WHAT ARE YOU READING WEDNESDAY?

I wish I had read these books in order, but they were written out of order. I just finished the prequel to The Lilac Girls, Lost Roses.
An excellent, warm and sometimes harrowing tale.

This is an excellent book for book clubs, and if I hadn’t already earned a reputation of recommending only novels to mine, I would do so. Kelly published Lost Roses as a prequel to The Lilac Girls, set in WWII (reviewed earlier on PWR). This 2019 publication is set just as WWI threatens in 1914. It is a historical novel which features the Russian Revolution and deals with women’s friendships.

Eliza Ferriday, an American, is a friend of Sofya Streshnayva, a cousin of the Ramanovs in Russia. The novel deals with the rise and fall of that dynasty . As Austria declares war on Serbia, Eliza returns to America, never dreaming her dear friend Sofya and her family will soon be trapped on their country estate. As the Russian Revolution breaks out, and the peasants take things into their own hands, Sofya hires Varinka, a fortune-teller’s daughter to be a nanny to her toddler son, Max. The intersecting of the lives of these three women is what propels the plot forward, creating memorable characters as the author spins her remarkable tale. Each chapter is headed by one of the three characters’ names and by the year, which keeps things orderly and at the same time presents what is going on simultaneously in those women’s lives.

This is definitely a “find” and a darned good read.

THE AWAKENING OF MISS PRIM by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera : A Review

This debut novel was published in 2014, but I did not hear of it until this year on a friend’s blog. The cover suggests, “[It]…will leave you undone, open to the beauty of the little things in life.” Those are strong claims for such a calm, comforting little read, but the novel itself is as “prim and proper” as the protagonist herself. It is a gentle story, sometimes sparked by the tiny rebellions and pop-up anger in our protagonist, Miss Prim, a librarian by occupation, and a thinker/philosopher by her own definition.

Prim cover, prim character, prim read

Prudencia Prim is intelligent, has a true knowledge of literature, and is hired as the private librarian of The Man in the Wing Chair. She arrives at the tiny, quaint village of San Ireneo de Arnois where she meets the village’s eccentric, quirky, well-drawn characters, whom you can’t help falling in love with. It is a village /colony set in the past, hidden from such horrors as progress and modernism. Its “exiles seek a simple, rural life” as they strive to protect themselves from the outside world. Poets, artists, philosophers, philanthropists, etc. make up the post persons, teachers, priests and a monk, the inhabitants of the village.

The plot/action of the novel is full of “steaming cups of tea, baked cakes, and lovely company.” Hospitality is the name of the game in San Ireneo de Arnois. Reading this novel, returning to it after stressful, busy days was a comfort to me during the bleak month of January. I found myself rationing out the chapters I covered each time I opened the book to make it last longer. I especially enjoyed the feelings of peace and serenity it left me with. It made my heart sing and left me with a peace that comes from a book that feels like a conversation with an old friend. This was definitely a “darned good read.”

FIRST LINE FRIDAYS

ONE IS ASKED TO COPY THE FIRST LINE OR TWO OF A CURRENT READ TO SEE IF OTHERS MAY WANT TO PUT THAT BOOK ON THEIR TBR.
I try to read a classic every two months.

This classic is in addition to the Classics Club challenge I gave myself in 2021. I am hoping in 2022 to finish a classic every other month, giving me two months to read what is sometimes a more difficult book.

For January and February, I have begun Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. I have always been interested in this male author with a female name because Evelyn is my middle name. I have read at least two other books by him, Winds of War and another novel which was a satire of he funeral industry (If my beleaguered memory serves me right). After a lengthy introduction and information on the author, the Prologue begins as follows:

“When I reached ‘C’ company lines, which were at the top of the hill, I paused and looked back at the camp, just coming into full view below me through the grey mist of early morning. We were leaving that day.”

An end, indeed to an encampment during wartime, but the beginning of a narrative one is not likely to forget for the reader. I look forward to this novel and suspect it will be a “darned good read.”

Thank you Evin.
Two novels this weekend plus several Cybils nominees

I had the opportunity to read quite a bit this weekend, as I was not feeling up to par and didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything much. When not sleeping the extra hours from feeling bad or the additional hours gained from going to bed extra early Saturday night, and then another hour from the end of Daylight Savings Time, I did nothing but read. Here are the results:

This novel, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, by Jan-Philipp Sandker is interesting. It presents protagonist, Julia Winn, whose father disappears without explanation. She travels to Burma and learns of his early life before he was her father and of his return to Burma shortly before his death in search of his one true love. Julia learns what real, pure love is as she learns of her dad’s love for Mimi. The book is filled with family mysteries and is a “magical and uplifting tale of hardship and resilience and the unyielding power of love.” It is a darned good read.

Cleverly written, this one is for older high schoolers.

Described as a “frank tale of teenage girlhood,” this novel tells the story of Jemimina, a complex character who is fighting the male patriarchy with all she’s got. In her school, she is chosen as part of the Triumvirate who “rules” the school, and with Jemima’s strong desire to “make things different,” changes the ways things are done at this posh private school. It is also a story of first love, “the first time,” and first impressions. It is frank, relevant, and challenging to YA readers.

Appealing to the questions of teenagers about the usual things of teenage-hood like sex and “first times,” The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kinkaid listens to the needs of its YA readers.

I finished four Cybils nominees this weekend, one of which made my shortlist. I understand that a panelist for the first round in poetry (mostly novels in verse) should list 5-7 candidates for the award. I believe the one I added makes 5. I still have many to read, so I will have to do some “adjusting” to my list.

I HOPE YOU HAD A PRODUCTIVE READING EXPERIENCE THIS WEEKEND TOO!

Rae

THE NINTH HOUR by Alice McDermott: A Review

A calming, soothing story full of character development and compassion.

At first I thought I was not going to like this 2017 publication because it began with a suicide. However, when the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor arrive and try to cover up the suicide, so the surviving widow can bury her husband in concentrated ground, my interest perked to attention. Set in Catholic Brooklyn in the early 20th century, this novel presents Annie, the pregnant widow and then her daughter, Sally who are taken under the wing of the caring nuns, and follows them through their lives until Sally is old enough to consider taking a vocation. What she decides and why she decided it was a surprise to me, as were many other twists and turns the novel took, right down to the end, where the ending itself was a surprise.

The Ninth Hour has “quiet power,” one of the characteristics of literary fiction. The novel’s basic themes are “love, sacrifice, and forgiveness.” Sister St.Savior and Sister Jeanne are unforgettable characters who will remain with one long after they have turned the last page. It is definitely a “darned good read.”

Books can bring comfort as well as diversion from life’s troubles.
Thanks to my young blogging friend, Evin for the special sign off.

THINK AGAIN by Adam Grant: A Review

One of the best non-fiction reads so far this year

The subtitle, “Knowing What You Don’t Know,” let’s us know this is a book about the value of rethinking. Taking tests as a student, I was always told “Go with your first instinct and never change answers; don’t overthink.” Grant says just the opposite. He complains that when we get an idea, we freeze it and seize it, and hold on to it too many times. Because we are human, we enjoy living in our “comfort of conviction” over the “discomfort of doubt.”

There is something for everyone in this book: for teachers in the chapter “Rethinking the Textbook, which has excellent ideas to teach ‘rethinking;’ for young people who are in a quandary over making a career decision or life plan; for mid-lifer crazies who are in a career crisis; and parents, who want their children to be able to solve problems that don’t even exist yet. It is especially applicable to business bosses and leaders who wish their companies/organizations to be effective and efficient.

Timely answers for NOW, for Covid questions, NASA examples and experiences from his own kids and family fill the book with readable and relatable anecdotes that keep the reader turning pages.

It is a “darned good read’ and very helpful in dealing with life.

MANTIVORE DREAMS by S.J. Higbee: A Review

Mantivore Dreams by blogging friend S.J. Higbee is an exciting novel aimed at YA target readers. This far from YA reader, LOL, enjoyed it immensely.

If the cover is intriguing, wait until you begin to read!

After having read the Sunblind trilogy by this friend, my appetite was whetted for more, and this new series, The Arcadian Chronicles really delivers.

Kyrilla, a teenage heroine lives in a Cinderella world, a slave to her hateful mother and her disabled uncle. Her inner Mantivore, Vrox, often directs her thoughts and actions as she lives out her miserable live on a strange planet.

The book is full of young love and young like, as well as family secrets and mysteries that affect Kyrilla and the entire planet. Higbee’s writing style is engaging, and her word choices are original and spot-on. Reading this book was a pleasure, even though sci fi, specifically space operas and life on other planets is a tad distant from my standard reading tastes. This book, however, is extremely readable as any good novel, full of plot twists and turns and strong on character development, things I specifically enjoy.

I fully intend to read the other books in the series and know I will enjoy what I have come to expect from this author–a darned good read!

TUESDAY TEASER

Tuesday Teaser, brought to you by the Purple Booker asks that you grab a book you are reading and copy a few lines in order to “tease” someone else into looking into that book for further reads. Here is my teaser for Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come, a non-fiction look at an introvert exploring extrovert territory, by Jessica Pan.

Summing up the results of her one year experiment, Pan writes, “It was more than I ever could have hoped for when I started. I feel more in control of my life because I can extrovert.” She goes on to describe the many new things she can “handle” which she couldn’t before as a result of saying “yes” to things that were definitely out of her comfort zone before as a dyed-in-the-wool introvert.

This has been the best non-fiction read of 2020 for me. I highly recommend it.

DRIVING WITH BUDDHA

I have just finished the road-trip books by Roland Merullo that have a philosophy side to them. I was hooked early on by Breakfast with Buddha ,the first book in the series and really enjoyed meeting Otto, his screwy sister, and her boyfriend, the semi-Buddhist priest, Rimproche. At first I was skeptical (as was Otto) about all this meditation and enlightenment “stuff,” and followed more closely Otto’s efforts to show Rimproche the “real America.” Picturing the Burgundy, gold-trimmed robed priest playing miniature golf and bowling was a fun thought, but soon I began to pay more attention to the Holy Man’s words. I think Otto’s reaction followed the same trajectory. By the end of Breakfast, I, like Otto was beginning to really like Rimproche and to wonder if there wasn’t something to this meditation “thingy.”I began to notice and sometimes read columns and articles that touted the value of meditation that came my way.

Lunch with Buddha continued the saga, Rimproche now married to Otto’s sister with a small daughter. This second book dealt with another road trip, but also with Otto’s maturation of a spiritual side which was clearly necessary for him to survive the death of his beloved wife. It went into detail about his meditations, his seeking for enlightenment, and the relative success he had with both. My inquisitive mind and spirit “ate this up”! By this point I had found a columnist in our Houston newspaper that came out each week, featuring self-care and advocating guided meditation as a way to destress, relax, and change one’s busy lifestyle. I downloaded twenty something guided meditations and began enjoying them on a regular basis. In fact, I became “good at it” and saw a definite relax in my normal “driven” attitude and lifestyle.

That’s when the fun began. Book three , Dinner with Buddha (published in 2015–hopefully there will be a book four, maybe “After Dinner Coffee With Buddha,” LOL, because this book upped and amped the plot 100%. Otto’s little niece turns out to be a very special child with special abilities (bordering on superpowers, LOL). Plus sinister Chinese strangers seem to be stalking her and her family and join the “chase” across country in the third road trip. Talk about action! The final meet-up in Las Vegas, of all places, is action packed and eerie to say the least. Otto comes to a turning place in his life and the end of the book gives us his dramatic decision. All of this action and many side-trips to National parks and scenic places manage to tie in all this meditation recommendation with an appreciation of Nature and a sense of cosmic and spiritual benefits to those who seek.

The three road trips with Otto and Rimproche have not only been a darned good, fun read, but they have enlightened my way of thinking about meditation specifically and “religion” in general. Who says a novel (or series of novels) can’t make you think?

REVIEW: REDHEAD BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD by Anne Tyler (2020)

Ann Tyler’s latest offering, Redhead by the Side of the Road, delivers what we have come to expect from Ann Tyler: excellent characterization, “ordinary” protagonists, and middle aged angst.

The opening lines, “Micha Mortimer is a creature of habit,” introduce us to the most neutral man in the United States, and our first impression of him, as well as our empathy for him is just that–neutral. Micha is a handyman and manager of an apartment building who also runs a computer fix-it business, “Tech Hermit.”

The storyline is described as being, “an intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who finds those around him just beyond reach.” We, as readers, are vaguely interested in Micha, this vague man who just “doesn’t seem to get it,” yet is satisfied with his mundane life. He goes about his scheduled routine, a specific day for each household chore, a specific daily round of activities, beginning with a morning run. It is on one of these runs that the reader sees the world through Micha’s myopic eyes, as he looks at a fire hydrant and sees it as a person, “a red head by the side of the road”–thus the title.

The book/narrative itself is not dull nor myopic, it is written in a witty, clever, detailed, pleasing style and never loses the reader from the first line to the last, a darned good read.

a darned good read