Category: Friday Reads

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.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Wonderful

I can’t begin this August 3 Friday reads round-up without mentioning that it’s my husband Bob’s birthday today (pictured above). I’ve known him since I was 16, and I’m not even kidding when I say one of the things I liked about him way back then was that he read good books.  Over the course of our dating life, we read lots of books together, including this one at left, OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET by C. S. Lewis. (This is the first in Lewis’s space trilogy; we also read two and three together in our pre-marriage days).  If you’re unfamiliar with this one, the story is about Dr. Ransom,  a Cambridge academic, who is abducted by a megalomaniac physicist and his accomplice and taken via spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra, aka Mars. “His captors are plotting to plunder the planet’s treasures and plan to offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the creatures who live there. Ransom discovers he has come from the ‘silent planet’ – Earth – whose tragic story is known throughout the universe.” Ransom eludes his captors, risking his chances of returning to Earth, and becoming a stranger in a land that is enchanting in its difference from Earth but also instructive in its similarity. It’s speculative fiction at its finest, and not really about space travel at all, really. Lewis, well known for his deep thoughts on philosophy and religion, offers keen insights into the human condition in this novel. Not your typical date book, I guess. But I feel in love with the guy who read this book aloud to me when I was 17. Happy birthday, cutie. P.S. We were just talking about this book last night over dinner with a friend and we all decided to read it again and then get together and chat about it. Interestingly enough, Mars, which is as bright as it has been in our sky in 15 years, was shining down on us like a little scarlet diamond as we ate supper, sipped a nice Syrah and talked about books…

I usually have one audio book going on in my life, and until recently I was checking out books on CD from my library. I would listen to a book whenever I got into my car, no matter if it was a short trip or long trip I was headed out on. Audio books made any commute – even the worst, rush-hour one – a happy time. But we got a new car a little while back and it doesn’t have a CD player (that’s just how all new cars are nowadays). What it does have, though, is a little onboard computer and a USB port so that my phone can become the computer. Which means I can have Audible on my phone now, which I do, and the car can read the book to me.  So there’s always a physical book on the nightstand and an audio book in the car and I like it that way. Okay, so yes,  the audio book is on my phone which goes everywhere I go, but I save that audio book for car rides. So every trip to anywhere is, before it is anything else, a dip into that book. All that to say, in my car, I am listening to Celeste Ng’s LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE.  I have heard nothing but great things about this book, which is a bestseller all over the place and a 2017 Goodreads Choice Award winner. It’s about single mother and artist, Mia, who rents a house from the Richardson family. Soon Mia and her teenage daughter Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson young adult kids are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But as the back cover copy says, “Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.” When  Mia and Mrs. Richardson take opposing sides on an issue, Elena Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past, and her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.” I am enjoying the book very much (although if I’m being honest, and why wouldn’t I be, the narrator is not quite who I would have chosen) and I’m finding myself looking for reasons to get in the car and go somewhere.  Goodreads says this story “explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.” More on this book when I finish.

Lastly, fellow San Diegan, writer extraordinaire, and my friend, T. Greenwood, has a new book coming out on Tuesday. It’s her first hardcover. Tammy is a talented wordsmith and I’m sure the difficult subject matter in RUST & STARDUST will be made more bearable by her exquisite prose. Here’s how Goodreads describes it:  “When 11 year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook from the local Woolworth’s, she has no way of knowing that 52 year-old Frank LaSalle, fresh out of prison, is watching her, preparing to make his move. Accosting her outside the store, Frank convinces Sally that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested in a minute—unless she does as he says. This chilling novel traces the next two harrowing years as Frank mentally and physically assaults Sally while the two of them travel westward from Camden to San Jose, forever altering not only her life, but the lives of her family, friends, and those she meets along the way.” I’m thinking we will need the Kleenex for this one. One reviewer said, “This was an extremely heartbreaking story of loss and abuse, but also a wonderfully written account of the true-crime that inspired the novel LOLITA.”

There you have it. Hope your weekend is brimming with books to be read! Or listened to.  Have a good one.