In attempting to whittle down my TBR shelves, an on-going goal, I checked there first for a book whose author’s name began with an “M.” I was rewarded with The Song of the Jade Lily, a 2019, hefty 450 paged novel by Kirsty Manning. It took me a while to read it, but its mysteries and family secrets that were revealed kept me turning pages. The novel was formatted in one of my favorite ways: alternating chapters set between1939 Shanghai where Romy, a Chinese girl adopted by Jewish parents flees Germany and 2016 present-day Shanghai where her granddaughter Alexandria, visits seeking her grandmother’s story after being notified of her beloved grandfather’s impending death in Australia. What he says to her, telling her to seek out “Li” and the evasiveness of her grandmother, whose silence often suggests hidden secrets rather than the mere grief of losing a spouse, present the opportunity for mystery, war stories, romance, and the finding of identity.
Themes of friendship, love, family loyalty, heritage, and stories of what happened during the War abound as the true facts of Romy’s life and background are peeled away like the numerous skins of an onion by Alexandria. The difference this investigating makes in both their lives is not only significant but also life-direction changing.
One of my reading goals for 2020 is to read 20 books recommended by fellow bloggers. Carla at Carla Loves to Read wrote a review of what sounded like the perfect summer beach read. Thanks to COVID 19, I did not feel safe going to the beach, but this novel turned out to be the perfect escape from all the stress and worry going on right now.
Publisher’s Weekly calls Good Luck “…a powerful story that feels completely real,” and indeed, the characters seemed like old friends telling their stories by the end of the book. Not to be taken totally lightly, this 2018 publication deals with the “emotionally charged issues of body acceptance and health.” It begins with three friends on their last day of “fat camp,” a place where they’d been sent each summer to try to lose weight since they were thirteen. At eighteen, this is the last summer of their eligibility, and they made a list of what they would do when they were thin. Emerson, the “dreamy one,” and the heaviest, truly obese, spirals into a sad life as a “fat girl” and becomes a morbidly obese woman who dies from complications of her obesity and leaves everything to her friends, Georgia and Marley with the instructions to do everything on the list they made at 18–NOW! What ensues changes the women’s lives forever.
The emotions and attitudes toward being overweight are wonderfully presented in this novel. For example, look at this passage, “True peace was rare when you were fat. When you were fat, you wore armor to protect and deflect…when you were fat, you worked hard to be invisible. You lived in fear of being noticed, singled out, of having someone point out what you already know, YOU’RE FAT,”
I expected Georgia and Marley to miraculously “mend their ways” and eating habits, become thin, and live happily ever after. That simply did not happen. What happened instead is that the women changed their eating habits to healthy ones and changed their attitudes towards themselves, towards their families, and toward food and eating in general as they lived the lives that Emerson wished for them. The novel had a realistic but very satisfactory ending.
The story of the Philadelphia Athletics who played in the American League at the famous Shibe Park in the year in which the story is set, 1938, is personalized in the life of the team’s biggest fan, a young boy who lives close enough to the park to sell tickets to sit on his roof and watch the games. This is a real blessing to his family during the Depression, when money was tight for everyone. Idolizing Jimmy Frank, based on the real Jimmy Fox, the protagonist eventually is hired as a bat boy for the team, meets his idol, and receives good life-advice from him. His adventures and misadventures, all centered around the Athletics team, are the crux of the story. This historical novel is the story of the heyday of the American League (which started in 1901 and ran through 1954) and describes life in America, during the peak of the American sport of baseball.
I’ve read several non-fiction books this summer, and my favorite so far is Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile. As a fan of novels set in WWII, and a baby born during that war, I’ve always had a fascination with Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt and especially their relationship as heads of nations so dependent on each other. This book was written just for me.
I’ve read other Larson books, Issac’s Storm, The Devil in White City and Dead Wake, but this one not only reads like a novel (as do all Larson’s books), it characterizes the major figures of the war as well as any novelist does. We see the first impressions, the interplay of personality, and the desire to present one’s country in the best light in both Churchill and Roosevelt. Splendid/Vile focuses on the period of the blitz and the stamina and character of the English people. It focuses on Roosevelt’s desire to keep America out of the war but to retain Britain as a “sister nation.” Through this focus it tells an amazing story of politics, war strategy, and change as the war progresses. Sources used (diaries, documents, and once secret intelligence reports, some released fairly recently) and research done are a testament to the author’s desire for detail and correctness. It is an amazing read, and also amazing is the way Larson is able to pull everything together to offer the reader a “darned good read”[ing] experience.
Because I read so many novels, almost to the point of exclusively, about eight years ago, encouraged by Deb Nance (Readerbuzz) in my book club, I made an effort to step away from my comfort zone and read more non-fiction. Rayner’s Master of One published in 2011 fits this desire perfectly. I found it every bit as interesting as any novel I’ve read.
Rayner tells the reader that the quote attributed to Ben Franklin, “Jack of all trades, master of none” is a misquote. It should read, “Jack of all trades, master of one.” The author advises that rather than “making minimal progress in a million different directions, [we should become] competent” at several things, but exceptionally gifted in one. Rayner speaks with authority because he has been an entrepreneur, thought-leader, and a best selling author. He calls us to pursue a single calling, offering the “less but better” theory of accomplishments. He also walked away from an outstanding career to write and promote this book and establish workbooks, training sessions, etc. to reinforce it. He encourages us to offer “service to God and others” as a major criteria for a successful career. Many anecdotes are given to encourage us to “Find and Focus on the Work You Were Created to Do.” Rayner has done just this. I find this book an excellent guide to help connect your faith to your work.
A book I read for the 2020 Alphabet Challenge, author edition sponsored by Dollycas is Robert Inman’s Old Dogs and Children. This is one of novelist Inman’s lesser known novels than his Home Fires Burning, but it had everything a reader would want in a Southern story: a family matriarch named Bright Birdsong, whose father opened the sawmill that founded the town and whose son is a state senator; civil rights protests ; and as the title suggests, old dogs (Gladys, who lives under the house) and children (Jimbo, Bright’s stuffy, city-reared grandson whom she soon changes into a real “country boy” complete with bare feet and bib overalls.)
The author has a true gift for description, whether it be the grand parade on the governor’s return to his hometown after a nasty scandal where he is literally caught with his pants down, or the road trip to the capitol by Bright and Jimbo carrying their lottery ticket winnings in cash in an old, beat up suitcase stuffed under the front seat of Bright’s decrepit old car. There are several zany scenes that made me laugh out loud, yet the book is warm in that it “shimmers with joy and wisdom, understanding and forgiveness.”
Bright is an impulsive woman who tries to right wrongs but doesn’t always think about the best way to do things. She is both strong willed and empathetic when it comes to what’s right and what’s wrong. Because of this she finds herself caught up in protests and marches reminiscent of the 60s in their little town. Bright’s philosophy is the same as her dad’s , “Something will always come along.” and in this moving delightful story, it always does–sometimes prompted by Bright.
The title should read, “Saturday Mornings for Kids,” but it’s almost 2:30 p.m. Once again in this pandemic environment, I sit here asking, “Where did the time go?” Today’s recommendation for kids ages 6 and up is for the Horrible Harry Series. Some private day care teacher must have retired and left her entire classroom library to my Little Free Library, for a whole box of “donations” were left at my back door a couple of weeks ago, I assume by someone in my neighborhood. I have been having as much fun as I had in 2019 when I read over 200 books as a Cybils first round reader.
Harry is a second grader, and he is both horrible and lovable. His group of friends is memorable and appear in almost every book. The book I finished this morning is Horrible Harry and the Purple People. Out of the eight or ten books in this series that came to me, this cover grabbed my attention. We see Harry and his friends approaching their classroom where sitting, waiting for them are grotesque, little purple “monsters.” Harry insists early on in the story that the Purple People are not monsters, but small, purple people, and only he can see them. As the students approach the end of second grade and plan their tea party, based on the one in Alice in Wonderland, read aloud by their teacher, Harry runs off his mouth to Mary, his nemesis who does not believe in the Purple People, and finds himself telling her that one of the Purple People will attend the tea party. Harry, as usual, has something up his sleeve, and as usual, it backfires hilariously. One warning: Like not being able to eat one potato chip, reading one Horrible Harry book leads to another, and another and another.
I AM HOPING June will be a big reading month for me. It’s a short month and we are already five days into it, but after reading other blogging friends’ goals, I am going to set some of my own.
- Finish reading the “M” book for the 2020 Alphabet Soup Challenge, Kirsty Mannings’ The Song of the Jade Lily. I started it on June first and am on chapter 30. It was published in 2018 and was a hand-me-down from blogging friend, Deb Nance of Readerbuzz. It has been on my TBR shelf since around January, and that brings me to goal #2…
- Read at least three books from my TBR shelf, not counting the one mentioned in goal #1.
- I read a current novel by Ann Quindlen recently (and will review it soon), but I have another checked out from the library, Miller’s Creek. I would like to at least start that.
- I recently finished Lissette’s List by Susan Vreeland, and have another by her checked out, which I would like to finish. Whew! That’s plenty for such a short month.
Blogging friend Ritu Bhathal, whom I had read previously as a poet (Poetic Ritual) and appreciated and enjoyed, has written a novel. Its characters are lovely Indian-British young people. Aashi, the bride-to-be and her family: brothers Sunny and Bali, the perfect mom and pop, best friend Kiran are awaiting the nuptials of Aashi and Ravi, her fiancee.
As the story opens, Aashi arrives unexpectedly at Ravi’s apartment, catching him and his “other girlfriend” in the act. Devastated, Aashi refuses to give up her dream trip to India to prepare for the wedding, and instead embarks with both brothers and Kiran rather than waste the tickets. Their itinerary has just changed–not to plan a wedding but to cancel plans already made. The friends meet handsome Arjun on a train, and drag him along on the errands adding much hilarity and communications blunders.
The book is filled with travel, glamor, fashion and adventure as the five young people encounter the culture and people of India. The most spectacular scene occurs at the Golden Temple where the group explores and observes religious observances involving bathing in the beautiful pools and working in the temple kitchens, doing sewa. So many characters with so many motivations and differences could be confusing, but the author conveniently titles each chapter with a character’s name, then presents both that character’s point of view and his/her plot twists and character changes which makes it easy for the reader to follow the amazingly glamorous trips, photo shoots, and buying excursions as the young people make their way.
This is a read where the reader comes to really care about the characters and the outcomes of the plots and subplots. It all comes to a very satisfying conclusion which the author promises to flesh out in a sequel. I, for one, can hardly wait to read more.