down the offer of a cold beer: "Alcohol has brought unhappiness in the past, he said, both to himself and those close to him. For many years he had chosen to avoid it." I can't help but think that any author other than British would have taken advantage of the opportunity and used far more dramatic language than "has brought unhappiness in the past". I like that there was no emotionally manipulative side story to wade through. Another aspect of the writing I liked was the author's vivid, but never wordy, descriptions, like this one: "The moon shone high, and cast a trembling copy of itself over the deep water."
I thought this was a very good read, with an original story and relatable characters.(less)
I don't think I'll ever be a great fan of this author. I can't say I dislike her books, only that after reading two of...moreThe Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer
I don't think I'll ever be a great fan of this author. I can't say I dislike her books, only that after reading two of them I didn't find much to make me want more. The things I don't like about them outweigh those I do.
This one is a romance, which I'm guessing all her books are. If I'm wrong about that let me know. The Nonesuch is Sir Waldo Hawkridge, a wealthy, handsome, all around stand up guy. This is a man with no faults, that same guy who's been showing up in countless other romances since romance was invented. Every other man in the book has shortcomings, but not our hero - he is perfect! He falls in love, of course, with the one woman who is level-headed, patient, kind, noble, wise and elegant. She is surrounded by girls who are spoiled air-heads, but she - like our hero - is faultless.
By the opening pages of the second chapter the direction of the story and the ending can be easily predicted. There is never any question how it will turn out so it was hard to stay interested. I kept going because I wanted to write about it and it wouldn't be fair to write about a book I hadn't finished.
I was disappointed with the way the author worked out certain situations toward the end. Instead of moving the story forward with interaction between characters, she gives them a page to think and take giant leaps to conclusions, then ta-da!, suddenly they understand all and know just what to do. I guess she got tired of writing. I felt cheated.
Another irritating thing was the excess use of Regency-era slang. Using it with restraint can create authenticity but she's trying too hard in passages like these, and the book was full of them:
"Stop trying to make a pigeon of me! You'll only be gapped, you know! What's the matter? Are you in the suds?"
"She wouldn't have raised such a breeze if I'd had the sense to have taken off my bars. The thing was she'd put me in such a tweak by that time that I was hanged if I'd cry craven! Told her that if she tried to shab off I'd squeak beef..."
Stereotypical characters, weak writing and a predictable ending add up to just another formula romance. I liked the setting of 1800's England because I like the manor houses, vicarages, horses, carriages and such, and I liked it for what it didn't have - violence, steamy bedroom scenes, vampires - but that wasn't enough to overcome the book's flaws. I don't think I'll read any more of them, but then you never know. (less)
Carolyn Maull was 14 years old when a bomb exploded in a washroom of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama, where she and her family we...moreCarolyn Maull was 14 years old when a bomb exploded in a washroom of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama, where she and her family were attending Sunday morning service. She had just spoken with four of her girlfriends in that washroom before heading upstairs. Her four friends were killed in the blast.
It's always good to hear the personal stories of people who lived through events that we know mainly as history. I was 11 years old in September, 1963, when this act of racial terrorism took place and I had only a slight idea what racial prejudice looked like. A few years earlier, in first grade, there had been one little black girl in my school and she was my friend. I hated the way some of the children taunted and frightened her, chasing her home after school in tears. I had no idea at the time why they were doing it. I went home with her after school one day and I've always remembered the look on her parents' faces. They looked tired, defeated. And scared. I remember wondering why they were so sad. I didn't realize then that people must be treating them as badly, and probably far worse, than my little friend was being treated. Of course this was just a tiny glimpse of what was happening on a much larger scale in the southern U.S., and when the Birmingham bombing happened, it wasn't even on my 11 year old radar.
Learning the personal stories of people who lived through it is important; we can get the facts from history books, but to gain an understanding of what really happened and how it affected people's lives we have to hear if from them. McKinstry's story of growing up in Alabama in the 1960's is eye-opening and heart- wrenching. It's sickening what people were made to suffer simply because of the colour of their skin. It's also sickening to realize these horrors were committed not hundreds of years ago, but in our own recent past. Some of the "Jim Crow" laws are listed in the book and if you are not already familiar with them you will be shocked and disgusted.
Though I'm very glad I read this story, I didn't enjoy the writing. It was repetitive and didn't flow well. There were touches of melodrama that seemed superfluous. In this story there is more actual drama than anyone would ever want in a lifetime, so adding it as a literary technique seems like too much. I think the book would have benefited from more editing.
In spite of the weaknesses in the writing, I do recommend the book because it provides an up-close and personal look at a part of human history we must never forget. And it serves as a reminder that though some battles have been won, the fight for equality continues for many negro people, for native North Americans, for women, for the lower castes in India, and for countless others all over the world. The fight is far from over. (less)
Imagine taking a trip around France to discover where true artisanal cheeses are still being made. Imagine seeing how...more The Whole Fromage by Kathe Lison
Imagine taking a trip around France to discover where true artisanal cheeses are still being made. Imagine seeing how they’re made and learning their histories and then being able to taste the cheeses you’ve discovered. Sounds like a dream doesn’t it? Well, this book is the dream come true, maybe not for you or me, but we are lucky enough to get to read about it.
The book is more about cheese than about France, so if you’re expecting a travel memoir you’ll be disappointed. What it is, is a serious look at French cheese and its history. Living on the other side of the world, a lot of these cheeses were unfamiliar to me and many of them are unavailable here. Still it was interesting to read how they came to exist, and how they were made then and are made today. The author makes it's an interesting journey with personal anecdotes and stories about the cheese-makers she visits.
If you like cheese, you will love this book! (less)
This is the third installment in the Isabel Dalhousie series about a lady philosopher in her early forties living and working in Edinburgh. In this on...moreThis is the third installment in the Isabel Dalhousie series about a lady philosopher in her early forties living and working in Edinburgh. In this one Isabel becomes romantically involved with.......I can't tell you. You'll have to read it.
There is, as always, another story going on. This time her cousin, Mimi, and Mimi's husband, Joe, come to visit from Dallas. They all get invited for the weekend to a country house rented by wealthy friends of the cousin. The wealthy friends are engaged but Isabel suspects that all is not well between them and soon discovers the truth, in a surprisingly awkward way.
Isabel's niece, Cat, who runs the local deli, is not happy about her aunt's relationship and they spend much of this book not talking, resulting in Cat's not playing as big a part as usual in the story.
The biggest difference in this one is that most of Isabel's philosophizing is about her own life and romantic situation. Some of her attention is given to her cousin and friends, and some to Cat, but for most of the book she's agonizing over the appropriateness of the affair she's having and what it means for her own life and her lover's. I found that a bit tedious and Isabel can be somewhat smug at times, but I'll go back to this series again because the combination of philosophy and Scotland is irresistible.
These books don't usually offer much in the way of surprises, but this one ended in a way I really did not see coming. (less)