Thursday, December 27, 2007

World Without End by Ken Follett

image from LibraryThing

I must admit I was a little disappointed. I feel like sort of a traitor admitting that.

I so loved Pillars of the Earth!
 I've had World for quite a while and have saved it until I had the time to really sink into it....

I did like it, but World was almost the same as Pillars - just 200 years later.

The deep love relationships are thwarted again and again.
The pompous, hypocritical church tries to control events again and again.
The main characters are the only town members with vision and common sense - again.
The nobility are cold, heartless, twisted and only cared about appearance and money - again.

There were chapters I felt like I was watching a traffic accident. I was too curious to stop, but it was so painful to read the details.

Had I read this first - I think I might have called it my favorite.
I cared about the characters more than Pillars. The plague and the 'witch' accusations are a part of history that I've actually heard of - so it made it all more plausible.

But - I also need to admit that I read into the single digits of the night more than once with this story.

Bottom line - I really liked the story, the characters, the whole plot. But, standing on this side and looking back - it felt too much like a rerun for a wholehearted recommendation.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

image from LibraryThing

Our December/January book club book.

This is a World War II story about two naive University of Iowa girls and their decision to move to New York City for the summer. They were led to believe there were easy to find and lucrative jobs for dependable Iowans. Instead, they find loads of girls for every opening in all the posh stores.

On a whim they decide to try Tiffany's. They are surprised to be hired as the first two girls on the sales floor. But, they aren't selling - they are pages earning $20/week. Hardly enough to pay for the rent of their two room flat, bus and subway fare and a little left for food. But, the adventure of living in the City makes the lack of money unimportant.

They meet more than one famous person - from a gangster with Marjorie's last name to Marlene Dietrich. They are also in the midst of NYC when a plane hits the Empire State Building and in Times Square with 2 million other excited New Yorkers when the end of the war is announced.

Marjorie discovers love, friendship and excitement. As well as a deep appreciation for her roots back in Iowa.

This was a fun and fast read. Although it reminded me again that memoirs aren't my favorite. I'd rather read a novel based on this summer!

I wish I had read this before our trip to NYC this summer. It would have been fun to find some of the places she mentioned. We did find New Yorkers to be every bit as friendly and supportive as Marjorie did! Maybe some things don't change.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Your Oasis on Flame Lake by Lorna Landvik

image from LibraryThing
This is another great Lorna Landvik book.

Devera is a woman in the midst of a mid-life crisis - she has a wonderful family -a quirky husband who cares for her, two daughters - Lin in the midst of of teenage angst and Darcy a sweet and quirky 11 year old.

Her best friend is a spoiled rotten biddy name BiDi. BiDi believes that she is the best, the brightest, and the most of the small town of White Falls. Really she is a tease still living in her high school fantasies. Her first marriage to Big Mike fell apart and she fell in love again with Sergio, a high energy latin baker. BiDi's daughter Franny follows her father Big Mike's size and hockey skills much to BiDi's dismay. She expects her daughter to follow her size two shape.

Into all of this mix Dick, Devera's husband opens a night club in the redone basement of their home. He has decorated with movie posters, candles, black curtains and lots of love. He christens it Oasis on Flame Lake. And much to everyone's surprise it's a big hit.

But Dev makes a terrible choice that will shake their foudations. Franny is vicisouly attacked after she scores a winning goal in a hockey championship and the retailiations put Darcy, in grave danger.

Once again I like that Landvik takes a normal small town life and adds the drama of life. Each of the chapters in this book are written by one of 5 characters - Darcy, Sergio, Dick, BiDi or Dev. The consistency of their point of view added to my sympathy or lack there of.

Another strong recommendation!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Tall Pine Polka by Lorna Landvik

image from LibraryThing

This is another great book!

I had read almost 400 pages. I had enjoyed the twists and turns of the plot. I thought I knew what to expect as the book was coming to a close and then.....I actually shouted "NO!!" I was so surprised by one sudden turn of events I couldn't be quiet!

That's what Landvik did for me in this story!

Fenny Ness is a stay at home, afraid of her shadow, twenty-something hidden away in the tiny Northern Minnesota town of Tall Pines. Fenny is surrounded by her good friends; Lee, the owner of the Cup'O Delight coffee shop, Slim, the barking bus boy/man overcoming the lingering remnants of Post Tramatic Stress Disorder, Frau Katte and Miss Penk the aging lesbian couple, Pete the shoe repairman who secretly runs a thriving mail-order business for handmade shoes, and the mayor. Each of these people works to fill the holes created by the sudden deaths of Fenny's parents. She is happy in this old lady life where everything is predictable and safe.

Into this cliched small town life a movie director is dropped, and Fenny is 'discovered.' Fenny becomes Inga, the fresh mail-order bride, ordered by Ike, a Minnesota lumberman. So, not only is Tall Pines over run with the film makers, but Fenny is also the reluctant star. Her no-nonsense charm washes over the actors, directors and the audience alike transforming a mundane little film into something as magical as the actual Tall Pines.

Midway though the story - Bill, a 1/2 Chippewa and 1/2 Hawaiian piano playing jack of all trades also drops into the scene and the real life in Tall Pines takes turn after turn for both Lee and Fenny.

In that real life there is a shooting ( the gun kind, not the film kind), a death, a birth, a marriage, and a couple of fights.

It's one of those books that could have stopped long before it did. I would have been satisfied, but longed for more. Instead, it rode out the turmoil and resolved itself in a way that only Landvik could.

This is a really good one!!! :)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

No Time For Goodbye by Linwood Barclay

This was our book club's November book. It was one of those that once you are into it...time seems to evaporate as you follow the story.

The premise is 14 year old girl who wakes up and finds her family gone. No note. No sign of struggle. Just gone.

The story then skips 25 years ahead to the making of a news program trying to solve this unsolved mystery. Cynthia Archer is a semi-neurotic over-protective mom of an 8 year girl old who needs to check the night sky to make sure asteroids won't strike their house by the next morning.

The story is told by Cynthia's husband Terry, a highschool creative writing teacher. Terry believes Cynthia, yet as oddities begin to appear in and around her he begins to question... was she more involved than she says?

Then tragedy strikes - Tess, Cynthia's aunt is brutally murdered as is the private detective who is looking into the family's disappearance. Terry doubts seem to grow and Cynthia takes Grace and disappears to get away from the stress and Terry.

That was the last straw - Terry begins his own quest for the truth. This leads him to Vince, the thug Cynthia was with the evening her family disappeared. And then the mystery begins to unravel....

I really liked this book. I thought I knew what was going on - I was only partially right. I like books that do that. There is something comforting in thinking you have a mystery solved. Yet the twist made life more interesting.... I don't want to say anymore - because I don't want to give anything away.

The part I didn't like was the name. It's so corny that I wouldn't have picked up this book on my own.

But, after I read the back - I was looking forward to it.

I also thought it would be more creepy - I do have a 16 year old. But, the book isn't creepy at all. From the beginning it doesn't feel random. That is what makes it ok for me to read!!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Love Walked In by Marisa De Los Santos

This is another one that I enjoyed - although it took me a while to get into it.

The book is told by two characters - Cornelia and Clare. Cornelia is living in a world created by old movies - and hoping for her one true love to walk in the coffee shop that she manages.

Clare is an 11 year old living with a mother on the edge of madness.

The chapters go back and forth between the two of them - picking up the story as they go.

This is one those books that have a great story that I really love - but the writing style bogged me down time after time. Cornelia is constantly living in movies - detailing bits and pieces that I didn't think really added to the story.

Clare's story was much clearer and more childlike. Clare carefully hides her mother's fall into darkness with expert care. She makes sure that she can take care of herself - hiding from all exactly what is going on. That works until her mother completely disappears.

That's when Clare and Cornelia cross paths and Love trully walks in...

This is a sweet and tender story -yet not completely predictable!


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lorna Landvik at Live from Prairie Lights

Jill, Marlinda and I went to Prairie Lights to hear Lorna Landvik tonight.

It's very intriguing to hear how an author works. To hear how a story unfolds. Lorna described how two characters kindly visit her imagination along with the title of her book. She obliges them by telling their story. She made it all sound so cheerful and possible.

Later she described what she went through to publish her first book "Patty Jo's House of Curls." She wrote the book in long hand then retyped it all. She found her hands were wet as she finished typing the story on a stormy May night. She thought that there was a leak above her - actually she was crying...the final death scene still moved her.

Then she followed 'the book' on getting published. She mailed query letters to dozens of agents before one accepted. Then after 4 years and 30 rejection letters she was accepted by a tiny publisher with ties to big newspapers.

It all sounded so difficult - but she was so positive...

She was also really funny! She does a one woman improve show in the Twin Cities. She did voices and told funny stories of her life pre-writing.

So - what does that mean for aspiring writers? I think it means you need to listen to your inner voice. You need to trust your instincts. You need to laugh. And you need to give candy to all those in your life who want to know more about you!!

I"m so glad that we went...

And I bought her new book - "The View from Mt. Joy"

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

This was one of those books I just couldn't put down. It's a historical epic about the building of a massive cathedral in 1100 England.

The book follows four different characters and their families as they cross paths over many years. It opens with a disturbing hanging and a curse called down by a distraught woman....

From there it follows the path of Tom Builder and his family as they travel on foot from town to town looking for work as a stone cutter and builder. Times are difficult and the family experiences terrible tragedy when Tom's wife Agnes dies. But, their luck seems to change as they happen into Kingsbridge the same day the wooden roof of the old tumble down church burns down. The church is completely destoryed and Tom helps Father Phillip, the head monk of the small village, decide what to do to begin to solve the church's problem. So begins the building of the most amazing chuch rural England has ever seen.

Follett makes the reader appreciate the intricate detail and incredible work that the ancient builders experienced when creating their masterpieces. I'm not a builder, but I enjoyed the description of the hand labor that was required.

This incredible creation of beauty is surrounded by the squalor of the living conditions of many peasants of the day. The dicotome ( great word, right) of these two lives comes into play as Aliana enters the tale. She is the spoiled daughter of an Earl who loses his position when his castle is overtaken by William, a bully and a thug. This is allowed because of the political times. As William comes to claim the castle he also claims Aliana for his own by brutally raping her. Aliana and her brother Richard are penniless and lost. Yet, Aliana is resourceful and devises a way to regain some of their wealth by gathering the wool of the local farmers and taking it to market. Only to find that the sellers will not deal fairly with a young girl. Enter Father Phillip, he becomes the go between for the wool. And both Aliana and the Prior at Kingsbridge become very wealthy.

All of that takes about the first 100 pages of a 900+ page book.

It is so worth it!! I was enthralled from beginning to end! This is one I would gladly recommend for those who want to be lost in another time and life. It made me appreciate my hot shower, warm food and privacy!!

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

This is our October Book Club book.

I must admit it was really hard for me to get into this book. It actually took until the banquet for me to care at all about these people. It seemed to jump into the midst of their lives and I didn't really care about them.

Then during the banquet when we actually heard many more details I really got to like them. I finally figured out who Bernadette was and loved her stories of her life and times - especially when I realized it was all just a story! I cared about Jocelyn and her need to control everything and her extreme discomfort when she couldn't control the car trip with Grigg. I cared that Sylvia was having such a hard time deciding what to wear to the first real outing where she would see her estranged husband and his new girlfriend. And I cared about the life and falls of Allegra her daughter.

Anyway - I wouldn't say this was a favorite of mine - and I probably wouldn't even recommend it - but I am glad I read it.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

Traveling Mercies is one of the first books that I read with a pencil in my hand, by choice. I underlined and wrote quotes on the inside of the back cover because there were so many things that I wanted to remember.

This is a book of essays taken from Anne's life. That in itself is not remarkable - what is remarkable is the way she interacts with the Lord as she walks through her life. It isn't the pious, everything is peachy relationships that authors sometimes portray. Instead - it's life. She is messy and real and jealous and negative and nasty and profound all in the same moment. And God is there too!

Her honesty was what slapped me in the face again and again. I have stayed away from most churchy books, because I read them and fall so short of the way the writers see God. Anne seems to see the very same God I do!

The other thing I kept thinking about is - she was a writer before she was a 'christian author.' That seems to take her essays to a completely different place..

Here are some of my random quotes...

"After we jump into the darkness of the unknown, faith lets us believe we either land on solid ground, or learn to fly."

Talking about making the decision to become a christian..."I held my breath- and then I crossed over."

Recalling a story of a childhood friend who had become lost - a policman was driving the little girl around town and she didn't recognize anything until she saw her church...
"This is my church and I can always find my way home from here."

"Church is a path and a little light to see by."

Her pastor's words on faith...
"We in our faith work stumble along toward where we think we're supposed to go, bumbling along, and here is what's so amazing---we end up getting exactly where we're supposed to be."

"I can't imagine anything but music that could have brought about this alchemy. Maybe it's because music is about as physical as it gets: your essential rhythm is your heartbeat; your essential sound, the breath. We're walking temples of noise, and when you add teneder hearts to this mix, it somehow lets us meet in places we couldn't get to any other way."

I loved her irreverant talks with God - her notes written on scraps of paper and placed in God's in box - and replaced when he hadn't gotten around to answering her. It all made God so real - so here - so now.

Hers is a faith that wraps in and around herself and is her - not one that is shined and looked at and admired on the shelf. Hers gets a bit dirty and scuffed from throwing it on the ground in moments of frustration. But, the dents and scratches guide her on to new places. That's the faith I want to learn to wear!!

I would strongly recommend this!!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Little Heathens By Mildred Armstrong Kalish

This was our September book club book. I found the stories interesting and intriguing. But, they were nothing new - instead they rang with the tales of my own grandmas and grandpas. It made me sad that I didn't listen more carefully to the tales they told. My history would be a little different because it is a Mennonite/Amish tale. But, the deep connection to the earth and to familes remains the same.

So, though I was not over the top with the story. Listening to Mildred speak tonight at Shambaugh Auditorium made the stories come alive in a way that I never expected. She read the chapter on Aunt Belle, and Belle was in the room with us. It was an amazing change. Mildred was animated and full of energy. She put flesh on the stories in a way that I didn't understand authors could do. I have not heard many authors speak - so I don't know if this is the norm or if this is something different.

I would recommend this as a book to bring back the memories of stories that we have heard from our own histories. Stories of the hard life that farm kids lived - yet the uninhibited joy that living in nature brings. The work leads to a hope and a connection that our kids are not living. Enter a world of long ago and hold on and learn from a past that is slipping away.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Book of Flying by Keith Miller

image from LibraryThing
This book is not for the faint of heart or the hater of the quirky books!
So - I totally loved it!

This is the story of Pico, an orphan librarian poet living in a city of nonreaders. His eyes are the only ones who ever view the pages of the beautiful books in his library. But, that is not what breaks his heart. Instead, it is Sisi, a winged girl whom he saved from the sea. Sisi belongs to those who can fly, Pico belongs to those who can't. The worlds do not mingle. But his heart has been securely tied to Sisi, so he pines away writing poems to her, dreaming of flying while sending solitary irises out onto the sea.

The chance discovery of a letter buried under the flagstones in the library, sends Pico on a quest for the morning town of Paunpaum and to find the Book of Flying so he can join Sisi.

His quest takes him to characters filled with love for their fractured lives. Until they meet him. Pico shares his stories while gathering theirs. And neither remain the same after their encounter. He meets the Robber queen, a Minotaur bridge keeper, a talking rabbit, a town dedicated to pleasure that ends in unimaginable death. In each of his stops he is invited to stay, yet the image of Sisi and his undying love drives him on...

As I followed Pico I was drawn deeper and deeper into his world. His love of words and stories is hard to stray from for one who loves words as well. But, I could not agree with Pico all the time. His story was completely his own as were his choices.

Some parts of this story were rather distrubing. This is not the sweet Disney fairy tale quest - but much more brother's grimm. There is gore and cannibilism and a more than a little skin.

Even so, I loved it!!! As a dreamer of flying - I wonder if I could have completed this quest! I'm certain I couldn't!

Thanks Amanda, for the recommendation!!!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson

Nonny Frett is the kind of woman that only appears between the pages of a book. A woman whose deaf-blind adopted momma makes breathtaking porcelain doll heads while her OCD, anxiety-ridden aunt (her mother's twin sister) sews the body. A 30-something sign-language interpreter in the midst of divorcing a man she is still sometimes sleeping with. THere are just too many oddities for one woman, aren't there??

Yet Nonny invites the reader into her world and the chaos that she lives in, and I happily joined her in Between, Georgia. Nonny is the birth daughter of a Crabtree, the poster family for poor white trash. She was adopted by the Fretts, the cliche of pure white southern Baptists. Yet the Fretts are controlled, run and generally bullied into compliance by Bernese, Nonny's other aunt. There is more than a little trashiness in Bernese's tactics and more than a little gentility Ona Crabtree (Nonny's birth grandmother.)

There is also a dog mauling, a bit of book store passion, a fire, and a near death experience. It is a book that invites you in for a cup of sweet southern tea, and you happily accept.

I really liked this book for all it's quirky sweetness. It's quite predictible - but that doesn't take way from it's charm.
I would highly recommend this one!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

This is one of those books that made me chuckle out loud - even on the plane to NYC! Zippy is one of those neverending tomboys that grew up in the 60s and 70s in small towns all over the country. A small "Mayberry" like town with odd characters, lots of dogs and cats and dirt streets to wander. Zip was the youngest of three children - way younger than her two older sibling. Her father has a never ending temper and a incredibly sweet soft side. Her mother has a permanemtly indented spot on the end of the couch from her reading habit.

And then there is Zip.

This is a funny coming of age story for those of us growing up in that era. A speedy and interesting read.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Curious Incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon

This book grabbed me right away because it's quirky and odd and I like that! So - if you don't be warned. This is the story of Christopher an autistic 15 year old in England. The story opens as he discovers Wellington, the dog next door, dead on the lawn with a garden fork sticking out of him. I told you it was odd.

Christopher decides to solve the mystery of Wellington's death and to write a book about it. As the book continues you discover that Christopher's mom has died and he and his father are struggling to make do and they are not really succeeding.

But, things are not really the way the seem. Even as Christopher is searching for the killer like Sherlock Holmes, he shares a glimpse into the life he is living with his father. We hear about Sihohan, his teacher at school, and the ways he has learned to calm himself. We find out how mathmatical his mind is and what an amazing gift that is.

But, that is nothing compared to what he discovers in the closet in his father's room.

This is an odd one!! Just my kind of book! :)

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

This was an interesting and disturbing book.

It follows a 'typical' Afghanistan family for several months in the Spring after the Taliban fled from the country. The author is a female Swedish journalist who moved in with the family. She observed, traveled with the men, worked with the women, wore a burka, and according to her, "I have rarely been as angry as I was with the Khan family, and I have rarely quarreled as much as I did there. Nor have I had the urge to hit anyone as much as I did there."

One of my favorite aspects of the book is the way you see into the family life. Women are trully possessions and slaves. Their value is measured by the way they make their men happy - not only husbands, but fathers and sons as well. A man ALWAYS had more power than the women regardless of the age of the man or the woman. My guess is that was one of the reasons that Asne (the author) was so angry so often.

Although this was a fairly wealthy family - 11 lived in a 2 room apartment with inconsistent water or electricity. Sultan ( the bookseller, father and strongest family member) decided everything including who or if his youngest sister would marry or continue to be a virtual house slave is Sultan's home.

This was a great book to read after A Thousand Splendid Suns. This was the nonfiction version of life at the end of the book.

It is hard for my American sensibilities to understand how the power structure has evolved. It is almost impossible to imagine how it would feel to always accept that my sex makes me second rate. It was not only the Taliban who promoted this - Burkas and female subordination existed before their rule.

This book brought up more questions for me -as we try to understand a different culture there is so much to know.

I would recommend this one too!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Well - I finished it!! And I have to say it's as wonderful as I expected. There are so many pieces tied up - things that I only 1/2 remembered. As those ends are mended - you see Harry and his friends grow and change and grow again!
I completely loved it!!!!

I've read all the books outloud to Rod and we finished number 6 on Saturday. I am now reading Deathly Hallows to Rod. It's even better the second time around. I'm already making more connections...

I also spent a little time reading Harry blogs. Several things made sense that I had missed. But - it's a little disconcerting - people are so into these books. It makes me a little concerned for them - they need to get a life!!!

That's all I can say - but if you've read it and want to comment - I'd love to chat! :)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

This is a heart breaking story of loss and stamina. A great second novel about the beauty and despair and hope of Afghanistan and the people who live there.

I read this book in a long day - I spent much of the afternoon in the hospital waiting room as my mother-in-law recovered from foot surgery. Then I finished it this evening. I think it gives a different perspective in a reading so close together.

The story follows the lives of two very different women - Mariam and Laila. Both are raised near Kabul. But their lives are very different. Mariam is the illigetimate daughter of a prominant Heran resident. She is raised by a bitter and saddened mother. She believes explicitly what her father tells her on the weekly visits to her hovel. Yet, when she comes to him to claim her as his rightful daughter, he sends her away to Kabul to be married to Rasheed, a man 20 years her senior. Years of miscarriages have changed the way this couple functions - Mariam is little more than Rasheed's slave and punching bag.

Laila is the youngest daughter of the local teacher. She is his pet and her learning never stops. That is until the Soviets take over and the bombs begin. After her family is killed she is taken in by Rasheed and becomes the second wife in this disfunctional home.

The years pass with each one bringing additional hardships and increasingly impossible living standards. Then the Taliban takes over.

I kept thinking about how this could all happen. Afghan was a wealthy and culturally vibrant country before.... then the wars started and slowly the people unraveled placing their hopes on different saviours. Each a bit more awful than the one they had lived under. It's easy to imagine that this could only happen over there... but the over there seems to be creeping ever closer.

It drew me up short and forced me to think a bit - or a lot. Would I have the resilence to continue?

I would highly recommend this one - but I would recommend the Kite Runner first - it's his first novel and an amazing story. These two work well together - the first from the man's perspective and this from the woman's. They are equally sad and yet full of hope!

The Camel Club by David Baldacci

This is the book that proceeds The Collectors. I have to admit I liked The Collectors better. In this one you meet Oliver Stone, the leader of the Camel Club and self proclaimed truth seeker. He has a shady and unknown past. He is joined in the club by 3 other eccentric older Washington D.C. gentlemen, each seeking the truth in their own way. All that is well and good - they just seem like some eccentric old fuddy duddies - until they witness a murder and become embroiled in a mass cover-up and plot to kidnap the President.

You also meet Alex Ford, secret service veteran and fellow seeker of the truth. Alex is sent to investigate the death of a young fellow National Security worker. It is here that the Camel Club and Alex join forces - rather reluctantly.

What follows is terrorism turned on it's head. Terrorism for the sake of the world - not for any single government or country. But, things go astray as money is thrown into the mix. Not all the plotters are completely altruistic (sp).

Anyway, this is very political. I liked the more personal side of the second book. Although this introduction certainly made me feel a bit more sorry for Oliver Stone and the things he had to give up. That seems to be a theme in many Baldacci books - men pushed beyond the breaking point due to past losses.

So - a good read - but not my favorite..

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Red River by Lalita Tademy

This was our July book club book. I can't decide how I felt about this one. It's well written and a great fictionalization of an actual event. But, it's really depressing. It's another example of the ways we (White Americans) have messed up the lives of others. I kept wondering how I can help improve this history. What can I do? How can I improve the lives of those around?

The book is a retelling of a Massacre that our history has called a riot. Blacks in Colfax, Louisiana voted Republican and the Democrats in power were unhappy with the change. So unhappy that they kidnapped the sheriff and stormed the court house. A place held by local blacks who were told that the Federals from New Orleans would be coming to help. Unfortunately, that didn't quite happen. Instead 105 blacks were killed along with 3 whites. THe trials went all the way to the Supreme court and the innocence of the mob of whites was upheld. That's really hard to read and understand.

This book follows the Tademy family - the author's ancestors. They played a key role in the uprising and the following years in the Colfax area - including starting a black school.

i think it's really important to read this - but it didn't make it any easier!!!


Friday, July 6, 2007

Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

Another AMAZING Picoult book.

Mariah is totally smitten by her husband. Unfortunately he doesn't feel quite the same way about her. When she and her daughter Faith catch him in their bedroom with another woman the marriage is officially over. Seven years earlier Mariah completely fell apart to the point of suicide after the same kind of an incident. THis time she has Faith and things are different and completely the same.

As Mariah fights to keep her sanity Faith begins to talk to an imaginary friend, her Gaurd. When Faith begins spouting scripture from the Old Testament Mariah realizes there is something not quite right. See, they are complete unbelievers - not just lapsed Jews or Christians, but unbelievers. So, Faith has never heard any verses from the Bible.

As Mariah tries to find an answer to Faith's 'problem' word that she is seeing God and a female God at that begins to leak out. People gather at Faith's home - a cult, a group of Catholics for a female God, and Ian Thompson the unevangelist for Aethists.

That is the scene. Catholics begin researching to see if she is really speaking to God - Jewish leaders question her connection as does her father - especially after she begins to bleed from her hands. And she begins healing people - including bringing her Jewish grandma back from the dead!!

Through the entire story I kept wondering....who would God appear to? Is a 7 year old all that unusual? Would I hear the voice if God appeared to me? And what about this bleeding - could that really happen?

This is one of those very thought provoking books that keeps you wondering. I loved it!!!


Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I had a really hard time with this book. It is a fast read with short paragraphs and sparse description. That wasn't the problem. Instead the very idea of a nameless father and son traveling on a deteriating road through a bleak nuclear winter to a completely unknown future was difficult.

The characters show us the best and the worst of humanity. The father has to juggle impossible options - 1 bullet left in the gun and two starving travelers. Do you shoot your son to put him out of misery? Can you/could you do that? And what about saving this "good guy" from the cannibles day after day after day.

The boy is the voice of hope and kindness. It is he who reminds his father to help the old man, to give the thief back his clothes and to try to help the trapped innocents.

But, my goodness. What a world. What a future. What an ending. I read and read with my Afterschool special hopes - wanting some redemption for this struggling pair. They were constantly on the lookout for the good guys - but would they have recoginzed them if they found them. It appears they didn't. At least maybe...

I have to believe that is some sort of hope. The road doesn't end - it is all in your attitude on the journey. Each time it looked impossible - something happened to keep them going. That is what I hold on to. No matter how bleak our own future - I believe there is someone watching over the entire plan. Whether I make it to the end of the road or not - I know God is watching and I will be with him. That is what gives me the faith and the hope to begin each day again. I think the boy understood that.

So, dear reader - what do you think? Do you have the stuff to carry the flame? I have to believe that I would try.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

What an amazing book. This story takes you back to carnival life in the 30s. A time when the trains pulled the circuses across the country. A time when people really did run away with the circus. And that is exactly the story this book tells - a young man, Jacob Jancowicz, who runs away from the life he's known. He is in the last two weeks of college when tragedy strikes - his parents are killed in an car accident and the bank actually owns everything. Instead of taking the final exams he simply walks out of the testing room and doesn't stop until he climbs aboard a train.

And his new life begins with the circus. He doesn't quite fit - he is educated and from a happy family. He immediately finds friends and enemies. Something he has never experienced before. He also is able to follow his love of animals as he cares for the varied animals in the menagerie. And he discovers a deep and forbidden love for another of the performers.

This was an amazing story - it chugged down the track quickly and with the same sense of anticipation and excitement that a real trip to the circus would have! The end is just as unexpected and as the final show under the big top!! I loved this!!!


The Collectors By: David Baldacci

This was another very quick read. I have read other Baldacci’s, but this pulled me in more than others.

The story is about a peculiar group of people who are collectors of one sort or another. The story begins by following two completely separate stories -one about a con and the other a killer in Washington D.C.

I don’t want to say much - because I don’t want to give anything away. But, this is the second in the series of the Camel Club and it won’t be the last!!


The Color of Water by James McBride

This was a great book to read after To Kill A Mockingbird. These books walked a lot of the same path, but with very different outcomes.

James is the child of a Jewish mother who married a black man and was permenantly torn from her birth family because of that. This is the story of deep love for a family and for God, and the way that love can overcome.

James tells an amazing story. Weaving his mother’s past and his own past together.

Another one to recommend!!


To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I read this years and years ago and can’t believe how much I forgot! It was a great June read!

The last time I read it, I wasn’t a parent. It makes things happen completely differently as I read it through a parents’ eyes. Atticus was an amazing man. My favorite line is ...”Atticus is the same on the street as he is in the courtroom.” I’ve thought about that so often. Could my children describe me the same way? Am I the same in the classroom as at home?

I had forgotten a lot of the parts that tie the story together - only remembering sketchily how the story connects.

I would strongly recommend this one for a great read again - or a wonderful introduction to life in the south a long time ago!!

May book club


Fortune’s Rocks By Anita Shreve

It’s hard for me to say if I liked this one or not. I like the way Shreve makes me think. Her books are not entirely comfortable to read - there is a nagging that can’t be ignored. So it was with Fortune’s Rocks.

The story takes place in early 1900 at a time when girls were to be seen and not heard. The scene is New Hampshire - along the coast at the edge of a Textile mill town. But, Olympia at the edge of 16, has been raised in the light of her father's eye far from the work and the hardships of mill work. Then Olympia meets John Haskell, a 40 something doctor and father of several. There is instant attraction between the two. Against both of their better judgements - they becoming romantically entwined. As the summer passes, they know their 'love' must end. But, their are discovered at Olympia's 16th party by John's wife and a nasty poet.

Olympia's family returns at once to Boston and complete disgrace. John is sent from his home and his Dr. license taken from him. Olympia discovers herself pregnant and the baby is taken from her as well.

But, that is not wher Shreve ends the book. Instead, Olympia fights back from her father's disgrace. She attends college for a few years and then 'runs' away back to Fortune's Rocks where she was happy. She begins to live on her own in the house by the sea.

I don't want to tell you the rest of the story - but it continues on.

My problem was the very idea of a 15 and 40 year old having this deep and profound love. And the destruction that they created. Shreve doesn't defend or condone - rather she simply reports. I don't know if I like that.... It made me cringe more than once. Again, I have to read this with the eye of the mom of a teen-ager!!

Anyway - this is a haunting tale, like all of Shreves. There are no easy and pat answers. Instead, life is messy and goes on long after you think there is absolutely no way for it to contine!!


The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff

The time is WWII Prague. Emma is a shy, poor Jewish girl who meets an amazing and passionate young man, Jacob. Jacob sees her hidden away in the books of the library and they fall passionately in love. Then the war interfers with their new life.

Jacob joins the resistance and sends Emma to his Catholic aunt on the edges of Prague. Emma changes her name to Anna and begins working in Nazi headquarters for the Kommandant. 

So begins the next phase of Emma/Anna’s life. She is scared beyond all she knows that she will be discovered and killed. Here is a Jewish girl in the heart of Prague’s Nazi center.

But, Emma finds strength in a way she did not expect. She finds love in the Krysia’s house (the older aunt) caring for an orphaned child. She is able to slowly do more and more for the resistance as she discovers the Kommandan’ts secrets. But Anna has her secrets as well. As the Kommandant notices her again and again she must make very difficult choices that affect her life and the life of Jacob. Her choices will come to change her and the lives of many around her.

This is a great read - not easy, but thought provoking. It makes you wonder what choices you would make for the greater good...Sitting in the middle of Iowa the path looks clear - would it if the war swirled through our own world???



Leon and the Champion Chip by Allen Kurzweil

Leon is back and better than ever. This time his Spitting Image is Lumpkin the class bully. Leon waits for the first day of school - anticipating the revenge he will finally have. But - his powers seem to have disappeared.

So begins the scientific research on how to repower the image. Leon is helped by PW and Lily-Matisse in this quest. A new teacher is added to the Classical school - Mr. Sparks. Sparks is the new science teacher. He begins the year by combining students passions with science - when he discovers Leon’s passion is potato chips that becomes the course of study for the rest of the year. The class uses potato chips to test, to learn about classification, taxonomy, chemical and electrical energy, aerodynamics, optics, acidity, wireless communication, recycling, ballistics and cosmology. But, parents are not happy with this study and with the teacher that is leading the students. Leon and his helpers must save Sparks career while celebrating the amazing potato chip.

I loved this as much as Leon and the Spitting Image. Leon is still strugging to fit in and to avoid Lumpkin. But, this book shows the 3 maturing and moving beyond their own selves to help out in the larger world!! A fun and funny read!


Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

John Ames, a 76-year-old preacher, is writing a letter to his 7 year-old son. A letter that will remain after his ailing heart has stopped. As John writes his life unfolds - walking side by side with his father and his grandfather - preachers before him.

This is a story of a man looking back on his life and remembering all the parts that made him who he was. John grew up and lived his life in a small Iowa town - surrounded by the stories of his grandfather the wild abolitionist preacher and his father who didn’t want to rock the boat.

At the moment when John is called on to rock the boat - he falters and allows a racism to continue that his grandfather had fought to stamp out.

It's a thought provoking and difficult read. I had a hard time staying with this. I kept looking for the story. But, this really isn't a story - it's a reflection on a life relived for the benefit of the next generation. Have we learned - or are we doomed to continue making the same mistakes???

Book club book for April


Saving Fish From Drowning By Amy Tan

Buddhist fishermen say they catch fish because they are saving them from drowning. Philosophy justifies their actions.

This is a story filled with people saving different fish from drowning. It is a travel story - traveling across the world and between those who are dead and those who are alive. It is a story of people facing great problems and rising to the occasion. And people failing miserably as they attempt to change.

This was my first Amy Tan. I had to really keep on top of this or it would have become the one that got away! There are many threads that you have to keep together. It's also a bit depressing. But, it made me want to travel just to prove that not all Americans are self-centered and self-absorbed!!

A beautifully written tale about all sorts of fish!!


The Divide by Nicholas Evans

Our March book club book.

The Divide is a beautiful summer vacation spot in Wyoming. It is also the place where the family begins to fall apart.

And the place where Abby is found encased in ice a couple of years later.

This is the story of a family divided by choices and philosophy.

It was sad and eerie and a good read!


The Solace of Leaving Early by Havel Kimmel

Langston and Amos are not a likely couple. They are both intellectuals who look at one another with disgust. Each are living in a small Indiana town for very different reasons. Amos is the town’s minister. He is enamored to the quirkiness and the personalities of small town life. Langston has grown up in this little burg and happily left for academic life. But, her heart was broken and her spirit soon followed. She came crawling back to home with her pride dented and her intellect bruised. She views the world around her as filled with lower life forms. Into this tension two small girls come. They have moved in with their grandmother - Amos’s parishoner and Langston’s neighbor. A terrible tragedy has brought these sisters into Amos and Langston’s lives. Unwillingly they both begin to care about these two children.
I don’t want to give too much away - but I loved this story! The title comes from a moment between Langston and her older brother. His advice to Langston is to leave the drama early - before everything falls apart. This has been Langston’s life motto. Suddenly life has changed!


The Knitting Circle by: Ann Hood

cover image from LibraryThing
Our next book club book and it’s a real tear jerker! Mary’s 5-year-old daughter has died and she is coming apart at the seams. Her mother suggests that she begin knitting.
 Yeah - right.
 Her long absent mother who can’t even make it to the funeral is giving her advice and for some amazing reason - she accepts.

This begins the long, bumpy, painful and nasty road of healing. As she connects with a group of knitting women she learns the stories of their own tragedies. As she learns she knits and as she knits she heals and as she heals she is finally able to open up and share.

A treasure!!!


The Same Sweet Girls by: Cassandra King

cover image from LibraryThing
“The Same Sweet Girls” is a group of women who graduated together from college in the deep South. Each summer they gather to crown one of them the queen for the next year. The queen is enthroned on a decorated commode with a robe of purple and gold and a scepter made from a baton with cotton bolls, sugar cubes and streamers erupting from the top. As the women gather they remember and add to the history of the SSGs.

But, their lives are not as simple as they appear on the surface.

Julia, the First Lady of Alabama has a checkered past and has been unable to love her husband because of a deep love her mother stomped on. She hides it with perfection and poise and distance. 

Corrine, the self-claimed weirdo, has the most destructive and damaged past. As a young woman she began seeing a therapist, a man who stole her life. Miles took over every part of her life and refused to let go - abusing her physically and psychologically.

Then there is Lanier, the self-destructive woman. Lanier had fled from her husband after a nasty affair. 

Byrd, the bible-thumping mother figure;

 Aster, the exotic, self-absorbed, husbandizing, dancer

Rosanelle, alumni coed-wannabe complete the group.

Corrine is often the story teller - mostly because it is a tale about the end of her life... We learn how Corrine pulls away from Miles and reunites with her son, Culley and her art - gourd art- the story of the SSGs and the way women hold one another together.

I really enjoyed this story. I think I liked Angry Housewives a bit better though. This sometimes got a bit campy with Southern ‘charm.’ But - it’s a great read!!

The End by: Lemony Snicket

cover image from LibraryThing
If you are hoping that all the ends would be tied up and the parents reappear in this final book -you will be disappointed. The children are not rid of Count Olaf - at least not as the story begins...

I admit I wanted everything to tied up neat and tidy - I had forgotten that this is Lemony Snicket. Everything that could go wrong does in typical Lemony Snicket fashion. Yet, for all the woes that follow the chidren, they learn the answers to may questions.

And it is definately NOT the end!!! You really need to have read some of the earlier books for this to make much sense. It doesn't stand alone very well. I found this a bit depressing and disappointing, but I had been warned! :)

The Tenth Circle by: Jodi Picoult

This is a little different than other Picoult books I’ve read. Interspersed throughout this book is a graphic novel written by the main character, Daniel Stone, that mirrors the story. It adds to the authenticity of the story.

I must admit, I had a hard time with this book. It’s about the tragedies of a 14 year-old. It was hard to read as the mother of a 15 year-old. But, I wanted to see how the characters moved through the events.

It was not a happy story and didn’t end with all the problems tied into a neat bow. It was a story of a journey both internally and across the country. As the characters moved from the safety of what they knew in Bethel, Maine to the absolute unknown of Bethel, Alaska they each changed. Mom - Laura, Dad - Daniel and Daughter - Trixie, will never be the same. What they each learned on the journey became the most important part of this story.

So - can I recommend it?? Not whole heartedly or without reservation. But, it is a story that haunts me and causes me to continue to pause and look more closely at the relationships in my own family.


The Zippity Zinger by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

cover image from LibraryThing
Hank Zipzer is a student in trouble.

He believes he is the world’s greatest underachiever, because he can’t focus and he doesn’t believe he can do anything of any importance.

And then something amazing happens. He is practicing pitching with his grandfather Papa Pete and he actually gets the ball where it needs to go! It’s too amazing to believe! Then he realizes what the magic is - his sister’s lucky monkey socks. So, when it’s time for the big game - he has to decide if he will brave the teasing of the team and his sister and wear the lucky socks.


Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen

cover image from LibraryThing
Meghan is an anchor woman on a morning news program, Rise and Shine. She has everything - a great lawyer husband, a college son who is actually a nice kid, national and international recognition. She has it all and yet she has nothing.

She can’t tell anyone how unhappy she is, especially not her sister, Bridget - the opposite. As Meghan’s career climbs to new heights, Bridget’s flounders from one thing to the next - always searching. She finally becomes a social worker and the head of a woman’s center in a nasty part of NYC - The Tubman Projects. She also falls in love with a crusty 20-year-older police commissioner.

Then Meghan self-destructs - she breaks the cardinal rule of TV and utters what she really believes about a guest on air. She flees to Jamaica and turns into a recluse evading all she knew - running from her crumbling marriage and the strain of playing nice. Bridget eventually tracks her down and instead of bringing her home she has her eyes opened to the real Meghan.

Back in NYC tragedy strikes the projects and Meghan is forced to return. In a moment of clarity, she reenters the world of TV news in a way no one could have predicted.

This book gives lots of insight into the glitter of upscale NY and the reality of the poor in the dark corners of the city. Meghan and Bridget are played out as sisters united by the tragic death of their parents at an early age, yet they are filled with their own secrets.

 I liked the book - but had a hard time really staying with it.


We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg

cover image from LibraryThing
A very interesting premise...a woman contracts polio in the 8th month of her pregnancy. She gives birth while in an iron lung. Then she chooses to raise the baby while a paraplegic.

That’s the background to this story and it’s based on a letter recieved by Elizabeth Berg written by the daughter of just such a woman. So, Elizabeth based her character on an actual woman.

That's the reality... the story diverges from there.

Diana Dunn is dealing with life as the dughter of a quad.  After her birth her dad ran off. Diana and her mom are cared for by Peacy, an angry black woman in 1964 Mississippi. As Diana grows she and Peacy trade more and more words. Then Peacy's boy friend La Rue learns to read and begins to help with the Freedom Marches. Peacy eventually realizes, with the sheriff's help, that they need to move.

So Diana was going to be given to foster care. But the unbelievable happens - Diana's Mom had cared for Elvis's Mom in the hospital before she had polio. Diana wrote many a letter to Elvis and one actually made it through. Elvis showed up - and gave them money and solved their problems.

Interesting and impossible. But it's even more amazing because it's based on a real woman - one with 3 children!!


for one more day by: Mitch Albom

cover image from LibraryThing
This is another Mitch Albom thought provoking book.

Charley Benetto is one messed up fellow. His father ran out on them when he was quite young. His father had asked Charley to choose to be a mama's boy or his. Charley chose to follow his father and it was the wrong choice.

His dad was fixated on Baseball. Charley tried to continue that fath even after his dad and mom divorced. It led him to a full college scholarship. then Dad appeared again and convinced him to leave college and chase pro ball. He made it to one inning of the world series then blew out his knee in spring training. He kept chasing the dream, but it didn't quite work. His dad disappeared once again - until he was old enough to really know better. It was one more phone call to go to an old - timers game. He left his Mom's party to travel to the game with his dad. His mom died of a heart attack the next day.

Now the guilt has destroyed him He decided to kill himself - he drove to his old home town and had a head on collision. He was thrown from the car and came to climbing the water tower. He climbed to the top and jumped off in a 2nd attempt. As he came to again he saw his mother on the ball field and thus starts this one more day with mom. As he goes to and fro with his mom their story comes out and he hears again and again how his mom believes in him and loves him. That's the bottom line - love. As his mom helps others get ready to pass over - Charley hears his own story again. It's an interesting book about parental love and commitment. This was our December Book club.


dwelling places by: Vinita Hampton Wright

cover image from LibraryThing
Just as the land hides the history of those who have passed - so this book does.

Wright creates a family deeply tied to the land, yet unable to make the transformation demanded by so many today as farming evolves into megafarms. This is a family who worked and laughed together and hid the deep depression that comes from failing at something that you are expected to succeed at.

 As each of the 4 family members; Mack, Jodie and their two children Young Taylor and Kenzie, search for a new belonging they first find it in others. Yet tragedy and near tragedy bring them back to one another.

It was hard for me to leave this story. Maybe because it was written about southeastern Iowa, maybe because it’s sort of 40-something, maybe because they are all seeking a new dwelling place - a new transition.

 Whatever the reason I found myself thinking a lot about Jodie and her life.

Very interesting!


Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by: Lorna Landvik

cover image from LibraryThing
This was a great book!!

It was sort of Desperate Housewives on reading... It followed the 5 women from Freesia Court who formed a book club in 1968. Each chapter told about 1 characte in 1st person and how their lives intertwined through the book that they were reading.

There was Slip, the activist; Audrey, the sexpot; Merit the beauty queen from Iowa; Faith the one with the secret past; and Kari the widow.

As each woman grew from 1968-1998 they had babies, two divorced, one due to an affair and one due to abuse. There was an adoption of a mixed race child, acceptance of a gay son and a death from cancer.

And through it all they read. I loved that idea!!! I feel like my list of books somehow chronicles my life as a reader and as a woman. That's exactly waht this story does!!

I finished it at 2:30 AM on a Friday night! :) Does that say enough???


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

cover image from LibraryThing
I started reading the Harry Potter books out loud to my family (my husband, 15 year old and 10 year old daughters) this summer when we were on vacation. We had almost finished this one when the summer was over - so we put it away and forgot about it. This weekend we made a 4 hour trip to Omaha and brought the book out again.

These books are great read alouds. There is enough action to keep the story moving and the same characters keep visiting the story. But, more than that we connect with the characters and want to watch them grow and win.

So - on the way to Omaha we finished this story. We heard Harry battle Voldemort as the young man - Tom Riddle. We squirmed together as the Basilisk haunted Hogwarts. And dreaded his return to the Dursleys after the school term.

This is the 3rd time I’ve read the book - once to myself and twice aloud - once to my husband and once to the whole family. And I would happily read it again to my grandchildren in the distant future!!!


Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian

cover image from LibraryThing
This is the book that our book club chose to read this month. I’m still not completely sure what I think about it.

 It took me a while to really get into it, but it completely redeemed itself at the end.

 The basic story is a family torn apart by a misguided bullet. That is where the story begins - a twelve year old aiming her uncle’s hunting rifle at a deer and accidently shooting her father - the public relations man at FERAL - a animal rights company. From that moment marriages, friendships and jobs are changed.

 I recommend this - but be prepared to stick with it - it gets a little slow in the middle.


Digging To America by Anne Tyler

cover image by LibraryThing
The Yazdans and the Donaldson’s have a chance meeting as they wait for the arrival of their new daughters from Korea. This begins a new friendship that continues for many years and intertwines the two very different American clans.  The yearly “Arrival Party” becomes a snapshot into the changing lives of these families.

 Bitsy Donaldson and Ziba Yazdan couldn’t be more different, but each is striving to fit into the new mom niche these foreign daughters have created. Maryam Yazdan, the family matriarch, immigrated from Iran as a new bride. She is perfectly controlled, perfectly dressed and carefully American. Bitsy is a careless housekeeper but a fiesty granola hippy when it comes to her new daughter.

 As the years pass you get to hear a variety of voices as they deal with uncertainties and life in America. It comes to a head as Bitsy’s father begins to court Maryam and Bitsy adopts a new daughter from China.

 Life abruptly changes for all - bringing more questions and shaking what each thought they wanted in the world.

 One of Tyler’s best!!!

Shoot the Moon by Billie Letts

image from LibraryThing
Another haunting story about the unexpected love and personal tragedy leading to eventual happiness.

 Nick Harjo ends up in DeClare, OK looking for the mother he just discovered he had. His father day recently died and he found his birth certificate and adoption papers in his things. That was the first he knew he was adopted. What he found in OK was not what he expected. His mom had been brutally stabbed and he had disappeared as a tiny baby. He found his mom’s siyer-in-law Teeve and her daughter Ivy (not his cousin). The two help him to try to solve the 30 year old mystery.

 Again Letts creates characters that you care about and that you want to follow. And as always there is a twist in the end!!

This was another great story by Billie Letts!