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

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Eleanor & Park

Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, 2013
My Source: Amazon for Kindle


I skipped this book when it first came out because it is YA and I don't tend to read YA, but I heard so many good things about this book and I enjoyed Attachments, also by Rowell, so I gave this one a try. I am so glad that I did!

It is a story about first love between two teenagers over the course of a school year in 1986. Eleanor is the new girl at school and sits with Park on her first day on the school bus and everyday after that. They don't speak, but one day Park notices that she is looking over his shoulder reading his X-Men comic books. He starts to move them closer to her and then brings in more comics for her to read at home. Park finally speaks to Eleanor when he sees handwritten song lyrics on her book cover and finds out she has never listened to The Smiths. He goes home that day and makes her the first of many mixed tapes. Slowly they form a friendship around their shared love for comic books and music, which then turns into a love for each other.

Eleanor has challenges at school and at home. At school she gets bullied for her unruly curly red hair and mismatched outfits. At home, her step-father is a tyrant who controls the family with intimidation, threats, and strict rules. Park provides a safe haven away from all of the chaos in her life.

This novel beautifully captures the essence of being an insecure self-conscious adolescent experiencing love for the first time. Unlike other books of teenage love which are written only from the perspective of one of the main characters, this story is told from the perspectives of both main characters through short alternating chapters dominated by engaging dialog.

Eleanor and Park are adorable, likeable characters with strengths and weaknesses everyone can relate to. I found myself rooting for them the whole way through. The story is a quick read and once I started I couldn't put it down.

I would recommend this book to young adults both experiencing or yearning for first love, and "old" adults who are young at heart reminiscing about first love from the past.


Rating: 5 out of 5 totally awesome high fives


Bonus: In 2014 DreamWorks purchased the rights to turn the book into a movie, however it was supposed to have been completed by now.

Here is a link to a blog post by @wildfirecharm discussing what she thinks would be a fitting potential soundtrack if the movie version of the story is produced. Brilliant idea!


Sunday, June 5, 2016

June

Author: Miranda Beverly-Whittmore
Publisher: Crown, 2016
My Source: Goodreads Giveaway


I won this Advance Reader's Edition of the book from a Goodreads giveaway contest. I entered the contest for this specific book because I read and reviewed the author's first book, Bittersweet. Whittemore's second novel is an enjoyable read, but in my opinion, not as good as her first one.

The story revolves around a grand house called Two Oaks built in 1895 in rural Ohio. The action alternates between two time periods: 1955 and 2015. In 1955, 18 year-old June lives at Two Oaks with her mother, a disabled distant uncle, and a female African American servant. June's best friend, 14 year-old tomboy, Lindie, lives next door and often sneaks into June's bedroom window to read movie star magazines with her. In this particular summer, a Hollywood movie called Erie Canal starring Jack Montgomery, is being filmed in their little town of St. Jude. Lindie gets a job with the film crew, but June is uninterested in the movie. She has just agreed to marry Artie, though he has been away from St. Jude for sometime now.

In 2015, the reader meets 25 year-old Cassie, whom has inherited Two Oaks from her recently deceased grandmother, June (yes, the same June.) Cassie finds herself having pleasant recurring dreams of two girls from the past living in Two Oaks. The house has fallen into disrepair and Cassie doesn't have the money to fix it up. One day, a man comes to her door telling her that the actor, Jack Montgomery, has left his $37 million fortune to her because he believed her to be his granddaughter. One of Jack Montgomery's famous daughters is contesting the will and comes to St. Jude to meet Cassie. Together they try to determine whether or not June had an affair with Jack Montgomery in 1955.



Good god, yes, Tate Montgomery in the flesh, removing her glasses and cap, climbing the steps, getting closer and closer like she had stepped out of some ridiculous Technicolor movie where she was larger than life and a chorus of strings swelled at the sight of her. But this was not a movie at all. It just kept going.



Essentially this novel consists of two stories in two different time periods, both of them compelling. The author portrays Two Oaks as a recurring character in the two stories. In 1955 it is a happy place unlike any other home in town, large and ornate, and inspiring curiosity among the townsfolk who jump at the chance to tour it at the movie's wrap party. By 2015 it is a sad broken down house, in need of much repair, not unlike its sole inhabitant, Cassie. Through the use of Cassie's dreams, the author beautifully connects the events that take place in the house of the past to those that take place in the house of the present.

Cassie tells Tate Montgomery that she will only give a DNA sample if she first helps her research the events that took place in the summer of 1955. It seems unrealistic that they would together sift through historical documents and talk to long-time residents of St. Jude to find the answer to Cassie's parentage, rather than just doing the DNA test, but then there wouldn't be this lovely story.

The novel is longish (379 pages) or at least it felt that way. It was drawn out and could have been wrapped up in about 300 pages. Also, my expectations were quite high based on my enjoyment of the author's previous novel. While a very enjoyable read, my expectations were not fully met.


                                                      Rating: 3.5 out of 5 high fives


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hausfrau

Author: Jill Alexander Essbaum
Publisher: Penguin Random House, 2015
My Source: Louisville Free Public Library



"Anna was a good wife, Mostly." 

That is the first sentence of Hausfrau, a novel about the downfall of Anna Benz, a 37 year-old housewife, mother, and American expat living in a suburb of Zurich, Switzerland. Nine years prior, Anna met and married Swiss born Bruno Benz. Shortly thereafter, Bruno took a managerial position at Cedit Suisse and they moved to his hometown in Switzerland.

Unhappy in her marriage and isolated in a foreign country, Anna seeks out a psychoanalyst at the suggestion of her husband. Anna is guarded in her sessions, evades questions, and lies by omission. The psychoanalyst encourages Anna to take German language classes so she can communicate better with the locals. In class, she meets a Scotsman and begins an illicit affair with him. The reader finds out that this is not Anna's first affair, nor her last.

One day a family tragedy strikes while Anna is away with one of her lovers. Anna's world is turned upside down after that.

The parts depicting the psychoanalyst are interesting and correspond with Anna's circumstances, but are fictional. From what I learned about psychoanalysis in graduate school, the analyst does not generally answer existential questions from the patient. Typically, strict analysts say very little and when they do speak they ask open-ended questions of the patient. Also, they do not offer specific analysis of dreams because dreams are open to the patient's interpretation. Jungian psychoanalysis is very different from general psychotherapy in which the therapist takes a more active role.

One aspect that was interesting to me was the way the author combined the German language lessons with the ways Anna was feeling and the ways she saw others in her life.


          This is basic, class. Present tense. That which happens now. Future tense.
          What will occur. Simple past: what was done. Present perfect?
          What has been done.
          But how often is the past simple? Is the present ever perfect?
          Anna stopped listening. These were rules she didn't trust.


While I enjoyed this book, I also found it quite sad. Sad does not automatically equal bad, but it did equal only 3 out of 5 high fives from me. Bruno is distant and unsympathetic to Anna's plight. Anna is dissatisfied with her life and compulsively uses sex as a way of distracting herself from her boredom and depression. She lacks adequate coping mechanisms, but then it wouldn't be a very interesting story if she did.


                                                         Rating: 3 out of 5 high fives


Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Publisher: Random House, 2012
My Source: Louisville Free Public Library


I know I’m late to the party on this book, but in my defense, I base most of my reading choices on which books on my TBR list are currently available to download from the library. Luckily, Harold Fry was available.

The title of this book is no joke; it certainly is an “unlikely pilgrimage” for a 65 year-old retired Englishman to walk 600 miles across the country without physical preparation, proper footwear, or a cell phone (or as they say in England a mobile.) As I read this book, I made some notes in my phone. Why didn’t he just drive? Why didn’t he go back and pack a bag? What happens if he spends all of their retirement money on his journey? Why did he wear a tie every day? What was his connection to Queenie that made him feel so compelled to make the journey to see her? Well, all of these questions (except for the tie one) are answered as the story unfolds.

One day Harold receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy, a person from his past, telling him that she is dying of cancer. He struggles with what to write in response and finally comes up with a short note that he intends to mail. He walks to the post office, and then the next closest post office and on and on, until he has an epiphany and realizes he needs to make the 600-mile journey on foot to say goodbye to her in person.

On his journey, Harold recalls early memories of his marriage to Maureen, his relationship with his son David, his connection to Queenie, and his difficult childhood. These memories weave the back story of Harold’s life and explain his current emotional state. The memories and the meanings he attributes to those memories were the most interesting parts of the story for me.

Harold meets many kind and quirky strangers along the way, including a man who wears a gorilla suit. At first he is reluctant to tell others why he is walking because he believes they will think him crazy. Eventually he becomes comfortable talking with strangers about his purpose and finds that others want and need to share their stories with him, too.


He understood that in walking to atone for the mistake he had made, it was also his journey to accept the strangeness of others. As a passerby, he was in a place where everything, not only the land, was open. People would feel free to talk, and he was free to listen. To carry a little of them as he went. He had neglected so many things that he owed this small piece of generosity to Queenie and the past.


The story of Harold Fry is one of hope, faith, regret, forgiveness, and love. It invoked a wide range of emotions in me. At times I felt impatient with the characters he meets on his quest. Some of them help him cope with his past, but some of them felt unnecessary. I predicted what was going to happen with his marriage, but that did not detract from the satisfaction of the ending. I felt like I might have missed some symbolism, so I read a few literary reviews, however, they did not have much more to offer beyond what I already observed. It was certainly a book that made me think about what is most important in life. 


                                                         Rating: 3 out of 5 high fives


Bonus: The author did not plan to write a sequel, but was encouraged to do so by her fans. It is entitled The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy. I plan to read it when it is available at the library.
                                                       

Monday, May 9, 2016

GodPretty in the Tobacco Field

Publisher: Kensington Books, 2016
My Source: Louisville Free Public Library



I became aware of this book because Carmichael’s held an author event with Kim Michele Richardson. You can read my post about that event here. 

Themes of poverty and racism are central to this coming-of-age story set in eastern Kentucky during the summer of 1969. The main character, RubyLyn, is a 15 year-old girl being raised on a tobacco farm by her strict uncle, Gunnar.


As sure as ugly is found in the morning addict waiting to score in the parking lot of a Kentucky Shake King, there is GodPretty in the child who toils in the tobacco field, her fingers whispering of arthritic days to come.

My uncle Gunnar Royal, says I’m that child and that I’ll find Salvation if I work hard enough. But it’s doubtful. I’ve been working these fields since knee-high, and ain’t nothing but all kinds of GodUgly keeps happening around here.


RubyLyn is orphaned at the age of five and taken in by her mother’s brother. She still feels the absence of her parents in her life and holds onto the few memories she has of them. Her stoic uncle teaches her to work the tobacco fields and to follow his rigid rules of behavior. RubyLyn’s closest companion is her uncle’s African American hired hand, Rainey, whom has had a crush on her since they first met 10 years prior. In her free time and when she can find paper, RubyLyn creates fortune tellers for the townspeople. She draws pictures of rural life on them and is praised for her talented artwork. Gunnar, however, disapproves of her hobby and punishes her and destroys her creations when he finds them. RubyLyn becomes restless in her small town of Nameless, Kentucky. She sees poverty, violence, racism, and hardship all around her and dreams of moving to the big city of Louisville for a better life. With Rainey’s help, RubyLyn prepares a tobacco plant to be shown at the Kentucky State Fair. She is counting on wining the blue ribbon and using the prize money to help her get out of Nameless. RubyLyn and Rainey make plans, but Gunnar’s long-held family secrets are revealed, permanently altering RubyLyn’s life.

The compelling story of RubyLyn is both heartbreaking and uplifting. The most notable aspect of this novel is the beautiful writing. The painstakingly detailed descriptions of the characters, settings, and events filled my mind with vivid images of rural life in eastern Kentucky. I particularly enjoyed the description of small town girl, RubyLyn’s experience of attending the big city Kentucky State Fair (an event I have also attended in the past.) The dialog, written in the vernacular of rural eastern Kentucky in 1969, transported me back in time. The historical events woven into the plot, such as the visit by President Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson and the looming Vietnam War, lent authenticity to the story and anchored it in time. It was obvious that the author did a lot of research for this project.

I recommend this book to those who enjoy southern fiction and want to be transported to a different time and place. As a Kentuckian, it was particularly interesting to me to learn about a different part of the state that I have not visited. The book depicted an intimate look into the personal lives of the Appalachian people behind the commonly held stereotypes.


                                                         Rating: 5 out of 5 high fives


Monday, May 2, 2016

Circling the Sun

Author: Paula McLain 
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 2015
My Source: Louisville Free Public Library



Like the author’s previous book, The Paris Wife, the current book is another foray into historical fiction. The main character is based on the real life Beryl (Clutterbuck) Markham, an English woman who grew up in Kenya in the early 1900’s when it was a British colony.

When the story begins, Beryl’s mother has just abandoned her to return to England with her brother, leaving her father to raise her alone. Because she has no female role model until later in her development, Beryl doesn’t learn “girl things” and thus grows up in an unconventional way for a girl at that time. She instead learns how to care for and train racehorses on her father’s horse farm and how to track and hunt animals in the bush with her African friend, Kibii.


This was certain: I belonged on the farm and in the bush. I was part of the thorn trees and the high jutting escarpment, the bruised-looking hills thick with vegetation; the deep folds between the hills, and the high cornlike grasses. I had come alive here, as if I’d been given a second birth, and a truer one. This was my home, and though one day it would all trickle through my fingers like so much red dust, for as long as childhood lasted it was a heaven fitted exactly to me. A place I knew by heart. The one place in the world I’d been made for.


When she is a teenager, Beryl’s father encourages her to marry a local farmer much older than herself. The marriage fails and so begins the string of unsuccessful romantic relationships she has throughout her life. As a young woman, she learns through trial and error the social rules of the wealthy adult colonists of the time and often raises an eyebrow or two with her decisions. Beryl is continuously trying to figure out who she is and who she wants to be. She eventually finds success as the first female horse trainer in Africa during a time when most women didn’t even work outside the home. Beryl also becomes a pilot and the first woman to fly from Africa to North America alone. In my opinion, she could be considered a pioneer and a feminist.

I usually enjoy historical fiction, and this one did not disappoint. The descriptions of the land were vivid and beautifully detailed, but I felt the action of the story started out slowly. For me, it didn’t get interesting until she became an adult and found herself in complicated relationships with friends and lovers. As a female, I was inspired by the way Beryl forged a new path for women. By the end of the story I was fully engaged. For the readers interested in learning more about Beryl Markham, the author added references to other books and movies about Beryl’s life, including a memoir written by the woman herself.


                                                         Rating: 4 out of 5 high fives.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon

Author: Toure 
Publisher: Atria Books, 2013
My Source: Amazon for Kindle


I was deeply saddened by the death of Prince earlier this month. That may sound crazy to some since I didn’t actually know him, but his music has been such a big part of my life. I imagine that this is how an earlier generation felt when Elvis and John Lennon died.

I was in middle school when I first heard “Little Red Corvette.” Certain songs of his bring back specific fond memories of my adolescence. I was lucky enough to see him in concert last year (thanks Paul.) It was an amazing show. He sang all of his hits, danced, and flirted with the audience as only Prince could do. An autopsy was conducted, but the official results are not yet available. The press has reported that his death was due to an overdose of Percocet prescribed for hip pain. I also heard a rumor that he had an addiction to opiate pain pills. It is such a tragedy when someone so talented is gone too soon.

On the day of his death, MTV played his music videos and aired the movie, “Purple Rain.” Social media blew up with pictures, videos, and sentiments of disbelief and sorrow from fans and celebrities. Then within the next few days there were Prince tribute specials on the Today show, Dateline, and Saturday Night Live. It was during the Dateline special that this book was mentioned. I made a note of the title and ordered it from Amazon for my Kindle.


Prince was a very private person and did not contribute to this book himself, but many people who knew and loved him did contribute their thoughts, insights, and memories. The first chapter defines Generation X and describes the zeitgeist of the 1980’s and how the combination contributed to his stardom.  The author also provides a biographical sketch of his early life.

Prince (born Prince Rogers Nelson) grew up in Minneapolis, the son of a jazz musician father. He taught himself to play many instruments including guitar and piano. His high school music teachers let him spend extra time in the music room practicing his craft. Prince knew he wanted to be a rock star and took a music business class to learn all the ins and outs of the music industry. He used this knowledge not only to write music, play all the instruments on his albums, and record and produce his albums himself, but also to successfully win a battle with his record label for more control over his music. Prince’s efforts resulted in helping future musicians to have greater control over their music and its distribution.

The next chapter focuses on Prince as an artist and the various bands he worked with. He didn’t want to be known only as a Black musician, but wanted to be free to experiment with all genres of music. As a result, he employed women and people of different races in his bands to reflect the diversity of the country and thus appeal to a wider audience.


The last chapter is an analysis of his songs. Specifically, the author posits that Prince was influenced by a wide range of artists as well as the gospel music coming out of Black churches. Common themes of his music are sex and religion, often in the same song. Prince went to different types of churches as a child, but became a Jehovah’s Witness in 2001 and had a strong faith in God. Although I can recite many of the words to most of his popular songs, I learned a lot about the deeper meanings behind the words.

 I really enjoyed reading this book because of the inside information about Prince’s life, music, and legacy. It also helped me process what his death meant to me. I would definitely recommend this book to any fan, but also to others who were not big fans and now want to see what all the fuss was about.

RIP Prince (1958-2016)


                                                   Rating: 5 out of 5 funky high fives

Friday, April 29, 2016

Kim Michele Richardson--GodPretty in the Tobacco Field



Last night I attended an author event at Carmichael's featuring Kentucky native, Kim Michele Richardson. Her latest novel is entitled GodPretty in the Tobacco Field. She described it as a cross between Winter’sBone and Coal Miner’s Daughter. It takes place in a poor town in eastern Kentucky in 1969. Richardson said when she was writing it she couldn’t come up with a name for her fictional town, so she wrote Nameless and planned to go back and change it later. She forgot to change it, however, and her publisher loved the idea of keeping Nameless because the town is so poor it can’t even afford a name.

The main character, RubyLyn is a teenager who likes to make fortune tellers. A fortune teller (also called a cootie catcher) is a form of origami used in children's games. Parts of the fortune teller are labelled with colors or numbers that serve as options for a player to choose from, and on the inside are eight flaps, each concealing a message. Richardson and her husband gave a fortune teller to each of us in the audience.



The paper it was made from had the map of Nameless on it. Richardson’s husband drew the picture for her because she was writing several books at one time and needed a way to keep her settings straight. It was not meant to be put in the book, but again her publisher loved it and it made it into the book. Richardson had us open the fortune teller and look for a particular symbol on the map. Well, I was the lucky one with the symbol and won a bottle of Dandelion Wine.  


Richardson talked about how she did hours of research for her book. Specifically, she researched the type of candy eaten during the time period and the types of flora and fauna that grow in eastern Kentucky. Richardson and her husband even planted six tobacco plants on their land so she would know what tobacco picking is like.

It was a fun event which included wine tasting, cake eating, and a giveaway. Richardson herself has a cheerful disposition and quirky personality. I am very much looking forward to reading and reviewing her book.



You can follow Kim Michele Richardson on twitter @writernwaiting

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up With Hunter S. Thompson

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
My Source: Carmichael’s Bookstore


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a famous parent? How about a famous parent with a reputation for being eccentric? Well, this memoir tells one man’s account of growing up with a famous writer for a father, a man notorious for his eccentricities and rages, as well as his charm and generosity. Specifically, Juan F. Thompson gives the reader a glimpse into the 41 years he had with his father, Hunter S. Thompson.   

On the first page, even before the Preface, Juan includes the poem, Forgiving Our Fathers by Dick Lourie. This meaningful poem ostensibly summarizes the way Juan feels about his father and prepares the reader for what is to come in the following pages.

In the Preface, Juan clarifies that this is a memoir dependent upon his personal memories, and memories can be imprecise. With that in mind, Juan shares his memories of his father from his early childhood until the time of his father’s death as an adult. In so doing, he reveals as much about his own personality and vulnerabilities as those of his father. Juan comes across as a sensitive and quiet man who desperately wanted his father’s love and approval throughout his life. As I read the book, I was struck by Juan’s bravery in taking the reader on a journey into his family’s private world, both the good and bad parts.

In a brief biographical sketch, Juan introduces the reader to Hunter for those who are unfamiliar with his work and reputation. In it he writes, “He was an alcoholic, drug addict, and a hell raiser, but he was also a brilliant writer and craftsman of the language, facts overshadowed by his Wild Man persona.” Juan adds that Hunter was first and foremost a writer before all other things including a father.

Juan spent most of his childhood afraid of and angry with his father. He feared Hunter because of his unpredictable rages that could be provoked by anything and everything. Juan walked on egg shells all the time. Juan was angry with Hunter for not taking an interest in him and for what Juan viewed as bullying and manipulating his mother. When he was about 12, his parents’ marriage started to fall apart and Juan witnessed many vicious verbal arguments between the two of them often including throwing and breaking things.

As Juan became an adult his relationship with his father changed. He stopped hoping for the intimate relationship he longed for and learned to accept what Hunter could give. Simply spending time together engaged in an activity was his father’s way of showing him love and respect. They shared a love of guns and made cleaning guns a ritual they took part in together. Examining his past relationship with his father led Juan to reflect upon his current relationship with his teenage son. His son is similar to Hunter in that he does not like to discuss his feelings, so Juan focuses on sharing activities with him.

Juan, an IT guy in real life, has a strong writing style although very different from that of his father’s. I found this book fascinating and devoured it in two days. It satisfied my curiosity for information about the infamous writer. I think Hunter would have been proud of Juan’s book because Juan told his truth and Hunter was all about reporting the truth from the point of view of the writer.  


                                                        Rating: 4 out of 5 high fives

Monday, April 25, 2016

Josh Rosenthal--The Record Store of the Mind

“Don’t leave your records in the sun.” That is the inscription Josh Rosenthal, author of the self-published new book, The Record Store of the Mind, wrote in my book at a recent author event at Carmichael’s. Rosenthal is the founder and producer of Tompkins Square record label which celebrated its 10- year anniversary in 2015. He started by saying that his 11 year-old daughter, Hazel, designed the cover of the book, which by the way I think is quite good. Rosenthal then read from chapter 12 which is about musician, Smoke Dawson. While somewhat entertaining, I didn’t know who Smoke Dawson was. After he read the chapter, he said thank you and left the podium without taking any questions. I found this disappointing because I wanted to know his life story and how he came to start a record label.

Following Rosenthal, was a short concert by Louisville instrumental guitarist, Nathan Salsburg, who recorded an album on Rosenthal’s label entitled Avos. I enjoyed Salsburg’s original songs and he was entertaining as he explained the inspiration behind each song. The best part of the event was when in the middle of a song, a 3 year-old boy came out of nowhere and sat in the front row directly in front of Salsburg. He swayed back and forth and made Salsburg and the audience smile. Shortly after he loudly said, “I gotta go” and stood up and left. Again getting a laugh from the crowd.


I have since read Rosenthal’s book, and although it is entertaining at times it is also confusing. I felt like it needed a better outline and organizational structure, and a bit of editing. Most of the chapters are dedicated to particular musicians, all of whom I had never heard of (except for Eric Clapton.) Other chapters, about Rosenthal’s life and love of music, are randomly interspersed with the musician chapters. I enjoyed the chapters about his life more than those of the musicians, however at times it felt like Rosenthal was bragging about the famous people he met throughout his career. In the back of the book, he lists all the ticket stubs he has saved over the years, old time LP’s in his record collection, and the names of the artists he has signed. The list of ticket stubs was neither chronological nor alphabetical, but according to him, written in the order that he pulled the items out of a box.

As a casual music listener, this book was not that interesting, but it would probably be well-received by a serious music fan.


                                                           Rating: 2 out of 5 high fives

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Invisible Bridge

Publisher: Vintage, 2010
My Source: Louisville Free Public Library



Okay, so I’m in my 40’s and my To Be Read list is over 200 books long. With that in mind, I don’t see the point in continuing to read books that do not keep my interest. The Invisible Bridge is one of those books. According to my Kindle I have only read 10% of the book, and I have been reading it for at least one week now, which is unheard of for me. I don’t hate it, but I am not excited to read it and find myself doing other things (I even started and finished another book) when normally I would be happily reading away.

The story is about two Jewish Hungarian brothers, Andras, and Tibor and is set in 1937 just before WWII. Andras gets a scholarship to study architecture in Paris and Tibor has been accepted to medical school. A wealthy woman from their Hungarian town asks Andras to deliver a large box and mail a letter when he gets to Paris. Neither Andras nor the reader knows what is in the box or what the letter is about. Andras moves to Paris knowing little French and is tutored by one of his professors who also happens to be Hungarian. He befriends three other Jewish men attending his school and starts to feel comfortable in his new home. One month into his schooling, Andras finds out that his scholarship has been cut because he is Jewish. He is then forced to find another way to pay for his studies.

As I mentioned in one of my other reviews, I am a Francophile, so I appreciated the Paris setting and the French phrases thrown in here and there. I also enjoy reading historical fiction especially about WWII. Additionally, I found the author’s writing style to be quite good. What I did not like was the slow pace of the novel. To be fair, as I previously noted, I am only 10% in, but nothing compelling about the plot or the characters has grabbed me or sucked me in yet.

This book was not for me, but someone more patient who is willing to wait for the action to start might not be turned off by the story. I assume the story will pick up as the war begins and the brothers, as Jewish men, start to feel the discrimination of the time. This must be the case as its average rating on Goodreads is 4.19 out of 5 stars.

This is the first book I have not liked since starting my blog. I considered not reviewing it at all, but that did not seem fair to my readers. I don’t want to be known for praising every book I read. So take my opinion with a grain of salt, but I would skip it if I were you.


                                                          Rating: 2 out of 5 high fives

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Engagements

Publisher: Vintage, 2013
My Source: Louisville Free Public Library



Diamonds, engagements, relationships, weddings, and marriages are the themes of this book. The novel begins in 1947 depicting the life of Frances Gerety, a copy writer for the N.W. Ayer advertising company. As the author notes in the Acknowledgements, Ms. Gerety was a real person who wrote the famous tag line, “A Diamond is Forever” for the De Beers diamond company. Ironically, Ms. Gerety marketed diamonds to engaged and married couples yet she herself was never engaged nor married.


Frances ran a finger over one of her new honeymoon ads. Other women never seemed to think about what came next. They were so eager to be paired up, as if marriage was known to be full of splendor. Frances was the opposite: she could never stop thinking about it. She might go out to dinner or out dancing with someone new, and have a fine time. But when she got home and climbed into bed afterward, her heart would race with fear. If she went out with him again, then they might go out again after that. Eventually, she would have to take him home to be evaluated by her parents, and vise versa. Then he would propose. And she, like all the other working girls who had married before her, would simply disappear into a life of motherhood and isolation.


The remainder of the book bounces around between Ms. Gerety’s life and the fictional lives of four other sets of compelling characters across different decades. It almost felt like an unrelated collection of reoccurring short stories. Late in the book, the author seamlessly and artfully reveals the ways in which the stories are united. I was pleasantly surprised by the connections.     
  
The reader first meets Evelyn and Gerald, a wealthy retired couple living in the 1970’s who have been married for many years and watch their only son dissolve his marriage and family for a new love. Evelyn is disappointed in her son for many reasons including that she doesn’t believe in divorce, and because she is losing her grandchildren and the daughter-in-law she thought of as a friend.

Next up is James and Sheila, a 30-somethig married couple with two children living in the 1980’s who work too much but still struggle financially. James became an EMT because his musical career didn’t take off and subsequently feels like he never meets Sheila’s expectations.

Third is Delphine and P.J., a newly engaged couple in 2003 with a 20-year age difference trying to stay connected despite their age gap and different cultural backgrounds. Delphine, who moves from France to the United States to be with P.J., tries to assimilate, but never quite feels at home in his country.

Finally there is Kate and Dan, a committed 30-something couple in 2012 with a 3 year-old daughter and no intention of marrying despite pressure to do so from all around them. Kate’s parents’ divorce when she was a teenager soured her on the idea of ever marrying.

The author does a beautiful job of describing the settings by name dropping towns, local restaurants, and famous landmarks. I felt like I was being transported to the different places in the stories. I personally enjoyed this because one of the locations is Boston and I grew up in Walpole, a suburb of that city. One of the characters volunteers at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, and another one eats at Papa Gino’s and shops at the South Shore Plaza.  As a self-proclaimed Francophile who visited France as a teenager, I was delighted that Paris is one of the other cities. The descriptions of the Seine and the outdoor market with fresh fruits and vegetables, wheels of cheese, and flower stalls were vibrant and alive. In addition, she highlighted the decade in which the characters lived by discussing current fads and fashions of the times. Some of these include EST meetings and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dolls in the 1980’s. One that made me laugh out loud was the real PTA pamphlet from 1970 entitled, “How To Tell If Your Child Is A Hippie And What You Can Do About It.” The place and time became as important to me as the characters’ personalities.

This book made me reminisce about my own engagement story and reflect upon my happy marriage. I truly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to those who believe in the institution of marriage and to those who do not. Anyone who has ever loved someone can relate to some aspect of this book.
                                                   


                                                          Rating: 5 out of 5 high fives      

           
 Bonus: According to imdb, the movie version of the book is "in development." 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Juan F. Thompson--Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson


Last night I met Hunter S. Thompson’s son, Juan F. Thompson, while on a book tour of his new memoir, Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson. There was a fairly large crowd at Carmichael’s waiting to welcome him to his father’s hometown. One special audience member was Ron Whitehead, Kentucky outlaw poet and founder of GonzoFest. 


GonzoFest is the literary and music festival honoring and celebrating the life and times of Hunter S. Thompson. The event features live panels, literary readings, book signings, and live bands. It will take place this Saturday, April 16, 2016 at the Great Lawn starting at 1pm. Juan Thompson, his wife, Jennifer and their son, Will, will be in attendance. Juan Thompson is going to deliver the keynote speech. Unfortunately for me, I will not be able to attend due to a prior commitment, but maybe next year.

Juan Thompson began his presentation by reading the Preface of his book which explains that it is not a biography but a collection of memories and memories can be deceptive. It is Juan’s story of the relationship between the two men over the course of their 41 years together. Juan talked about his yearning for a close and deep relationship with his father and said he tried to achieve that for a large part of his life. It wasn’t until at some point in his early adulthood when he accepted that their relationship would not be one of shared confidences and deep talks, that Juan found peace and concluded that they loved and respected each other despite their differences.   

Juan reported that it took him almost 10 years to complete this book. He started out feeling very protective of his father and only wanting to show Hunter’s good side. As he went along considering which memories to include and which to leave out, he thought about what Hunter would want him to do. His answer was that Hunter would want him to be honest and tell the truth. After that revelation, Juan felt more comfortable including the less flattering memories of his father.

When asked which of Hunter’s works was his favorite, Juan responded with two: Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. In Hell’s Angels, Hunter balances his own experiences living in the gang with the gangs’ own view of themselves. It also shows the sheer bravery of Hunter to embed himself into the infamous motorcycle gang. In Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, Hunter’s idealism, passion for justice, and hatred of Richard Nixon come through. Juan called it, “pure righteous anger.”

Another audience member asked Juan why Hunter committed suicide. Juan clarified that while no one knows for sure, he has come up with three reasons why he thinks Hunter took his own life. First, the alcohol and cocaine had taken a toll on his mind and he was unable to concentrate enough to write anything and knew it wasn’t going to get any better. Second, Hunter had some physical ailments which made it difficult for him to walk. And third, he had recently gotten married and the relationship was rocky.

I must come clean and admit that although I had heard about GonzoFest, I knew next to nothing about Hunter S. Thompson until very recently. My husband, a native Louisvillian, read many of his books. I even found his copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on our basement bookshelf today. Now that I have met Juan and started reading his memoir, I am more than eager to read some of Hunter’s works. I will finish the memoir and write and post a review. And then I will get on to reading Hunter!



Monday, April 11, 2016

The Girl On The Train


Author: Paula Hawkins 
Publisher: Riverhead, 2015
My source: Louisville Free Public Library

My husband and I listened to this book on Audible during our 10 hour drive from Louisville to Panama City Beach and back in August 2015. I recently read the Kindle version because one of my fellow book club members chose it for our May book (thanks Lisa.)

I have read mixed reviews of this book, but being that it is a psychological thriller focusing on human flaws and failing relationships it is right up my alley. The first page grabbed me instantly because it describes a simple gravesite, but no clues about the identity of the deceased or manner of death. From there the story backtracks to the events leading up to the death which kept me guessing until the end. 

The chapters are written from the different perspectives of three main characters. I enjoyed this format because I was able to understand the unique and disturbing ways the characters thought and felt about themselves and the events in the story. I wonder, though, if I would have had difficulty distinguishing between the characters if I had not first listened to the audible version and heard the different characters’ voices. 

One unique aspect about this book is that there are two timelines going on. This was a bit confusing at first, but each chapter is marked with the date and I quickly caught on.

The primary character is Rachel, a divorced woman in her early 30’s who rides a commuter train every weekday back and forth from her home in the suburbs to the city of London. Day after day she looks out the train window and notices things.


There is a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks. Light-blue cloth—a shirt, perhaps—jumbled up with something dirty white. It’s probably rubbish, part of a load dumped into the scrubby little wood up the bank. It could have been left behind by the engineers who work this part of the track, they’re here often enough. Or it could be something else. My mother used to tell me that I had an overactive imagination; Tom said that, too. I can’t help it, I catch sight of these discarded scraps, a dirty T-shirt or a lonesome shoe, and all I can think of is the other shoe and the feet that fitted into them.


At one train stop, she always sees the same couple sitting outside on their deck. Rachel is comforted by this, starts to feel as though she knows them, and even assigns them names. She imagines the perfect life they lead, a life quite similar to the one she has lost but not quite let go of.

One day Rachel sees something that shocks and upsets her. She becomes obsessed with the couple and subsequently inserts herself into their lives. At several points in the story she realizes she should back off, but she can’t help herself. Rachel is lonely and bored and wants to feel included in something. Her neediness results in her getting mixed up in a death investigation. I knew this wouldn’t end well, and kept wanting to tell her to stop as she embedded herself deeper and deeper into the mess and hooked me deeper and deeper into the story.  

As a side note, one of the minor characters is a psychotherapist. As a former psychotherapist, I am always concerned about the way the profession is portrayed in fiction. I’ll let you form your own opinion about this portrayal. 

I really enjoyed this book, probably more so the second time around because I was paying better attention to the nuances of the characters’ personalities. The story was surprising at times and suspenseful throughout. I would recommend this to readers who enjoyed Gone Girl.
Rating: 4 out of 5 high fives


                     
Bonus: The movie version of the book comes out on October 7, 2016.