BOOK “Y” OF THE ALPHABET SOUP CHALLENGE: A Review

A Year of Wednesdays by Sonis Bahl, a 2019 publication, is “…a story that will make you laugh, cry, and think again,” according to the jacket blurb. I found it warm, humorous at times, and full of contemporary cultural allusions. Two people, an arrogant businessman and a mother with a baby are thrown together as seatmates on a 15-hour flight.  Wednesdays is a “One time, one encounter that lasts a lifetime.” Even though they separate after the flight, the cool, Wall-Street guy escapes as quickly as he can from the “mom-with-the drool-stained-sweater” who is lugging an under-two year old, puzzled that the woman’s philosophy of life shared during the 15 hours is so different from his. Not only are they diametric opposites, but she has also refused to give him information for further contact, making it clear she has no interest in him or (to him) his successfully glamorous life.

The rest of the book, alternates from chapter to chapter consists of internal conversations he has with her and she has with him. They can’t get each other out of their respective minds. As the jacket blurb says, “…somehow they continue to travel together” if only in their thoughts. This strange relationship goes on for a year of Wednesdays, the day he had suggested they meet at a tiny coffee shop. Somehow, these two are “unexpectedly connected” as ludicrous as that may sound.

My favorite quote from the book is about my favorite beverage–coffee. “Coffee should be as black as hell, as strong as death, and as sweet as love.” This story is about two people as different as night and day, who share a connection as strong as life, and as sweet as confusing “non-traditional” love.

THE SPARROW by Mary Doria Russell: A Review

I thought it was about time to get back to reading some sci-fi, and I chose a “classic” published in 1996. I decided on this one because the information I had about it had a definite philosophical “edge” to it. This information described the novel as “Jesuits in space.” It is set in 2016-2060.

Emilio Sandoz, the main character is as complex and strange a character as I have ever encountered before. He is a priest who “lost his friends and his faith” while on his journey to and arrival on Mars. The secondary characters are admirably drawn, characters you come to “know” and care about. George and Ann, the married couple were my favorites. The aliens are interesting and creatively described and presented as well.

Russell is known for her “meticulous research, fine prose, and the compelling narrative drive of her stories,” and this one did not tarnish her reputation. The title comes from a gathering/inquisition of priests into Emiliano and the mission when one of them says in answer to one priest’s question, “…So God just leaves”?

“No, He watches. He rejoices. He weeps. He observes the moral dynamics of human life and gives meaning to it by caring about us, and remembering.”  The head investigator then quotes Matthew 10:29, “Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father acknowledging it.”

A younger priest, Felipe, who has seen Emilio Sandoz’s suffering, adds, “But the sparrow still falls.”

I guarantee this is a book you won’t forget.

SOLD ON A MONDAY by Kristina McMorris: A Review

The cover alone sells this novel. Two little boys dressed in 1930s knickers and caps sit dejected behind a sign that proclaims “For Sale.” The book is set during the 30s, a time of Great Depression in the US, and pointed out a fact I didn’t know. Some families, especially those with many children were desperate enough to sell their kids to needy infertile couples, both of whom were duped by unscrupulous adoption brokers. The scandal and crime involved were a fact of the most unsavory parts of American history.

I particularly like stories about the thirties and forties journalists and newspapers. I was a fan of TMC (Turner Classic Movie Channel,) which showed black and white movies set in newsrooms starring Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart. Also, I had the pleasure of working with and hearing the stories of a communication professor who was a reporter during this era.  He was in his 90s when we were friends. This novel is based on the ethical premise of exploiting a photograph and later an article to sell papers and keep a job in the endangered world of journalism at that time. Lily, who has aspirations of being a real reporter instead of a receptionist and coffee-go for, is torn between her small-time reporter friend, Ellis, who took the photo, and Clayton, the established, well-to-do reporter who can offer a better life for Lily and her secret son. Child labor is another issue of the times that is explored and supported by the buying and selling of children.

This book was a R.A.T (Reading All Together) Pack Book Club selection, and the consensus was that Sold on a Monday was a darned good read.

AN IMPRESSIVE POETRY COLLECTION: SUCH IS LIFE, A Review

Back in April, I was being very self-congratulatory about reading a volume of poetry, Evidence of Flossing, as part of my celebration of National Poetry Month.  It was such a pleasurable experience that I purchased a copy of another collection of poems recommended by a blogging friend, Khyati Gautam, a young writer with great potential.  She posted an interview with poet, Rahul Nigamon her blog, “Bookish Fame.” I think the picture of the cover, a young child, hands clasped behind his back, kicking with his left foot at a puddle appealed to me as a “poetic” image. The collection’s title is Such Is Life, and indeed, the poems are such as life is made up of.

In one of the later sections, the poet explores the definition and writing of poetry as a literary form:

POETRY

The fusion of words to create a statement, /Their coming together in search of a meaning,/ The interaction to prove their existence./ One of the poet’s age old inheritance.

 

Dwelling in the claustrophobic foundation of the identity/ Thrust upon them by the poet./ /Still striving not to lose their individuality.

 

The merger of the interior with the exterior,/ The conversation eavesdropped by the mind.

 

The iceberg of feelings/ Touched by the heat of happenings/ Melts.

 

Emotions find expression, Silence finds speech,/ And abstractness evolves into reality.

 

The stream oozes out of the pen/ And the naked white paper/ Is now clothed with someone’s scribbles.

 

A word here,/ A word there,/  Webbing them together/ To constitute/ What is called Poetry.

 

The juggling of words by the poet,/ The tuning of the orchestra/ To attain a harmony/ Music being created note by note/ And the symphony of waves all around.

 

The perfect fusion…/ The music,/ The romance,/  The music of romance.

 

The silence,/ The loneliness,/ The silence of loneliness.

 

The agony./ The pain,/ The agony of pain.

 

The death,/ The soul, /The dead soul.

 

And it goes on…

 

What is poetry?/ If not you and me?

 

Our tears,/ our smiles,/ Our anger,/ our guilt,/ Our accomplishments,/ our failure, Our life,/ our death,/ Spread all over a sheet of paper.

 

You, /Me,/ We… The fusion of words.

Other poems in the edition are equally engaging, especially the love poems and the “everyday” ones as well. I highly recommend Such Is Life as a base from which to broaden one’s appreciation and respect of poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

Alphabet Challenge Update, READING WITH PATRICK

A friend gave me Reading with Patrick, a memoir by Michelle Kuo, a few months ago. I have been saving it for the “R” in the Alphabet Challenge a fellow blogger and I have taken on. Describing the “remarkable literary and political awakening” of Patrick Browning, Kuo’s student, the book makes the reader think about race and the lack of justice for a large portion of America’s population.

Kuo met Patrick when she was a volunteer with “Teach for America”( in 2004) in his home town, Helena, Arkansas, located in what was then one of the poorest counties in the U.S. She led Patrick through his journey of discovery as his high school English teacher. She “saw” him and saw his potential. The descriptions of their interactions and the building of their relationship were familiar to any teacher who has “been there” and cared.  As Patrick grows in his understanding of poetry, the book becomes “a love letter to literature.” It is also a “riveting,” “inspiring testimony to the transformative power of reading.” What about this premise would not make my teacher’s heart go “pitty-pat”?

After going on to law school, Kuo returned to Helena to find that Patrick was in jail, serving an “undetermined” length of years for murder.  Patrick describes the murder as “an accident,” and Kuo finds his case has been constantly mishandled, delayed, overlooked and tightly bound up in bureaucracy and red tape. While waiting for hearings and various delays, Kuo begins to teach Patrick again, only to find he had reverted to the pathetically poor reader he was when she first met him years ago. Visiting Patrick in jail as often as permitted for over seven months, Kuo helps Patrick make progress, both in his awareness of literature and of himself as well.

The story does not have a “happily-ever-after-ending,” but a satisfactory one, and the “read” was definitely worth investing my valuable reading time in. I highly recommend this book.

 

 

 

SATURDAY MORNINGS FOR KIDS

Although I have used the following kid’s novel for a Tuesday Teaser and a First Line Fridays post, I failed to write a proper review on it when I finished reading it.  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, children’s “classic,” Newberry Award Winner in 1977, ALA “Notable Book,” NY Times Book Review’s “Best of Children’s Books, 1970-1980, and nominee for the National Book Award deserves at least a full review on PWR.

During the time this book was being talked about, discussed, and recommended, I was teaching junior high. I remembering typing up a list of recommended “Outstanding Books for Summer Reading,” and Thunder was included. BUT, I never read the book myself. I just went by the book back and blurbs on the paperback version to deem it “worthy.” About a month ago, someone donated the Penguin paperback version to my Little Free Library. I admonished myself that I really should read it, but what with library books due, book club “assignments,” and books friends told me I “just had to read–right away, Taylor’s awesome novel sat on my bedside table. I picked it up on a Friday and typed in its first lines. The following Tuesday, I had managed a couple of chapters while reading two other books, so I wrote my Tuesday Teaser. Once I began to care about Cassie and her family–poor, but land-owning Negroes in Depression-days Mississippi, I could not put it down and often read holding my breath because it was so tense (and dense).

A coming-of-age story, the novel is set “in one turbulent year–the year of the night riders and the burnings, the year a white girl humiliates Cassie in public simply because she is black–”  As The New York Times Book Review  writes, It is a story written with “pride, strength, and respect for humanity.”

I give this book a 5 out of 5 and highly recommend it to readers of all ages.

THE ALPHABET CHALLENGE: AN UPDATE

In January I agreed to return to the Alphabet Challenge abandoned last summer with the completion of Joyce Carol Oats, The Man Without a Shadow. So far I have read “N,” “O,” and “P.”

Letter “O” was my favorite of the three and definitely the best book I have read so far this year.  It appealed to me as a literature major, but also as an original writing technique, for Ian McEwan wrote from the viewpoint of a fetus in its mother’s womb. Not just any unborn child, mind you, but Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Prince of Denmark.  In tMcEwan’s novel, Hamlet’s mother, Trudy, is close to her delivery date when she and Claude, her husband’s brother and her lover, plot to kill the king and usurp his throne. Hamlet, from the womb is privy to this information and veers between faithful love and  venomous hate for both his biological father and his mother. It is “the classic tale of murder and deceit,” but as you may have guessed from the modern names, it is set in modern (around 60’s) times.

There is a marvelous twist to the decision to go ahead with the murder plot that only McEwan could have invented. It is not in Shakespeare’s version (as far as I know), but it torments both Trudy and her unborn son.

The writing is the best thing about the book. Here is just a sample:

Chapter One      “So here I am, upside down in a woman. Arms patiently crossed, waiting, and waiting and wondering who I’m in, what I’m in for. My eyes close nostalgically when I remember how I once drifted in my translucent body bag, floated dreamily in the bubble of my thoughts through my private ocean in slow-motion somersaults, colliding gently against the transparent bounds of my confinement, the confiding membrane that vibrated with, even as it muffled, the voices of conspirators in a vile enterprise.”  MAGNIFICENT! But, what else could one expect from the author of Atonement?

TAKING ON THE 2019 AUDIO BOOKS CHALLENGE

This challenge was originally issued by “Hot Listens” and “Caffeinated Reviewer,” but I came across it on one of my favorite blogs, “Carla Loves to Read.” Carla has planned to read 50 audio books in 2019.  Having come fairly lately to audio books, and being a visual learner, I am not willing to commit to that many audiobooks, but I will  attempt to listen to 30 in 2019.

Here is the first review of Mitch Albom’s For One More Day.  Most of this book I listened to while in the car. I had read other books by Albom (specifically Tuesdays with Morrie, Marley and Me, and The Five People You Meet in Heaven) and was prepared to become teary-eyed, but For One More Day was a heartbreaker.  It was also heart-wrenching as family secrets were revealed to the main character, “Chick” . Albom’s recurrent theme of unsuccessfully trying to please one’s father, and in this character’s case, taking one’s mother’s love for granted made the story hard to hear. Perhaps I would have handled it better had I read it in print.

The title comes from wishing for “one more day to set things right.” Chick was granted that day with his mother.

 

FRIDAY REVIEW The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz (author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe)

This 2017 publication was one of my favorite reads in 2018. The story opens with the protagonist, Sal, saying, “Maybe I’d always had the wrong idea as to who I really was.” By the end of the book, “Sally,” to his best friend Sam (short for Samantha), discovers his true identity. His birth certificate name is Salvadore, and his perceptive, gay dad refers to him as “Salvie.” A senior in high school, Sal deals with anger issues–Did the “urge” to fight come from his biological father?  Was this unknown man, so unlike his easy-going adopted father, Vincente, the origin of the trait that so often gets him into trouble?

Throughout the novel, Sal deals with the anger/hurt/sense of loss that comes with the death of his mother before he was old enough to have memories of her, and he faces the impending death of his grandmother who raised him. Conflicting emotions of Mexicans/Anglos and the culture of each tear at Sal as he faces applying for and choosing a college. Bullying raises its ugly head in Inexplicable Logic as does the search for identity every teen faces.

This is not the pointless angst so many YA novels offer, but an in-depth exploration of a representative of the “younger generation” that would benefit my generation to examine.  It is a good read and one that most readers will not soon forget.

SATURDAY MORNING FOR KIDS

The kids who would respond well to the novel(s) I am reviewing today would more likely be sleeping in, scrunched up under the covers, on Saturday mornings than watching cartoons.  Alice Hoffman has written some wonderful YA novels along with her outstanding adult novels, which turn something ordinary into something extraordinary, using a “touch”of the supernatural. The double novel, Green Heart contains two novellas, Green Angel and Green Witch.

As with Faithful (reviewed earlier on this blog), the protagonist is a fifteen year old girl. Like Faithful, Hoffman’s sophisticated novellas could be labeled “coming-of-age stories.”  This double novel is  a “two-fold story of loss and love.” The fifteen-year-old Green Angel maintains a wonderful garden which bears plants, vegetables, and flowers that her family takes with them when they go to town to market. One October weekend, her whole family goes off to market and are lost in a terrible fire that consumes the market and the town. Ashes from this disaster even cover the countryside farm where she had stayed behind. Also, the young man she loved is missing. Has he betrayed her, or has he been betrayed? Her only consolation is working in the ruined garden where nothing will grow. Slowly, over years, she resurrects the garden, with Hoffman’s signature touch of the supernatural, touch of magic.

Over time, she begins to heal. She learns the truth about love, hope, and magic. One day, the Green Angel, “branded [by her neighbors] for her mysterious powers,” and called a witch by little children, begins a quest to discover what became of the boy she had once loved.

The exciting end of the quest and the “battle” that ensues demonstrates the Angel/Witch’s craftiness and dedication to love. The ending is quite satisfactory.

Interestingly enough the metaphor of tattoos prevails throughout the novel(s). The first,vines, inked in green and self-inflicted by the devastated young fifteen-year-old, foreshadow many more tattoos of growing things and becomes a major theme of resurrection, life and change.

To me, this was a magical, beautifully written book, one of Alice Hoffman’s best. I give it five stars out of five.