I DID IT!

shopping-1ALPHABET-SOUP-2020-AUTHOR-EDITION-BE-820 I did it!! All 500+ (800+ for large print) pages!! And what a delight it was. There were many “faces” I’d met in documentaries and historical books about WWII, and the stamina of the English citizens made me proud for my grandmother’s people.

Larson never ceases to amaze me; his non-fiction facts are strung together in a way that makes his books read like a novel, tracing threads of family drama, political intrigue and biographical characterization.  I have read and enjoyed several of Larson’s books, but this one was as fascinating as it was informative. I never lost interest or was bored. I loved following the career and love-life of Churchill’s daughter,Mary and was entertained by the excesses his wife, Clementine put up with from The Prime Minister.

Any WWII fan will enjoy this book, but so will readers who enjoy a “darned good read.”

MORE TWEEN TREASURES

35431592._SY475_      An unusual book with a tough but important topic is Lisa Bunker’s Zenobia July. It deals with a transgender protagonist, “Zen,” short for Zenobia (Who wouldn’t go by a nickname if she/he had the name Zenobia?) who  teaches others around her (and this reader) to use the pronouns “va” and “vien” rather than “she” and “them.” Zen lives in Maine with her lesbian aunts who are her legal guardians, and va meets many unusual people at her aunts free-thinking home. Va is a computer genius and a very gifted individual. As Zen seeks to find her identity, the reader is led to question the basic question of “Who am I?”  Sharing Zen’s journey is a thought-provoking, often humorous experience most middle graders will enjoy.

9780316521833    For girls whose lives are spelled B-A-S-K-E-T-B-A-L-L, Barbara Carroll Roberts’ Nikki on the Line is a must-read. A humorous look at family and the frequently assigned project of developing/drawing a family tree is the vehicle that carries 13-year-old Nikki to search for her identity, only to learn that the best advice is to “Be yourself.”

Both these books are excellent for reluctant readers as well as bookworms who adore a “darned good read.”

MAY IS SHORT STORY MONTH

I haven’t read a good book of short stories since receiving Jennifer Egan’s Emerald City two Christmases ago. So, in honor of National Short Story Month, I selected a book of short stories, Dreams Underfoot, by Charles de Lint that had been donated to me for my Little Free Library to read for the occasion. I was attracted to the cover which showed a pale, strange-looking young woman, barefoot, levitating above a coastal shore. It turned out to be, as the cover advertised, full of “myth, music, and magic.”

It is a book of urban fantasy or urban legends about otherworldly creatures who live among us in our villages, cities, and towns. Described as “neither a novel or a simple gathering of short stories…it is a cycle of urban myths and dreams, of passions and sorrows, romance and force woven together to create  a tapestry of interconnected dramas, interconnected lives–[a] kind of magic…” The author’s style is poetical and magical–“twilight dreams [woven out of ] language and music.” Characters appear and disappear, popping up in one story, then another like old friends walking through the mists and fogs of our reading. It is not just escape reading but “deep mythic literature of our time.” The words and phrases and the unique characters: Jilly, the artist who “believes in magic;” Professor Bramley and his manservant Goon, a gnomelike figure; and the inhabitants of the music clubs, waterfronts, and alleyways of “… anywhere, anywhen… ” exist together in a time and place which suspends the reader’s imagination and beliefs with an otherworldly effect.  One doesn’t just read the book, she experiences it.

Letter “G” of the 2020 Alphabet Soup Challenge, author version

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Elizabeth Gilbert is an author whose books I have always found pleasing. After reading her non-fiction offerings, I was intrigued as to what her novel would be like.Unknown.jpeg

City of Girls, which deals with life in New York City over several decades, held a special spot in my heart at this time because my  girlfriends’ trip to New York, scheduled for March 19th through 23rd, was cancelled thanks to COVID-19. Sighing as I read about landmarks and all things New York that I wouldn’t be seeing any time soon, I was soon caught up in the story of Vivian who tell of the “one true love of her life.”

To me, characterization is more important than plot, resolution of conflict, or anything else. To read of the personal growth of a character and the resulting actions (which of course have consequences) that character takes, makes for a fascinating read. Using questions suggested by a fellow blogger many years ago, I’d like to write this review in terms of characterization.

  1. Who was your favorite character? Definitely Aunt Peg, Vivian’s eccentric aunt who owns and runs the Lily Theater, and who has a hit on her hands, along with drama queens and complex social and sexual situations of her off-Broadway “family.”
  2. Who was your second favorite character? The primary character, Vivian is my second favorite character. Surely no one was ever so innocent or has ever undergone such change (and gained in knowledge) as this character was. She reminds me of myself and several other people who “just don’t think.”
  3. Would you want to follow these characters in future books? Because Vivian is an old woman as she begins to tell her story, a sequel would be unlikely, and Aunt Peg would be long deceased if a sequel were to occur, my answer would be no.
  4. What about the relationships between the characters in the book? That is exactly what made this novel a page-turner and a delight. The author never had her characters act out of character or in a way that wasn’t believable based on what the reader had been told about that character’s backstory.  

During the story, Vivian’s loss of innocence but lack of maturity cause her to “make a personal mistake that results in a professional scandal.” As a critic for The New Yorker wrote, this novel is “by turns flinty, funny, and incandescent.”What Vivian learned about life, in general, was “You don’t have to be a good girl to be a good person.”                                               

FIRST LINE FRIDAYS

First Line Fridays is hosted by Hoarding Books, and many of my blogging friends participate. Here is my Firstliner from Susan Vreeland (I am trying to read all seven of her novels about art.). Clara and Mr. Tiffany is in large print and was obtained from my local library (which is now closed).

“I opened the beveled-glass door under the sign announcing Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company in ornate bronze. A new sign with a new name. Fine, I felt new too.”

Yes. Clara, newly a widow, got the job she applied for and her adventures in making glass decorations and windows began. I am now on p. 184 and learning about the making of glass objects, stained glass windows, and the submission of Tiffany windows at the World’s Fair of 1900. This novel is wonderfully researched in addition to being a darned good read.

BOOKS “E” and “F” of the 2020 ALPHABET SOUP CHALLENGE, Author’s edition

Thank you Dollycas for such a great challenge. Here are books “E” and “F”ALPHABET-SOUP-2020-AUTHOR-EDITION-BE-820.jpg

BOOK “E”– Tony Evans, author of The Last Promise, set this 2002 romance at a Tuscan vineyard complete with Italian villa, resident artist, and asthmatic son. I had read Evan’s The Christmas Box years ago as a Third Tuesday December book club selection. When Promise showed up as a donation for my Little Free Library,A98244D5-A015-438B-BB9D-688C2EFD5E36.jpeg I set it aside where it sat on my TBR shelf for over a year.

The author is a great storyteller who makes the reader care about the characters. Eliana, an artist married to a womanizing, rich husband lives in one part of the villa. She meets another resident of the huge villa, Ross, an American turned tour guide at the Uffizi (an art museum) who is harboring a secret. The two fall in love, of course, but the path of true love is often rocky. What results is beautiful descriptions of Italy, intrigue and mystery, and heart-tugs galore. It is a darned good read.thumbnail_20200308_105121.jpg

BOOK “F”–This 2012 adventure novel by the mysterious author, Magnus Flyte (What a pseudonym!) is also a blog recommendation from a fellow blogger, thus killing two book objectives with one read: The Alphabet Challenge and to read 20 books recommended by blogging friends in 2020. The novel includes science, magic, history, and art in all of its forms.

Sarah Watson (a play on Sherlock Holmes’ assistant) is the strong, female protagonist. She has been invited to Prague, City of Dark Magic, by her old professor Dr. Sherbatsky, offering her a job as a musicologist specializing in Beethoven at the Lobkowicz Palace there. When she arrives, she is shocked that Professor Sherbatsky had died under mysterious circumstances that has been classified as a suicide. Sarah knows in her heart this is impossible and sets out to find out the truth of his demise.

“This deliciously madcap novel has it all: murder in Prague, time travel [in the most original, unique way I’ve ever seen it done] a misanthropic Beethoven, tantric sex [plenty of it–all in good fun] and a dwarf with an attitude” Connan O’ Brien.

This novel is a hilarious, page-turning romp with an especially exciting ending.

 

These two have me ready to go back to Gilbert’s City of Girls next for the “G” novel of The 2020 Alphabet Challenge.city of g

 

THE GATES OF THE ALAMO by Stephen Harrigan: A Review

This 580 page historical novel was the Third Tuesday Book Club selection for January.      I missed the meeting, but My Better Half represented our household.  He read it first, and as a result, I didn’t quite finish it until this morning. It was one of those reads that had the reader holding their breath, turning pages as fast as possible. I had read Remembering Ben Clayton, an earlier Gulf Coast Read and book club selection by the same author. Described as “a genuinely moving epic,” Gates is an imagined account of the siege and fall of the Alamo, but much, much more. The author uses the POV of both American soldiers and Mexican attackers, things he has researched by reading letters and journals from both sides. The main characters, Mary Mott, a respected innkeeper and her sixteen-year-old son, Terrell; and Mrs. Mott’s love interest, Edmund McGowan, a naturalist in 1836 Texas, live through the perilous time before the battle as the Mexican army advances; during the battle, trapped in the old mission itself; and through the aftermath of the battle embodied in the Battle of San Jacinto, where the Texians won their independence from Mexico, shouting their battle cry, “Remember the Alamo!”

It is a warm, sometimes humorous, tale with cameo appearances that successfully give the reader glimpses of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, Travis, Sam Houston and other notables of the day. Although it is a long book, it is never boring, never without action, and never fails to make the reader care about the well-drawn characters. As the critics say about the book, it is Magnificent,” ” Fabulous,” and “Riveting.”

MORE BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS

What better than a book set in a small library n a small town, whose main character is a librarian? The Library of Lost and Found, a 2019 novel by Phaedra Patrick, her debut novel, is, as critics claim, “Eccentric, charming and wise.” The “local” librarian, Martha Storm has lost her chance at finding true love since she cared for her elderly parents (while working at the town library) until their deaths, and until she is firmly established as everyone’s favorite “old maid”. Everyone agrees she is the person to ask if you need help or a favor, for she has “all the time in the world” and “nothing better to do.” Martha still lives in her parents’ home, which looks like something out of a hoarder’s nightmare because she does not have the time or energy to go through her parents’ things; plus, her living and dining room are cluttered with “projects” she has taken on for other people: pants to hem for her sister’s son since the sister doesn’t have time, a paper mâché dragon’s head to repair for the theater department of the local high school, and on and on.

Actually, this is not just the story of things that get lost in Martha’s house, but of how she has lost herself and finds herself, as well as a second chance at love. Library has been called “…a hymn to books and how they can bring love even miracles into your life.” And they do just that in Martha’s life. The thing I like best about Martha’s development and reformation is how she “writes her own happy ending.” I highly recommend The Library of Lost and Found.

BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS 2020 Version

In 2018 and 2019, I read many books about bookstores, libraries, and books in general.  I enjoyed this so much I am going to continue in 2020 to read “books about books.” One of these I have read since New Year’s Day is Goodnight June by Sarah Rio. Yes, it is based on the children’s classic, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. This novel is based on Jio’s “take” on how the children’s classic may have come to be. The protagonist, June Anderson, librarian, inherits her Great Aunt Ruby’s bookstore which specializes in children’s books. June discovers letters written by her Aunt Ruby to Margaret Wise Brown written in the 40s that are the key to family secrets and will unlock a change in June’s character that will keep the reader cheering for the altruistic librarian. A touch of romance rounds out this author’s engaging tale and provides a “darned good read.”

MY LFE WITH BOB by Pamela Paul: A Review

This 2017 publication represents my favorite genre, Books about Books. Bob is not tall, dark and handsome; in fact, Bob is not even a man. BOB stands for Book of Books, a “bound record of everything [the author] has read or didn’t quite finish since the summer of 1988, my junior year of high school.” Each chapter revolves around the title of a book that coordinates with a period n the author’s life.  I once read a book that revolved around fashions, which declared that women might forget names and dates of certain events n their lives, but they will always remember what they were wearing. This author catalogs periods and events in her life by what she was reading at the time.

The introduction states, “Bob offers immediate access to where I’ve been psychologically and geographically at any given moment in my life… Each entry conjures a memory that might otherwise have gotten lost or blurred with time.” The first book remembered is  Brave New World, read in high school, and continues from there. Books place the author in Paris, Thailand, and many places around the world, and the reader is given a glimpse of the author’s life through her reactions to the books she reads.

For me, this was a fun read that satisfied my inner book-nerd and allowed me to enjoy a memoir at its most creative form.  I give this one five stars our of five stars.