Saturday, August 29, 2015

Books Books Books

I got a call from the school district library services office on Monday asking if I could work this week, so I ended up subbing Tuesday-Friday.  The new librarian was supposed to start on Monday the 31st.  However, Thursday I was in the middle of a class visit when the secretary popped in to see if I could work this coming week.  She needed to know as she was leaving and wouldn't be in on Friday.  Yikes - I might even make a social security quarter this month!

Since I have no time to weaving right now I thought I'd catch up on my book recommendations.  I have only included the ones I really liked.  And now I'm all caught up.

Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore.  This read like a cross between Fannie Flagg and Anne Rivers Siddons - a good Southern tale. It takes place in a small town and focuses on the preacher's famly, a preacher with feet of clay, and more about his daughters and the women who carry this story. The ending was a little tidy, tying up loose ends a little too neatly for my taste, which is why I couldn't give this four stars. It's a fantastic debut work - very entertaining.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.   My bookclub chose this book and we lean toward literary works, so this felt like a spoof on our tastes, with so many of the book clubs and book discussions developing throughout. The anatomy of a book club, its expectations, a reader's response to a book made this great fun to read and fun to talk about.

Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos.  This is the slowest reading of Kallos' three books and the jumping around in time made it hard for me to get sucked in, however, the writing is beautiful and even, slowly developing and revealing more about Charles with every chapter. While there are many threads, this is his story. He was an only child but his parents were so absorbed in their hateful marriage that they treated him as an afterthought. He drifted through an indifferent childhood, which developed into a pot-smoking bar-tending adulthood. It wasn't until he met and fell in love with his wife that he actually showed volition. I was really frustrated with Charles and kept hoping for a dramatic character change, but instead I changed in my appreciation for him as I understood the things he had endured in his lonely friendless life. I wanted him to grow a spine and do something dramatic and when I closed the book, I realized that his teaching career and the kindness and love he showed for his autistic son was sufficient and a lot more than many men manage to accomplish.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain.  If you enjoyed The Paris Wife, then you are in for another treat here.   McLain has written another fictionalized biography, this time of Beryl Markham, most well known as a woman pioneer in aviation.  It's just about the same time period as her first book but this time the setting is Kenya and it's about Markham's skills as a trainer of thoroughbred race horses and the lifestyle that goes with it.  Karen Blixen, aka Isak Dinesen, and Denys Hatton Finch are part of Beryl's circle of friends.  I gave this 5 stars.

Made in the U.S.A. by Bellie Letts.   We have the "coming of age" genre and I see an emerging genre for abandoned children - I'm calling it Boxcar Children after Gertrude Warner's series. I'd place Janet Fitch's White Oleander in that category, Amanda Coplin's The Orchardist, Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch and now this one. The reality is that most abandoned children don't have a happy-ever-after ending so this little fantasy was a pleasure to read. I knew that Billie Letts had passed away so was stunned when I recently visited an indie bookstore in Bandon, Oregon to find this on the bookshelf. I was sorry to close the book.

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman.   I have only read Dove Keepers for my book group and am otherwise unfamiliar with this author. I'm glad I took the opportunity to read this through NetGalley. You know how Dove Keepers is going to end because it's like the Titanic - the boat sinks. I had no idea where this story was headed. I understood that it was fictionalized memoir of Camille Pizzarro, but it really wasn't his story but his mother Rachel's. The setting is early 19th century on St. Thomas where the Jews have just been given freedom by the Danish king and is a multi-layered recounting of this group who wound their way after the Inquisition from Spain to Portugal, to France, to Barbados, then to St. Thomas. It's a history of that period as well as a story of prejudice from without and within, of loyalties, secrets and forbidden love. I always love it when I enjoy a work of fiction and learn something new at the same time and this book provided both  for me.

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  Diffenbach tackled the foster care system in her thoughtful first book and has returned with a second equally thoughtful book on the subject of immigration and all the laws and lunacy that surrounds it. She also puts a face of the untold agony, suffering and loneliness that is unwarranted and unmerited, thanks to the self-serving actions of politicians in our nation's capitol. I struggled initially with Letty's irresponsibility and was skeptical of her turn-around, but then I've seen that in sobriety in real life and had to give her that. It's not any one person's story, but an ensemble cast though Alex was my favorite.  What a kid.  The romance seemed out of character and a little too convenient which is why this is a 4-star book, not quite a 5.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George.  I struggled a little in the beginning with the French names and setting, but once I cleared that I sailed into this book. My first thought was - physician, heal thyself! This poor damaged bookseller could put the perfect book in anyone's hands but his own, and then we learn his misery is the self-inflected, the product of hurt and pride. He refused to use his first name as he drifted through those twilight years, and I noticed one of the first changes in his awakening was acknowledging his first name, Jean. I'm calling this a book fantasy, short of serious literature and much much more than a romance. Imagine a literary apothecary on a barge! With cats!! The one silly thing that niggled at my mind was - where were the cat boxes??  I loved this book.

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