8/18/15 Reread this book for a bookgroup meeting this week. Still loving this book!
9/27/14 I loved Anthony Doerr's exquisite writing, and hated to see8/18/15 Reread this book for a bookgroup meeting this week. Still loving this book!
9/27/14 I loved Anthony Doerr's exquisite writing, and hated to see the book come to an end. "All the Light We Cannot See" has two main storylines--about a French girl and a German boy--that intersect during the bombing of Saint-Malo on the French coast in 1944. Marie Laure is a blind French girl who leaves Paris with her father during the Nazi occupation to stay with her great uncle in Saint-Malo. Her devoted father has taught her to be self-reliant by building model cities of miniature buildings so she could learn her way around Paris, and later Saint-Malo. Marie Laure uses her sense of touch to become proficient at identifying sea creatures, and loves to read the nautical adventure stories of Jules Verne in her Braille books.
Werner is a precocious German orphan who is very skillful at fixing radios. Although he dreams of becoming an engineer, the boys in his village are destined to work in the coal mines. After he repairs the radio of a Nazi, he receives a recommendation to the National Political Institute of Education at Schulpforta. The light blond, blue-eyed boy fits the Aryan profile, and he's soon on his way to becoming a soldier. The chapters about the school are exceptionally chilling where the students often have to choose between their own survival and their personal moral code. Werner often has his sister's voice in his mind, reminding him what is ethically right, but he knows he will be crushed if he displays any weakness. Werner is assigned to a unit that works to detect the radio signals of Allied citizens, including the French Resistance in Saint-Malo.
The book constantly alternates between Marie Laure's and Werner's storylines in short chapters, and also moves back and forth in time occasionally. I found it distracting at first, but I quickly got used to the quick change to the other storyline. The book is obviously well-researched and it covers a wide range of topics, but the little details are expertly worked into the story. There is never a page of information dumping. The superstitious story about a precious gem with a curse, missing from the National Museum of Natural History where Marie Laure's father works, adds a bit of magic to the book.
The presence or absence of sensory perceptions is at the heart of the story with Marie Laure coping with blindness, Werner involved in listening to radio communication, and the citizens of both countries feeling cold and hungry. Anthony Doerr puts his lyrical gifts to work in beautiful sensual descriptions. Marie Laure and Werner were sympathetic and courageous, two bright lights set against the background of a brutal war.
12/17/14 Reread book for a book discussion. This is one of my favorite books of 2014.
7/23/14 Sue Monk Kidd has written a wonderful historical novel ab12/17/14 Reread book for a book discussion. This is one of my favorite books of 2014.
7/23/14 Sue Monk Kidd has written a wonderful historical novel about two women struggling in Charleston--one struggling against the shackles of slavery, and the other giving a voice to the abolitionist cause and women's rights. When Sarah Grimke turned 11 years old in 1803, she was given a slave Hetty (called "Handful") as a birthday present. Even at that young age, Sarah was an abolitionist and tried to refuse her present but her mother prevailed. Sarah taught Handful to read and write although it was against the law, resulting in punishment for both of them by her family. Although Sarah was extremely intelligent, she was not allowed to follow her male relatives into the law profession, and was groomed to be a wife and mother.
Handful had an extraordinary mother, Charlotte, who taught her valuable skills as a seamstress. She also taught her that she had wings to fly to freedom with stories about her African ancestors that flew like blackbirds. Charlotte appliqued squares for a story quilt of her life, leaving the reader hoping there would be a quilt square someday depicting freedom. Charlotte created a spirit tree with its trunk wrapped in red thread. Charlotte's mother had started the tradition, saying, "Now we putting our spirits in the tree so they safe from harm, so they live with the birds, learning to fly." Handful didn't know what would become of her mother and herself since they both had independent natures. "We might stay here the rest of our lives with the sky slammed shut, but mauma had found the part of herself that refused to bow and scrape, and once you find that, you got trouble breathing on your neck."
Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina were actual historic figures, daughters of a wealthy slave owner. They both were active in abolitionist and feminist causes, often putting themselves in great personal danger. Although the real Sarah was actually given a slave on her birthday, the slave girl died a few years later, so Handful is largely an invention of the author. Handful was strong-willed, but she also had a sense of humor and a "street-smartness" about her. The book follows Sarah and Handful for thirty-five years through alternating chapters. By mixing fact and fiction, the author has created a moving story about the cruelty of slavery, and the resilience of both the slaves and the abolitionists. The book is exceptionally well-written with vibrant characters that walk off the pages. Highly recommended, especially for book discussion groups.
The Golem and the Jinni is a sparkling, magical story set in 1899. Yehudah Schaalman, who turned away from traditionaRecommended by Will & Michael
The Golem and the Jinni is a sparkling, magical story set in 1899. Yehudah Schaalman, who turned away from traditional rabbinical studies and embraced the dark Kabbalistic magic, was asked to create a Golem to be a man's wife. Schaalman fashioned a creature made of clay that could pass for a woman who was curious, intelligent, obedient, proper, and strong. The husband recited the spell to bring the Golem to life during a voyage from Danzig to New York, shortly before dying on the ship. The Golem arrived in New York in a confused state, hearing everyone's inner thoughts and desires since she no longer had one master. A kindly rabbi took her under his care, finding her lodging and a job at a bakery.
Boutrous Arbeely, a Syrian Christian, was repairing a copper flask when a Jinni appeared. He had been trapped in the flask for hundreds of years. The Jinni is a fiery creature from the Syrian desert, now in a human form. Before he was captured, he was a shapeshifter who could fly over the desert, spying on the humans who roamed in caravans, and entering human dreams. The Jinni, who can melt metal with his hands, became an assistant in Arbeely's metal shop.
When they saw each other for the first time, the Golem and the Jinni recognized that they were not of the human world. Neither needed to sleep so they became companions exploring New York City in the nighttime. They have wonderful times heading across the rooftops to Central Park at night, seeing the turn-of-the-century city with fresh eyes. They are part of the immigrant experience, learning about a new land and adapting to new customs and a different society. Although they are not human, they have true emotional feelings and worries. Neither feels that they fit in well with human society, but they do have a sense of conscience and responsibility. They discuss the advantages of having a master make decisions vs. free will. It's interesting to see humans portrayed from the point of view of the Golem and the Jinni.
Through flashbacks and interactions with other characters, we find out the history of these two magical creatures and what the future holds for each of them. The story was a wonderful weave of magical fantasy, Jewish and Arab folklore, philosophy, historical fiction, and good storytelling....more
2/15/15 Reread for a book group discussion. This is one of the books on my favorites shelf.
3/19/13 When Louisa Clark lost her job, she was hired for a2/15/15 Reread for a book group discussion. This is one of the books on my favorites shelf.
3/19/13 When Louisa Clark lost her job, she was hired for a six month assignment as a caregiver for Will Trayner. The active young man had been hit by a car, and was left a quadriplegic. The gregarious Louisa was hired to help ward off the depression that was settling in Will's life. He also expanded her world by showing her that there was a big world outside her small hometown in the English countryside.
There is a lot to think about as Will decides whether he is willing to keep on living, knowing that his health will continue to deteriorate. The author showed that there are no easy choices. It was an emotionally touching story with humorous, warm characters. Warning: Stock up on your supply of tissues....more
Anthony Marra has written a remarkable debut novel that centers on five days in 2004 in Chechnya. A Muslim villager, Dokka, has been arrested by RussiAnthony Marra has written a remarkable debut novel that centers on five days in 2004 in Chechnya. A Muslim villager, Dokka, has been arrested by Russian soldiers, and will probably never be seen again. His daughter, eight-year-old Haava, ran into the woods to hide and was found by her neighbor, Akhmed. Akhmed, a doctor whose true talent is in art, offers his services at a shelled hospital to the surgeon, Sonja, in return for her help in hiding Haava. Sonja, an ethnic Russian, had come back from safety in London to locate her sister Natasha in their hometown in Chechnya.
Each chapter is headed by a timeline going from 1996 to 2004 with one year highlighted. The stories of the war-weary characters go back in time to let us understand their actions in 2004. Chechnya is highly valued for its natural resources, as well as its pipelines and oil refineries. Many Chechen people had been killed or relocated, and ethnic Russians moved into the area by the former Soviet Union. Since the Soviet Union divided, there have been two Chechen Wars where the Russians have tried to seize control of the region, and Chechnya is currently a republic of the Russian Federation. The people of Chechnya have had to rebuild their lives, as well as their homes and infrastructure, multiple times.
The atmosphere in 2004 is gray and bleak. There are shortages of everything, including food. Homes have been destroyed, people have lost everyone they loved, and the occupying Russians will arrest anyone based on rumors or informers. Despite the devastation, the book has many moments of humor, warmth, compassion, and love. The meaning of family can extend beyond genetic boundaries. The main characters showed remarkable resilience despite terrible circumstances.
The title of the novel comes from a definition in a medical dictionary that was circled by Natasha. "Life: a constellation of vital phenomena--organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation."
I was impressed with Anthony Marra's beautiful, lyrical writing. This is a timely book to read since the 2014 Olympics will be held in an area of Russia near Chechnya. Although the book did not go into great detail about the military aspect of the wars in the region and centered on the people, it did help me understand the continuing unrest in Chechnya. ...more
Read 9/30/12. Reread for book group 9/17/14. Tom and Isabel Sherbourne live on Janus Rock, off southwest Australia, where Tom is the lighthouse keeper.Read 9/30/12. Reread for book group 9/17/14. Tom and Isabel Sherbourne live on Janus Rock, off southwest Australia, where Tom is the lighthouse keeper. After Isabel suffers through two miscarriages and one stillbirth, they hear a baby's cry in the distance. A boat washes up on shore with a baby girl and a dead man. The heartbroken Isabel wants them to raise the baby as their own, and tries to convince Tom not to report the news to the authorities. Two years later, they find out the identity of the birth mother.
This is a marvelous book with engaging characters that have to make ethical decisions where someone will be hurt in each possible outcome. The author has wonderful portrayals of two women who are torn apart by their loss of a child, a man who is haunted by his experiences in World War I, and the solitary life of a lighthouse keeper. It's a book that made me smile, and also made me cry, because the characters seemed so real. I hope that this talented new author will be writing another novel soon. ...more
6/28/12 Andy Barber, an assistant district attorney in an affluent community outside Boston, is in charge of4/22/14 Reread for a book club discussion.
6/28/12 Andy Barber, an assistant district attorney in an affluent community outside Boston, is in charge of a case involving the murder of a boy in his son's class. He is shocked to find out that a fingerprint on the victim's clothing matches with his son, Jacob. Jacob declares his innocence, and his father sets out to defend him with the help of a good defense attorney. Andy also reveals to his wife, Laurie, the secret that he comes from a family of violent men. As the trial progresses, Andy and Laurie are left to wonder how well they really know their teenage son.
This is a story about a family where love can blind a parent from reality. It also brought to light how posts on Facebook and other sites can be used as evidence in a trial, and we all know how teenagers often do not use good judgement before posting. The book was a well-written legal thriller with convincingly real characters. This story has many themes that would be excellent for book group discussions....more
The soldiers of Alpha Company carried everything from ammunition to love letters, some having military importance and others filled with emotional sigThe soldiers of Alpha Company carried everything from ammunition to love letters, some having military importance and others filled with emotional significance. A special relationship developed between the men since they were staring at death day after day, and needed each other for support. This book is the story of their tour of duty in Vietnam, the humor that made it easier to deal with the horror of war, and the memories that haunted them after the war. The author writes of reality, and of a truth that should have been reality. Some of the soldiers died in Vietnam, and others died at home because they could no longer fit in their former lives. The book is thought provoking, and beautifully written....more
Louis Zamperini was a World War II bombardier in a plane over the Pacific when it crashed into the ocean. He and two other airmen fought to stay aliveLouis Zamperini was a World War II bombardier in a plane over the Pacific when it crashed into the ocean. He and two other airmen fought to stay alive in a poorly stocked life raft. As sharks circled their raft, they had to improvise to try to catch a few birds and fish to stay alive. Louis' resilience, learned as an Olympic runner, served him well, and he and his pilot friend Allen Phillips survived. But the Japanese caught them and they were imprisoned under inhumane conditions with sadistic guards and very little food. Louis' childhood experiences as a delinquent came in handy while he was a POW, since he was already experienced at stealing food.
This book tells an amazing story of the bravery of the prisoners in the Japanese POW camps. It also shows how little was done to help them deal with post-traumatic stress after their ordeal was over. Louis was drowning in alcohol before he turned to God to help him forgive the brutal guards and move ahead in his life. The book also celebrates the love of the families back home who never stopped believing that their loved ones would be found. Laura Hillenbrand has written an engaging, well researched biography. ...more
This is a wonderful book about Liesel Meminger, the foster daughter of the Hubermanns living in Nazi Germany. It's the story about the power of wordsThis is a wonderful book about Liesel Meminger, the foster daughter of the Hubermanns living in Nazi Germany. It's the story about the power of words in books which made them worth stealing. The book is narrated by Death who was kept quite busy under Hitler's regime. The author has created unforgetable characters that the reader can laugh and cry with. Their world is full of danger--stealing books and food, hiding a Jew in the basement, brutal Nazi soldiers, the bombing of their city, and the death of loved ones. Fortunately, there are humorous and sweet moments between the characters too. I would recommend this book to both adults and older teens....more
"Stoner" is a moving account of the life of an ordinary man, an introverted professor of literature. The story of William Stoner is so beautifully wri"Stoner" is a moving account of the life of an ordinary man, an introverted professor of literature. The story of William Stoner is so beautifully written that you can experience his pain along with him, enjoy the fleeting time when love enters his life, and understand his stoicism.
William Stoner grew up on a small Missouri farm where his parents could barely eke out a living. In the early 20th Century his father sent him to the University of Missouri to learn new methods of agriculture. He was an indifferent student until he found his calling--English literature--and later taught at the university. The book follows his life through an unhappy marriage, the birth of his beloved daughter, the challenge of playing office politics, the beauty of a deep new love and the scandal that followed.
Although his life had its ups and downs, it was Stoner's rich inner life which sustained him. He was a stoic who led his life with dignity. He felt fulfilled in his own way through his love of literature, his work as a scholar, and his reverence for the halls of learning. Although William Stoner led a quiet ordinary life, the telling of his story was spectacular....more
Twin boys, Marion and Shiva Stone, are orphaned when their mother dies in childbirth. They are the children of British surgeon Dr Thomas Stone and anTwin boys, Marion and Shiva Stone, are orphaned when their mother dies in childbirth. They are the children of British surgeon Dr Thomas Stone and an Indian nun who was his surgical assistant at a mission hospital in Ethiopia. The distraught Dr Stone disappears, leaving the boys to be adopted by a loving Indian couple, both doctors at the hospital.
Much of the book is told from the point of view of Marion. The boys share the special bond of twins so that sometimes Marion thinks of them as one entity, ShivaMarion. The book tells the story of their lives during which Ethiopia goes through several regime changes. Betrayals and secrets haunt their lives, and drive a wedge between them.
The author infuses the book with the sights, smells, and rhythms of Ethiopia. Abraham Verghese is also a doctor, and he shows us the beauty and despair of medicine in both a Third World country and the United States, where Marion does his surgical residency. The book is superb with compelling characters, exotic locations, and a good story. I considered the medical descriptions a definite highlight, but they might bother some readers....more
The author did an excellent job of making a very readable novel about the emotional lives of Hadley and Ernest Hemingway. The many other creative peopThe author did an excellent job of making a very readable novel about the emotional lives of Hadley and Ernest Hemingway. The many other creative people interacting with them in Paris in the 1920s were very colorful and interesting too. She captured a wonderful snapshot of the 1920s in Europe--the men returning from war, the writing, the music, the art, the fashions, the eating and drinking.
Mostly told from the viewpoint of Hadley, the book shows she was very attracted to Ernest who was extroverted, interesting, ambitious, and a gifted writer. Hadley had a sweetness, and more traditional values than some of their friends in Paris. They both came from families with domineering mothers and suicidal fathers. Ernest was still suffering the traumatic effects of his time in World War I. He was also very self absorbed, and hurt Hadley very deeply. Their love story spiraled downward as his career took off. I enjoyed this historical fiction about the five years of their marriage, and was sorry to see the book end.
First read August 3, 2011 Reread May 7, 2013 for a bookgroup ...more
The Grapes of Wrath is set during the Great Depression when times were terribly hard for the farmers in the Dust Bowl. Drought, inability to pay backThe Grapes of Wrath is set during the Great Depression when times were terribly hard for the farmers in the Dust Bowl. Drought, inability to pay back loans, and the movement of large agricultural companies to take over the small farms all led to a bad economic situation. The Joads can no longer farm in Oklahoma, and they have piled their possessions on top of an old truck and headed down Route 66 to California. They are hoping for high pay picking crops, but there are so many workers heading west that the owners of the large farms are only giving them a pittance. People are starving and dying while the corporate farmers are in collusion with the police to arrest anyone who objects or tries to unionize. A bright spot is their stay at a federal camp operated by a New Deal agency that helps the migrant workers. They are in a heartbreaking situation, but near the end of the book, Tom Joad promises his mother that he will continue to fight for the less fortunate.
I reread this book for a class, and was impressed with Steinbeck's writing as much as when I read it years ago. The characters seem very real in the story of the Joad family. The book brings to light an important part of American history in its portrayal of poor people in need during the Great Depression in the 1930s....more
I was even more impressed with A Streetcar Named Desire when I revisited it recently after first reading it about ten years ago. It has a wonderful coI was even more impressed with A Streetcar Named Desire when I revisited it recently after first reading it about ten years ago. It has a wonderful combination of lyrical language and interesting characters.
Blanche DuBois comes to stay at the home of her sister Stella, and her husband Stanley Kowalski in a poor area of New Orleans. Blanche has lost both her job and the family home of Belle Reve. There is a family curse where "our improvident grandfathers and father and uncles and brothers exchanged the land for their epic fornications" and the curse seems to have passed down to Blanche. She is a cultured person living in a fantasy world of lies. She tries to wash away her guilt over the suicide of her husband with long baths, and numbs her mind with alcohol. Living at a time when women were very dependent on men for support, Blanche has come to the end of the road, and will not let men see her in a bright light that will reveal her age as she searches for love.
Stanley is a passionate, realistic, common man who enjoys women, bowling, alcohol, and a night of poker with his friends. He is also abusive to Stella when he gets upset. He sees his homelife being destroyed by Blanche, and aims to breaks her by investigating her past.
Stella is caught between Blanche and Stanley. She is concerned about her sister's mental state. Blanche compares Stanley to an animal. Blanche says, "Thousands and thousands of years have passed him right by, and there he is--Stanley Kowalski--survivor of the stone age." But Stella was happy with him before Blanche moved in because Stella and Stanley share a great passion. Stella is also pregnant with Stanley's child.
As the play moves on, Tennessee Williams does a marvelous job of juxtaposing a fantasy world with reality. The play is violent, sensual, and heartbreaking as it reaches its conclusion. ________________________________________
Several movies have been made from this play. Marlon Brando starred in a famous version of this drama.
The recent Woody Allen movie, "Blue Jasmine," is a contemporary story with themes taken from A Streetcar Named Desire. Cate Blanchette is a terrific Jasmine....more
I read Rebecca, a favorite classic written in 1938, for the third time for an upcoming library bookgroup. The book is narrated by an unnamed young womI read Rebecca, a favorite classic written in 1938, for the third time for an upcoming library bookgroup. The book is narrated by an unnamed young woman who becomes Maxim de Winter's second wife. She is very inexperienced, shy, and unsure of herself, and compares herself to Rebecca, Maxim's first wife who drowned. Although the beautiful, talented Rebecca is dead, her presence fills the pages and she becomes a major character. Mrs. Danvers, the scary manager of the mansion at Manderley, keeps Rebecca's memory alive.
The author uses wonderful atmospheric descriptions, sinister dreams, and probes into the characters' inner feelings to set the stage for an investigation into Rebecca's death. The book is very well written and builds to a climax which I won't spoil for future readers....more
Reverand Nathan Price brought his woefully unprepared family to a small village in the former Belgian Congo to do missionary work in 1959. The peopleReverand Nathan Price brought his woefully unprepared family to a small village in the former Belgian Congo to do missionary work in 1959. The people speak Kikongo, a language where a word has multiple meanings, depending on its intonation. When the Reverand Price thunders, "Tata Jesus is bangala", meaning "precious", his intonation changes the word into "the poisonwood tree", a poisonous plant that causes skin eruptions. That is just one of many mistakes this arrogant preacher makes in The Poisonwood Bible. He is also clueless about why the villagers refuse to have their children baptized by immersion in a river full of crocodiles.
The story is told through narrations by his wife, Orleanna, and their four daughters. Orleanna helps us understand the source of Nathan's problems, their history back in Georgia, and the role of mothers in the Congo. The oldest daughter is Rachel, a self-absorbed, materialistic teen, whose malapropisms are a source of amusement. The youngest is Ruth May who befriends the village children, but who is in the most danger from diseases and other threats. In the middle are the twins, Leah and Adah. Leah is the social conscience of the novel. Adah limps and very rarely speaks, but writes her feelings in her diary. She has an intelligent, sarcastic wit, and often records events in palindromic phrases.
The author lived in the Belgian Congo as a child, and has woven political and cultural problems into the story. Colonial governments were paternalistic, and worked the Africans in rubber plantations and mines as indentured laborers. After the Congo declared independence, foreign governments played a part in the assassination of the Congo's elected leader. Barbara Kingsolver was a great storyteller, while also showing social injustice, cultural divisions, and religious differences in the Congo....more
Told through the eyes of Atticus Finch's children, To Kill a Mockingbird is a story set in a small Alabama town in the 1930s. Atticus is a lawyer defeTold through the eyes of Atticus Finch's children, To Kill a Mockingbird is a story set in a small Alabama town in the 1930s. Atticus is a lawyer defending a black man charged with the rape of a white woman. The book explores the themes of prejudice, class, and that life is often unfair.
There are also humorous and tender elements in the book since Scout is an outspoken tomboy and Jem is changing from a boy to an aware young man. Atticus is a caring, wise man that showed his children how to live by his good example. This book deserves its place as a well-loved classic....more