Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Hate U Give, an extremely powerful story about racism and police violence in America, is told from a black 16 year old girl's point of view and is one of the best books I have read so far this year. . . the sort of book that there can always be more of! Considering the amount of profanity used in this impressively important & timely novel, friends who follow my reviews may be surprised by my 5 star rating because I usually dock a book 1 point for language. But it is real and the language is necessary. It is an engaging, well-written story with complex characters that are real, likable, and all-too-human. It’s compassionate, complex, powerful, and profoundly sad yet is also uplifting and positive without being preachey. There is also some humor that had me laughing out loud. I "read" the audio book and the narrator is superb.

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SourdoughSourdough by Robin Sloan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. This was a somewhat charming and enjoyable but not compelling read. Basically it's about discovering yourself and about making really good sourdough bread. If you are a foodie who enjoys books about books, fantasy, and mystery , you will find it enjoyable also. Sloan, the author, is good with metaphor, simile, and word choice. It's a short read but I had to push myself to finish it.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

LOVED it! Although I read this some months ago I've thought about it often. It is an elegantly written novel about a sophisticated gentleman, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov. In 1913 he wrote a poem which called for political change. The story begins in 1922, at the conclusion of the Bolshevik revolution and the formation of the Soviet Union when many aristocrats are being executed. That poem saves his life. Instead of death, he is sentenced by a tribunal to life arrest at Moscow's Grand Metropole Hotel, across the street from the Russian embassy. Given this sentence, the Count, who is accustomed to the finer things in life, finds a way to master his circumstances rather than be mastered by them.

Amor Towles is a gifted storyteller and this beautifully written tale has memorable characters. He recreates a world and a time so clearly that you long to be there with his characters. The story takes place entirely in one location, but it is a location that attracts the world inside its revolving doors and because of the author's writing style you feel as if you ARE there. It would absolutely make a delightful movie. There is a smattering of Russian history from 1922 - 1954, a bit of mystery and intrigue, pathos and humor.
It made me cry in the end...happy tears. I have often thought about the Count, the other characters, and the hotel itself since its conclusion and will remember it with pleasure for a long time.

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Sweet MercySweet Mercy by Ann Tatlock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a touching, sweet, wholesome coming of age story about a 17-year-old girl who is innocent, kind and gives everyone a chance. She gets hurt by some and is pleasantly surprised by others. It takes place in the 1930s, an era when people made do with what they had and what they had was not much. It is also the time of prohibition and there is an interesting story and, I believe, a little-known fact involving Al Capone. The heroine's struggles with the way she (and all of us) sees and judges events and people, i/e. black and white, good or evil, right and wrong, the laws and the lawless. But the author shares the message that ONE thing is certain, ONE thing is never changing: God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

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Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Woman of Independent MeansA Woman of Independent Means by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not many books do I read more than once. This was one. I read it about 35 years ago when I was busy raising 5 kids, and a husband, and it had a big impact on my life. I have just requested it from the library so that I can read it again! I can’t think of higher praise I could give for any book. It was recommended to me by my mother who, I believe, identified with Bess. I certainly saw the comparisons when I read it, as did my sisters.

One reviewer described the story as "A portrait of a woman with all her frailties, strengths, failures and victories combining to prove that living a life is an accomplishment.” Told through personal letters covering a period of about 60 years, it introduced several significant characters without having to keep track of too many. The author was skillful with the flow and cohesiveness of the story despite the lack of return letters, and I enjoyed this epistolary style. One of its strengths was giving the reader the opportunity to read between the lines and see the letter writer’s flaws revealed, flaws of which the character herself was unaware. It made her presence real and authentic. Another thing I found interesting was how she described events in her life differently, depending to whom she was writing. She acknowledges this very human trait in herself when she writes the following:

"by compressing and editing the events of my life, I infuse them with a dramatic intensity totally lacking at the time, but oddly enough I find that years later what I remember is not the event as I lived it but as I described it in a letter.”

Bess, the protagonist, was a fully fleshed out, sympathetic character. I cried when she cried and rejoiced when she rejoiced. I understood her struggles between social conventions and personal choices. She was not a perfect person and some of those choices were unwise. They conveyed a feeling to her children that foreign travel and social status were more valued than they. She was more excited about an article mentioning her in the New York Times than she was about the arrival of another great-grandchild. In her latter years she did not seem to recognize this choice as the cause of a distance between herself and her children.

My feelings for Bess veered between deep admiration and frustration: admiration for her optimism and determination in the face of all the misfortunes in her life, and frustration for her prideful opinions and treatment of others. She maintained a fine thread of control in the lives of her children, and then was truly surprised and hurt by the distance between her and them as adults.

The book inspired me to consider the influence and extent (and limits) of my own words and actions upon the lives of my children and gave me a determination to establish a close relationship with them, especially with my daughters. There were a few of scenes that were so moving I'll never forget them. One of these was a point where she expressed her opinion that a woman needs to have some money of her own. Due to circumstances and persons in my own life at the time, this was something that had a strong impact. Another was a point when Bess realized that if she wanted something done right, she would have to do it herself, a realization I came to myself at the time I read it.

The book clearly gives a social picture of each generation covered. The huge historic and cultural changes of the era come alive through Bess's gaze, and it's fascinating to see her struggling. Her determination and success in handling those things were admirable and inspiring.

This is a short read with a good deal of depth. There is some humor and the story is wonderful.
It will touch your heart, inspire you and make you think. In the words of another reviewer, “Read it slowly, savor it, enjoy it, and then... remember it forever.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Woman of Substance (Emma Harte Saga #1)A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my all-time favorite books, IT CHANGED MY LIFE.
I read it 30 years ago in my bookclub and I am currently re-reading it. I read the series, each about the next generation of the Harte family, and enjoyed them immensely, but each book stands alone with satisfying endings.
A friend described it as a "delicious read," which is an apt description. Another friend refers to as "your biblical guide for attaining excellence."

I remember devouring every page as I learned more about the central character, Emma Harte, her focused commitment to experience success, her determined belief in herself, and her passionate ability to love. I had read Gone With The Wind, but this was the first novel I ever read that modeled not only what it was like to be a strong woman, but also someone I would recommend as a strong role model to any of my daughters or granddaughters.

A rags-to-riches story, it is about a British woman who begins as a simple maid to become the powerful head of a business empire in the early 20th century. It is a magnificent novel about the strength and commitment one woman has to pull herself out of poverty and the sacrifices she makes to survive and become powerful in an age dominated by men. However only her career ends happily ever after... her personal life was a mess (something many years after the fact, to which I can personally relate). Yet in the midst of numerous personal trials she found some of the best friends and business partners for life, and (again, as I am able relate) the book has a happy and upbeat conclusion. When the series ended I missed them as I did a dear friend.

Shortly after reading this I read a news article telling about the life of Estee Lauder and the rise of her eponymous cosmetics empire. It was so similar to Emma Harte's story I told my mother, a devotee of all things Estee Lauder, and she recommended A Woman of Independent Means, which I devoured and it was an equally wonderful novel which also changed my life. I believe I recommended both novels to my newly married daughter at the time.

I highly recommend this wonderful novel. Barbara Taylor Bradford is a master storyteller!

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Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my favorite reads ever! Absolutely engaging, I was emotionally invested in the story and the characters and I could not put it down. Ng's prose is stunning and her insight into human nature, motherhood, professional ethics, freedom, and preconceived ideas is impressive. Little Fires Everywhere depicts a number of heart-wrenching yet frequently occurring issues in today’s society. It is complex, multi-layered, and so beautifully written I've decided I will read anything by Celeste Ng I can get my hands on.
I need my friends to read this so we can talk about it!
"She smelled, Mia thought suddenly, of home, as if home had never been a place, but had always been this little person whom she’d carried alongside her."

"One had followed the rules, and one had not. But the problem with rules... was that they implied a right way and a wrong way to do things. When, in fact, most of the time they were simply ways, none of them quite wrong or quite right, and nothing to tell you for sure what side of the line you stood on."

"Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way."

"Rules existed for a reason: if you followed them, you would succeed; if you didn't, you might burn the world to the ground."

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Their Eyes Were Watching GodTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this audio book and because of her metaphors, vivid descriptions, colorful characters and lyrical style I would like to read the manuscript as well! One reviewer said, “She wrote as a Black woman-identified Black woman, valuing her experiences…in a society where these areas of experience are generally regarded as valueless, insignificant, and inferior to white/male culture.” If you have already read the book (or saw the movie) you will love the audio version read by Ruby Dee (who also played the role of Janie's grandmother in Oprah's movie). It is simply fantastic, a real treat! Definitely listen to it if it's available from your library.

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Babette's Feast and Sorrow-Acre: Two Isak Dinesen Short Stories Unabridged

Babette's Feast/Sorrow-AcreBabette's Feast/Sorrow-Acre by Isak Dinesen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These are both short stories/vignettes, by Danish writer Isak Dineson, the pseudonym of Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa and her writing is superb.
"Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost." So writes Dinesen in Babette's Feast as she spins a tale of friendship's ultimate sacrifice and the deepest values of life.
Sorrow-Acre is a lyrical story of heartbreaking beauty about an old woman who gives her life for her son's life. These two complete stories echo Babette's plea with haunting poignancy. I listened to the audio book.

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WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! This is a fantastically brilliant, heartwarming, and beautifully uplifting little book! It is an amazing story told with empathy and humor.
10 year old Augie Pullman, born with a terrible facial abnormality, won't describe what he looks like but says, "Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse." Previously homeschooled, this narrative is about his being mainstreamed into 5th grade at a middle school. It is described in short chapters by 6 different narrators: his older sister, 2 of her friends, 2 of his classmates, & himself.

Palacio, the author, does a skillful job giving each of the narrators a very honest and distinctive voice. They all sound sincere & real. It makes you feel like you really are taking this journey right alongside Auggie as you are given a glimpse into all their lives. The characters are complicated. No one, not even Auggie, is all good or all bad. The situations are realistic, from the bullying in the halls of Beecher Prep to the small family dramas in the Pullman home.

The multiple perspectives also allow the reader to know more than any one character does, even (especially) Auggie. As Mr. Tushman, the school principal, points out, "there are almost always more than two sides to every story."

This is an awesome book about a kid who is truly a Wonder. At times heartbreaking & at times triumphant, it is a story of how one person can make a difference. Despite the expected sadness in Wonder, there is also much humor, joy and hope. Kids and adults alike will love this stellar debut by a first time author. If you haven't read it yet, I think you should - it's worth all five stars and even more.

favorite quotes:
“I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.”
“Kinder than is necessary. Because it's not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.”
“My mom smiled at me. Her smile kind of hugged me.”
“It’s not enough to be friendly. You have to be a friend.”
Don't try too hard to be cool. It always shows, and that's uncool.”

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