It is one thing to read a work of fiction and imagine the suffering of a certain character (like the mom in Room, for example). It's quite another toIt is one thing to read a work of fiction and imagine the suffering of a certain character (like the mom in Room, for example). It's quite another to read a piece of non-fiction and have to wrestle with the ponderous truth that everything you are reading is real. It happened.
What kept me reading A House in the Sky (other than it was my book club's pick) was knowing that Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout survived the hell she was thrust into when she was kidnapped in Mogadishu and held for ransom for more than a year. I knew she survived because she co-wrote her story. Several times in the reading I found myself turning the book over to its backside to look at her beautiful author photo. You can't write about an experience after the fact if you're dead. When the telling got really hard to read, I'd remind myself, She lives, she lives, she lives.
I honestly don't think I could have coped the way she she did. When I wasn't stunned by the cruelty of her captors, I was stunned by her ability to hang on to hope. Hope is one of those invisible weights that we can only lift if we summon enough strength to do so. The harder the situation, the heavier it is to hold. Despair is easier. Despair is heavy, too. But it just overtakes you. You don't have to do anything but lie there and let it fall.
So how did Amanda Lindhout keep hold of hope when despair was just waiting to devour her? She built a place in her mind to keep it. A place her brutal captors could not see and could not enter.
She built with her mind -- the only thing she had left -- a secret place for hope to hide. And it was this secret place that existed in her imagination that got her through the darkest days; days when I would have long given up.
She built a house in the sky.
This book is powerfully written and unforgettable. But not for the faint of heart...more
This was a hard book to rank it terms of stars. I very much wanted to know the answer to the story question, I wanted to see how these young people suThis was a hard book to rank it terms of stars. I very much wanted to know the answer to the story question, I wanted to see how these young people survived psychologically what happened to them when they were young, I wanted to be assured that there is justice for the wrong-doer and hope for the hurting. But it was a hard book to read. For lots of reasons. The content, the imagery, the language, the horror of what one human can do to another, especially a child, and even a dog, was very often too much for me. The ending was satisfying, very much so, but this is a book I can't read again. ...more
I was a big fan of the story and the storytelling in The Red Tent so I expected The Boston Girl to be as compelling. This story is a quiet one. The chI was a big fan of the story and the storytelling in The Red Tent so I expected The Boston Girl to be as compelling. This story is a quiet one. The character arc is low impact compared to most books I read. It's well written and even lyrical at times. But dramatic tension was missing most of the time. Or maybe it's better said that I wanted more dramatic tension and it wasn't the intent of this story to provide it. ...more
O’Nan dealt with finesse and artistry the material he had to work with. While I wanted it to be a book that took me and all my senses back to HollywooO’Nan dealt with finesse and artistry the material he had to work with. While I wanted it to be a book that took me and all my senses back to Hollywood’s golden days, this was primarily a book about Fitzgerald’s struggle with an entire cast of inner enemies; the fact that he had to confront them on the glamorous streets of Hollywood was incidental.
That said, Stewart O’Nan is an amazing writer, and since I had gone to hear him speak about this book and heard him read from its pages (he is also an engaging orator) I could hear his commanding voice in every line. The publisher’s blurb about the book says that this book is a “rich, sometimes heartbreaking” novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last years in Hollywood. I would have to agree. You read it wishing things could end differently.
When you already know the story’s outcome, and that’s it’s a sad ending, you need a skilled writer at the helm. O’Nan delivers. Narrative nonfiction or fictionalized history – whatever you choose to call it- is often only as interesting as the writer entrusted with the story can make it. For me, West of Sunset excelled where The Devil in White City did not. There was pathos here. And a wish for a magic wand to fix what was broken so long ago...more
To be fair, I read this book while on a deadline, and I was probably a bit distracted by that and exhausted at the end of each day, which is my usualTo be fair, I read this book while on a deadline, and I was probably a bit distracted by that and exhausted at the end of each day, which is my usual reading-for-pleasure time. I was sad that this book did not captivate me. Erik is an amazing writer. There were portions, many portions actually, where the prose was delicious. But on the whole, I was not swept away. I found myself skipping pages - lots of pages - looking for the next bit that seemed more appetizing, which sadly, was often when the homicidal maniac who is the titular devil was killing someone. I will read Erik Larson again. But I will choose a time when I am not in a hurry to be moved....more
Read this for a literacy program that I volunteer for. Great book about the son of migrant farm workers who, despite the odds against him, rises aboveRead this for a literacy program that I volunteer for. Great book about the son of migrant farm workers who, despite the odds against him, rises above the constrains of a life of poverty and hard labor to achieve his goals. ...more
One of the things I enjoy most about writing historical fiction is the research I simply must do up front. My upcoming 2016 novel is about two studioOne of the things I enjoy most about writing historical fiction is the research I simply must do up front. My upcoming 2016 novel is about two studio secretaries who meet in 1939 during the filming of Gone With The Wind, so I've been devouring everything I can about the making of this epic film for about a year.
This beautifully designed book, pretty enough for your coffee table, was well worth the wait. It was just released this autumn in conjunction with a GWTW exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, where a stellar collection of costumes and such has been on display since September. Steve Wilson’s intriguing look back on the drama of making what would be the most popular movie to date is both informational and insightful and the photos and sketches take you right to the sets at Selznick International.
Gone With the Wind, the book and its movie, has endured for a host of reasons; perhaps every person that loves it, loves it for a different reason. And it might be that it’s hated by others for just as many varied reasons. But as Steve Wilson says in his book, “In the seventy-five years since Gone With the Wind premiered, Selznick’s masterpiece has continued to elicit emotional responses from viewers. It is both adored and reviled. The controversies that attended the production of Gone With the Wind remain, and the film continues to be a powerful touchstone for questions of race, gender, violence, and regionalism in America.” Any backdrop that historically is a powerful touchstone is the perfect place to set a story. I am learning so much about human nature – the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, by writing this novel.
And may I just say you don’t have to be a Windie to be impacted by Wilson’s The Making of Gone With the Wind. I wouldn't call myself a long-suffering devotee. I just know I never tire of watching Gone With the Wind; the soundtrack alone gets me every time I hear it. Gone With the Wind is as complex a story as any novelist could hope to deliver centered on the ages-old themes of love, home, and survival. Which is why it is such a powerful film. And always will be....more
This book had me thinking on it whenever I wasn't reading its pages. It's that kind of book. Hauntingly sad and yet beautiful. I've read a number of WThis book had me thinking on it whenever I wasn't reading its pages. It's that kind of book. Hauntingly sad and yet beautiful. I've read a number of World War II books that still resonate with me long after I've read them - books like Life After Lifeby Kate Atkinson, The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum, Stones From the River by Ursula Hegy, and Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE is definitely in the company of these other books. Not every novel about war can leave you feeling completely satisfied - it's war - but I can say that this book left me stunned by its stellar and delicious prose. A keeper....more
Quite possibly the most cleverly-constructed novel I've ever read. Nothing about this book was conventional or predictable. If pervasive language greaQuite possibly the most cleverly-constructed novel I've ever read. Nothing about this book was conventional or predictable. If pervasive language greatly offends you, this is not the book for you. I was able to look past - for the most part - the rawness of the language because the story was so masterfully written. I won't say anything else for fear of committing a spoiler. It's a mystery, a study in human character, a look into the mind of a flawed genius. Now excuse me while I go wash out my ears......more
There have been and continue to be a lot of World War II novels on bookstore shelves these days. This particular setting has always been a storytellerThere have been and continue to be a lot of World War II novels on bookstore shelves these days. This particular setting has always been a storyteller's sad paradise; there are just so many untold tales of the courageous and cunning and clever and cowardly and compassionate. So many little and big backdrops in which to place a character on a quest. I availed myself of this setting for Secrets of a Charmed Life.
I knew when this book was due to be released that I would grab it up. The Nightingale was one of those books that I could not wait to get back to. I read for pleasure at the end of the day, and I know I've got a great book when I can't wait for night to fall, for the clock to strike ten o'clock, so to speak, so that I can crawl into bed with the pages.
Like All the Light We Cannot See, Life After Life, Those Who Save Us (all five-star WW2 novels in my opinion), The Nightingale is not an easy read. War is a cruel canvas for any story to be told and yet this tale is inspired by true events. This story of two French sisters named Vianne and Isabelle did not really happen but you know without a shadow of a doubt that it could have.
Just a few days ago (as of this writing) America quietly noted that it had been 70 years since VE Day -Victory in Europe. Seven decades had passed since the Allies - against incredible odds and a formidable enemy - accepted the unconditional surrender of Germany's Nazi forces. I was stunned by how noiselessly May 8, 2015 came and went. I think the older we get and the more generations there are removed from WW2, the more out of touch we become with how it changed the landscape of who we are. I am glad for books like this one that will resonate into the future (it's a runaway bestseller right now) so that we won't lose sight of how this season of history shaped humanity.
Before reading Thief of Glory, I had no idea what the war was like for the Dutch residents living in what had been Dutch-occupied Indonesia. The novelBefore reading Thief of Glory, I had no idea what the war was like for the Dutch residents living in what had been Dutch-occupied Indonesia. The novel was eye-opening to say the least. As with other books I’ve read with young protagonists dealing with the harsh realities of adults at war (see The Book Thief, Sarah s Key, Diary of A Young Girl, Stones from the River} this one yanked fiercely on my mother-heart and left me astonished at what war expects of the children swept up into its maelstrom.
The book won’t be released until mid-August but I suggest you put it on your To Be Bought list and then most definitely on your To Be Read pile. You will be moved, appalled, changed. ...more
I fell in love with Lisa See's writing with Snowflower and the Secret Fan back when my book club read it in 2008. I've read every book she's written sI fell in love with Lisa See's writing with Snowflower and the Secret Fan back when my book club read it in 2008. I've read every book she's written since then and loved them all (even Peony in Love, which is a desperately sad story and yet still the prose delighted me). I compare all her books to Snowflower and have never come as close to saying I loved any new book of hers as much as that one until now. China Dolls, hot off the press, was a fascinating read, set in a time period I am currently researching for my own writing, and one that stayed with me long after I turned the last page. I wish I could give it 4 1/2 stars on the GoodReads system.
The book is written in first person point-of-view with alternating narrators, which I happen to love for story construction. The voices of Ruby, Grace, and Helen are distinctive and believable. I admit I was taken aback at first by the storytelling skills of these women, and the less-than-lyrical quality of their narration. I like to be whisked away by a character's literary voice and these women had what I can only describe as ordinary voices. They aren't the Bronte sisters, however. They are showgirls and I would guess the voices Lisa See gave them to tell us their story had to be these. ...more
I was hooked from page one. This was one of those books that I wanted to get back to whenever I wasn't reading it. The past/present construction of thI was hooked from page one. This was one of those books that I wanted to get back to whenever I wasn't reading it. The past/present construction of the alternating chapters (with the two meeting at the climactic pinnacle) was perfect for this story and the twist at the end had me reading those last couple pages twice -- I was that surprised. ...more
There are a lot of great marriage books out there, so if you're wondering if the market really needs another, I can tell you why it needs this one. NoThere are a lot of great marriage books out there, so if you're wondering if the market really needs another, I can tell you why it needs this one. Not only is it full of great content, it's slim at just under a hundred pages. It's a busy world where time is precious. This is a book a busy couple could read together and not get bogged down in. And I would say it's not just for couples in trouble. It's the perfect book for couples to read before there's trouble. Plus, in the pages are fresh approaches to old practices, like the art of forgiving, how to reframe your expectations, and how collaboration will always trump compromise. A great book to tuck inside a wedding gift......more
Some years back, when I first read The Secret Life Of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, I remember thinking I wanted to be able to do with words what this authorSome years back, when I first read The Secret Life Of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, I remember thinking I wanted to be able to do with words what this author had done, and that is construct a compelling story with the perfect mix of simplicity and complexity such that people who read what I wrote would not soon forget it. It wasn't so much the plot that wowed me as much as it was the way in which it was delivered to me.
A few years after that, when The Mermaid Chair came out also by Sue Monk Kidd several people whose opinions matter greatly to me said it was a different kind of book not one that they loved and that I probably wouldn't find the magic in it that I did with Bees. I actually chose NOT to read Mermaid for that very reason because I didn't want to mess with the echoes of Bees still swirling in my head. So naturally when The Invention of Wings released, I was eager, anxious, and hopeful. Would it take me away to literary wonderland as Bees did?
The answer to that is a resounding yes.
When a book hits my sweet spot, it's usually hard to describe in concrete details how. That kind of book somehow beautifully assaults my senses, viciously yanks on the virtues I hold most dear - like justice and fidelity and sacrificial love - and plants me as firmly in its setting and culture as if I had time-travelled there. It haunts me when I am not reading it and woos me when I am. The characters' voices linger in my mind and their sorrows and joys feel like my own. A book that hits my sweet spot doesn't spoon-feed the ending; it suggests the denouement in a way that lets me feel like there are more pages in the book; I just don't have access to them. The story is not over, and I am not expected to feel like it is.
The story is told in two points of view, that of a Southern slave owner's daughter and the other, the slave she grows up with. The time of the tale is well before the Civil War. Here are some of my favorite lines:
“History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.”
“We 're all yearning for a wedge of sky, aren't we? I suspect God plants these yearnings in us so we'll at least try and change the course of things. We must try, that's all."
“The sorry truth is you can walk your feet to blisters, walk till kingdom-come, and you never will outpace your grief.”
“Sarah was up in her room with her heart broke so bad, Binah said you could hear it jangle when she walked.”
Your heart will bleed reading this book, but it will heal in a way that allows you to remember why you loved it. You'll be reminded why slavery is one of the ugliest ideas ever, and you'll be glad there were brave souls who stood up in protest.