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!