Monday, July 31, 2017

July wasn't the best month, reading-wise. But it wasn't a total bust. I did start one last book that I only  read for the last 2 days of the month and obviously couldn't finish (as it was over 400 pages). But all in all, not bad.  5 books at 1,767 pages. So here we go!

Testimony by Anita Shreve (305 pages). Avery Academy, a private boarding/day school in Vermont, is rocked by a scandal one winter. A videotape is given to the headmaster that shows 3 male students engaging in sexual activities with a female student. A female student who is only 14. The attempt to keep it an internal affair backfires and the lives of several people (students, teachers, parents, even the townsfolk) are forever altered. I finished it in 3 days (weekend, holiday, yada yada).

City of Women by David R Gillham (426 pages). Berlin in 1943 truly is a city of women. Most of the men are at war. Sigrid is living with her mother-in-law while her husband serves in the army. She becomes involved with a resistance group who is attempting to save anyone who is considered an enemy of Germany. On the surface, she seems like a model German citizen. But her affair with a Jewish man forever changes how she feels towards her country and other people. It was a good book. I finished it in 7 days.

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon (340 pages). In 1968, widowed Martha opens the door on a rainy night to find white, developmental disabled Lynnie and black, deaf Homan. They have escaped from the Pennsylvania School for the Incurable and Feebleminded. And they have a newborn baby girl in their arms. When officials from the school show up to take them back, Homan escapes while Lynnie uses the few words she knows to ask Martha to take care of her daughter. The novel covers the 43 intervening years- of Lynnie learning to communicate, of Martha and the baby creating a life, and of Homan making his way in the world without Beautiful Girl (Lynnie) and Little One. I was in tears by the end, absolute tears. It was a beautiful story about the humanity and goodness of people. I finished it in 7 days.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (285 pages). Despite the fact that i have read Phenomenal Woman, I had never read any of Angelou's other works. So decided to start with her first. Which turned out to be autobiographical (I had no idea). Maya and her older brother Bailey grow up primarily in Stamps, Arkansas, with their grandmother. They do spend some time in St Louis with their mother. But while there, their mother's boyfriend rapes 8 year old Maya.  So they are sent back to the relative safety of Stamps for a few years. Eventually they go to California to live with their mother (and sometimes their father). Maya experiences a lot, including living as a homeless girl (by choice) and getting pregnant (and still finishing high school) at 16. I finished it in 6 days.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Jazz Stories by F Scott Fitzgerald (411 pages). I don't think I've read a collection of short stories in several years prior to picking this up. It was rather enjoyable. There were 20 short stories in the collection. Some of them were fun, others sad, some very quirky and only a few were just not enjoyable. Oddly, Benjamin Button was NOT the first story in the book (the title would suppose otherwise). I finished it in 6 days.

Friday, June 30, 2017

I'm pretty proud of my June readings

I did pretty good this month.  Not necessarily a new personal best, but now that I am committed to reading at least 50 pages a day, I'm making some progress on emptying out the bookcase next to my bed.  All so that I can refill it with the massive list of books to buy that I keep on my iPhone.  What?  That's totally normal.  Right?  Anyway, this month I read 7 books at a total of 2,569 pages.  So let's get to it!

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez (290 pages).  Another historical fiction for this girl.  I always love it when I inadvertently pick up a book that turns out to be historical fiction- such a pleasant surprise.  With this one, the characters were fictional, the location was not.  Tawawa House was an antebellum resort in Ohio.  It stood out because Southern plantation owners would summer there.  Not with their families, but with their slave mistresses.  (Fact- this practice so disturbed the locals that the resort fell off in popularity and eventually became Wilberforce University, the oldest black college in the country.  And most likely some of the first students were the offspring of the slaves and masters who had summered there.)  Anyway, this story is about four slave women from different parts of the South who are at Tawawa House with their masters.  It goes into their back stories and covers the several summers they spend together.  Together in a free state, but without their children.  Children who are viewed as property rather than progeny by their masters/fathers.  I really found myself invested in the lives of the women, especially the main character Lizzie.  She is actually in love with her master, unlike some of the other women, and hopes that he will do right by his children.  I finished in 5 days.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (371 pages).  A-mazing!  I can't believe I am just now getting around to reading this.  It's the beautiful story of Amir and Hassan.  It begins in Afghanistan, which was a monarchy.  Amir, the son of a rich man, and Hassan, the son of Amir's family's servant, are inseparable growing up.  But when a shocking incident occurs when they are twelve, an incident that Amir does nothing to stop, it changes everything.  After that, the Russians invade and Amir and his father flee the country to America.  Decades later, after the Taliban has taken over Afghanistan, Amir is finally given the opportunity to atone for his guilt.  It was a heartachingly beautiful story of friendship, family, guilt, and forgiveness.  I finished it in 2 days (yay for pool time)

The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley (447 pages).  The novel starts in modern day England.  Julia Forrester, world famous concert pianist, is reeling from the loss of her husband and son in a car accident.  She returns home and visits Wharton Park, the beautiful manor house where she spend time as a child with her grandparents (they both worked at the house).  When Julia finds a diary at Wharton, she learns an amazing truth about the family that has always called the place home.  She ends up on a journey that takes her from England to France to Thailand.  And a journey that ultimate leads her to finding true love.  I found myself in tears several times.  And there were several amazing twists.  It was so good that I couldn't put it down most days and read way more pages each day than I usually do.  I finished it in 4 days. 

The Memory Thief by Rachel Keener (365 pages).  This book was the story of two women whose lives intersected.  Hannah, the daughter of Holy Roller missionaries, breaks out of her parents' control for a brief moment and her life is forever affected.  Angel, the daughter of redneck criminals, burns down her childhood home in an effort to escape her past.  Both women do everything in their power to free themselves from their pasts.  But it's only when their stories intertwine that they can figure out what the future might hold for each of them.  It tends to not be my favorite trope for a novel to jump between characters and timelines without a little clarification.  So this wasn't my favorite book of the month.  I finished it in 4 days (hoorah for traveling)

The Witness Wore Red by Rebecca Musser (332 pages).  When in doubt, give me historical fiction or something about polygamy.  Especially a real life story about polygamy!  This is the story of Rebecca Wall Jeffs Musser.  The 19th wife (out of over 60) of former FLDS prophet Rulon Jeffs and former "stepmother" of the infamous Warren Jeffs.  If anyone remembers the raid on the YFZ Ranch, that would be Warren's doing.  Rebecca was married off to the Prophet at age 19 (which to me, knowing what I have heard about some FLDS churches, seemed rather old.  Especially when she was referred to as a child bride.  But I digress.)  After 7 years of marriage (that included psychological abuse and unwanted sexual interactions), Rulon finally died at age 92 (yep, he was 85 when they wed) and Warren took over as Prophet.  Rather than continue to subject herself to the FLDS Principle, Rebecca escaped.  And eventually helped the FBI take down the YFZ Ranch and testified against Warren.  Her story was fascinating.  I can't imagine growing up in the FLDS world- it's legit bonkers!  I finished it in 5 days.

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova (561 pages)  Andrew Marlow is a psychiatrist and an artist.  When he gets a new patient, he is fascinated by the man's story.  Robert Oliver, a renowned painter, has been sent to a psychiatric hospital after attempting to attack Thomas Gilbert's painting Leda and the Swan at the National Gallery of Art.  Robert refuses to speak to Marlow after his first day.  So Marlow begins to search for answers on his own.  Those questions lead him to Robert's ex-wife, his ex-mistress, his work and his passion- a mysterious woman he can't help but paint.  A mysterious woman with whose story even Marlow becomes obsessed.  And eventually Marlow discovers why Robert attacked the painting.  I wish I'd had longer stretches of time to read bigger chunks of the book.  I really liked it.  The artistic non-artist in my loved the fact that the novel had so much description of paintings in it.  I finished it in 9 days.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (203 pages).  I remember this news story- body of a rich, white young man found in the wilds of Alaska and how he allegedly got there.  I was in high school, after all.  But this was more background than I knew.  I was torn between pity and almost anger towards Alex- his wanderlust and attitude of invincibility were a lethal combination.  But when you are so convinced of your abilities that you do not take the time to learn and prepare, what is to be expected?!  I finished it in 4 days, because I had to in order to finish this month!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

I MAY have gotten some good reading done this month.....

So this month was actually pretty good.  5 books.  A total of 2,204 pages.  I did better than my average this month .  So on to the recaps!

Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies (591 pages).  Another historical fiction for this reader!  This one was probably a little more fiction than historical, but I enjoyed it all the same.  Arabella Godwin is the daughter of a wealthy businessman in New York in the 1800's.  When her mother dies of consumption and her father immediately commits suicide, she and her younger brother are sent to live with family on a farm in upstate New York.  This proves to be a decision that sends Belle down a path on which she never imagined herself.  Between falling in love, being raped, and needing to save her brother from jail, Belle finds herself in the unfortunate position of having to become a prostitute.  But Belle had more gumption than most.  She eventually became a successful madam, both in New York and in San Francisco.  When her long-time lover, Charles Cora, is accused of murder, Belle tries everything to get him acquitted.  It doesn't work and she is left a widow.  Meanwhile, other characters from her past come back into her life.  She is able to create a new life for herself, even after being the notorious Belle Cora.  The book is told as a narrative, which made it very enjoyable.  And, in true NotSoPlainJane fashion, I did a little research on Belle to learn what was fact and what was fiction (at least in regards to this book).  I finished it in 7 days.

Cousin Bette by Honore de Balzac (462 pages).  I've had this classic on my shelf for years.  It's always baffling to me when I haven't read a classic just so that I can read some modern piece of crap (I'm looking at you, Fifty Shades).  Slowly but surely, I need to rectify that situation.  Maybe at least one classic a month?  Because the modern crap is a lot of fun!  Anyway, this one was just wow.  Sooo scandalous.  A little bit confusing too.  Cousin Bette lives in a misery of her own design.  She is jealous of her beautiful cousin, with her marriage to the Baron and her children.  So she decides to take advantage of the Baron's proclivity to cheat and encourages a beautiful neighbor Valerie to begin an affair with him.  Valerie, along with the mistresses of his past, drives the Baron into financial ruin.  Cousin Bette, when thwarted in her own passion for a young artist when he falls for her young cousin, encourages Valerie to go after him as well.  Basically it's a vengeance story the likes of which I have never seen.  Cousin Bette will not rest until her entire family is brought to ruin.  In the midst of it all, she tries for her own chance at happiness.  Turns out karma isn't kind.  No one truly turns out happy in this story except for the younger generation.  There was so much double crossing that I got rather confused by some of the connections.  There were also several titles assigned to each character, which is always confusing.  Other than that, it was an okay book.  I can see why it was banned.  For petes sake, Valerie is having affairs with four different men, all while trying to convince her husband that the baby she is about to have is his!  Scandalous for the time, to be sure!  I finished it in 6 days (yay for pool time)

Little Face by Sophie Hannah (310 pages).  Alice Fancourt is a new mom.  She, her husband David and their newborn Florence live with David's mother Vivienne and David's son Felix (Felix's mother had been murdered a few years prior) in Vivienne's home, the Elms.  Alice left Florence at home with David for the first time since giving birth.  When she returns home from her errands, she finds the front door open, her husband napping, and a strange child in her daughter's bed.  But for some reason, no one believes her when she says that the baby isn't Florence.  A week later, both Alice and Not Florence have disappeared.  As the detectives delve deeper into the case, they learn that things at the Elms, and those who are connected to the Elms, are not always what they appear.  The book got more and more fascinating as I read it (yay for flying).

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (311 pages).  I decided I wanted to read this book when they started showing previews for it on Hulu.  But I have so many books at my house that I was going to hold off buying it.  But when you are in Nashville and get the opportunity to shop at a local bookstore, you buy the book!  The story takes place some time in the future in the new nation of Gilead.  The world is very different now.  In some ways, it's more puritanical.  In others, it's not.  Women are divided into groups- the Wives (in blue), the Daughters (in white), the domestic Marthas (in green), the Aunts (in brown), the poorer women (in multi-colored) and the Handmaids (in red).  Handmaids have one purpose- to provide a child to a childless couple.  By having sex with the husband (while laying between the Wife's legs).  Creepy.  Our narrator, Offred (literally the handmaid Of Commander Fred), isn't really content with the way life is.  She remembers life before Gilead.  She thinks about her past (her husband and daughter).  She thinks about her future (if she can't have a child, she will be sent off to the Colonies). And she worries about her present.  Her Commander wants more than just a once a month interaction for the sole purpose of siring a child.  Meanwhile, the Wife is so desperate for a child that she convinces Offred to begin an affair with Nick, the chauffeur.  She becomes friends with one of the other Handmaids, who is involved with an underground resistance.  It was a fascinating book.  And I really wish I had Hulu because I would love to watch the show!  I finished it in 3 days (yay for layovers).

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (530 pages).  This one is hard to describe.  It takes place before, during and after World War II.  Marie-Laure is a blind 12 year old living in Paris with her father when the war breaks out.  They are sent to Saint-Malo with what might be the most famous jewel from the museum where her father had been employed.  Werner is a teenaged orphan living with his sister in Germany.  He is extremely gifted with radios and other electronics.  During the war, their paths, briefly, intersect.  But the war rages on.  At first it was a little too much bouncing around between the characters' stories and the different decades.  Once I got into the flow of the novel, and the true meat of the story, it won me over.  I finished it in 6 days (yep, pool time strikes again).

Sunday, April 30, 2017

April showers got my last book of the month finished!

Despite the fact that I didn't get quite as much pool time this month as I would've liked (only 4 days over 2 weekend), I still managed to get some good reading done. It certainly helped that the last day of the month was rainy, so I could just switch my poolside reading indoors. I finished 6 books at 2,191 pages.

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian (305 pages). Another author I've always enjoyed. This one was different than his typical novel,  it just as enjoyable. In 1955, Francesca Rosita is the last of her immediate family to die. Her husband and two children were killed in 1944 during WWII. But she's the first of her extended family to be murdered and have her heart removed from her chest. At first, the murder seems, while clearly vindictive, aimed solely at Francesca. But when her mother in law, Beatrice, is also killed in the same way, detectives Serafina and Paulo quickly realize someone has a vendetta against the surviving Rositas. Serafina remembers her connection to the Rosita family- she was a young partisan during the war and their property saved her life. The story told during 1944 is so horrific- the atrocities the Rositas had already faced were devastating. But who hates them so much that they won't simply leave them alone with their memories and their suffering?  Serafina rushes to learn the truth before the entire family is wiped out. I couldn't put it down. I finished it in two days (yes, it's pool time again!)

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain (522 pages). In 1977, 16 year old CeeCee falls head over heels in love with 22 year old Tim Gleason. When Tim asks her to help him and his brother kidnap the governor's wife so that their sister's death sentence can be commuted, she agrees. But their "well-laid" plans completely fall apart when the wife dies, leaving behind a newborn baby girl. A baby girl that CeeCee I now solely responsible for. She starts a new life, with a new name. But running through the back of her mind at all times is, will she get caught. When Tim is eventually charged with, and convicted of, the murder of the governor's wife, CeeCee has to decide whether to let him take the fall for her or tell the truth about what happened that night. It was a GREAT novel!!  I finished it in 10 days.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (359 pages).  Sarah Grimke is 11 years old when her parents "gift" her with her own ladies' maid, Hetty (aka Handful). Even at a young age, Sarah knows she's different than other girls and even different than her family. She hates slavery and everything it stands for. She has ambitions and desires. Eventually, she realizes that she doesn't fit into Charleston society and makes her way to Philadelphia. There, she becomes a Quaker. And eventually her younger sister Nina joins her. Together, they become famous (and infamous) abolitionists. Meanwhile, Handful is facing her own battles. She has never allowed herself to be a slave in her own mind and she is willing to do whatever it takes to free her body from slavery as well. The two women remain friends and confidantes, no matter the distance. I had NO idea that Sarah Grimke was a real person until I picked up this novel. She was one of the first famous abolitionists. Literally, she paved the way for many of the famous abolitionists who came later. She spoke out for rights for slaves AND for women. She was quite a woman!  I finished it in 3 days (hurrah for pool time!)

Jane Slayre by Charlotte Bronte & Sherri Browning Erwin (391 pages). Yep, this book was exactly what the title implied- a combination of Jane Eyre and a vampire slayer. As Jane Eyre is a great favorite of mine, I thought this would be fun. And it was!  The Reeds are vampyres, the Lowood Institution creates zombies, the first Mrs Rochester is a werewolf, and Jane herself, as her last name implies, is a Slayre. It runs in her blood. The writing was very true to Bronte (honestly, Erwin simply changed a few things to make it a monster novel). Not everyone likes this type of novel. But if you do like a classic novel with a vampire twist, this one's great. As good as Pride & Prejudice & Zombies or The Last American Vampire, in my opinion!  I finished it in 6 days.

The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke (292 pages). I wanted a little classic chick lit. And this one was GREAT!  Kate is 35, about to get married and has a slight Facebook addiction. She spends a little too much time crafting the perfect picture and status every time she posts. She obsesses about her Facebook friends' lives and how her own measures up. At her rehearsal dinner, her fiancé Max decides to tell her that he cannot marry her. Because he is in love with her coworker and good friend. Kate is justifiably devastated. But when she goes on Facebook to bemoan her situation, she realizes that her status updates become true. When given the opportunity to go back and change everything, can you really change it?  For a chick lit book, this one really made me think. No one's Facebook status is a full picture of their life. And have we become so dependent on technology that we have forgotten how to interact with actual people?  Expect more in person interaction from me after reading this. I can't promise there will be less Facebooking though.  I finished it in 6 days.

The Killing Tree by Rachel Keener (322 pages). Mercy Heron has never left Crooked Top Mountain. And even though she has dreams, deep down she knows she never will. Her overly religious grandfather and slightly eccentric grandmother have raised her since her young mother died giving birth to her under a tree. The summer after she graduates from high school, everything changes. Mercy meets Trout, a mater migrant who opens her heart to the world. As Mercy becomes more aware of herself and her family, she becomes more of the woman she was always meant to be. I enjoyed it, even though there were some parts I found myself a little confused by. I finished it in 4 days. Because I had to (there were only 4 days left in the month!)

Friday, March 31, 2017

March is done. Here are my readings

This month, I did a great job of sticking to my resolution to read at least 50 pages a day. So this month, it was 4 books, totally 1,663 pages. And an interesting mixture of genres this time. Despite only reading 4 books.....

Fly Away by Kristin Hannah (400 pages). I've read one book by this author before (shocking when I realize how many books she's written). So I was excited to add another one to the list. Not sure I was excited by the time I finished it. The story bounces back and forth between 2010 and the past. Tully and Katie have been best friends since they were young. When Katie dies, she asks Tully to watch out for her husband and kids. The bad news is that Tully can barely watch out for herself. The family shatters at the death of Katie. But when another tragedy strikes, they find themselves inexplicably coming back together. It took me quite a while to get into the rhythm of the book. As a result, I wasn't the biggest fan. It took me eight days to read.

Life Mask by Emma Donoghue (639 pages). Another very fictional historical fiction. Which is usually a hit with me. This one takes place in London, from 1787 to 1797. Eliza Farren is a famous actress who has long been wooed by Lord Derby, he of horse race fame. As long as Derby's wife is alive, Eliza refuses to allow their courtship to advance beyond friendship. But Derby is hellbent on having her in his world. To that end, he introduces to her many of his friends, including Anne Damer, a widow and a sculptress.   Anne had long had Sapphic rumors swirling around her. Rumors she adamantly denied.   Which made her friendship with Eliza quite scandalous. But after 16 years of courtship, Derby's wife finally dies, freeing him to marry Eliza. And Anne realizes that sometimes rumors are frequently true. Amongst the cast of characters, there was also a world of political upheaval occurring. The author herself stated it's the slowest paced of all of her novels. This was my third one by her, but I have to agree. If I weren't the type who finishes a book no matter what, I might have stopped after day one. Which would've been my loss, as all of this history was fascinating!  It took me twelve days to read.

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious (372 pages). I recently started the Gilmore Guys podcast while traveling for work.  They were discussing obscure references in one of the episodes and Peyton Place came up. So I decided to give it a read. I'm pretty sure the reference was to the tv show from the 1960's, and not the book from the 1950's, but ultimately it's the same thing. This book was super scandalous when it first came out. Like 50 Shade of Gray levels of scandalous!  Not, however, 50 Shades levels of insanity in the story. The book opens in 1937 in the bucolic seeming Peyton Place, New England. But just like every idyllic small town, this one has so many scandals. Incest, illegitimate children, affairs, suicides, crises of faith, secrets, lies, murder, you name it and it's happening in this town. I couldn't put it down. Amusingly, not as salacious  in today's society as it was in the 1950's. But definitely a page turner.  I was reading it while I was getting my nails done. When the nail tech asked what I was reading and I told her, the older woman next to me perked up a little bit at the title. She'd watched it in the 1960's and acknowledged how risqué it was at the time. It took me five days to read.

Chocolates for Breakfast by Pamela Moore (252 pages). I literally picked this book because I knew I needed a 250 page book to finish out the month. And shockingly it was another scandalous book from the 1950's. Clearly an inadvertent, but enjoyable, theme this month. The story opens with 15 year old Courtney, who is at boarding school on the East Coast because her divorced parents aren't sure what else to do with her. Her mother is an actress in Hollywood. Her father is an executive in New York. But Courtney is her own person. She develops a slight crush on one of her (female) teachers.  She leaves school and moves to Hollywood, where she loses her virginity to a bisexual actor who is over a decade older than her. Eventually, she and her mother move to New York, where she is reunited with her wild child boarding school roommate, Janet, a fixture on the young New York party scene. Eventually a tragedy causes Courtney to reevaluate her life and her desires. The book was pretty good (I've read better). But then I googled the author. She was 18 when this book was published. And it was a best seller!  She delved into great detail of young adult sexuality and hedonism in a most shocking way. It was sad to me that she committed suicide at 26, 9 months after giving birth. Makes me wonder if she could have survived if postpartum were acknowledged then like it is now. It took me five days to read, just as anticipated.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Fabulous February

This month was very successful. I finished 5 books at 1696 pages. Not too shabby!  So here we go

The Fifth Mountain by Paulo Coelho (245 pages). This is my seventh Coelho novel. And so far, I haven't experienced a bad one.  I have always thought of Coelho as more of a spiritual author than a religious one, but religion does play an important role in almost all of his writing. For anyone who knows their Bible, they know the story of Elijah. After he told Ahab and Jezebel that no rain would fall while the land worshipped Baal, he flees to the brook, where ravens keep him fed. The LORD then tells Elijah to go to Zarephath, where a widow woman will care for him.  After three years of drought, Elijah returns to confront Ahab. This story covers those three years with the widow woman (obviously it does go into the background that leads him to Zarephath). According to the widow, who was not a Christian, Baal and the other gods lived on the Fifth Mountain (hence the name of the book). While Coelho liberally uses verses from the Bible, the rest of the story isn't even remotely Biblical. Kind of like The Red Tent. Sure, it's based on a story from the Bible. But it's so loosely based.  To the point that I found myself a little sad that Elijah's story was so changed. And his faith so weak. This might have been the first Coelho novel that I wasn't a super fan of. His writing is still phenomenal. But the story bothered me. It took 5 days to read.

The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon (319 pages). The story centers around the Tower Motel in London, Vermont. It covers three generations of a family and their friends. In the 19060's, sisters Sylvie and Rose are nothing alike. Their family runs the Tower Motel, which is quickly falling into disrepair now that the new highway has taken most of the traffic away. Rose is convinced that her sister has a big secret. Little does Rose know that she herself is the one with the secret. In the 1980's, Rose's granddaughter Amy and her friends, sisters Piper and Margot, investigate some of the secrets of the Motel. What they learn drives a wedge between the friends. In 2013, Piper comes home to London when Margot tells her that Amy killed her husband, son and self, leaving only her daughter Lou alive. But Amy left a cryptic note for the sisters. As Piper starts investigating what really happens, she uncovers a secret about Amy's family that changes everything. The book was AMAZING!  Dark, scary, intriguing. I absolutely loved it!  It took 6 days to read.

The Shining by Stephen King (659 pages). Seemed like a natural progression- one creepy hotel into another. I've seen two movie versions of this book. Stanley Kubrick's (which King apparently didn't like) and a made for tv (which King did like, probably because he penned the screenplay). So I was excited to finally read the book. Creepy. That's the only word I can think of to describe the book. I knew it was going to be creepy before I picked it up. My mom commented that when she read it, she hide in the corner of the den, as far away from the windows as she could get!  In the book, Danny is only 5. He's very precocious, thanks to the shining. His dad is just a normal guy with a major alcohol problem.  And his mom is NOT Shelley Duvall. She's a little more plucky than that!  There are no twins. There is no maze. There was no "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" or "here's Johnny". Tony doesn't speak through Danny. He just speaks to Danny. Heck, the ending isn't even the same. Which is a little weird to me.  But the Overlook itself was all the craziness that I wanted it to be. It was literally its own entity, taking over Jack's mind and driving him to a desperate attack on his family. The made for TV movie was much more faithful to the book, just as an FYI. I definitely see why King wasn't thrilled with Kubrick's version, however amazing and creepy that version was. It took 10 days to read (yes, I read more than 50 pages a day again).

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg (347 pages). I knew I had 7 days left in February, so needed to find a 350 page book. This one was perfect!  The book is basically two stories- that of Sookie, a 59 year old married mother of 4 in Alabama, and of Fritzi, a young WASP during the War from Wisconsin. Skokie finds out some family history that completely changes her life. Fritzi, on the other hand, lived a fantastical life. She was a wing walker and pilot, ran her father's Phillips 66 with only her three sisters during the War (hence the nationally famous All Girls Filling Station), and lived an extraordinary life. The family connections were strong in this book. And the history lesson about the WASPs, the all female pilots who ferried planes during the War, was amazing. What made this book even more amazing for me is that we have a family friend who was a WASP. To know what she did- training pilots, ferrying planes, all to help the War effort. And then to have their efforts be stricken from the history books. To not be given the GI bill benefits. To not be given veteran's benefits to the families of the 39 women who died. Heartbreaking. Heartbreaking and awe inspiring. I finished the book in only 5 days (I planned poorly).

Forest Acres by Warner M. Montgomery, Ph.D (126 pages). Only two days left in the month and I didn't want to start a long book. I've had this on the shelf for years. As someone who grew up FA adjacent, but has been living in FA proper for nearly 15 years, I thought it was high time to read a little about my town's history. It was a ridiculously easy read- not a lot of reading, a LOT of photos!  I found it quite interesting that my high school and my town are both connected to the James H Hammond family. Just not the same James H. It was so interesting to learn about my town, and to see some of the things I remember. I read it over 2 days. So boom- month done!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New year, new readings

I made a  New Years Eve resolution to read at least 50 pages a day, every day. I stuck to it, and actually did better than planned. 5 books and 2064 pages. Good job me!  So let's get to it.

Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue (334 pages). A slammerkin is an old word, used to define a loose gown or a loose woman. I was eager to learn which one the author was referencing, as it seems like the protagonist, a prostitute, also was a bit of a clothes horse. It's the late 1700's in London. Mary Saunders is 14 when she falls in love. With a red ribbon. The peddler takes advantage of Mary's innocence and she soon finds herself pregnant. When her mother kicks her out, she befriends Doll, a local prostitute, and quickly learns to make her way in Doll's world. She becomes infatuated with the colorful clothes and immune to the touch of a man. But after a few months in the Magdalen, a reformation home from prostitutes, she returns to a world she doesn't want anymore. So she escapes to her mother's hometown of Monmouth, where she goes to work for the Jones, her mother's childhood best friend. She becomes a respectable maid/apprentice seamstress. She becomes engaged. But you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Mary's true, darker nature comes out when she realizes how badly she wants to return to London, but as a wealthy lady this time. So she goes back to her old "job."  And here's where fiction becomes fact- Mary murders Mrs. Jones. And is hanged for her crime.  I liked this book more than I thought I would, but less than I wanted to. I'm not even sure that makes sense. It took me 7 days to read (only five days of actual reading time)

Beach Music by Pat Conroy (628 pages). I've yet to read a Conroy that I didn't enjoy. Which always makes me scared to read another one. Even my favorite authors have made (at least to me) an occasional misstep. And I'm always worried that the next Conroy I pick up is going to be the bad one. Fortunately, this one wasn't the bad one!  Jack McCall left Charleston in his rear view when his wife committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. He took their daughter and fled to Rome. For five years, he had almost no contact with the South. Then, his old life tracked him down. In the form of his sister in law, his best friends, and his family. Suddenly, he must return home to South Carolina and face years of secrets that have long been buried. Betrayals, deaths, the Vietnam War, love and loss all come crashing back as four former best friends try to come to terms with the paths their lives have gone down.  I laughed, I cried.  Darn you, Pat Conroy. Darn you and your literary acumen. I decided that I needed to stick to my (jokingly made) New Years resolution of reading at least 50 pages a day. So it took me 12 days to read this one.

Palisades Park by Alan Brennert (416 pages). Each and every time I picked up this book to begin my daily reading, I found myself singing. If you don't know the 1962 song of the same title, do yourself a favor and give it a listen. "You'll never know how great a kiss can feel when you stop at the top of a Ferris wheel, when I fell in love, down at Palisades Park." Anyway, back to the book. It was actually a lot more historical fiction than I realized it would be (which never bothers this reader in the slightest!). It opens in 1922 in New Jersey. Eleven year old Eddie Stopka and his family go to Palisades Park, for the first and only time in his young life. And, as expected, he has the best time he's ever had- a saltwater wave pool, rides, food, everything a young boy would love!  Fast forward eight years. Eddie has returned to New Jersey, after several years on the carnival circuit. He finds a new life working at the Park- a new job, a new home, even a wife. He and Adele work concessions and have two children, Antoinette and Jack. The family experiences so much- WWII, new owners of the Park, a fire that wipes out the Park, segregation at the saltwater pool, the Korean War, love, loss, you name it. While spending time in the family's French fry stand, Toni watches the acts that come through the Park and has dreams of becoming a high diver. Each family member has their own dreams- Eddie wants to open a tiki bar in New Jersey (so the locals can get a taste of Hawaii), Adele wants to be on the stage, and Jack wants to be a comic book illustrator. But can ever member of the family happily live their dream without sacrificing something?  I really enjoyed the story- mixing fictional characters (the Stopkas) in with real ones (most of the others) and real places is always a great read to me!  It took me 5 days to read (for those math geniuses, yes, I averaged more than 50 pages a day on this one)

The Swan House by Elizabeth Musser (442 pages). A few years ago, I took a girls' trip to Atlanta. And we paid a visit to the Swan House (or President Snow's House, for fans of the Hunger Games movies). It's such a beautiful home!  So I decided to give the book a read. The back of the book gave no indication that the story was taking place in 1962. Mary Swan Middleton has just finished her sophomore year in high school. Everything in her life seems to be perfect- she lives in Buckhead with her loving parents and little brother, she has been chosen for a prestigious honor at her prep school- to be the Raven and solve a dare handed down by the senior girls. Then, the Orly Crash of Air France Flight 007 occurs (look it up, it's real. And heartbreaking). While both of the Middletons were booked on the flight, JJ decided he should take a later flight. But nonetheless, Swannee's life turns upside down over night. She also comes face to face, literally, with the racial divide in the city she loves. A racial divide of which she had been completely unaware.  She also works on solving the Raven Dare, which happens to be a mystery involving a painting of her mother's that had disappeared a year before the crash. Turns out the story is also a Christian lit book. Which aren't always my favorites. This one was much better than most. The story was poignant- love, death, tears, awareness, grief, faith.  I found myself in tears at multiple times, both tears of overwhelming sadness and of great joy. Sadly, this book also made me keenly aware of how our education system has changed (and failed). Swannee and her friends can quote poems that they actually LEARNED in school. And they know about art work and history. I'm going to guess most of today's rising juniors barely know what poetry is.  It took me 6 days to finish the book (yes, again, more than 50 pages a day).

My Antonia by Willa Cather (244 pages). I am slightly embarrassed that, as an English major, I had never read this book. It's the story of a young Bohemian girl named Antonia who finds herself and her family in Nebraska in the (presumably) 1800's.  She quickly befriends her nearest neighbor, Jim. Antonia's family lives through some tough times. Eventually Antonia moves into town and finds new friends. But Jim is always dear to her. And Jim remains in love with Antonia throughout the years. He goes away to college and eventually becomes a lawyer in New York. But Antonia is always in the back of his mind. When he finally goes through Nebraska and stops to see Antonia, he finds her happy, with a large family, and still the same girl he's always loved. It was a beautiful book. I'm so glad I read it, even if it should've been read long ago!  I'm not really sure what I expected this book to be. But I really liked it. The characters were colorful and full. It took me 4 days to finish. And I finished it on the last day of the month!