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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