Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wanted to read Hillbilly Elegy after listening to an interview between Charlie Rose and the author, JD Vance. The memoir is an examination of white working class America with connections to Appalachia and the Rust Belt. Vance has a refreshing writing style. I found the content moving and interesting.

Vance's family was from Ohio and Kentucky and his memoir is a compelling coming-of-age true story that demonstrates the full measure of the brokenness that wracks Appalachia: Familial breakdown, opioid addiction, and a pessimism about the future. . . a realization that your choices really don't matter. It is a story of the working class "honor code," a culture of intense group loyalty. The Vance clan is full of hard people. His mother suffered from drug addiction and went through several partners over the course of J.D's life. As the author says, he comes from a family that would rather shoot at you than argue with you. Yelling or violence aren't the normal ways of resolving conflicts.

But it is also a story that exemplifies the depths of familial love and opportunity. There is still a lot of love and togetherness, even if it's between all the swear words. Despite the deck being stacked against him in every way, and due to the positive influence of his grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw, Vance managed to come out on top. He beat the odds and joined the Marines, which experience was a motivating and positive influence, then to college, and on to Yale Law School.

Hillbilly Elegy was an eye-opening and utterly important read for me. I learned quite a bit about what so many people in America believe and why they are so disillusioned and unhappy with their lives. The industrial economy has been very tough in these areas and people give up. They are resentful of the media and the establishment and feel victimized by political policies. Whether disgusted or thrilled with the results of what happened in last Fall's (2016) election, this highly readable memoir may enhance your understanding of today's political climate and why what happened in last Fall's election.

David Brooks described Hillbilly Elegy as"essential reading for this moment in history." ( ). I agree.

And if you read this book without any desire or intent to gain insight into societal issues, you will still not be disappointed as it is an entertaining read with great social commentary and observations. The author, a liberal who voted for Hillary, does not really provide solutions for the cultural crisis, except to say that government cannot solve it.

Hillbilly Elegy is an examination of the lasting effects of poverty and dysfunction on communities, but what comes across most is J.D. Vance's deep love for the community and a way of life that he left— and of the rich character of a people who love their homes and families very deeply.

*caveat to many of my friends and other gentle readers: there is some difficult harsh language, for which I usually dock a star from my rating, but in this situation I feel it is truly necessary for the accuracy and feeling of the author's family and culture. I listened to the author's reading of the audio book, which was very well done, but which for me always seems to make the language even more severe.

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Lily and the OctopusLily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

almost 4 stars
Quirky book for animal lovers. Ted has split with his partner and his dachshund Lily is his life. They talk about men. (Who would you choose of the Ryans , Gosling or Reynolds?) He talks with her about everything. One day he notices an octopus (tumor) on her head and has to come to terms with losing her. The dog, Lily, speaks her mind throughout the book (as does the octopus). The book is rooted in the California gay culture and revolves around the gay lifestyle in a manner that will be a first-time experience to many. Great humor in the book and nice imagery, but about the time Ted and Lily go on the boat trip, I got bored with it. Last chapter is very good. I listened to the audio version narrated by the actor, The audio version is as good as audio gets! Actor, Michael Urie, absolutely hit this out of the ballpark!!!, who did an excellent job. I will look for more audio books with him as narrator.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

And After the FireAnd After the Fire by Lauren Belfer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel spans several centuries from 1776 to 2010 and unites several individuals who are all connected by a long-hidden manuscript, a cantata by J.S. Bach. The story shifts between the past and present as the sheet music passes from one person to another and ended up in postwar Germany.

Quite a few of the characters in this book are real people, though not the characters in the present-day section. The story of the Anti-Semitic cantata by Bach is a very believable one, since Bach often used the words of Martin Luther in his music lyrics and there has been controversy over the years as to his Anti-Semitic leanings. The story is a fascinating one and touches on many German, French and American lives and the impact of Anti-Semitism on them.

Genealogists, music and history lovers alike will be enjoy this deeply researched tale, right up to the final page.

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Drop ZoneDrop Zone by Traci Hunter Abramson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Abramson’s novel is a fast-paced read that is interesting from the very first page until the very last. There is suspense, action, mild romance; moderate violence (typical of war-torn areas, criminals, etc--nothing too graphic), no swearing, no sexual references, and is suitable for readers of any age.
A bit predictable, but still a good read. This is part of the "Saint Squad" series, but it not necessary to read preceding or following books to enjoy it.

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Sunday, July 2, 2017

Wolf HollowWolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This lovely novel is perfect for readers of any age who enjoy stories of strong protagonists who stick to their morals in the face of adversity. Wolk's writing is hauntingly beautiful. Part mystery, part social justice, part compassion in the face of bigotry, this wonderful story engages, intrigues and challenges readers young and old.

It's an easy read that you won't want to put down. Even though you blast through the pages quickly (it took me about 6 hours), mentally the story stays with you long after you turn the last page.
from other readers:

what others said:
"Masterful writing, memorable characters, engaging plot, important life lessons."
"Unforgettable characters, story, setting, and resolution."
"Heart-breaking and heart-warming."
"enchanting and haunting and memorable "
"Is it possible to give more than 5 stars? So much love for this book"

I highly recommend this book for middle school, YA readers, and adults. It would be great for Book Club discussions. There is nothing objectionable (no language, no sex, violence is minimal), but it is a thinking book.
I listened to the audiobook version, and the narrator Emily Rankin was a perfect choice.
Literary Awards:
Newbery Honor (2017), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award Nominee (2018), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Middle Grade & Children's (2016), Carnegie Medal Nominee (2017)

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Relic (Pendergast, #1)Relic by Douglas Preston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is book #1 in the popular Pendergast Series and is well researched, with believable characters. It is about an archeological expedition in the Brazilian jungle that has gone bad, resulting with some wild animal/monster roaming the NY of Natural History Museum and leaving bodies in it wake. . . sort of an Indiana Jones/Jurassic Park combo. Thrillers are not my genre, and I usually can't wait for them to end, thus my 3 star rating. However if they are your thing and you can suspend unbelief you will love it because it's full of adventure and "white-knuckle" moments with a nice twist in the epilogue. I won't watch the movie. . . according to all reviews it's absolutely terrible and does not follow the novel.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Wednesday WarsThe Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set in the midst of the Vietnam war, The Wednesday Wars covers a range of heavy topics all through the lens of a 7th grade boy, humorous Holling Hoodhood. It's brilliant. No sex, no drugs. Just a great kid and a teacher he will never ever forget. Laugh out loud funny. Schmidt is very VERY clever and one of my favorite Young Adult authors. He incorporates several plots of Shakespeare's plays into the main character's everyday life. There were so many great scenes and thoughts in this book. I seriously would be rolling on the floor laughing one minute and then clutching a tissue blubbering the next. It was all so moving. So many scenes of forgiveness, understanding and kindness.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Girl Who Wrote in SilkThe Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story tells of Seattle's 1880's Chinese Exclusion Act, something of which I, along with most Americans, was unaware until now. The story begins with some action right off the bat as we meet Mei Lien, one of the two young, brave women separated by a century but woven together by a single, intricate piece of embroidery. The stories of these two women is interspersed throughout the book but is never overwhelming. I predicted the ending a bit too early in the book but found myself reading "just another chapter" to see how it got there....and I was treated with some interesting twists along the way.... however I felt the mystery and connected events were all tied all up too neatly in the end. I can say that this book has interesting, likable characters, accurate (and startling) historical facts, a bit of adventure, a bit of romance without being smutty (THANK YOU!!!) and a mystery. The story does go between the past and the present, but it is skillfully handled and very easy to follow.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African ChildhoodBorn a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Daily Show has taken on some added credibility as I read Trevor Noah's absolutely remarkable story. He tells it with much humor. It is personal, absorbing, and intimate with discussions of the realities of race and apartheid, then and now. For the society Trevor was born into, he was privileged, and this book is a paean to that privilege: his mother. I like this man, and I like his mother even more.

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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Being PerfectBeing Perfect by Anna Quindlen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this little book, really an essay with photographs. It full of wisdom.
"Trying to be perfect may be inevitable for people who are smart and ambitious and interested in the world and its good opinion . . .What is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself."
"What is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself."
Some quotables:
"Eventually being perfect became like carrying a backpack filled with bricks every single day. And Oh, how I wanted to lay that burden down."

"Perfection is static, even boring. Your true unvarnished self is what is wanted."

"...being a good parent is not generational, it is deeply personal, and it all comes down to this: If you can bring to your children the self that you truly are, as opposed to some amalgam of manners and mannerisms, expectations and fears that you have acquired as a carapace along the way, you will be able to teach them by example not to be terrorized by the narrow and parsimonious expectations of the world, a world that often likes to color within the lines when a spray of paint, a scribble of crayon would be much more satisfying." (less)
"In this little gem of a book (more of an essay-plus-photo-book), Anna Quindlen describes, from personal experience, the ways that the burden of the backpack of perfectionism leads to "curvature of the spirit." In brief:

1) She warns that "being perfect" robs a person of her courage to "be yourself" and thereby robs a person of the courage to achieve "the hard work of life in the world, to acknowledge within yourself the introvert, the clown, the artist, the homebody, the goofball, the thinker. Look inside. That way lies dancing to the melodies spun out by your own heart" (page 19).

2) She warns that "being perfect" robs a person of harmony with other people, since "pursuing perfection makes you unforgiving of the faults of others" (page 40).

3) She warns that "being perfect" robs a person of the ability to endure loss and disappointments. Because enduring loss requires a person to summon one's inner resources--the "center of yourself," the "core to sustain you." But if you've spent a lifetime "being perfect" (i.e., bending oneself to meet other people's expectations) then "there will be a black hole where that [personal] core ought to be" (pages 46-47).

Quindlen's book can be read in an hour or two; but it's one of those books that a person will want to re-read every now and again--to reflect and meditate upon whether one is indeed being True to Oneself. (less)"

It comes down to doing your best. Whatever that looks like in any given moment, in any situation. And if you make a mistake, trying to learn from it. Because mistakes are human.

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