Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Books, Books, Books

I haven't blogged in over a week so put some time aside this afternoon to do some catching up, however, the most recent Blogger app that I purchased and that has worked for the past several months, no longer is functioning.  Again!  This is so discouraging.  My photos are on my iPad since I take them with my iPhone and getting them transferred to my laptop and downloaded for a post takes about an hour by the time I'm done.  Since I haven't written anything about books in a while, I've decided to do that instead and hope the app miraculously heals itself.

I'm super behind from my last post in June so will just share books I've read more recently starting with this one.

In the Midst of Winter by Isabelle Allende -
Ordinarily I’m not a fan of books that jump around in time and are told in different voices but that’s what made this one so effective. The stories reveal circumstances from the past lives of Richard, Lucia and Evelyn that were so wrenching that I couldn’t have endured reading them without the pull from the crazy contemporary situation that bound the three of them together together, literally a page turner every bit as compelling as a thriller.

Lucia grew up in middle-class Chile during the Allende era and Evelyn grew up in Guatemala in poverty during the purges. The circumstances weren’t all that different and each woman had lost a brother. I had to stop and read those two stories again for clarification and it mattered later. In spite of the knuckle-biting adventure in the snow, Allende has some very serious modern issues that she leaves for her readers to think about, including immigration, human trafficking and LGBT which is also thrown in the mix, all without a heavy hand. A surprise ending was the frosting on the cake. As always when I read a book that I’ve enjoyed as much as this one, I’m left with the question - what on earth am I going to read next?!

This is my third book by Isabella Allende and each one has been uniquely different from the other. I know she has a large body of work and I’m happy to know there are so many books waiting for me to discover.

Hillbilly Elegy: A memoir by J.D.Vance -
A friend recommended this book last summer and it’s taken me until Christmas to get around to reading it, well past most of the hype apparently. I’ve browsed a number of reviews and I have to say that it’s like the blind men reviewing the elephant. We all come from different backgrounds and that seems to predicate how we read this book.

My parents lived in Fairbanks when I was born and I grew up on the West Coast, daughter of blue-collar workers and well before the current drug epidemic. I had a foster sister for a number of years until her uncle discovered that she wasn’t living with family and sent for her. We were a safe home for Becky though I came to recognize that for all the safeness, we we no substitute for family. 

That’s the background I brought to reading this book and boy was it an education. It can only amp up with drug addition, lost angry throw-away children and guns.  And after I finished reading this, on the recommendation of that same friend I read Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads by Paul Theroux.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce - 
There is another book about a record shop in addition to High Fidelity and Telegraph Avenue, but this one is filled but with Rachel Joyce’s wonderfully unique and quirky characters. It struck me as a combination of delayed coming-of-age and love story. Ilsa and Frank have a whole lot of growing up to do and it’s through Ilsa’s inner voice that Joyce reveals it to us.

Ilsa had expected to become a famous person but after some painful setbacks, she realized that in truth what mattered was to love another person and to be kind. But how to do that? After caring for her mother until her death, she woke up to see that she didn’t even know what “home” was anymore. Looking around her mother’s house she noted the collection of figurines that her mom had spent her life collecting and asked herself, Is this what life is? The steady acquisition of things that will in the end being wrapped up in newspaper and taken to the thrift store?

It’s the steps that she takes to recover what she realized that she had lost and to find the people who had been her “tribe” during her special six months in England. When she returned years later, she realized that just because you’re ready to go back and claim something, there’s no guarantee it will there. Her journey to find the people she had lost was utterly charming and enjoyable, but then journeys are something Joyce is very good at writing about.

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland
I am not drawn to thriller espionage fiction but I did love Chris Pavone’s book The Expats and requested a prelease copy from Random House based solely on his recommendation. I think it’s remarkable that the author packed so much into 300 pages, so many twists and turns and then more twists. And then some more.

Vivian is a CIA analyst assigned to Russia. It’s a desk job and in that capacity she comes across some disturbing information that snowballs, threatens her family, threatens her children. Sound like typical thriller genre action? Not really and the further you read the faster you read. The ending. On man, I had to go back and read it three times and then shake my head. There had better be a sequel is all I can say.

Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin
This is my first book by this author, and while it wasn’t suspense, it certainly was a page turner. It was unique in every way, an absolutely new and fresh novel with an 75-year-old protagonist set in Paris with it’s feet in WWII.  I just finished it yesterday and it's going to be a while before I find another book this satisfying.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan
This book is from the author of Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and started painfully slow for me.  Initially I was disappointed, expecting great things after Sloan's first book. If anyone else experiences the same thing, keep going. You're in for a ride!

Lois Cleary is a computer programmer and comes to San Francisco after being head hunted. But the exhausting and demanding hours don't allow for any thought to what to eat so she and many of her fellow employees turn to a liquid but nutritious diet. And then she calls a phone number she found on a flyer to order food and stumbles into a whole new world of sourdough bread and the brothers who give her with their sourdough starter when they don't get renewed visas and have to leave the country.

The book is many story threads that effortlessly grow and braid together. I have been a bread baker most of my life and my mother before me so I took a particular shine to this. "The King Arthur flour company began as a Boston-based importer in 1790 and introduced it's own American grown wheat flour in 1896. Since 2004, it's been 100 percent employee-owned, which is pretty cool." I've used their flour and totally did not know this, didn't think to inquire.

Lois stayed in touch by email with Boz, the benefactor of the starter. He unravels the story of its origin, one email at a time, and Lois after buying a starter from King Arthur, realizes the Clement Street starter is not normal, and in fact, she sees its strangeness when she compares it to the King Arthur starter she purchased which was very normal, like a happy dopey big brown dog. 

The starter is the star strange character but the strange character cast is huge including the computer arm she programmed to mix the dough. Don't we all want one of those?! This is a completely new story from an already successful author of another strange story.

And that's it for now.  I'd keep going to my battery won't.  I hope the Blogger App resolves soon!


Theresa said...

What an interesting assortment of books! Who wouldn't want to read a book about sourdough starter!!! After all, I'e read, Salt, Cod (a favorite) and The Big Oyster. ;-)

Lucy said...

Always love your book reviews! In the Midst of Winter is one of our book club picks - so glad you enjoyed it!

From another retired school librarian