Wednesday, November 8, 2017

More About Me: Part Three

Well my husband and I had a wonderful time in Paris!

Since then we sold and gave stuff away at both my mother-in-law's house and our house.  It took longer than we expected and then we had to wait on our new house to be built in Florida, so we went on a Caribbean cruise with my family.

Next we became hometown tourists in our city of Louisville seeing things we never got to see while living there for 20 years.

Backside tour of Churchill Downs as recommended by Kevin Gibson--100 Things To Do In Louisville Before You Die

                                                            Maker's Mark Distillery

Finally we packed up the remaining stuff and our two dogs and moved to the Tampa area in October and things are going great!

                                                    This is us on the day we moved out.

                                                             This is our new house

Life is good here in Florida. My parents are close by and visit often. The weather is beautiful and everyone we have met has been more than friendly!

I had to leave my book club behind, but they did FaceTime me during the last meeting! Although I can't replace them, I did recently start a new book club with my new neighbors. We are currently reading The Nix by Nathan Hill and meeting at our neighborhood clubhouse to discuss the book on November 16, 2017. So far it looks like we are going to have a large turnout. The book is a long and detailed one. It was maybe a bit too ambitious for a first book, but we'll see.

It just so happens that Nathan Hill will be speaking at a reading
festival in St. Pete on this Saturday, Nov 11. My plan is to attend his talk and learn more about him and the book and bring that information back to my new book club.

While I have continued to read about two books per month and have attended a couple of author talks this past year, I have not been faithful to my commitment to continue writing book reviews or report on author talks. I guess life just got in the way. I will try to at least post something about the upcoming reading festival.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Joe Keith Bickett--The Origins of the Cornbread Mafia

Last evening despite the pouring down rain and high winds, me and about fifty other Kentuckians attended a standing room only book signing at Carmichael's by first time author and Kentucky native, Joe Keith Bickett. Mr. Bickett is somewhat of a hometown legend and hero and his book is a memoir entitled The Origins of the Cornbread Mafia: A Memoir of Sorts.

The gathering had the feeling of a large family reunion as most of the audience members were originally from the author's hometown in Marion County, Kentucky (located in central Kentucky southeast of Louisville.) Many of the audience members were very familiar with the author and I overheard several people proudly explaining their personal connections to both Marion County and the Cornbread Mafia. The event even brought out those who wouldn't normally attend a book signing as one woman told me she was 71 years-old and attending her first book signing. She said, "I do read, but I was just busy raising children my whole life." She added that if anyone in her family or from "back home" knew she was at a book signing they would laugh at her.

If you're not from Kentucky, you may not be familiar with the infamous Cornbread Mafia. They consisted of a large group of men who in the 1970's started a huge marijuana cultivation and distribution ring in Marion County. Mr. Bickett was reluctant to reveal the origins of the name of the group because he wrote about it in his book and wanted everyone to read the book, but I would bet one could Google it if curious.

Mr. Bickett was one of the originators of the so-called mafia and spent 21 years in prison for his criminal involvement in the group. During that 21 years he wrote snippets of his life story which eventually became this book. He read from a chapter that described a scene in which he and several other men were driving a convoy of three trucks moving marijuana plants from one farm to another to evade the law.

Mr. Bickett took questions from the audience including one about the legalization of marijuana. He unsurprisingly went on the record as being in favor of legalization, citing the large amount of money the state is missing out on by keeping the crop illegal. He added that he is not the only man who was sentenced to Draconian prison time for marijuana charges. Additionally Mr. Bickett briefly mentioned his good friend and past colleague, Johnny Boone, who was recently arrested in Canada where he had been hiding out for decades.

Mr. Bickett appeared to be a colorful character with an interesting past, and I have no doubt that his book is entertaining.

As an aside, there was another book written about the Cornbread Mafia by Kentucky native and journalist, James Higdon entitled The Cornbread Mafia: A Homegrown Syndicate's Code of Silence and the Biggest Marijuana Bust in American History. This book provides a journalistic take on the history and legacy of the group.

You can follow Joe Keith Bickett on Twitter @JoeKeithBickett.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Author: Therese Ann Fowler
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, 2013
My Source: Louisville Free Public Library

I decided to read this book after watching and enjoying the pilot of "Z; The Beginning of Everything" on Amazon Prime. At this time only the pilot is available, but the rest of the series is coming out soon.

As the title states this is a fictional account of the life of Zelda (Sayre) Fitzgerald, wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story begins in Montgomery, Alabama in 1918 just before Zelda's 18th birthday. She is a popular carefree southern belle who often rebels against her traditional parents. Scott is a northerner, an army officer, and a man with dreams of becoming a writer. Zelda and Scott fall in love despite their differences and her parents' disapproval. They marry in New York City and Zelda's world is transformed.

Scott's first novel, This Side of Paradise, is a huge success and life is grand for the couple. They meet other writers and artists of the Jazz Age and attend all of the most exclusive parties. They get caught up in the scene, spending lots of money and drinking to excess.

How good life was! There was always an excuse to host a party or attend one. Every month, we got word that Paradise was going back to press for another five thousand copies. Scot wrote and sold three new stories. He befriended every actor, artist, writer, dancer, and bootlegger we came into contact with, and subsequently our house on weekends grew full of strange and lively and, yes, intoxicated people, but we almost always had a lovely time. 

Reading this book was like being transported back in time to the roaring 20's. I could clearly picture the fancy clothes and forbidden cocktails. I knew nothing about the truths and rumors surrounding this famous couple, but as I was reading I couldn't help thinking that life was just a little too good for them and I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is in Paris where that seems to start to happen.

At first their life is similar to the one they lead in NYC, socializing with famous writers and artists, including Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and Ernest Hemingway. Then things slowly change and the couple's marriage suffers. The author implies that this is due to several reasons: Scott's close relationship with Hemingway (who does not like Zelda), Scott's alcohol abuse and controlling nature, and Zelda's mental illness. The book portrays Zelda as a victim, and some biographers and scholars believe this to be true, but there are just as many who believe that Scott was the victim.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book both because of the lavish lifestyle portrayed and because of the complex relationship that developed between the characters. Scott and Zelda were so overjoyed and hopeful at the beginning, that witnessing their demise was heartbreaking.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 high fives

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Those Who Save Us

Author: Jenna Blum
Publisher: Harcourt Books, 2004
My Source: Amazon for Kindle

I have read several books about WWII this year. I became interested in this subject because my mother is a WWII buff who reads tons of books about the war. She and my father even went on a trip to Europe several years back tracing the path my grandfather took while he was stationed in the Army as a medic during the war. Although the books I have read are fictional, they provide glimpses into what life must have been like during wartime Europe.

Those Who Save Us is a mother-daughter story spanning the fifty years from wartime Germany to 1990's America. Anna, a young German citizen is the maid and cook for her strict widowed father during the years leading up to the war. As the war approaches she falls in love for the first time, but the relationship is doomed. Anna does some things she is not proud of to save herself and her three year-old daughter, Trudy, from the atrocities of war. They are liberated by an American soldier at the end of the war and move to the United States to start a new life with him. Anna vows to herself to never tell anyone about her experiences in Germany.

Trudy, influenced by her German heritage and a single photograph of herself and her mother with a high-ranking Nazi official, becomes a German history professor. Through her research into the experiences of the German people during the war, she uncovers the secrets her mother has been keeping for fifty years about what she did in Germany and about Trudy's biological father.

I found both mother and daughter to be intelligent, but psychologically immature characters. Trudy, for instance, is practically a loner after her marriage fails primarily due to her obsession with German history. In an effort to comprehend her mother's past experiences Trudy takes on a new research project interviewing Germans about their lives during the war. Ironically, Trudy never gets the opportunity to interview her mother, the one person she craves to connect with and understand better. Anna, curious about her daughter's project, but burdened by her secrets and permanently changed by the war, remains emotionally distant from her daughter.

The story alternates between the past and the present with descriptions so vivid I felt as though I was there. The author traces Anna's personality changes over time which explain her present behavior. Although quite fascinating, some of the passages about Anna's past are painful to read as Anna and Trudy struggle to survive wartime Germany. I found myself equally engaged in both stories of the past and the present.

Throughout the story I empathized with both characters and hoped for a heart to heart talk between mother and daughter, but by not including one, the author probably portrayed a more realistic depiction of someone of Anna's generation who lived through the war first hand. I know that my grandfather spoke very little about his time in the war both because people of his generation did not typically share their feelings and because it was just too painful.

This book would be interesting to WWII buffs and those wanting to learn more about that time period, but it not just a history lesson. It is also a character driven story about people with strengths and weaknesses that pulled at my heart strings.

Rating: 4 out of 5 high fives

Thursday, July 14, 2016

About Me: Part Deux

As I talked about in my first About Me post I was a caretaker for my mother-in-law and reading was my respite and my book club was my support group. Well, sadly my mother-in-law passed away on July 8, 2016 after a long battle with breast cancer that began way back in 1991. She was a fighter and experienced many ups and downs, but remained positive throughout her arduous journey.

Her oncologist referred her to hospice care (Hosparus as it is called in Louisville) almost one year ago and a nurse came to the home every Wednesday to check on her and our family. At the end she spent 12 days at the inpatient hospice unit where her pain and other symptoms were controlled. I cannot thank the hospice home staff and inpatient staff enough for their medical care and emotional support. 

After 2+ years in the role of caretaker, that chapter of my life has suddenly come to an end. Now I need to reinvent myself. First, however, my husband and I are preparing for a much needed vacation to Paris in late August. I'm brushing up on my French and reading guide books.

When we return we will need to clean out my mother-in-law's house and put it on the market to sell. Then we will be doing the same thing with our house as we are planning to move to Florida to be closer to my parents. I will miss my friends and my book club.

As far as work goes, I am not sure what I will do. I abandoned my career as a psychotherapist and tried a few other things after that, but nothing felt right. Maybe I will do volunteer and/or paid work somehow related to books and reading.

One thing I do know is that I will continue to read, review books, and attend author events as these activities have become enjoyable hobbies and stress relievers for me.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Sport of Kings

Author: C.E. Morgan
Publisher: Macmillan, 2016
My Source: Carmichael's Bookstore

Recently I attended a book reading at Carmichael's by C.E. Morgan, author of the new novel, The Sport of Kings. Morgan, who grew up in Cincinnati and attended Berea College and Harvard Divinity School, calls Berea, Kentucky home. Morgan did not take questions or talk about her book (except to say that it took nine years to write), she simply read excerpts from her book, letting it be the star of the show.

Themes of wealth, poverty, slavery, racism, sex, and rage prevail in this epic saga about Henry Forge, a boy who grows up in the 1950's on a farm in Paris, Kentucky with a brutally strict father and deaf mother. He yearns to turn the family crop farm into a horse farm to breed and raise thoroughbreds for racing. His father is vehemently opposed to this idea, but Henry does it anyway after his father's death.

As an adult he marries and has a daughter, Henrietta, whom he grooms from a young age to take over his horse farm. His wife, Judith, leaves when Henrietta is a young child. Henry and Henrietta breed and raise many horses and dream of winning the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown. They suffer ups and downs throughout the process and their journey comes to an unexpected ending.

I'm finding this book hard to describe and review due to its expansive nature. This ambitious book felt like several stories in one because it spans several generations and introduces new characters throughout.

There are six long chapters with five interludes between them plus an epilogue at the end. The interludes are like mini stories themselves. They do not include the characters of the main story but instead introduce interesting new characters with adjacent themes such as horse racing, slavery, and a new imagining of the creation story.

I found the book to be very engaging at first and it seemed to move at a quick pace, but about 2/3 of the way in I felt like the pace slowed down, and I was less interested, but still motivated to read on to find out what was going to happen to the characters

At 545 pages this hefty book with dense language and obscure words took a little getting used to. I could not read it in a noisy place because it required a lot of concentration. The author uses heavily descriptive metaphors which at times feel like tangents. Also there is not a lot of dialog between characters as much of the action takes place in the characters' minds.

Professional reviews of this book say that its strengths outweigh its flaws. One even considers it the great American novel. That being said it is not for the casual reader because it requires quite a bit of effort. But if you feel ambitious this book is worth the challenge.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 high fives

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Whip

Author: Karen Kondazian
Publisher: Hansen Publishing Group, 2012
My Source: Amazon for Kindle

This book is a historical novel about triumph in the face of adversity, loosely based on the true life story of Charlotte "Charley" Parkhurst (1812-1879), a woman who lived most of her life as a man to get a job as a whip (a stagecoach driver.)

Charlotte grows up in an orphanage in New England where she meets a boy named Lee. They form a friendly childhood bond that turns sour when they become adults. Due to their friendship, Charlotte gets into a lot of trouble. Her punishment is to live in the barn and learn how to care for horses and drive a stagecoach with Jonas, the man who cares for the animals on the property. Jonas teaches her everything he knows and becomes like a father to her.

Fresh from her beating, Charlotte was led across the yard by the iron clasp of her headmistress at a great pace. The stable yard at night might have been nightmarish--all those long shadows, the soughing in the branches, the sudden mad motion of the underbrush shagging the margins; but strange though it might be, Charlotte felts at peace. Being led at all by someone felt good.

In her 30's, Charlotte meets and falls in love with an African American man despite the prejudices of the time. They have a baby together and then tragedy strikes at the hands of Lee and Charlotte is determined to seek revenge on him.

Charlotte finds out that Lee is living out west. She sees an advertisement for a position as a whip that would take her out west and decides to apply for it. The only problem is that they don't hire women, so she disguises herself as a man, changes her name to Charley, and gets the job.

Charlotte has many adventures as a whip. She conducts a secret love affair, kills a famous outlaw, and lives with a female housekeeper who, not knowing Charlotte's true sex, falls in love with her.

I was fascinated by the description of this book, especially knowing that it was based on a true story. I was not disappointed as the book lived up to its engaging description despite a slow beginning. Given the fact that Charlotte, like all women of the time, was raised to be submissive, it was amazing that she was able to bridge the gap between the sexes and convincingly pass as a man. She kept her secret safe until her death. It almost wouldn't be believable if I didn't already know that it was true.

Although this story is one of the wild wild west and will certainly appeal to fans of that time period, it is much more than that. It is an emotional human interest story that transcends its time and place and offers a little something for everyone.

                                                      Rating: 4 out of 5 high fives