The Girl Who Loved Dorothy the Most by Andrew Scott Turner

51EFnmcrWeL._SY400_The Girl Who Loved Dorothy the Most

by Andrew Scott Turner

I will confess, first that I “know” Andrew Turner – at least on Facebook.  I don’t even remember how we connected, but for a couple of years now I’ve been continually moved by what he writes, both on Facebook and on his blog, Six Theories.

I will also confess that I’m not a huge fan of poetry.  I can appreciate the artistry of it, but it’s not typically a genre I’m drawn to.

So, what did I think of a collection of poems written by a guy whose writing I love?  In a word (or three): I loved it.

Deeply personal and contemplative, Andrew Turner taps into his own experiences and observations, and puts them into words that resonate with the human condition.  The sparse prose of this gorgeous little book touches on grief and longing, love, hope, and melancholy.  What comes through most of all is his devotion to his family.  This man has a way with words.

I hope he writes more, because I’ll read anything he writes.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

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by Paulette Jiles

Whew!  I’m finishing up January with my seventh book read.  I’m on a roll!

News of the World tells the story of Captain Jefferson Kidd, a veteran of the Civil War.  Captain Kidd is somewhat of a loner, a grouchy old widower who is still plagued by memories of war, who prefers solitude to the company of people.  However, to make a living, he travels from town to town reading from newspapers to paying audiences.

During his travels, he crosses paths with a representative of the U.S. army who has in his custody a ten-year-old white girl recently recovered from the Kiowa Indian band that killed her family and captured her.  Captain Kidd is offered $50 to take the girl and return her to her relatives in Texas, an offer he grudgingly accepts.

Young Johanna has been so completely assimilated into her Kiowa family that she believes herself to be Kiowa.  She has forgotten her biological family, her native language, and all of the white people customs she was ripped away from as a young child.

Over their 400-mile trek to Texas, Joanna gradually learns to trust Captain Kidd, whom she begins to address as “Grandfather” in Kiowa.  For his part, Captain Kidd grows attached to and protective of this wild orphan girl.

When Johanna is finally reunited with her aunt and uncle in Texas, she is bewildered at being left by Captain Kidd, and her aunt and uncle are not exactly thrilled to have her thrust upon them.  With many reservations, Captain Kidd does leave Johanna with them; what choice does he have?  He was paid to carry out a task, and the duty must be fulfilled.  Besides, the cold, stern German couple are Johanna’s next of kin.

What follows, you will have to read the book and find out for yourself.

I really enjoyed this novel.  By turns tender and harrowing, it’s a fascinating portrait of a child captured by Indians who became completely assimilated into the tribe and forever considered herself Indian.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

1jlegv-so-9The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

by Gabrielle Zevin

A.J. Fikry is trying to drink himself to death – or at least drink himself comfortably numb.  His beloved wife died in a car accident not too long ago, and the bookstore they opened together in a small east coast island town is failing.  When things seem like they can’t possibly get any worse, an extremely rare and valuable collection of poems by Edgar Allen Poe that served as A.J.’s nest egg is stolen.

Soon after, A.J. makes a strange and wholly unexpected discovery: a baby has been left in his bookstore.  Accompanying the two-year-old girl, Maya, is a diaper bag and a note from her mother imploring A.J. to care for her, as she is unable to care for the babe any longer.  A.J. knows nothing about babies, nor is he particularly fond of babies or children, or even people for that matter (he’s kind of an asshole, but we forgive him because who wouldn’t be an asshole having been through what he’s been through?).  A search for the child’s mother is undertaken, but it’s short-lived, as she is soon found dead of an apparent suicide.  When it is time to turn Maya over to the authorities so that she can enter the foster system, A.J. can’t bring himself to turn her loose; he has quickly become attached and feels responsible for the girl.

As you would imagine, A.J.’s life begins to turn around when Maya enters his life, and what ensues is the sweet evolution of a deep father-daughter bond.  A.J. also pursues Amy, a sales rep for a small publishing company who once arrived at the bookstore, before Maya’s appearance, to pitch the winter book releases to him and was insulted and driven out by a rude and curmudgeonly A.J. in short order.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a very enjoyable book about loss, starting over, and the love of books.  I think it tries to be profound at times but doesn’t quite get there, but all in all a good read.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

28815371The Mothers

by Brit Bennett

This debut novel really got under my skin, and for days I’ve been trying to formulate a review that does it justice, and I’m still not sure I can.

Set in a black community in San Diego, California, the central character is Nadia Turner, who, at the beginning of the story is a seventeen-year-old high school senior whose life has recently been shattered by her mother’s violent suicide – which nobody saw coming.  Nadia’s father, a retired Marine, has retreated into quiet grief, and Nadia, in her own grief, becomes a wild girl who the rest of the parishioners at Upper Room Chapel whisper about.  Nadia enters a brief relationship with the reverend’s son, twenty-one-year old Luke Sheppard, whose ambitions to play pro football were dashed by a serious injury.  An unplanned pregnancy results, and the choice that is made, and how exactly that choice is handled by both Luke and Nadia, reverberates out into their close-knit community, and into their adult lives.  That summer – the summer Nadia quietly has an abortion, the summer before she is set to head off to college in Chicago on an academic scholarship – she finds unexpected solace in her blossoming friendship with Aubrey, a quiet, pious girl her age.  The two girls are opposite in almost every way, but they both throw themselves into a friendship that will bind them for many years.

The book’s title refers to a small group of elderly women, also from the Upper Room Chapel congregation, who collect all the prayer requests and meet regularly to pray together.  These women are the eyes and ears of this little community, and the story is narrated by them.  But more than them, the title refers to mothers who leave, mothers who stay, mothers who choose not to be mothers, and all the ways community members mother one another.

Bennett has created a vivid community, and Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are complex, none of them all good or all bad. I will say that I deeply hope that nobody reads this book and takes it as a cautionary tale about abortion, because I don’t think that’s the intent at all.  It’s neither a condemnation nor an endorsement of abortion, but rather an extremely intelligent and deeply felt story about loss, grief, family ties, community ties, ambition, and how the choices we make when we’re young can follow us in good and bad ways.

I really enjoyed this book; I think I’ll be thinking about it for a long time to come.

 

The Best Books I Read in 2016

Sadly, I read fewer books in 2016 than in years past, and I did not meet my Goodreads challenge of 45 books for 2016.  I took up knitting a little over a year ago, and it’s a pastime that has definitely cut into my reading.  However, because of knitting, I listened to more audiobooks (13) this past year than ever before.  Still, I read/listened to a total of 33 books in 2016, which isn’t too shabby.

Here’s a rundown of my faves:

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The Life We Bury by Allen Eskins: a restrained, quietly told story about a college student trying to escape family dysfunction, a dying Vietnam vet convicted of a heinous crime, and an unlikely friendship.  Suspenseful and moving.  Read my review in its entirety here.

 

 

 

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In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick: historical non-fiction that reads like a novel as only Philbrick can deliver it.  This book centers around the whaling industry and way of life for early nineteenth-century Nantucketers, and specifically the destruction of the whaleship Essex and the survival at sea of its crew.  Better than the movie; a stand-out adventure/survival story.  Read my review in its entirety here.

 

 

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Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling): in this latest installment of the Cormoran Strike crime novels, Det. Cormoran Strike’s trusty assistant is mailed a human leg, setting the duo on a harrowing hunt for a killer.  The characters of Robin and Cormoran continue to develop, as does the complicated relationship between them.  Each novel in this ongoing series gets better; I’m eagerly awaiting the next one.  Read my review in its entirety here.

 

 

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The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena: a riveting psychological thriller of the caliber of The Girl On the Train and Gone Girl, this suspenseful novel centers around a young couple who leave their baby unattended and every parent’s worst nightmare becomes a reality: their baby disappears.  Lots of twists and turns that keep the reader on the edge of her seat.  Read my review in its entirety here.

 

 

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Women Beyond Belief by Karen Garst: an anthology of personal essays written by women from all backgrounds and walks of life who have left religion in favor of personal discovery and liberation.  This book is a study of how religion has always, and continues to subjugate and oppress women and girls.  If I could get everyone I know – male and female alike – to read this book, I would.  Read my review in its entirety here.

 

 

For what it’s worth, the worst book 911Xmhn9+rLI read in 2016 was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  As a devoted but late-blooming Harry Potter fan, I despised this book with the heat of a thousand suns.  I reviewed it here.

I’m going to challenge myself to read 35 books in 2017.  Read with me!

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

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My Name is Lucy Barton

by Elizabeth Strout

Ack.  This is one of those books that I just didn’t get.  Apparently, it’s longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and named one of the best books of the year by all sorts of prestigious publications.  I didn’t feel it.

The story is told in the first person.  Lucy Barton, now past her prime, recounts a time many years ago when she was a young mother and became very ill and spent nine weeks in the hospital.  During that time, her mother, from whom she had been estranged for many years, comes to visit her and stays for five days and nights, sitting at Lucy’s bedside.  During those five days and nights, mother and daughter warily try to heal old wounds, without actually facing them head on.  Lucy also revisits scenes from her childhood, many of which were painful (there is a scene in which she was repeatedly locked in a truck for hours by her parents when she was very small, that was quite unsettling).  Lucy comes to understand her mother perhaps a little better (though her mother is stubbornly enigmatic and closed off), and perhaps herself a little better, but there really is never any resolution, and her mother ends her visit as suddenly as she showed up.

I think what bugged me is that Lucy very much seems like a victim, and she never really rises above that.  She reverts to behaving like a little girl in her mother’s presence and is never able to stand up to her mother.  I’m drawn to stories about fraught mother-daughter relationships because they often resonate with me, but this one fell a little flat.  I finished the story wondering “What was the point of that?”

Elizabeth Strout is a gifted novelist, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

Barkskins by Annie Proulx

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by Annie Proulx

Best known for having written Brokeback Mountain, Proulx has now written an epic novel spanning several hundred years.  In a nutshell, it is about the deforestation of North America (and secondarily, the destruction of forest land in Europe and New Zealand, and of the rain forests of South America).  But of course, it is about more than that.

The novel opens in the seventeenth century with two young and illiterate Frenchmen, Rene Sel and Charles Duquet, following a feudal lord through the vast, dense, and seemingly infinite forest of “New France” (Canada).  Sel and Duquet are indentured servants, charged with the hard labor of cutting down trees for their cruel seigneur for three years in exchange for small plots of land they can call their own.  Duquet is wily, however, and soon runs away and becomes a fur trader.  Ever ambitious and determined, he eventually marries well and sets up a timber business.  Meanwhile, Sel is forced by his seigneur to marry an Indian woman, for whom he actually develops a genuine affection.

Over the course of the next three hundred years, the lives of Rene Sel’s and Charles Duquet’s descendants intersect and diverge.  Meanwhile, both families’ lives are dependent in one way or another on the forests, and the forests diminish by degrees until the modern day when the world is in a state of ecological crisis.

Not only is this a story of disappearing trees and the impact on the earth, but it’s also a story of adventure, violence, endurance, greed, family, and cultural annihilation.

It’s a hefty tome, but well worth the read.

 

 

 

Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf

51e0beCjILLOur Souls At Night

by Kent Haruf

One spring evening, Addie Moore makes a surprise visit to Louis Waters.  She is a seventy-year old widow who has been alone for twenty years; he is around the same age, and also a widower of many years.  Addie and Louis have been neighbors for over forty years, although they’ve never known each other very well.  But on this particular May evening, Addie makes a proposal to Louis –

“I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me,” she asks him.

Louis, of course, is taken by surprise and is not sure what to say.  Finally, he agrees to think about it.  Gathering his nerve, he goes to Addie’s house the following evening.  And so begins a tender budding relationship.  It wasn’t about sex – sex isn’t even what either of them was after.  It was about having suffered loneliness for far too long – and loneliness is always worse at night.  Addie’s and Louis’s sleeping together was about companionship, about not being alone.

Their first few nights together are hesitant and tentative, but as they lie in the dark together talking and getting to know one another, sharing old sorrows and regrets and hopes, they grow more at ease with each other, and an intimate friendship and affection takes root.

In the small town of Holt, Colorado, the fictional setting of all of Kent Haruf’s novels, word gets around quickly that Louis is visiting Addie at night.  Some of the townspeople disapprove, and some approve wholeheartedly.  Complicating matters further, Addie’s son Gene, who is in an unstable marriage of his own, dumps his six-year old son on Addie for the summer.  Addie adores her grandson, and Louis and the young boy become quite attached to each other over the summer as well.  But when Gene discovers the relationship between Louis and Addie – which has grown past the point of furtive nighttime visits, and into a friendship that is carried on in broad daylight, and which is teetering on the precipice of romantic love – he is determined to put a stop to it.

Like all of Haruf’s other novels, Our Souls At Night is short in pages but long in heart.  This is a very poignant and tender story of loneliness, loss, and second chances.  I can’t say that I found the ending satisfying, but the story overall is a jewel.  It’s certainly worth the read in its own right, but especially if you’re a Kent Haruf fan, it’s a must read.  I was very sad to learn that Mr. Haruf died, and that I’ve now read everything he will ever write.

The Best Books I Read In 2015

I had a goal of reading 50 books in 2015, and fell short by 5 books, but I still consider that a great year of reading.  I rated a lot of books with 4 and 5 stars on Goodreads, but I’m going to narrow it down here to the books I read in 2015 that especially stood out:

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 1.53.20 PMLonesome Dove: A Novel by Larry McMurtry – I re-read this after about 20 years, thereby confirming that it’s the best book I’ve ever read in my life.  An epic tale of a cattle drive from Texas to Montana in the later part of the nineteenth century, Lonesome Dove is about life, love, loss, friendship, loyalty, adventure, good guys, bad guys, and the harsh beauty of life.  I remain utterly in love with this story.  This fall, I received a Fed-Ex package.  Inside was a first edition hard cover of Lonesome Dove which my husband had procured and sent to Larry McMurtry with a heartfelt note explaining what the book means to his wife, and Mr. McMurtry signed the book and sent it on to me.  A gift I will treasure always.

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This Is How: Surviving What You Think You Can’t by Augusten Burroughs – If ever there was an instruction manual for life, this is it.  Told in Burroughs’s witty, no-bullshit style, he offers advice on everything from dealing with shitty people to overcoming trauma, to accepting our limitations and being okay with them.  I’m not a fan of inspirational self-help books, but this one stands apart – probably because it’s not inspirational, just the damn truth.

 

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Why There Is No God: Simple Responses to 20 Common Arguments for the Existence of God by Armin Navabi – Straightforward, well written responses to the most common arguments for the existence of God.  Obviously not up everyone’s alley, but a must read for anyone interested in looking at both sides of the God debate.  Leaves one wondering how it is that any rational person can cling to such archaic myths.

 

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Benediction

by Kent Haruf – a beautiful novel about living and dying.  I love everything by Kent Haruf.

 

 

 

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Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray – written by a Boston professor, this non-fiction deconstructs conventional wisdom about schooling children and makes a strong, research-based case for child-directed, play-based learning.  This book turned a lot of my ingrained beliefs about school and how children best learn upside down, and has challenged me to approach homeschooling in different ways than I ever thought I would.

 

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To Be a Slave by Julius Lester – A collection of interviews with the last of the living former slaves, conducted in the 1930s by the Federal Writing Project, this book, more than any other I’ve read about slavery, depicts the heinous crimes committed against black people by America for hundreds of years.  Although aimed at middle-school aged children, this book is entirely appropriate for anyone in that age group through adulthood.  This should be required reading by every American.

 

 

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The Second Shift by Arlie Hochschild – An examination of dual-income couples and the fact that women, even when holding full-time jobs, carry the burden of housework and childcare.  Written 30 years ago, unfortunately, not much has changed.

 

 

 

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Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation by Vicki Abeles – A well-researched examination of how the current state of education and our obsession with performance and achievement is harming children, and a plea for change.

 

 

I guess I leaned towards non-fiction this past year.

Would love to hear what your favorite books were in 2015.

Here’s to another year of great books!

 

 

Little Free Library

You may have noticed the photo in the sidebar of “My Little Free Library” and wondered what the heck it is.  If you’ve never heard of Little Free Library, check out littlefreelibrary.org, where you can get the lowdown on a very cool idea that is turning into a movement around the world.  In a nutshell, Little Free Libraries are community book sharing depots.  Most of them can be found in people’s yards, but they can also be found on public property in some areas.  Little Free Library is a non-profit organization whose aim is to promote literacy and a love of books for people of all ages, from all walks of life, around the world.  Similar book sharing boxes not affiliated with the official Little Free Library organization are also scattered here and there, and are just as cool.

I had never heard of a Little Free Library until last spring when a friend of mine on Facebook in another state happened to post something on FB about her Little Free Library.  I was intrigued, then enthralled.  I honestly thought it was the most brilliant idea I had stumbled across in a long time.  I had to have one, being a book lover, chronic book buyer, and serial book sharer anyway.  So I ordered one of my own Little Free Libraries from the official LFL org, and waited all summer for it to arrive (if you’re handy, you can, of course, build your own, or you can buy a kit, or an assembled but unfinished library, or a fully assembled, finished, and painted one like I did, not being handy or patient – the latter is not cheap, I must say, but the craftsmanship is top of the line).  It took nine weeks to get mine, and when it arrived, I swear it was the most exciting thing to get since my last baby.

My husband spent a weekend installing it in front of our house, and it’s now been up since August I think.  I had been saving all the books I read over the summer to fill it with, and although right away people in the neighborhood would stop to check it out, it seemed to take a little while for people to actually get comfortable taking books from it, and even longer to start leaving books of their own in it.  These days, it seems to get quite a bit of use; although I don’t always see people visiting it, there are books taken and new books left pretty frequently.

A couple of weeks ago, a reporter from our local newspaper contacted me and said she was doing an article about Little Free Libraries, and asked if I would be willing to be interviewed.  Yes!  So she came over with a photographer the following morning and spent the better part of an hour talking to me and my girls about our LFL, about books, and taking photos.  It was a lot of fun.  The article appeared on the front page of last Friday’s paper.  Here’s the online version: OC Register: Take a Book, Leave a Book

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