MILLER’S VALLEY by Anna Quindlen: A Review

I found this book in convenient large print when our local library reopened. It is a 2016 publication and is an example of how/why Quindlen’s novels are so popular–they are page turners.

From the beginning readers know the government has plans to build a dam which will flood the farming community of Miller’s Valley, but as time goes by, and the suspense drags out, we begin to think, to hope, Miller’s Valley, home to Mary Margaret Miller, will be spared. Following Mary Margaret from a child selling ears of sweet corn at a roadside stand to an experienced doctor with a husband and children, we appreciate Quindlen’s “deep understanding of the many stages of a woman’s life.”

As a story teller, Quindlen is unsurpassed. Some of the themes that emerge from her narrative are: family, memory, loss, “and finding a true identity and a new vision of home.” Perhaps the quote after the title page, before chapter one begins says it best, “Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” James Baldwin.

GOOD LUCK WITH THAT by Kristan Higgins: A Review

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 Luck9780451489395 “…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.

SATURDAY MORNINGS FOR KIDS

9781684371785     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.

MASTER OF ONE by Jordan Rayner: A Review

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.9780525653332

SUNDAY REVIEW

ALPHABET-SOUP-2020-AUTHOR-EDITION-BE-820  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.

TWEEN TREASURES

418-JybCiwL    Carolyn Macklin has written about a problem many tweens face in Not if I Can Help It,  remarriage. However, there is a twist–Willa’s father wants to marry Ruby’s (Willa’s best friend’s) mother. Both girls are heading to middle school as sixth graders, and all their friends, teachers, and even the principal think the situation is “cool.” Willa does not agree. How to handle the girls’ mutual friends and Ruby’s excited anticipation of becoming “sisters” is a bitter pill to swallow!9781250166784

All the Ways Home by Elsie Chapman presents a boy’s story. Kaeda, a Japanese Canadian is in 8th grade, facing the strong possibility that he will have to repeat 8th grade in the fall, when his mother is unexpectedly killed in a car crash. Facing the unpleasant fact that he may have to live with his surly grandfather, Kaeda travels to Japan to plead with his much-older musician brother, Shoma. Kaeda has a summer to get his life on track in a challenge few boys his age must face.

UnknownMaggie “saves” little things, anchors to keep her Altzheimer’s-afflicted grandmother grounded. She refuses to let her mom or anyone throw her “treasures” away. This is a story of “loss” and “leavings”; it is a story of anxiety and hoarding in children, a real and challenging problem.

 

 

INTERPRETER OF MALADIES by Jhumpa Lahiri(1999): A Review

This lovely collection of short stories by the author of The Namesake (I had seen the movie.) and The Lowland (a novel I greatly admired) was Lahiri’s “first book.” Maladies won the Pulitzer in 2000, and snippets of the stories in this volume had appeared in The New Yorker, so they sounded familiar, and I kept asking myself, “Have I already read this book”? The paperback appeared in my Little Free Library last month, and I have used it as a pick up and put down book to read in-between grading papers.

I couldn’t pick a favorite story if I had to. Some stories deal with husband-wife relationships with some couples young and newly married and others elderly and still in love or at least putting up with each other. LOL Most of the stories deal in some way with the sweeper of the property where they all live, which ties the stories together. A critic described the stories as “[the] emotional journeys of [Lahiri’s] characters seeking love” across several generations, different backgrounds, varied ethnicities and cultures.

The author’s style of writing is hers alone as she writes with a gentle, unassuming voice, especially demonstrated   in dealing with the character of Mr. Kapsi in the namesake story, “The Interpreter of Maladies.”

I highly recommend this book.

TRAVELING WITH POMEGRANATES By Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kid Taylor

I have read several novels by Sue Monk Kidd and enjoyed them all. While browsing at a Harris County Library, I found a travel book co-written by Kidd and her daughter, which was published in 2009, and since it was in Large Print to boot, I checked it out.

The cover describes it as ” a mother-daughter story” and has a picture of Demeter (Earth goddess, the mother) holding pomegranates, which Persophone, godess of Spring (Demeter’s  daughter) ate, condemning her to life in the Underworld for six months each year (thus the reason for winter). In the first of their travels together, the two women bought tiny glass pomegranates at an out-of-the-way jewelers shop, and thus the symbolism is set for this series of travel adventures.

Describing their travels in France, Greece, Turkey, and back home in South Carolina, USA, these women alternate chapters, often remembering travels they’d taken previously individually, as they wrote about what they were seeing together. The traveling described took place during the years 1998-2008 which chronicles the growth of their mother-daughter relationship. There are musings and thoughts triggered by sights and reactions to artifacts and art of the various cultures they encountered. Their personal growth, as well as the growth of their relationship is closely connected their musings on feminism, the Divine She, feelings about art, motherhood, and life’s eventful moments.

The book is simply lovely and causes the reader to think about and muse upon one’s own travels and one’s own life. It is a very pleasant 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

 

Update on a 2020 Challenge

One of my personal reading challenges for 2020 was to read 20 books recommended or reviewed by a fellow blogger. In January, Deb Nance’s post on books that uplift one’s mood on her blog, Readerbuzz recommended The Church of Small Things by Melanie Shankle (reviewed on PWR previously). Deb is a long-time, good friend who lives in the same town, and whose taste in books aligns with my own.

Another blogger I follow faithfully is Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda, who writes Without Ritual, Autonomous Negotiations, a scholarly blog on WordPress.  Dr. Pegoda was at one time my student at UHCL and is the closest thing I have to a grandson. He recently had articles published in The Washington Post and Time Magazine. (If I sound like a grandma bragging, I am.) At his recommendation, I extended my desire to read more non-fiction by reading Trauma Stewardship by Laura Van Dermot Lipsky and Connie Burk. The book’s subtitle is “An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self while Caring for Others.” Published in 2009, but very relevant today, this book deals with “secondary trauma,” a term I was not familiar with. The authors point out the importance of “work[ing] on those who help [with] and witness trauma.” The book made a good case for treating emergency workers and caregivers, as well as those who were also present at tragedies and traumatic events. The book’s message could be summed up as, “In order to take care of someone else, one must simultaneously take care of himself.” Or, as the example from a stewardess’s speech before taking off includes, “Put on your own face mask first.”