Saturday, April 28, 2018

Getting back to reading books

As you can see from my "Reading Now" note at the top left of the page, I do have a few books I have started reading. Unfortunately, I haven't been consistent with reading them. They are books that I thought I should read, and I do want to read them, but they haven't been holding my interest. I have been spending far too much time on my iPhone and laptop, playing games and reading Facebook.

A few days ago, I picked up Evening Class, a novel by Maeve Binchy, 0ne of my favorite authors. She had a way of telling the stories of many individual people, then winding all the threads into a unified whole. I find it very satisfying.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Crescent City, by Belva Plain

Historical fiction/romance set in New Orleans, Louisiana and a plantation near New Orleans prior to and during the American Civil War.
Miriam's mother had been brutally attacked in a pogrom against Jewish villagers in a small German town, and tragically died moments after Miriam's birth. Her father left shortly afterward to make his fortune in America, leaving Miriam and her brother David with their grandfather and spinster aunt. Years later, he returned and took the children to his grand home in New Orleans. At the age of 16, as was the custom at that time, Miriam was given in marriage to Eugene, a man at least ten years older. Miriam and Eugene doted on their twins, a son and a daughter, but there was no love, no joy between them. They lived separate lives in the same house, even in the same bedroom.
These were perilous times; abolitionist feelings against the "peculiar institution" of slavery were mounting, and soon the storm of Civil War broke loose. There was a storm in Miriam's heart as well, as she dealt with guilt, loss, tragedy, and heartbreak.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynne Reid Banks

This is a children's/young adult fantasy novel. An interesting premise: a young boy is given a plastic Indian (native American) figure, the kind of toy that comes in a package of many. There are many kinds of these sets: cowboys and Indians, soldiers, farm animals. Not very grateful for the toy, he stashes it away in a "cupboard" (medicine cabinet to Americans; Ms. Banks is a British author) and locks it with a very unusual old-fashioned key that his mother's grandmother had given to her long ago. Next morning, he awakens, hearing mysterious noises in the cupboard which he is keeping on his nightstand.

The Indian, though still very tiny, is alive! Alive, and not at all happy to be snatched from his Iroquois people of 1700s North America. Gradually, the boy, Omri, and the Indian, Little Bear, begin to understand and respect one another. As one might imagine, it is of utmost importance to keep Little Bear a secret from Omri's parents and brothers and his best friend Patrick, who gave him the plastic Indian. As Little Bear understandably becomes more and more insistent on having his needs met, Omri feels a deepening sense of responsibility that begins to weigh on him heavily. As he thinks of the future, he realizes that decisions must be made, and soon.

This book was made into a movie, and several sequels were written.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Rustlers of West Fork: A Hopalong Cassidy Novel, by Louis L'Amour

An exciting, suspenseful Western drama, a psychological thriller as Hopalong Cassidy (the good guy) and his handful of cowboys strive to outwit a band of sly and stealthy outlaws who have taken over Cassidy's friends' ranch, home, and lives. The plot includes a harrowing trek across the forbidding peaks of the Mogollon Mountains in unexpected early freezing weather and snowfall, fleeing the crooks and battling Apaches as Hopalong tries to lead a crippled old man and his daughter to safety.

I was only familiar with the character of Hopalong Cassidy from the television shows of the 1950s. As it turns out, the TV shows and movies stemmed from a series of books written by Clarence E. Mulford in the early 20th century. The first of these movies was produced in 1935, featuring William L. Boyd in the leading role, which he continued through the run of movies and TV shows. (Many of us of a certain age have the image of Boyd's Hopalong Cassidy firmly etched in our minds.) In the 1950s, Doubleday Publishing revived the H. C. books to be based on the character as presented by Mr. Boyd, which was considerably different from the rough-talking, hard-drinking cowpoke of Mulford's early novels. Mulford declined to come out of retirement, and handpicked the rising young writer of magazine short stories, Louis L'Amour, to carry the torch. The following four H. C. novels were Mr. L'Amour's first published novels, although they were published under a pseudomyn, Tex Burns. They were The Rustlers of West Fork, Trail to Seven Pines, Riders of High Rock, and Trouble Shooter. Mr. L'Amour went on to write more than 100 novels under his own name, and passed away in 1988.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Road, Cormac McCarthy

Dystopic literature has not usually been my genre of choice, but I find myself reading a handful of those books recently: Cloud Atlas, The Handmaid's Tale, The Road, and I'm currently reading 1984 on my phone's Kindle app.

After a long hiatus (over a year!), I finally picked up The Road again and resumed reading it. It is a disturbing, depressing, yet mostly gentle account of a post-apocalyptic world where every living thing - plants, animals - has perished, except for a small number of humans who are left scrabbling for existence, some attacking others, some helping others, and many just trying to avoid others. The plot centers on a man and his young son, called "Papa" and "the boy." We find them traveling a deserted road. The world is bleak and dark, overshadowed by clouds of ash that block the sun. The nights are dark and cold, and often rainy. Winter is approaching, so the pair are traveling south, where they hope it will be warmer. They find just enough canned food in abandoned houses and underground bunkers to keep themselves alive. We are not told what happened to destroy the world, but there is evidence of massive fires, rumblings of earthquakes, and the possibility of volcanic eruptions. The relationship between the father and son is the most hopeful part of this sad, melancholy tale; it is one of genuine love, caring, and trust. As I read, I hoped that there would be a good outcome for them, but feared that there wouldn't be. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Rivers West, by Louis L'Amour

I have found that I enjoy Louis L'Amour's western novels. He is a good, descriptive writer, and captures the settings and the emotions of his characters very well. His plots are interesting, and keep me turning the pages to see how they will end.

Rivers West was no exception. Rather than a typical "western," this one dealt with the early days of the United States of America, soon after the Louisiana Purchase during Thomas Jefferson's administration.

Jean Talon, a French Canadian boat builder, was exploring the wild country of the new nation, with the plan of traveling to Pittsburgh to build river boats needed by the explorers and settlers of the new American West. He accidentally stumbled upon a recent murder, one so recent that the victim had not yet perished, and was able to give Jean some information about his attacker.

As he traveled, he met up with Jambe-De-Bois ("Peg Leg"), a former pirate who became his traveling companion and confidante, a beautiful young lady in search of her brother, some inn-keepers, and a couple of shady characters. He also learned of a nefarious plot to seize the Louisiana Territory and make it a kingdom in opposition to the U.S.A.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, by James Breakwell

James Breakwell is famous on the internet for his jokes and cartoons on family life. He has a large following on his Twitter feed, and is also on Facebook, known by his screen name, Exploding Unicorn, on both sites. Only Dead on the Inside is his first book.

If you have a family and need to keep them all safe and alive from zombies, this is your book. Buy it now, read it and keep it for reference. It could also be useful for hurricanes, earthquakes, and ordinary human bad guys. It is packed full of helpful drawings, charts, and lists, as well as general parenting advice and philosophy. And humor - good for stress relief! Stock up now on diapers, umbrella strollers, and at least one minivan. Read the book and you'll understand.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The singular "they" controversy

This is actually more about writing than reading, but it's connected. If there were no writing, there would be no reading, after all.

I found this article on Facebook:
The Linguistic Turf Wars Over the Singular 'They'

I will say right now that I am in favor of the singular "they." I resisted it for a while; I was taught the generic "he." However, I see the value of "they" as opposed to the clunky and cumbersome "he/she."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

What can I say about Pride and Prejudice?

***Spoiler warning -- proceed at your own risk ***

Mr. Darcy! What woman wouldn't like to have a man like Mr. Darcy in her life? Seemingly aloof, haughty, prideful, and scornful, he turned out to be the hero of the day, sincerely loving Elizabeth regardless of her family's lack of wealth or reputation, and in fact, doing all he can to salvage their reputation, for her sake.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Proverbs 31

On this date, the beginning of Mother's Day weekend in the U. S., I see that the daily selection of scripture from Bible Gateway (on the upper left corner of this blog) is from Proverbs 31, the famous description of the "ideal wife." I will quote verses 10-31 of this chapter:

"A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.

Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.

She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.

She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions
for her female servants.

She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.

She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.

In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.

When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

She watches over the affairs of her household and
does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
'Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.'

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate."

This is a busy woman! No idler, she! And she is certainly not a meek, "submissive" woman, as submission is defined to today's culture. She is a go-getter, a Super Mom. She works day and night; she spins and weaves and sews, and sells clothing. She has her own money; she is not dependent on her husband for finances. She shops and cooks. She deals in real estate, and she plants and grows crops. She is generous to the poor, and she is a provider. She is a wise woman; people listen to her. She is respected at home and in the community. Her husband must be a sort of judge or community leader, but all he seems to do is sit at the city gate, while she does all the work.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Ma Speaks Up: And a First-Generation Daughter Talks Back, by Marianne Leone

Book cover

This book spoke to me concerning my relationship with my mother, although my mother and I are very different from Ms. Leone and her mother, in culture and in temperament. I enjoyed reading this from cover to cover; I smiled, laughed, and cried. She did not hold back from telling the hard truths about her mother's background and experiences, and their relationship as it changed through the years.

An Early Reviewer book from the publisher, Beacon Press, through LibraryThing. Received on April 12, 2017 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

I'll be thinking about this novel for a long time. It was such an unusual story.

Everything came crashing down suddenly - a crisis, then the complete destruction of American government. Without warning, all women's bank accounts were frozen; their credit cards were no good; they had no money, no way to support themselves. Things went downhill from there.

The story was told in flashbacks, and sometimes a little hard to follow. It told of the central character's life before, when she had a husband, a child, and a job; and their desperate attempt to escape to Canada; and of her "training" with other women to her new life as a "Handmaid" - an Old Testament style surrogate childbearer for a leader of the new society and his wife. (Think Abraham and Hagar)

She is known only as "Offred" ("of Fred," the Commander whose household she serves). She is a quiet, unassuming woman who only tries to keep her head down (literally) and not make waves. Information comes to her through unexpected sources, and new opportunities are presented, until finally, her life is changed again, and again she is running for her life.

A Bookcrossing friend sent me this book, for which I am very grateful. Dystopian literature is not my genre of choice, but I found this enthralling.

Editing to add a NPR Weekend Edition transcript that I heard Sunday, April 23, 2017: The Handmaid's Tale Is Among a Resurgence of Dystopian Literature

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, by Jennifer Ryan

Amazon book cover

An excellently written novel of women in a war-torn English village bravely carrying on, uniting as part of the Home Front. The plot was driven by a series of journals and letters, as the main characters each wrote of her own personal challenges, triumphs, and setbacks, and gave her own unique perspective on the events they all experienced. The Ladies' Choir was begun as a response to the absence of most of the men of the village, due to World War II. They did surprisingly well - even surprising themselves when they won a regional contest. Other complications to the plot included two infants born on the same day; one to the schoolteacher whose husband was in the military, and the other to the wealthy family whose only son had recently been shot down and killed in battle. It was very necessary that they have a son to carry on the family name and fortune. A newcomer to town raised suspicions. An artist, he had no visible means of supporting himself, and engaged in some very dubious dealings with shady characters. Two young girls, sisters, come of age in these perilous times, and learn about love and loss. A middle-aged widow, whose only son has just gone off to war, agrees to host one of the Senior Staff of the nearby War Center. A Jewish child refugee is housed with the Winthrops.

This is one of my favorite books, and I plan to keep it awhile and reread it. I highly recommend it, and I will look for more books by this author. This book was sent to me as part of the Early Reviewers program on LibraryThing. I was asked to provide an honest review in exchange.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Pearl, by John Steinbeck

This is a small book, easily carried in my purse. I've had it for over a year, and finally got around to reading it this afternoon while waiting for my car to be serviced (oil change, tune-up, several belts and various fluids changed).

A classic story about rich and poor, good and evil, and how unimaginable fortune can change a family's life forever, for better or for worse.
Kino, the pearl fisherman, has found the Pearl of the World - the marvelous, beautiful, great pearl that pearl fishers search for all their lives! He has magnificent dreams for this fortune; he will sell it and marry Juana, his common-law wife and educate his little son Coyotito.
However, there is danger in the pearl. It is both a symbol of evil and of great fortune. Bad men want to steal it from Kino and his family. Evil men scheme to cheat him of the wealth it will bring.
Near the beginning of the short novel, the sting of the scorpion presages disaster for this family.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

My goodness!

I didn't realize it had been more than two months since I've posted here! Of course, I have been reading, but I must confess it's been mostly Facebook and internet news articles. (Slap my hand, bad me!)

I have started a few books, but haven't gotten very far in any of them.

Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World is a bit more technical than I had expected, but the historical and personal part is interesting to me, so I'll plug on.

Pride and Prejudice (ebook) is on my phone, downloaded to my Kindle app. I have read it before, about 40 years ago or so, and am reading it when I'm stuck in a waiting room or somewhere without a "real" book.

Heart-Stirring Stories of Love compiled by Linda Evans Shepherd, is a collection of inspiring short stories, mostly only a page or two in length. A friend loaned it to me, and I'm reading a story or two almost every day.

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan is an Advanced Reader's Copy I received through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer's program. It is enjoyable, about a group of ladies in an English village who are determined to continue the church choir after most of the able bodied men of the village have gone to war (World War II). A major obstacle to their efforts is the decision of the church vicar to discontinue the choir for the duration.