KAY'S BOOK CLUB
I love books - I love to read. Sometimes I read a book a week! My husband, Steve, loves to read and now my youngest son, William, has become an avid reader! We have an upstairs library in our house that shelves around 500 books. Since creating this library, I have re-read so many fabulous books from my past that I hardly remember reading the first time ~ so that's been a lot of fun ~ just go up and pick out a book! Recently, William came down into the kitchen and asked me if I had ever heard of the book series, Left Behind. I said, yep, I have all of them
upstairs in the library! Of course you do...(insert giggle giggle!). A mere 2 weeks later and he is off on a 2-month umpiring job and on the way to the airport he told me he's on the 3rd book already and was taking the next 2 in the series with him on this trip.
My heart soared.
So, the following will detail some of the current (and maybe past) books that I have enjoyed and maybe a little about what I took away from the book. If you are like me, sometimes you read for nothing but pure pleasure, loosing yourself in a story that whisks you away to an adventure OR sometimes reading to gain a little knowledge about something. Historical fictional novels do that for me. You get a little of a history lesson along with a poignant story, satisfying the knowledge and pleasure components all in one!
I hope you enjoy these book reviews ~ presented (now) in order of "just read".
Grab a good book ~ it's alway great company~~~
HOW TO STOP TIME, Matt Haig
In this (second novel to me) of Mr. Haig's, he explores the phenomenon of living (almost) forever. While reminding me just a tad of the storyline of Forrest Gump, sort of going through events in history that he was "a part of", the same sort of thing occurs in the life span of the main character of this book. He experiences, through four hundred plus years of his life, situations from 18th century Europe and relationships with Shakespeare, Captain Cook, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (just to name a few) to participating in Facebook and airplane travel. However, that is not the central theme of the book (to explore society and innovations through the centuries) but instead, it's the haunting theme that some of us may have - the desire to live "forever"- while exploring the pitfalls that may befall that seemingly wonderful possibility. Now, maybe, if we all lived that type of life-span it might be okay - unlike the characters in this book being just a very few in the world and what they have to go through when loved ones age and die (and they don't) or having to move so much around the world so as not to be detected by acquaintances when they are seen not to age. It's really a thought-provoking concept that on the surface seems like a gift but in actuality is a curse. The handling of this concept and the history explored in a fictional way, as well as the inner struggle these characters are faced with, makes this novel an exercise in asking yourself this prolific question ~ would you, without physical signs of aging or medical issues involved with aging, want to live "forever"?
HOW TO SELL A HAUNTED HOUSE, Grady Hendrix
A personal aside: how interesting that the two books that I am reviewing today are the second books of two new authors to me AND both of them start with "HOW TO" - weird huh? ~ and, even though I enjoyed them both, they didn't inspire me the way both of these different authors' first books I read did. I mean you can tell from my reviews of their first two novels each that I read, both changed me in little, but real ways....
okay - here goes: Well, since it's October and the month of fall and Halloween, I decided to read a second Grady Hendrix "soft horror" book. I didn't love it the way I loved the first book of his I read (review below), but it was a page-turner and a lesson in family drama, as well as a lesson on family ties and love. In this book, Mr. Hendrix tells the story of a mother that is absorbed with creating a relationship between her obsession and occupation with puppets and her children's relationship with said puppets. As you can imagine, if you have ever been afraid of or had a family member afraid of a puppet, it's a "real" fear! My family had a ventriloquist doll (for some reason) that we called "Johnny" and believe me, it was a scary thing, but also was sort of a "family horror thrill". Families - go figure! Anyway, the two siblings in this novel have been years estranged until a family tragedy happens, due pretty much because of the divisiveness surrounding "things" that went on with these puppets in their childhood that everyone in the family held on to as secrets and issues against the others. "Our whole family functions on secrets", says the son in this two-sibling family. His sister thinks he was favored, he thinks of himself as misunderstood and a victim - you may can relate with your own siblings some version of this type of perceived dual concepts held by each of you - I know I can. But, when push comes to shove - who knows the most about you? - who can you always fuss with about the most intimate things while having the most ingrained feelings for? - family. In this horror novel, this family has a lot going on which makes this such an interesting read....it might just make you look at your own family drama with a more patient and tender eye.
THE SOUTHERN BOOK CLUB'S GUIDE TO SLAYING VAMPIRES, Grady Hendrix
Where to start reviewing this book! Firstly, it was fabulous! Secondly, I came to be reading this book because of a new Instagram relationship I have with dawnsbooknook. She and I started message chatting about books and I asked her if she would like to read and review my book. It then came to light that her "expertise" is in the "horror" genre but she's a mom and open-minded of course(!) so I sent her my book with the request that she recommend a "soft horror" book for me ~ telling her that I LOVE Stephen King. So, this is the book she chose for me. Let me say that the PROLOGUE of this book I will be reading to mommy groups that I speak to and maybe even part of the Author's Note as well. Not only that but Mr. Hendrix gives the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary (my go to source too) of a Housewife as "a light, worthless woman or girl"....however his book about "housewives/mothers" in a suburban book club is ANYTHING BUT THAT! Which of course, us "housewives" already knew that! This group of ladies veered away from the maybe mundane, women-books into true crime and a little horror to "spice up their lives" and what do you know ~ as so oftentimes happens with avid readers, the intelligence you gain from books comes to bear in real life ~ well, real life in the realm of a horror novel about housewives fighting (won't give a spoiler), a vampire, but the vampire story is so far away and inconsequential (to me) from the lessons of this novel. Every woman/housewife/mother will see a piece of her in this book ~ what lengths we will go for the well-being of our family, and specifically our children. In the Author's Note, Mr. Hendrix notes that when he was a kid, he didn't take his mother seriously. She was a "lightweight"... in his child's mind...running errands, car-pooling, and taking care of the family. But wait, he soon realized that what goes into "taking care of the family" can most often be super-human, and as his last sentence also notes, "I wanted to pit Dracula against my mom. As you will see, it's not a fair fight." Tears actually came to my "mommy" eyes. Moms, love this book and love the super-hero job you do each day! Thanks Dawn for this recommendation and for giving me yet another genre of book to enjoy and learn from.
NICHOLAS ETERNAL, Kim Conrey
Wow! What an intriguing book, by once again, an author (local) that I had the opportunity to meet. This is a real departure from my usual genres, even though I read a wide range of books, but this is sort of a mix of religion, sci-fi, maybe a little YA, and a love story as well. I am also happy that the last few books I have chosen have such a strong female lead and Noory does not disappoint in this company of women. So, basically this is a story of descendants of Jesus or his disciples living in current times and while awaiting the Second Coming, are fighting against evil. Nicholas (Eternal) is a flawed character, fighting alcoholism as he is saving children from desperate situations. He intersects with Noory, a descendant of Jesus's brother James, who runs a shelter for homeless and battered women/children and who is also the stepdaughter of John (the Beloved), one of Jesus's disciples who was given the gift of eternal life while awaiting Jesus's return. He currently has taken the role of an Atlanta cop. There is some very complicated but very well explained situations and conflicts going on in this novel and I have just finished making myself notes so I won't forget the thread of things when the sequel comes out from Ms. Conrey.
I can't wait! And...this would make a fabulous movie or mini series ~
you heard it here first!
the home wreckers, Mary Kay Andrews
A great read by the sweetest Southern lady! I had the opportunity to meet her at a fabulous local bookstore, Poe & Company in Milton, GA where MK and Colleen Oakley were doing a whirlwind 1-day tour of indie bookstores around Atlanta ~ what a cute idea! Anyway, MK was so gracious to hold my book as I got a quick photo of the 3 of us ~ for such a newbie author as myself, getting a photo and an Instagram re-post of the photo on MK and Colleen's Instagram gave me palpitations! Anyway, the book is just as adorable and interesting as MK herself. My son worked at one of the large DIY TV channels a few years ago and most of us don't realize what goes into making a reality TV show of any type and MK gave a very accurate and entertaining back view of how this works. I mean who of us that binges on these home flip shows doesn't think that the end (fabulous!) result of all the work isn't the way the family gets to keep all this stuff at the reveal as their actual "new" home. But they don't!! It's all staging and gets packed up after the taping of the show and these people are left with their "old" stuff just as if the show never happened ~ bah! MK also expertly weaved a story of the tight-woven community of this small town on Tybee Island of a long-ago disappearance of a popular schoolteacher wife of an even more popular high school football coach ~ and if you know anything about the South, the Friday Nights Lights adoration is a real thing! So, the phenomenon of so many of us being obsessed with these reality home shows, an unsolved murder mystery, and some titillating sexual tension and ultimate love story ~ this novel has it all for your reading pleasure ~ on the beach or by a winter fire. Grab it and enjoy!
And thanks again Mary Kay for your Southern graciousness to me ~
BILLY SUMMERS, Stephen King
Arguably my favorite author. I have read so many of his books that when one of my boys wrote a Mother's Day poem about me in elementary school, Stephen King being my favorite author was part of that poem! Anyway, I bought this book a couple of years ago, but before I got a chance to read it, my son, William, took it from me to read and I'm not sure he ever gave it back - so I was in the grocery store this week and saw it and picked it up - 3 days later, I'm done with it - 589 paperback pages! The character development of Billy Summers as a veteran of the Iraq War and how he became a killer for hire - with scruples - is a lesson for any aspiring author on how to develop empathy for a (what should be) an unsavory character. How does that work? Well, I think we all can agree that there are very bad people out there - do they deserve or should they be executed - well, there lies the question that each of us can only answer maybe only in the privacy of our own heart. However, King handles it beautifully, maybe giving us the excuse to believe in this character. by supplying a situation of the badest of the bad that maybe everyone(?) can agree deserves the ultimate punishment - maybe. Woven into this story is situations that happened with Billy in Iraq as well as maybe Mr. King's partisan political jabs, which is his perfect right to include in any way he desires. This novel dove into several separate societal ideologies, each handled with provocative interest no matter your political or societal position. My opinion. Thanks Mr. King for another outstanding read!
THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY, Matt Haig
Wow! This was a fabulous read and one I completed in 2 days while on a trip my husband and I took to Europe. What continues to amaze me is the parallels in life. In my new book (untitled and unpublished) I have a chapter about the ripple effects in life and I reference the movie, "It's A Wonderful Life". This book is all about the "what ifs" in life and the many ways a person's life can unfold. What if you did this instead of that...? What if you made any number of different decisions that (at the time) may seem insignificant, BUT if you could see what your life would have been like IF you had or hadn't made a certain decision you may not recognize yourself OR the other people in your life that YOUR decision affected. It's really a concept that you can't readily grasp, but this book will make you think about certain things in your life that a decision was made that altered your life. And that's really a moot point to make, every decision you make creates something else that does or doesn't happen without you ever giving it a second thought - and I'm talking about the BIG decisions in life as well as the infinitesimal decisions. Give this book a read and more importantly, let it simmer in your psyche a little. It's worth an examination of yourself through the lens of what this book so accurately projects. I have talked about this book to almost everyone in my family as well as a person I didn't even know that was beside my booth at a recent conference. The next day she showed me on her phone that she bought it to read during the slow times of our conference booths and we had such a great time exploring the "what ifs" in life. P.S. Skip over to my Quotes to Love tab...the phrases I chose out of this book - profound!
HELLO BEAUTIFUL, Ann Napolitano
I'm not sure that I have ever read an Oprah's Book Club book (maybe, but I can't think of one and I certainly know that I don't seek them out), maybe some books that I have randomly decided to read have been on her list, I just don't know. Neither here nor there (just interesting to me) but this particular pick of her's was just "meh" for me. I really couldn't totally believe either of the "family stories" going on in this book ~ neither William's backstory or the beginning/middle/end of the Padavano story. How two families could start out (basically) "normal" and loving and end up the way they did, was a little hard for me to buy. Spoiler alert: William's family grieving so profoundly the death of one child to the COMPLETE exclusion of the other, not even coming to his college graduation or wedding or even speaking or contacting him AND then the very close relationship of the Padavano family just disintegrating to the point of this mother not being involved any longer with her daughters and granddaughters except for maybe once a year, just didn't make sense to me as explained in the book. I think it just made too big a leap from one set of feelings to another so extreme. So, while I was entertained by this book, I didn't enjoy the evolution of the story. However, I do have some wonderful "Quotes to Love" that I have included on my tab from this book, so hop over and enjoy those.
When We Were Bright and Beautiful, Jillian Medoff
I totally didn't see this ending coming! I'll just leave it at that. This book was hugely entertaining and some of us may be able to see a bit of ourselves with some of these interactions with our siblings and within society in this book. I found the tackling of the question of the rape of someone that you have a relationship with very provocative and how it can/may be revealed that just because you may think one way about a societal issue doesn't mean that each and every situation falls under the same parameters as another situation of the same societal question. Like a lot of moms of young men, I hate to imagine that my son could get caught up in something that he "thought" was okay, ruining his life~ but then again, what about the girl and what she was thinking...? As a woman myself, what do I think about that? But then the side story going on in this book that is ultimately and surprisingly revealed...again, didn't see that coming! Isn't it just fabulous as a reader when something like this happens in a book! Interesting "Quotes to Love" included too.
Watch What You Say, George Weinstein
Another local author and one that I got to meet at the annual Atlanta Writers Conference. I have a chapter in my upcoming book (and a podcast) questioning to what lengths you are willing to go for your family. Being a complicated woman with popularity in society, the mother in this novel was left with her celebrity and maybe not a family. Which should she choose - which will she choose - to what lengths will she go in the pursuit of what she thought she had that was threatened? Interesting questions, and on top of that, a physical "abnormality" that I had never heard of, chromesthesia, but one that when investigating a little, I discovered that all sorts of famous people have this ability. Then I started thinking, only famous people - or do "ordinary" people have this ability too? - if so, then how do they use it and why aren't they famous as well? It was very interesting to see how and why Mr. Weinstein decided to weave this trait into his character's story of what "gave" her the ability to use this to gain something in life and how losing it could destroy her.
Hardscrabble Road, George Weinstein
So, when I was a featured author at the annual Lemonade Days in Dunwoody this year, I bought these two books (just reviewed) at the author's tent after my time was up for selling and signing my books. Then, I met Mr. Weinstein at the writers' conference. I cannot stress enough the vast difference in everything about these two books written by the same person. I don't believe in all my reading life that I have had this experience. Usually I choose to read subsequent books by the same author due to liking their style - do you choose books in this way as well? This book by Mr. Weinstein, I read after the above reviewed novel, and I couldn't believe it was written by the same person. The story follows the life of Buddy, aka Roger, from boyhood to young adulthood, showcasing the "hardscrabble" way he and his brothers were raised in the rural South. It's full of misery and "hardscrabble" living that is heartbreaking while being redemptive. Being from the South and having grandparents that grew up and lived in the same community from birth to death during the era portrayed in this book, I saw some aspects of the book that I could imagine happening to so many families like mine. While I don't know that anything like this happened in my family, I wouldn't doubt it if I heard some of these stories. This book is so reminiscent of so much that is associated with this era and with this part of the country, that it could be featured in any college course associated with this particular socioeconomic subject. Thank you Mr. Weinstein for writing this expose, if you will, and for having the ability to write in such a different manner in two separate books. The styling, the prose, the entire composure of character building is so different from Watch What You Say, that I still cannot believe they were written by the same person. Amazing!
The Maid, Nita Prose
What a perspective this book gave me! I was reading it while on a trip to New York City and the maids and their maid trolley in the hallway really came to life for me. What a sad thought expressed in this book that something or someone that is a part of our lives can be so invisible to us. We let maids come into our hotel room and clean up our mess, sometimes in the most obnoxious way because we are on vacation or a business trip and we just sling clothes around, leave food or drinks hanging about, or don't put our toiletries away in any form as we might if we were at home. What happens when an "invisible" maid becomes a part of a guest's life? It's hard for me and for most people to imagine, but there are a lot of situations whereby a person or a couple spend a lot of time in the same hotel - even asking for the same room over and over. Just what would you want a total stranger (who now may be very "familiar" with you whether you acknowledge them or not) to see about your most intimate dealings on a daily basis? Give this a thought the next time you leave your hotel room - just waiting for a total stranger (but are they?) to come into your intimate space to handle all your most intimate objects...
Also, don't ever forget to leave these people, that are very important to the comfort of your visit, a tip. You just may "owe" them a lot.....discretion not the least of it.
THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF TANNER & LOUISE, Colleen Oakley
I want to first start out by saying that since I became an "author" and entered the "publishing world", I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with some fabulous authors. While I have not met Colleen Oakley (yet), I have "liked" and made comments on her Instagram account and she has never failed to reply to me. I didn't expect that when I made these comment posts ~ now that's a fabulous lady! So, her book...well as you may guess, a road-trip is involved but that is such a small part of the message of this novel. For me, it hits home in a nostalgic way, but more than that, it takes the reader on their own "road trip" as we think about relationships between the young and the old. At least it did for me (maybe because of my own situation, which I was totally expecting, since I am taking care of my 88-year-old mother). What I didn't expect was all the twists and turns the journey of these two mismatched heroines would take me - especially the last chapter or two (no peaking!)....
In the Acknowledgments, Colleen (I call her by her first name since we are Instagram buddies), mentions this novel possibly having the potential to be a movie. This is what this novel was made for! The characters are so vivid and the plot so delicious that it would be a blockbuster....which the movie industry needs (in my opinion). Can't wait to see who plays August! Again, since entering the world of so many fabulous authors, I continue to be amazed at how a writer can develop characters and a plot, weave and bob us throughout, and bring us over the finish line with the reader never knowing how in the world we got there!
Such a great book-will be a great movie-and Colleen is a fabulous person!
REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES, Shelby Van Pelt
Nothing is better as a voracious reader than to get a recommendation from another voracious reader. While at the book signing for Kimberly Brock's book I mention below, I met a woman who is an expert in books and book reviews in my opinion and a friend to authors. I follow her on Instagram @annissabookishjoy. So, while at the book event, she walked me over to where this book was on the shelf, and she said it was one of the best books she had ever read ~ from a first time author no less ~ remarkable! I put it next on my reading list over others that I had been waiting to read. As an animal lover, this story was so touching. So many times in my life with my pets, I forget they are not human ~ actions, body language, and feelings are more than human. Even though this book isn't really about a person's relationship with a pet, it's more about a personal connection to another and all the little coincidences and in fact, instances in life, that we overlook while they are staring us in the face. It follows the story of a (somewhat) lonely woman and her late-night trysts with an octopus at an aquarium where she cleans. Simultaneously, a story is unfolding about another character, also alone and drifting through life and how these two worlds collide. Making me believe, what was really an unbelievable tale, was not hard for this author to do ~ and therein, to me, lies her gift of storytelling. Someone else I follow on Instagram noted that she was taking this book on vacation with her. My reply, "I hope you are taking another book along too, because this will not last you a "vacation". And funny enough, when I was reading the book jacket reviews after writing this review, almost every one included a phrase similar about not being able to put this book down. A "character" in the book states, what probably a lot of pets think as they silently watch the intimacies of our lives, "Humans. For the most part, you are dull and blundering. But occasionally, you can be remarkably bright creatures." Ms. Van Pelt, you are remarkable.
THE LOST BOOK OF ELEANOR DARE, Kimberly Brock
I got to experience a rare treat...meeting the author of an award winning book! That's never happened to me in my book loving life! And what an amazing author I got to have this experience with ~ Kimberly Brock. Besides being amazing herself and entertaining us all at her book signing (AND...she asked if there were any other authors in the crowd and invited us to talk about our book - how nice and gracious is that!), her historical novel (which you already know I love) educated me on the Lost Colony of Roanoke and the Dare Stone. What I have said before about my love of historical fiction is that you get to learn something that is true with a fictional twist to make the story more interesting and Kimberly (see, I'm on a first name basis) created a spectacularly entertaining novel on both accounts. I fell in love with these characters and LOVED reading about Southern cities that I personally know, Gainesville being the most familiar to me. If you also love historical fiction, Southern literature, and a novel weaving strong family ties while working through family and community struggles and societal commentary, this is the book for you. It hits all the right notes. I love her philosophy presented in the book, "A story doesn't matter because it's true but because it's been told". I mean, isn't that such a fabulous way to think about storytelling! I had the privilege of letting Kimberly know that I was including not only her book in my book reviews but also including several "book quotes" that I have posted on my "Quotes to Love" tab....wisdom nuggets from this novel. So hop over to that tab and check those out as well. You will be enriched by this novel ~ thanks Kimberly.
A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES, Sarah J. Maas
Another new author for me but boy!, Barnes & Noble has a selection of her books all on a table by themselves because there are so many and so popular!! I can't wait to dive into the remaining 4 sequels to this novel. It's sort of a mix (my opinion) of Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, and Beauty and Beast - interesting, huh? Set in a time of I don't know when, the first book sets the stage for it appears, a battle between "courts" that have different territories of magical creatures against not only themselves but against the mortal world. A "mortal" woman finds herself within the magical, forbidden, territories, fighting for her life and those she loves against the almost impossible odds against her. Using only her survival skills obtained through a challenging existence as a mortal, she scraps and fights against the magical world only, seemingly, to get herself more and more entrenched in this world and its characters. Seeing the similarities between the novels I mentioned, this author does have a fantastical story to tell in its own right and I found myself on the edge of my seat, reading as fast as I could to see what happened to Katnis, I mean Feyre (insert giggle giggle), against all odds. This will be a series I know I will enjoy reading to its 5 series conclusion.
SKI WEEKEND, Rektok Ross
This is a new author to me and I was pulled into this book from seeing it advertised on Instagram from Amazon Sponsored (I'm going to need to find out how to do that for my book!). Anyway, it seems to be a YA (which I have learned is a Young Adult genre) novel so while it was very thought provoking and interesting for my 63-year-old self, I can really see the appeal to a younger audience. The story is about a small group of somewhat loosely associated friends traveling to a ski weekend to meet up with other classmates and due to inclement weather, they are turned away but decide to try and take an alternative route and well...as so many things that seem a good idea to young people at the time...things go south quickly. While the adventure is surely thrilling to younger readers, I don't want them to miss what I took to be the larger message. During the ordeal of the survival of these teenagers, they were forced to face themselves in a way that most of us NEVER have the chance of actually doing in our lives. Speaking very harsh truths and coming to terms with these within ourselves and even with friends and family members that we love but also have "other" feelings about that we hide and force out of our hearts and minds, is a fact of all our of lives and again, one that most of us never have the chance or in fact the courage to face. This novel is a fast-paced thriller that you will find yourself reading quickly (I read it in 2 days because I wanted to get to the outcome of what happens) but don't let yourself miss dwelling on this higher message.
The Last Chairlift, John Irving
One of my favorite authors for sure. His books are expansive and are always thought provoking ~ while at the same time, entertaining. This novel, however, just did not "do it" for me and I had to put it down for a bit. The book jacket describes the novel as one of intrigue as a young boy, into his adulthood, searches for the answer to who is father is and tells the potential reader that this story will take you on a journey through his life and ultimately to a hotel to try and seek his mother's story, thus his. Along the way, ghosts will be involved in this young man's life. However, I am more than half-way through this 900+ page book, and the overriding theme has been (in my opinion) a social commentary on homosexuality and transgenderism - never a hint of this in the book description. Now, I'm not opposed to either of these topics being discussed and certainly it's a looming topic currently; however, some people may be very opposed to spending this type of time and money without knowing upfront what such a strong influence these subjects have, so far, in this novel. If you know anything about Mr. Irving's books, most of them, as stated, are very detailed, and cover a LOT of ground, thus, a lot of them are long books. I believe when you commit to something of this length, it's important to know what an overriding theme will be so that you can make the decision for yourself to take part. I will for sure pick back up this book. I know that Mr. Irving will not disappoint me once this young man gets on his quest for his identify. I just wish I had gotten there before my patience or interest gave out.
LASHER, Anne Rice
As I mention in one of the below book reviews on The Witching Hour, also written by Anne Rice, which I have read 3 times and has just been produced and currently showing as "The Mayfair Witches" on TV -
(and notably a former student of my preschool is a character in this movie ~ Congratulations Emma Rose!)
this book continues the story of what happened to the Mayfair family after the events occurring on Christmas - and I'll leave it at that if you haven't read the first book. Needless to say, it was an "event" that led to the necessity to write a sequel and for that purpose the book did not disappoint. However, getting to the point of what happened, took a lot of time. I skipped an entire portion of the book, skimming through just to make sure I wasn't missing something important, that seemed to either go back over in too much detail what was already told (in great detail) in the first book or went so far off the rails (in my opinion) from the book's focus, that I just didn't find it interesting or necessary to my understanding or pleasure in continuing to read. During this portion, ideas were presented that (I thought) had absolutely no meaning to the story and I was a little unsure of why it was included. But overall, I enjoyed this sequel and again it was incredibly necessary to "end" the tale of what happened in the first book.
Now, I know there is a third book, Taltos, and when I look at what it's about, I'm a little unsure if I'm going to read or not. As much as I would like to have the story of Rowan and Michael continue, it sounds (from the book coverage that I have read) that a lot of the book goes back into Celtic times with an extinct species and I'm not sure that I will find all that history of the ancient Taltos interesting - but we'll see...
THE WINNERS, Fredrik Backman
Another sequel, but this one the conclusion, of the Beartown hockey team covered in Beartown and Us Against You. As always, Mr. Backman does a fantastic job of revealing the humanness in all of us and peels back the layers of society's beliefs, biases, and, emotions. I will have to spend yet more time including the immense amount of "book quotes" in my website tab. He "nails it" every time! So, this book follows the growth of the characters presented in the first two books into their adulthood. Similiar to what I have always thought about a John Grisham novel (by that I mean that as the pages are dwindling you wonder how he's going to wrap everything up that is currently going on), Mr. Backman takes us all the way to the last 20 or so pages to explain the ultimate life choices and accomplishments of these well-loved characters. And, like Mr. Grisham, that is satisfying because after being so invested in the story and the characters, you want to be SURE that you know EXACTLY what happened in this very succinct way. I especially enjoyed that he introduced a new element, and new characters, into this finale. It put yet another layer of humanness to the towns' continuing "feud" and sort of created a backstory to some of these issues. All in all, another amazing story that any and all of us can relate to, especially if you are a parent, which is such a strong emphais in all three of the books in this series. I have so many "book quotes" about being a parent from his novels, that I think I need to write a whole book on parenting that highlights all his quotes! We'll see....
Like when I binge on a TV series, if I were you and have not read this series, I would read all three right after the other....that's why I typically wait until a TV series is through all episodes. I will probably, at some point, read these novels again in that manner. It will be a pleasure to experience these characters again in that total way.
THE GILDED HOUR, Sara Donati
This novel is one of the historical fictional books that I spoke about above...a little glimpse into past "things that might have actually happened" along with fictional characters to bolster those events. In this novel, there are two very current and provocative subject matters going on simultaneously. Set in the late 1800s in New York City's high society, we see two young women doctors, who are cousins, caught up in the early stages of women's liberation. Not only is it a rare incidence to be women doctors at this time, but one of them is a Free Person of Color, a mulatto, taken into the home of a wealthy New York relative, which exposes her to a level of privilege, as well as acceptance, which leads to an interesting relationship between her and a society "Knickerbocker".
Throughout this novel, the doctors are forced to face the very real issues of women's sexuality and desire to control their own body (in today's terms), but one that has known no time period. Interestingly, other issues are probed in this book, published in 2015, that are the two main news items of our recent time: wearing a mask and social distancing (due to consumption in this time period) AND racial equality issues. To overlay how these two issues are explained in 2015 for a story that is set in the 1800s,
to today's controversial positions on COVID19 and Black Lives Matter, was a reader's surprise.
This left me wondering if the author is as amazed with the relevance of this book as I was. I feel sure some of the issues explored years ago when this novel was written, could not have been predicted to be
sooo relevant to today's obsession on these issues.
Beartown and Us Against You, Fredrik Backman
Fabulous reads! These books probe the dual positions of the "eliteness" of athletes (in their own minds as well as in society's) with the enormous importance of what sports (and specifically the notion of what it means to be a part of a team), set against the backdrop of believing (or not) the worst of a revered athlete or team as a dilemma for society.
A "he said-she said" allegation of rape puts this concept at the heart of these novels and shines an unfavorable commentary on those of us that love sports (and the athletes involved) with our desire to either believe that they are flawless or maybe even to overlook their flaws when we are confronted with their humanness.
In the sequel to Beartown, Us Against You, the author proposes a profound concept,
"....because IF the girl was lying, our lives could carry on as usual". Hmm...
Society does not want to believe that people we have elevated to god-like status (usually athletes or celebrities) can fall and fail us like any person can do. While we are jealous of these people and wish we could be like them, they oftentimes wish they could be more like us. Sometimes the mantle of perfection weighs more heavily on these people than the benefits and glory of their achievements. The reality that, at some point in their lives, they had their talent AND their normalcy cannot be understood by us that have normalcy and desire their talent.
It's not usual that one can exist alongside the other and again, as stated in Us Against You,
"Was it worth it?". How are we supposed to know that in advance?".
As odd as it is for us "normal" people to ponder, but how many "famous" people wish they could just "go back"......? Probably more than we know or that they are willing to admit even. Both of these books are incredibly eye opening on so many aspects of society and more importantly, the human condition.
*More on Fredrik Backman's novels to come, but if you want to consider some thoughtful and profound concepts, go to my "Quotes to Love" tab and read tons of "book quotes" from his novels. Amazing stuff~
The Testaments, Margaret Atwood
This novel is the sequel to Ms. Atwood's blockbuster, The Handmaid's Tale. Both books take a look at what some call a dystopian United States of America and what others may call a utopian United States of America. It continues, from The Handmaid's Tale, to call into question what was accepted(?) by society of what "happened" to the United States that led to the Gilead society model.
What is fascinating to me is the present day parallels of ideology of either submitting to a political party's will or else face societal ridicule and ostracization, possibly losing your job, and an almost certainty of losing your ability to communicate your opinion on social media platforms, as well as being called the worst of society's labels that have absolutely ZERO basis in fact or practice.
I recall in one of her novels and was said in the TV series by one of the female characters, that "we" should have taken more seriously the signs, clear signs, of losing our freedom but we believed that the Constitution was a living protection against what it appeared was happening right before our eyes but that we continued to ignore.
How could we have been so naive?
Margaret Atwood as well as George Orwell could see so clearly the fictional world they were creating. It is very hard to read either Ms. Atwood or Mr. Orwell's depiction of where we could possibly be heading when we are actually living out the current rhetoric and proposed political/society practices of our current time.
Our only hope is that their novels, their fictitious society will remain so.
World Without End, Ken Follett
It is not my intention, when I am choosing a book to read, to find one that seems in parallel to something cultural or societal in our current life experience but yet was written years before any of these events could have been predicted by these authors; however, with these first of my book reviews, it seems that that is exactly what has happened!
So, this novel is a sequel to Pillars of the Earth (another awesome read!) years into the future of the fictitious city of Kingsbridge. The societal and religious politics of the survival and prosperity of this fictitious city is influenced by a plague that kills whole towns and shuts down the economy of the region, mimicking our own situation during the COVID19 pandemic. It would appear that our scientists, doctors, and government read this book and just adopted these practices (insert giggle giggle - sort of) and I will give evidence of this assertion....
"the nuns counseled us to stay at home as much as possible and avoid social gatherings". "Nuns wore linen masks over their mouths and noses". "The plague was an assassin who slid his long knife into people from behind then slipped away before he was spotted". "....this enemy could not be fought". "It was hard to explain that the masks were effective but did not offer total immunity". And finally this quote which glaringly highlights how some of our political leaders wanted ultimate control over citizens: "....the plague victims and their family will be confined to their homes....anyone caught leaving such a house will be hanged". Short of the "hanging" part, this was the edict put forward in many cities by politicians who (interestingly but not surprising) did not abide by the same limits on themselves and their family. This book was written in 2007 - 13 years before the pandemic that hit the world. Unbelievable, Profound, Prophetic, Unbelievable.
my grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry, Fredrik Backman
Yes, him again (and I'm not through, insert giggle giggle!).
In this novel, a feisty grandmother fights to preserve the spirit of her granddaughter by creating a fairy tale world that they can escape to at night, giving her granddaughter emotional tools to deal with her life situations.
The granddaughter is bullied at school by the other children as well as scolded and ridiculed by the teachers and administration. Granny tells her that nothing scares idiots more than a smart girl.
The grandmother herself has also been ridiculed and not taken seriously in her own time as she was a "woman before her time" so to say, leaving her own daughter behind as a child so that she could travel the world as a doctor on various wild missions. During this time, she interacted and became entwined with many desperate people that she ultimately gathered to herself and made their stories and their struggles and triumphs into the fairy tale "lessons" intended to make her granddaughter feel part of a greater whole and to feel her own inner power. As death approaches the grandmother, her life choices come full circle as she leaves her granddaughter a game and a challenge to deliver letters to these people who were modeled in the fairy tale and each of these people reveal themselves to the granddaughter in a powerful tribute to the "flawed", but courageous, grandmother.
I don't have grandchildren but I cried several times during this novel. I can't imagine my emotions if I could indeed have translated this into my feelings as a grandmother;
so I told my best friend Felicia to read it - she has 6 grandchildren and 1 on the way.....
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
I have read this novel twice and I am thinking about picking it back up again, since it has been several years since I have read it. The ensemble cast of characters brought to life by the author in this novel, as well as in the adaptation on TV, is unapparelled, in my opinion. The first time I read it, I didn't have the joy of "seeing" the characters like I enjoyed after seeing the TV series then re-reading the book. The book came alive for me when I could actually picture these perfectly casted characters ~ from Captain Call's caustic personality all the way to sweet and innocent Pea Eye, everyone was magnificent. So, the actual story line is a ranch in Texas run by two former Texas Rangers and the everyday adventures on the ranch, as well as glimpses into their Ranger days before they settled on the ranch. The relationship between the two Rangers, Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae, is the epitome of a complicated history between two people, but the devotion to each other that the author is able to showcase so brilliantly between two extremely different men, can only come from their weathering life and hardships together in a hardscrabble lifestyle. There are so many stories within stories going on in this book that weaves a delightful tale, each one of the "vignettes" are stand-alone engrossing. Diane Lane as the prostitute, Lorena, and her relationship with Gus and then Jake Spoon, told with her many other mishaps and eventual happiness, makes her a character to love. There is a particular scene in the book that involves Deets, played by Danny Glover, that is so poignant, when set against the events leading up to this particular situation, that it will make you stop reading and just live in this moment for a minute. Please read this book ~ it's just pure pleasure. Maybe look at the cast of characters online so you can picture them yourself before you read the book ~ then, watch the TV series,
either way you decide to go, won't be a disappointment.
The Outlander Series, Diana Gabaldon
Another outstanding novel set to a TV mini-series! I am currently on the 7th novel in this series, An Echo In The Bone, and I haven't lost my interest yet! The storyline is a masterpiece of evolution taking the reader from the 1960s modern life of Claire Randall and her idyllic life with her husband, Frank, back in time to the early 1700s and her love affair with Scottish Highlander, Jamie Fraser, then back to the 1960s, then back to the 1700s. I did not complete the TV series, so I am still anxiously awaiting if there is any further time travel, this time involving her AND Jamie ~ I am hoping for that! Continuing my interest in novels with a historical backdrop, these novels explore actual events from Bonnie Prince Charles and the Scottish rising through the American Revolutionary War. These aren't particularly my cup of tea and may seem a little "heavy", but no, the author presents these historical events with so much personal back-stories, it just works in every regard. And I'll confess a little secret: I didn't know, or maybe I did but forgot, that July 4th, 1776, Independence Day, is when the United Stated "declared" their independence from Britain which then led to a three-year war for our actual independence. Hmm....so then why isn't our Independence Day a celebration of August, 1783 when we actually won and became independent?
Since writing my own book ~ which was based on personal and professional experiences of my own ~ I cannot imagine what goes into actually creating a story from scratch ~ but to create such a complicated storyline that encompasses so many events, relationships, and characters, and to do so in such an entertaining way!! ~ I just can't wrap my mind around it. Be prepared, however. Each book is an average of 1000 pages, some a tad shorter and some a good bit longer than 1000 pages, so it's a little difficult to hold in book form, either paperback or hardback, so maybe more of a nice winter read than a beach read (insert giggle giggle). Thank you, Ms. Gabaldon, for the time, effort, imagination, and research that went into these awesome novels.
The End of Men, Christina Sweeney-Baird
Well, obviously the title caught my attention, but I thought I was selecting a book by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, author of The Nest, which I had read and enjoyed. I just grabbed this book and didn't realize until later that it was a different author (insert giggle giggle). But what do you know! Another "pandemic" book, but this contagion only affected males and with swift death a certainty.
This novel sort of reminded me of the first book of the Left Behind series; the examination of life after millions of people that we depend on, poof, gone. So, us women, and really the totality of society, just imagine a world without men. Initially, besides the emotional loss to the individual families, the realization of the devastation due to the loss of male dominance in certain sectors of our everyday life and economy was eye-opening. It's something you don't really think about. While we seem focused on women gaining executive positions of power in large corporations and in the political structure (the glass ceiling being shattered....), we don't think so much about the "ceiling being shattered and falling down on top of us" when there are no longer many plumbers, construction workers, truckers, electricians, mechanics, repairMEN of numerous types, and then, of course, the "other half" necessary to create life.
I am far from a feminist, but even I started to take a long hard look at what women should be doing to assure representation in all fields that drive our economy. What does it say about the feminist movement that the concentration on our position in society is driven by power and not driven by purpose?
Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen
Would any book club be complete without a Jane Austen book? I am not sure whether I enjoyed her novel, Emma, more or P&P, but I have read P&P twice, so I guess I'll go with that (insert giggle giggle). The character development in all her books is without competition. The interaction between Elizabeth Bennet, and really everybody in the novel, is fascinating. I loved the situation that played out between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy's formidable aunt. Elizabeth is feminine, strong, vulnerable, loving, and loyal (totally the type of woman I wrote about in Chog #3, Are You a Strong Woman?). Her story of the complicated and yet seemingly predictable dance between men and women, sisters, parents, and society at large are portrayed in the novel as a total surprise at every turn. What about what Mr. Darcy does in the pursuit of saving the virtue of one of Elizabeth's younger sisters, thus the reputation of her (Elizabeth's) family preserved - and anonymously and at great expense to himself? I dropped the book to my lap a couple of times in awe of how Ms. Austen brought situations to completion.
I continue to be amazed at how the best writers of all time, some presented in my book reviews, how do they have the intellect or imagination to present scenarios that are timeless.
I mean this novel was written in 1813!
The Eyes of the Dragon, Stephen King
I am a HUGE Stephen King fan! I think I have probably read every book he's ever written with the exception of the Dark Tower series (for some reason?). One of my boys when in elementary school, wrote a Mother's Day poem for me and included that I love to read Stephen King (insert giggle giggle!). Anyway, this book was written in 1987 and I ran across the 35th Anniversary edition (in the grocery store in paperback so don't think I purchased a leather bound edition...insert giggle giggle!). It is an adult fairy tale of a long-ago kingdom and two princes and their path of succession to the throne after the suspicious death of their father, the King.
The villain in this story gave me my first nightmare in many many years.
The story takes the reader through the emotions of a family, some questions about society, and what demons may lie in any of us - unknown or teasing us daily. The somewhat macabre genre of Stephen King led me to want to read more of the supernatural, so I went to another favorite author, Anne Rice, and I am re-reading (for the 3rd time), The Witching Hour. I am going to review several more Stephen King books. Interestingly and what may surprise a lot of you, not all of his books are scary or of an "evil" nature. Stay tuned and I will reveal the dimensions (as a reader) I see in Stephen King's novels. Each one has given me pleasure as well as thrills and chills!
The Witching Hour, Anne Rice
As stated above, this is the third time I have read this novel and I enjoyed it just as much as the first time. It's been quite a few years, so my memory of the characters wasn't total recall, however, as has happened to me when re-reading a book or watching a movie again, I have a keener understanding of what is actually going on because of my somewhat prior knowledge. This novel takes the reader through centuries of powerful women in the Mayfair family that have differing degrees of supernatural power and an association with a character by the name of Lasher. An organization by the name of The Talamasca, that watches and documents various forms of the occult that occur throughout the world, has an increase in interest of the Mayfair witches due to a happening early in the book. Fair warning, this book in large part reads like a document on the Mayfair witches which provides the reader with the detailed history and individual witches' lives instead of a "story-style" writing. The "story-style" writing of Rowan Mayfair, of the current day, and her relationship with Michael Curry and Lasher, is secondary (but sometimes primary) to the history of the Mayfair witches. I remember finding it hard to choose which Mayfair witch was my favorite and that was my experience again this reading. What struck me as funny, however, is that I didn't remember knowing that there is a sequel to this story, titled, Lasher. I cannot imagine why I have not yet read that novel as the ending of the Witching Hour leaves a huge opportunity for a sequel. I can't wait to dive into that book! And as an aside...not to play into any sort of political drama, but with the abortion issue so much a focus these days, there is the most heart-wrenching perspective from a man's (father's) point of view starting on page 66....
FAIRY TALE, Stephen King
You may have by now read my review on Stephen King's (what I characterized as) adult fairy tale, The Eyes of the Dragon. Now, he has written a "real" identifiable "fairy tale" and named the book such. This novel takes the reader through a journey into "another world" fantasy and makes it seem all too real. The heart of the book centers around the relationships between a boy and his father, then the boy with an elderly recluse in his neighborhood, then the boy with an elderly dog, and finally the relationship between this boy and the residents in the fairy tale, other world. The novel is not only entertaining, in a way that only Stephen King can do, but also makes cultural and societal observations that are really interesting to reflect on. As a dog lover, the story about the boy and the love he has for his dog is enough to give this book 5 stars on its own, but the maturity on so many levels that this teenage boy embodies will warm a parent's heart. What I also find so satisfying when reading a Stephen King novel is when he just casually throws in something so Americana that you have to stop for a moment and just let the memory of something so common in your childhood wash over you. Also, the almost non-reference to so many actual fairy tales is humorous. You think Mr. King is just weaving a story, but no, he's actually "re-telling" a childhood fairy tale. Genius!
The Maze, Nelson DeMille
I love Mr. DeMille's writing style. I have included in my Book Quotes tab several passages from his novel, The Gold Coast. I have pretty much based my whole Giggle Chog tab on the premises he presents in The Gold Coast that each of us can only have an opinion based on our own life experiences, no one else's. That passage, indeed, advice, should be a beacon to us all to live by. But, back to this book. It is part of his John Corey series, and John Corey is hilarious! It sometimes takes me a little bit longer to get through a John Corey series than some of Mr. DeMille's other books because I have to re-read a lot of what John Corey is saying - did he really just say that! No - there are no quotations, it's just what he's thinking in his head but doesn't say - again, it's hilarious! John Corey is a retired NYPD detective who goes on to have stints in several other governmental agencies that takes him all over the world, interacting with terrorists and nefarious intelligence agencies of countries all over the world, and unfortunately in our own country. I will have to say that this book was a little hard (in another way) for me to read. It had parts of the storyline that was so insulting to women that I sometimes thought it was not a recently written novel, but a novel written decades ago when women in the workplace were required to wear tight, revealing clothes and in many ways be subservient to the men in the workplace, even to the extent of providing sexuals favors (but really not "favors", a requirement). Anyone that knows me, knows that I am not a feminist that looks for offense at every turn, however, I did recoil quite a few times in this book due to this female-male issue. But putting that aside, it was a very intriguing situation that Mr. DeMille put John Corey in, as always, and I enjoyed trying to figure out how he was, once again, going to get Mr. Corey successfully out of. Mr. DeMille, nor Mr. Corey, ever fails to intrigue and entertain.