Category: Friday Reads

The best of the best

If you watched PBS’s series on the Great American Read, you already know that the Number 1 best book of 100 favorites voted in by book lovers like us everywhere was TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee.  PBS aired the series over a period of weeks after votes were sent in and tallied and then revealed week by week. The entire list of our favorites is included in the link above if you care to see the line-up of the most beloved books in our lifetime. (I confess I feel very good about myself for having already read a great many of them).

It’s so very hard to pick one novel out of all that I’ve ever read to crown as the BEST BOOK EVER!  I remember when I voted earlier this summer I agonized over which novel I loved best, remembered best, felt influenced by the most, would recommend in a heartbeat. I think I chose CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White because fifty years after reading this book, I still feel such affection for it and everything it tells the world about friendship and courage and hope. And yet, when TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was crowned the winner I didn’t feel sad. It is also and will probably always be a book for the times, no matter what time in which its reader is living.

Books like CHARLOTTE’S WEB and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD are timeless because they aren’t truly about a pig and a spider figuring out life in a barnyard or an impressionable young girl and her attorney father figuring out life in pre-Civil Rights movement Alabama. They are books about US trying to figure out life, and not just figuring it out, but making it beautiful and safe and meaningful for everyone. They teach us, still, what it means to love your neighbor – the oldest and best precept for living there is – and what it looks like when you don’t.

I would love to hear what you think about the list of 100 books, and its crowning winner. Was your favorite in the top ten or 20? Tell me…

 

Takin’ it easy

A few years back my mom read a novel by Kate Morton, a new author on the scene. My mom loved it and told me she was certain I would too. She loaned me that book, THE HOUSE AT RIVERTON, which was Kate’s debut, and she was so very right. I did love it. I loved the gorgeous prose, the journey back in time, the English setting, the multi-dimensional characters, the layers of mystery and secrets. I knew I’d found an author to follow. Since then, I’ve waited eagerly for every book Kate Morton has released, and when a new one came out, I’d gobble it up like a starving woman the minute I had it in my hands. I’ve even had the absolute pleasure of meeting Kate (that’s her and me a few years ago in the photo above) twice at my fave local bookstore, Warwicks, when book tours brought her all the way from the UK or Australia to my neck of the woods. She is as wonderful in person as she is on paper as a storyteller. When people ask me for book recommendations or if they want to know who my favorite authors are, I always with begin Kate Morton and Kate Morton’s books.

All that is to tell you I am thrilled that on Tuesday, her newest, THE CLOCKMAKER’S DAUGHTER, was released here in the States and I got my copy delivered around twilight. I wanted to get into my jammies and start reading right away but there was dinner to make and This Is Us to watch, and actually, part of me wanted to savor the moment that I had an unread Kate Morton book in my possession. Once I started reading, I knew I would begin the journey to having read the latest Kate Morton book; and that is a journey that always ends with a finished book and no more from her to read. And hence, the wait for the next one, usually at least two years, sometimes three, would begin.

I’m finding that I don’t want to rush the experience this time. I’m reading the chapters slowly, enjoying a leisurely pace that is so unlike me with an author I adore. I think I’ve finally come to the point where I can appreciate a sauntering pace with a good book. I don’t saunter, ever, while on my two feet, but I am finding a sauntering pace with my Kate Morton book is quite nice. I will certainly come back here to the blog to tell you all about my thoughts on THE CLOCKMAKER’S DAUGHTER, but it won’t be tomorrow or the next day or the next. It may not even be next Friday when the blog needs to be fed.

I am going to make the experience of reading it as long-lasting as I can without disrupting the pace of the story itself. This is a new way of reading a book for me. I often have to take a book slow because of life and busy-ness and exhaustion at the end of the day. But this will be different. I am going to take it slow on purpose.

If I can.

In the meantime, if you are looking for a book suggestion, have you read anything by Kate Morton?

p.s. my favorite of hers is THE SECRET KEEPER

Seeing the treasures…

I’m starting to write a new novel, one which will feature a young Irish immigrant woman as one of the protagonists. While there are Irish immigrants in my ancestral past (I’ve got McFarlands an Griffins in my blood), I’m not very familiar with the Irish immigrant experience, so I decided to read what many call the penultimate memoir on this topic, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, as I begin the research process.

I remember when this book came out more than a decade ago, and I remember it winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but for whatever reason, I missed reading it. Maybe it was because we were in transition in those years, moving from the Midwest back to southern California, or maybe it was because I was afraid of who Angela might be, and how her ashes figured into the story. It couldn’t be good, right? I might have even thought it was something along the lines of The Lovely Bones, a great book, but oh, so sad.

In any case, this was my first read. And I’m happy to share with you my thoughts but I can’t hardly do it without sharing who Angela is and why there are ashes, which translates naturally into a spoiler alert. If you’ve not read this book and want to, you might want to skip the rest of this post for now and come back after you’ve read it.

So then. I’m still pondering this book and its impact on me – I think I will be ruminating on it for a while – but it’s not hard to give it five stars. The writing is superb while being innocent and understated and packed with deeper meaning. It’s the kind of book you want to talk about with someone afterward, so it’s no wonder it was a book club favorite the year it came out. It probably still is.

Here’s an excerpt from the back cover in case you need a refresher on what this book is about: “So begins the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank’s father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy– exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling– does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father’s tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies.  Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank’s survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig’s head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors–yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance and remarkable forgiveness.”

And now for the spoiler. You learn from the get go that Angela is the author’s mother. So from the get-go, I expected that at any moment young Frank McCourt, who already had a tough life, was going to lose his mother. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and all that. But Angela is alive when the book is done. Her ashes are something other than the physical remains of her body. Sometimes when you look for something in a book that you think you should see at some point, you find in the end that something was there all along, actually everywhere.

Angela has an unbelievably hard life. The list of her woes is endless, starting with her irresponsible drunk of a husband, the deaths of several children, and her daily struggle to raise her surviving children while mired in abject poverty. And yet she has the same desire for happiness, security, and affection that everyone has.

I love this quote from Shmoop that aptly encapsulates what Frank McCourt’s mother’s ashes really were: “The ashes in the fireplace, the ashes that fall from Angela’s endless cigarettes—they’re all byproducts of Angela’s sad and hopeless life. Ashes are lifeless, they’re what’s left over when the fire goes out.”

Now that I know that, I want to read the book again and look for the ashes that I missed the first time. I love metaphors sprinkled in a story like Easter eggs, just waiting to be discovered. And I don’t like it when I zoom past those hidden treasures looking for something else.

I wonder, those of you who’ve read Angela’s Ashes, if you figured this out before you finished the book, or if you were like me and were like, “Wait. What?” at the end.

I am now vowing to be very careful every time I read any book that hints of something to be found in its title.

Which, no doubt, is every book….

On this day…

National Archives photo

One hundred years ago today, the city of Philadelphia held a Liberty Loan parade on Broad Street. An estimated two hundred thousand people lined the streets, standing shoulder to shoulder. Expectations were high that a great deal of money would be raised as a result of the parade, to help fund and end The Great War. It was no secret that a terrible sickness known as the Spanish Flu had spent the summer months ravaging Europe, and that this same disease was now popping up at army bases and naval ports on the Eastern U.S. seaboard, but the parade had been planned for weeks and besides, the parade was outdoors, not in confined quarters, and not at the Philadelphia Naval Ship Yard. So despite the knowledge that this deadly flu was now in Boston and New York and Washington D.C., the parade was held anyway with much fanfare.

But three days later more than 100 Philadelphians were dead of the flu and thousands were sick with it. Five days after the parade, all Philadelphia schools, churches, theaters, parks – anywhere where a crowd would gather – were closed. The city’s hospitals ran out of beds, its morgue ran out of slabs, its morticians ran out of coffins. In about a months’ time, twelve thousand Philadelphians were dead.  It was the hardest hit American city, which is why I chose it as the setting for AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN.

National Archives photo

As we slide into October, the centennial for the 1918 Spanish Flu is nearing its end. By mid November of 1918, the flu was lifting and by Christmas it was gone. It would return in the spring of 1919, but the strain would be different – not nearly as deadly and nowhere near as prevalent.

I’ve been wondering all year if there would be renewed interested in this plague since it is all but forgotten in our day and age. Those who survived that terrible time recovered from their losses by shutting the door on the remembrances of Spanish Flu. They cried and mourned and then moved on and didn’t look back.

And here we are 100 years later, well beyond the recovery stage. We should be fully invested in the remembering stage, but there isn’t much being said, not that I can see or hear.

It surprises me, I guess, that humanity could be dealt such a blow – 50 million are estimated to have died of Spanish Flu – and there isn’t more being said, especially this year. Since AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN’s release in February, I’ve heard from a great many readers who’ve told me stories of how this flu impacted their families, including one woman who told me her dad lost his father to the pandemic when he was 11, and his mother – unable to care for her children on her own – married the first person who asked her. The man she married did not want to raise this 11-year-old boy or his brothers. They were given away to farmers to work and be raised on their own. You can imagine the impact this had on this reader’s father. And that was just one person who wrote me.  There are probably tens of thousands of stores that are as emotionally impacting as this one.

But there’s nothing being said about it. I find it curious and a little sad. I think 50 million people felled by a killing flu deserve remembrance even if it was 100 hundred years ago.

What we don’t purpose to remember we surely will forget.

What I’m reading now

Sometimes it takes me a while to get to book that everyone is talking about, such that by the time I DO get to it,  everyone is talking about a different book. Such has been the case with the Pulitzer-prize winner Angela’s Ashes, a memoir by Frank McCourt. What I remember most from twenty years ago (when this book was what every book club was reading – even The Finer Things Club on The Office) was that everyone was saying that it was sad. I’ve never thought that was the reason I kept putting it off, but maybe it was. But all along I knew it had to be more than just a sad book. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction the year it came out; an award sometimes not given at all if the committee choosing it doesn’t deem a book worthy of it that year.

I’m reading it now (finally) because in the book I’m just now starting to plot (my 2021 release – more on that later!) I have an Irish immigrant to America as a main character and when I began researching books to read on the Irish immigrant experience, Angela’s Ashes came up first in more than one search for titles. I’m on pg 141, and yes it’s sad, and no, there are no ashes from Angela yet. She is still alive on pg. 141, which makes me wonder if the ashes are something else. Don’t tell me if you know; I’m looking forward to the discovery on my own. But I can tell you it is not just a sad book. Things happened in young Frank McCourt’s life that were very sad, but the book isn’t a mere list of tragedies, I assure you. The writing is beautiful; simple and complex at the same time. That it is the true story of a man’s life makes it a compelling read that I can’t wait to get back to at the end of the day. It’s a different take on the Irish immigrant experience than I was expecting; Frank is born in America to his Irish immigrant parents and they return to Ireland in the early 1930s when he is just a young boy. For that reason, this may not be the best book to read on what it was like to be a young Irish immigrant trying to make her way in New York at the turn of the century. But I am nevertheless fully swept in and will finish and let you know what I thought of it.

In the meantime, perhaps you can recommend your favorite Irish immigrant stories or non-fiction works or memoirs. Nothing from the Great Famine of the 19th century, though, as I’m writing about a young Irish woman in 1904. I am hoping to find out where in Ireland my own ancestors came from; my great-grandmother was a McFadden and my great grandmother was a Griffin, and we’re hooked into ancestry.com so I’m optimistic I will be able track down my own Irish roots.  Would love to hear if you’ve got Irish in you and where your long ago relatives hailed from.

If you’ve not read Angela’s Ashes yet and want to know more about it, here’s what the publisher says:

“So begins the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank’s father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy—exasperating, irresponsible, and beguiling—does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father’s tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies. Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank’s survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig’s head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors—yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance, and remarkable forgiveness. Angela’s Ashes, imbued on every page with Frank McCourt’s astounding humor and compassion, is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic.”

Have a great weekend!

An unforgettable book…

Two weeks ago I wrote how much I LOVE visiting bookstores (indies, mostly) whenever I am on vacation and I mentioned that I’d just returned from a visit to my daughter and son-in-law’s place in the Pacific Northwest. I shared that I’d popped into the Village Books in Bellingham, WA., and a store clerk told me how much she loved this book HOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi. Her name was Joan and she held the book to her heart after she told me it she loved it and searched for words – at least that’s what it looked like to me. I don’t think she found them — the adequate words. “It’s just so good,” she finally said. She handed the book to me so that I could look at it, smell it perhaps because we booklovers do that, peruse the backcover copy, etc. She went on to share a few of her other favorites, as we were standing in front of an end cap display of staff picks and each member had been given a shelf to display his or her faves. I could’ve put HOMEGOING back but I held onto it as she shared with me other books she’d read and loved. When I thanked for her talking with me, I started to walk away with HOMEGOiNG to take it downstairs to buy. She broke into a smile. “You’re getting it?” she said. “I am,” I replied. Any book that makes a bookseller hold it to her chest and search for words to describe it is my kind of book.

I was not disappointed. This is one of those rare novels that grabs you, but gently, from the first page and doesn’t loosen its kind but compelling grip. I fell under the spell of these richly drawn characters as though they were flesh and blood and standing right next to me as they told me who they were, what they wanted from life, why they wanted it, and what stood in their way. It’s a generational tale, told by sons and daughters of two half-sisters from Ghana – one who remains in Africa and one who is sold into slavery and shipped to America. It’s an forgettable story of family and love and honor but also injustice and greed. You see the best of humanity in the pages, and the absolute worst. Perhaps you don’t like to read books about man’s inhumanity to man – too sad, you might say. But I think now and then we need to see who we can be if we don’t practice the art of loving diligently and with purpose and passion. This book will show that to you.

Here’s what the back cover says about it. “Ghana, eighteenth century: Two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery. Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.”

I highly, highly recommend. And if you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And Joan, thank you…

What I’m listening to…

Not so very long ago, I started checking out audio books on CD from my library, mostly because my grandkids were an hour-and-a-half drive away when traffic was good and three hours away when traffic was a nightmare. I began with a Louise Penny mystery (Nature of the Beast, not the first in the series, and it was amazing despite it being the the first of her books not to be narrated by the stellar Ralph Cosham who I later realized is the best narrator in the history of the world because I got smart and went back to #1 of the Inspector Gamache series to re-begin at the beginning but at the time I didn’t know) and have since listened to a great many books including The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Rules of Civility by Amor Towles and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee as well as a bunch of Louise Penny’s.

I’ve since moved on to Audible since we’ve a new car that doesn’t have a CD player (that’s how all new vehicles are now) so now I listen to books on my phone whenever I’m in the car, for even the shortest of distances. It’s made commuting anywhere – to Trader Joe’s ten minutes away or to Los Angeles – anywhere from two to three hours away – not a dreadful experience but even (dare I even say it?) but an enjoyable one.

These days I’ve got Beartown on my phone (so therefore in my car) and I’m surprised by how much I am enjoying it because the backdrop is all things hockey. It’s authored by the same writer who gave us A Man Called Ove, which I LOVED. That it’s by Fredrik Backman is pretty much the only reason I decided to give it a listen, because, again the backdrop is hockey. I don’t dislike hockey. I actually like hockey, and since my husband used to play it when he was  much younger, he likes watching the Stanley Cup Finals and I usually watch with him, with him patiently answering my “Where’s the puck?” every ten seconds without a complaint (that little black disc – even smaller on TV – is hard to keep track of). I just never pictured myself picking up (or picking out) a novel with hockey players on its cover.

The story is set in a Swedish town but the narrative reads like the setting could be any place in Minnesota where the population is less than five thousand and the only thing to do in winter (which lasts a long, long time) is play or watch ice hockey. Hockey is more than just that, though. It’s not the only thing you can do; it’s the only thing you WANT to do. It’s the only thing. It’s THE thing. And into this mini cosmos, Mr. Backman introduces an ensemble of characters – some in their teens, some in their 40’s, some somewhere in between – whose lives and choices play out in and beyond and behind this ice. It’s truly a book about people, not hockey, even though you can feel the numbing cold, taste the blood on your lip from a slamming body check, even see the puck.

I am imagining I will give it a bevy of stars, but I must warn would-be listeners that the language is not Minnesota-nice. Can I just say that I loathe the F-word? I really do. It’s the ugliest word ever. It beautifies nothing. Aptly describes nothing. Communicates nothing but it’s own ugliness. That word has nothing to do with the act of love and it annoys me to no end that on its spectrum of use, it gets to be associated with physical intimacy. It’s just an ugly word that is even uglier when you have to hear it, over and over on your iPhone. Some might say the F-word is no longer anything but a throwaway descriptor that has slowly been stripped of any meaning. To that I’d say every word worth using has meaning. If it’s truly a throwaway word, throw it away.

All that to say, I am loving the story. But I am not loving that within the story is an over-abundance of the ugliest word ever. That, my friends, is one of the drawbacks of listening to a book.

You have to listen to it. Every word.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this. No pun intended. And also, what you are listening to now.

Vacations and bookstores…

Sorry I missed posting last week, but the hubs and I were in the Pacific Northwest with our daughter and son-in-law, and I am so happy with myself that I did NOT bring the laptop. I did not work at all except to post a few pix and insights on social media. But I do have some fun stuff to share with you today as a result of those five gorgeous days and it involves bookstores. I don’t think I know how to go on vacation without visiting the vacation spot’s bookstore or stores as the case may be. There are some exceptions. If I was camping, then there would be no bookstore visiting, but camping isn’t really a vacation! It’s an adventure, yes, but when you must cook your own food and do the dishes you are not truly on vacation. All that to say, I visited a couple bookstores while on vacay and I am here to brag on them today.

The first is McLeod’s  Books in Vancouver, British Columbia, just over the border in Canada. I had read a few sentences about McLeod’s in a “Thirty-six Hours in Vancouver” piece in the New York Times a while back but I wasn’t prepared for its audacious awesomeness, nor the piles of books on the floor, in every corner, all the way to the ceiling – pretty much everywhere you looked. I’ve been in used bookstores before, but this one is the most stuffed. You need more than the 30 minutes we had to adequately peruse (the owner apologized that he’d a wedding to attend and had to close early) and perhaps not a detailed shopping list. Better to go into a place like that with just the expectation of finding a few unexpected delights. I wondered if the sales staff could know what they’ve got available in the store and then I found this article that allayed those concerns. Somehow they know! I wanted to take a picture or two but every view from my camera made the store look like a forgotten attic. I would’ve needed a wide angle lens (and perhaps permission?) but I found the one at left on Google Images and it’s a far better shot than I could’ve gotten. My daughter and I both eyed (at different minutes inside the store) a lovely boxed set of Jane Austen novels, and both of us wished we’d snagged it and are hoping it will still be there the next time one of us (surely it will be her before me) steps inside. If you go, and you should, prepare your book-loving eyes for what might look like chaos but is really just a whole lot of books in a constrained space.

We also visited (and I fell in love) with the Village Bookstore in Bellingham, Washington. It’s in a lovely old building, is beautifully laid out, multi-storied, tons of fiction on the second floor and an Evolve Chocolate Café, that offers an array of “sweets, sips and savories in the cozy space tucked among the book shelves, overlooking the Village Green and Bellingham Bay.” I chatted with Joan while there and she showed me several of her favorite books, one of which was “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi, and which I bought to bring home with me. Joan says the story is unforgettable and it’s all the more amazing because it’s Ms. Gyasi’s debut. Here’s what Library Journal said about the book (which I now can’t wait to read): 

“This sweeping family saga encompasses seven generations of descendants of a Fante and his captured Asante house slave. After giving birth to a daughter, Maame manages to escape, making her way alone back to her own village. She is taken in by an Asante warrior, becomes his third wife, and has a second daughter by him. The two sisters, Effia and Esi, will never meet, their lives will follow very different paths, but their descendants will share a legacy of warfare and slavery. Effia will marry an Englishman who oversees the British interest in the Gold Coast slave trade. Esi will be captured by Fante warriors, traded to the Englishmen, and shipped to America to be sold into slavery. Progressing through 300 years of Ghanaian and American history, the narrative unfolds in a series of concise portraits of each sister’s progeny that capture pivotal moments in each individual’s life. Every portrait reads like a short story unto itself, making this volume a good choice for harried teens, yet Gyasi imbues the work with a remarkably seamless feel. Through the combined historical perspectives of each descendant, the author reveals that racism is often rooted in tribalism, greed, and the lust for power. Many students will be surprised to discover that the enslavement of Africans was not just a white man’s crime.”  I love books that span generations (have you read Pachinko? Loved it) so will be putting this one ahead of others on my TBR pile.

And just before I go, here’s a shot of me and Mark Twain (at right) on a bench just outside the Village Bookstore, right before we ate some Rocket doughnuts.

It was a grand few days in the beauty of northern Washington and southern British Columbia and now it’s back to the workaday world, always made more exciting by the addition of new books! Would love to hear where your favorite bookstores are or if you’ve been to McLeod’s or the Village Bookstore.

Lotsa good Friday stuff!

It’s always a treat to announce a great sale for the e-version of one of my books! For a few more days, SECRETS OF A CHARMED LIFE, which was named a Goodreads Choice Award finalist in 2015 is just $1.99 for the e-book on whatever format you read electronically. This book is a fave of mine (they are special in their own way, but these characters linger, four years after writing them…) The sale won’t last long, so grab it if you’ve not read it yet, or tell a friend if you have.  This is a story about WW2, the evacuation of London’s children to the countryside and what happens when two young sisters are separated in the chaos of the London Blitz. Mine isn’t the only ebook enjoying a super sale. As of this writing, PEACE LIKE A RIVER, which I extolled on the blog last Friday, is also on sale this week as an e-book for the staggeringly low price of just $1.33. That is, like, just a buck and a bit of loose change. For one of the best books I’ve ever read. Amazing. And it’s a deal that surely won’t last forever. And just one more. Hazel Gaynor’s THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, a story of a fictional survivor of the RMS Titanic. This was Hazel’s debut novel, and it won the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award, and on sale for just $1.99.

Last week I finished LILAC GIRLS, which I read in five days (someone applaud, please? I had a crazy-busy week!) for the book club I’m in. It’s been on my nightstand, calling out to be read for more than a year. I can see why it’s so beloved by so many readers and it’s not hard to give it five stars for the beauty of the writing, the emotional depth of the characters and the raw and wrenching detailing of the brutality of WW2. The cover with those three women walking so close together has intrigued me from the moment I bought the book as a hardcover when it first came out. The actual story is different from what the cover suggests, at least to me and many members of my club, but we decided it is up to the reader to decide who those three women are. If you’ve read the book, I’d be curious to hear if you agree. I was also unaware until I read the Acknowledgements that the character Caroline was a real person, a heroine any way you look at it, and someone I would’ve liked to have known. Highly recommend this one, folks.  I read on Martha’s Goodreads page that she is working on a prequel. You can find out more info about the incredible, true story behind LILAC GIRLS at her website: http://www.marthahallkelly.com and there are lost of great pics on her ever-changing Pinterest pages.

When people ask me to name some of my favorite authors, I right off the bat mention Khaled Hosseini. I loved THE KITE RUNNER and A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS and AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED, even though all three brought me to tears.  I will read anything he writes.  It’s been four years since his last book, and while I am hungry for a new one by him, the next offering will be for children. I just read in Publishers Weekly this morning (in a starred review, no less) that SEA PRAYER, which will release in mid-September, is a book for kids ages 7 and up. The book was inspired by the current Syrian refugee crisis and in particular, the photograph of a three-year-old Syrian who drowned off the coast of Turkey in 2015.  The story is composed in the form of a letter, from a father to his son, the night before they will attempt to flee their war-torn country. As the son sleeps, the father “reflects on the dangerous sea-crossing that lies before them. It is also a vivid portrait of their life in Homs, Syria, before the war, and of that city’s swift transformation from a home into a deadly war zone.”  I’ve a feeling here will be another book of his that will break my heart. I know I can’t solve all the world’s problems, but I can’t close my eyes to them, either.

Lastly, there’s a Goodreads giveaway going on for MY DEAR HAMILTON by Laura Kamoie (who I had the pleasure to do a book event with and she’s amazing and fun and eloquent) and writing partner Stephanie Dray.  It’s historical fiction centered on Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, “a revolutionary woman who, like her new nation, struggled to define herself in the wake of war, betrayal, and tragedy. Haunting, moving, and beautifully written…” I never win Goodreads giveaways but I still enter them! I figure one of these days…I gave this book to my mom for mother’s day and she LOVED it. When I get through the mountain of advance reader copies I am reading for endorsement I am going to borrow it from her. Here’s the link for the giveaway and may the odds be ever in your favor: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/282754-my-dear-hamilton-a-novel-of-eliza-schuyler-hamilton

Have a splendid week!

PS – If you haven’t watched the film adaptation of THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY currently streaming on Netflix, it turned out great! I had my doubts that an epistolary novel could be adapted for the screen, but Netflix did a great job. It’s been too many years since I read (and loved) this novel to pick up on any massive departures from the original story. I know they had to leave some stuff out but it wasn’t obvious to me what it was other than just sufficient time to fully draw out all the characters.  I think you’ll like it! Here’s the trailer if you want to take peek:

 

 

Fall is looking pretty good

It has been so DANG hot here in San Diego; many days near 100 degrees or just above it, coupled with humidity that we simply aren’t used to (yes, we SoCals be humidity wimps) that autumn can’t get here fast enough. Usually I cringe a little when I walk into Michael’s in August and the front display is all decked out in fall decor, but not this time. Come, gentle Autumn and all things pumpkin spice. We are ready for your cool breezes and chilly nights.

My good friend Anne Bogel, also known as Modern Mrs. Darcy, has compiled a list of all the BOOKS we can look forward to when fall finally gets here (hers is among them) and I’m highlighting a few that I am especially eager to get my hands on. Anne’s book on books (photo is above) reminds us that “our books shape us, define us, enchant us, and even sometimes infuriate us. Our books are a part of who we are as people, and we can’t imagine life without them. I’d Rather Be Reading lead us “to remember the book that first hooked us, the place where we first fell in love with reading, and all of the moments afterward that helped make us the reader we are today.” (There are so many books that hooked me as a young reader, but some post soon I will share one that I remember so very fondly decades after reading it.)

On Anne’s fall list (and also on mine) is Mary Kubica’s When the Lights Go Out. Mary is a such great writer and one of the nicest people I know. She’s coming to San Diego in October for a fundraiser for an organization I volunteer for, Words Alive, and I am hoping when they start selling individual tickets there will still be a couple for my mom and me to buy.  Here’s what Goodreads says about this newest by Mary:

“A woman is forced to question her own identity in this riveting and emotionally charged thriller by the blockbuster bestselling author of The Good Girl.Jessie Sloane is on the path to rebuilding her life after years of caring for her ailing mother. She rents a new apartment and applies for college. But when the college informs her that her social security number has raised a red flag, Jessie discovers a shocking detail that causes her to doubt everything she’s ever known. Finding herself suddenly at the center of a bizarre mystery, Jessie tumbles down a rabbit hole, which is only exacerbated by grief and a relentless lack of sleep. As days pass and the insomnia worsens, it plays with Jessie’s mind. Her judgment is blurred, her thoughts are hampered by fatigue. Jessie begins to see things until she can no longer tell the difference between what’s real and what she’s only imagined. Meanwhile, twenty years earlier and two hundred and fifty miles away, another woman’s split-second decision may hold the key to Jessie’s secret past. Has Jessie’s whole life been a lie or have her delusions gotten the best of her?”

Coming in October is Virgil Wander by Leif Enger, whose Peace Like a River I recommended to everyone (and I mean everyone!) I knew a decade ago when I read it the first time. I actually highlighted Peace Like a River, as though it were a textbook for a college class. The prose was that delicious. Here’s what the publisher says about this new one by Enger: “Midwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is ‘cruising along at medium altitude’ when his car flies off the road into icy Lake Superior. Virgil survives but his language and memory are altered and he emerges into a world no longer familiar to him. Awakening in this new life, Virgil begins to piece together his personal history and the lore of his broken town, with the help of a cast of affable and curious locals. Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town. With intelligent humor and captivating whimsy, Leif Enger conjures a remarkable portrait of a region and its residents. Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures including movies, fishing, necking in parked cars, playing baseball and falling in love.” Suffice it to say, I want this one TODAY, sweat and humidity and sizzling hot car notwithstanding.

Also on my radar for fall books is Diane Chamberlain’s newest, The Dream Daughter: Anne said: “Chamberlain is known for writing contemporary Southern fiction featuring strong female characters and not shying away from sensitive subjects. Without giving away too much: her next book is about the lengths a mother will go to to save her unborn child. The doctors have told her she will be born with a fatal heart defect, and in 1970, nothing further can be done. But her mysterious physicist brother-in-law has an idea. Time travel may be involved…”

I’ll close here with an autumn treat I’m eagerly anticipating. Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by sweet Patti Callahan is a new retelling of the improbable love story of Oxford theologian C. S. Lewis (whose books I love) and the American divorcee he married so that she could remain in the UK. I’ve loved this love story and I thought the screen adaptation Shadowlands with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger was so well done. The publisher describes Patti’s new book this way. “When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C. S. Lewis—known as Jack—she was looking for spiritual answers, not love. Love, after all, wasn’t holding together her crumbling marriage. Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their minds bonded over their letters. Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy traveled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn’t destroy. Joy lived at a time when women weren’t meant to have a voice—and yet her love for Jack gave them both voices they didn’t know they had.” Available Oct 2!

See how nicely fall is shaping up for me? Surely it is for you and your reading life as well. Which autumn books are you looking forward to? Do tell.