Senior Book Lounge

Welcome to the Lounge! This is a 55+ Community of books. I would like to introduce a new genre, "Silver Lit". The silver boomers advancing in age. have arrived! It's time to call attention to literature that may not be young in years, but "old" in wisdom. Like others, I am always looking for a good book, but also one I can relate to. I believe with age, comes wisdom and life experience, which adds texture to the book. To the publishing world, a wink, we are here and we are reading.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Olive Again By, Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout masterfully brings her back to life through a series of short stories that once again remind us, that Olive is a tour de force, who meanders about, looking for ways to insert herself in others lives. Throughout the book, the threads of Olive's past-like tentacles, reach far and wide within the coastal town of Crosby Maine.

In the words, of  Olive, "Imagine at my age, starting again." Olive remarries an old friend, Jack Kennison, a retired Harvard law professor. Her son, Christopher has remarried and has 4 children.  And once again, as only Olive can, she reduces the 'weight' of Motherhood into one sentence.

 "No I had enough of babies growing up. Never mind, Kids are just a needle in your heart."

But that is Olive.The reader is left gasping, as the immense tragedy of her words, pulsate and resonate throughout the book. Olive is never-ever accused of glossing over the fine print. She is 'here' and will make her presence known. Elizabeth Strout takes on the 'human condition' and filters it with a megaphone through Olive.

In each of the thirteen poignant stories, Elizabeth Strout creates innocent, unassuming everyday events that quickly unwind,as Olive plants her self in the middle of the story and chaos ensues.The tales are bitter, sweet, funny and become gravely serious, as Olive loses her 2nd husband and moves into an assisted living facility.

It was a rigorous but,pleasurable ride that screams of the sorrows and pain of growing old. Once she moves into the assisted living facility, she asks her son Christopher for 2 things,a typewriter and a rose bush. Once planted, she admires the rose bush from her window, and writes, "My God, but I have always loved the light in February." As she ages, and bends at the corners, Olive is able to smell the roses.

Elizabeth Strout's ending in the final story is true Olive, as she summarizes the crescendo of a life lived on Olive's terms.

"But, it was almost over after all, her life. It swelled behind her like a sardine fishing net,all sorts of useless seaweed, and broken bits of shells, and the tiny shining fish-all those hundreds of students she had taught, the girls and boys in high school she had passed in the corridor, when she was a high school girl herself (many-most-would be dead by now), the billion streaks of emotion she'd had as she looked at sunrises, sunsets, the different hands of waitresses who had placed before her, cups of coffee-All of it gone or about to go."

Other Books by Elizabeth Strout:

Anything is Possible 2018
My Name is Lucy Barton 2016
The Burgess Boys 2013
Olive Kitteridge 2008
Abide with Me 2007
Amy and Isabelle 1998

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Single Thread By, Tracy Chevalier

"Most Anticipated Book of Fall 2019." (Time Magazine)

Tracy Chevalier is a master of historical fiction. Her well researched topics shed light on the details of the time period, 1932 from a fascinating perspective. Within this time frame, she focuses on the men and women who are immersed in the church and want to contribute their talents and honor the fallen soldiers through embroidery and bell ringing. I found it to be a perspicacious, fascinating perspective to focus on.

Its a very creative way to bring the reader into the time period,1932 after the Second World War. After losing her brother and fiance, Violet Speedwell is considered to be a 'surplus woman' condemned to a life as a spinster, after the loss of so many men to the war.

After living with her embittered Mother for 38 years, she finds the courage to move out to Winchester, and finds a job as a typist. By accident, she meets a group of 'broderers' at a local church; who embroider seat cushions and kneelers, which brings comfort to parishioners.

Tracy Chevalier writes elegantly about death and grieving, the complications of being Gay in the 1930's, female friendships, family, and loving a married man. She also focuses on the dilemma Violet faces, trying to live a single vibrant life, as an independent woman. She loves to walk and is seen as 'strange' and naive, when she embarks on a long journey from "Winchester to Lymington and then takes the ferry from Isle of Wight and stays for a few days in Ventnor." Violet pushes through and relishes the naysayers, with new found confidence.

My only criticism of this book, was the ending. It was assiduous, but predictable. I had hoped it would have been a little more complicated and challenging for the reader. However, all of Tracy Chevalier's novels are well researched and prove to be a welcome education on subject matter that is somewhat elusive but, fascinating.

Other Books by Tracy Chevalier:

New Boy 2018
At the Edge of the Orchard 2017
The Last Runaway 2013
Remarkable Creatures 2010
Burning Bright 2008
The Lady and the Unicorn 2004
The Virgin Blue 2003
Falling Angels 2001
Girl with a Pearl Earring 2001

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Talking to Strangers By, Malcolm Gladwell

I enjoy all of Malcolm Gladwell's books. As soon as I hear he has a new book coming out, I make a notation, to add it to my 'to be read' file. He does an excellent job breaking down complicated issues into piecemeal bites, that are thought provoking and provide a unique perspective.

We hear news but, do we actually process it? Every day we are inundated with news, 24 hours a day. Its easy to skim over the stories and then move onto the next one. It can be overwhelming. In this book, Malcom Gladwell takes a 360 degree perspective on the concept of talking to strangers, and ultimately, what the hazards are.

In the Athors note, we are introduced to the story. He describes, arranging an out of town visit for his parents at a swanky hotel in NYC. His father did not watch television, go to movies, or listen to popular music. When Malcolm, asked his father how his day was. He father states he had a wonderful time. He had spent the afternoon, speaking with a stranger in the lobby about gardening.

When Malcolm asked his father who he was, he stated. "I have no idea. But the whole time people were coming up to him to take pictures and have him sign little bits of paper." This light, engaging story sets the premise for the book.

I enjoy how Malcolm takes on a centralized theme,and then introduces the most improbable,eclectic choice of newsworthy notables to drive the narrative. The list of strangers talking include, Sylvia Plath, Jerry Sandusky, Amanda Knox, The Queen of Cuba to Hitler.The essence of the book, is about "Coupling" which is the idea that behaviors are linked to very specific circumstances and conditions.

He is described as being the 'master of suspense' because the more you read, the more bewildered you become. thinking 'how is this going to all come together?' It does, and the reverberations are epic. He provides thought provoking tales and spins them into a must read. In my opinion, all of his books are 5 star reads.

Other Books By Malcolm Gladwell:
David and Goliath 2013
Outliers 2011
What the Dog Saw 2009
Blink 2005
The Tipping Point 2002

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Age of Light By, Whitney Scharer

Enthralling! The author acknowledges this is loosely based- historical fiction. I enjoy historical fiction, to learn about that period of history, told through the Author's imagination. Although the Author may not tell the 'actual' story, we can still get the flavor of the era-the sights, smells, art, music, architecture, fashion, currents events of that time. And what is the "Actual Story?" Do we ever know?

The story is based on the lives of photographer Man Ray and Vogue model, Lee Miller. This is the author's first book and I think it is exceptionally written. I found it to be a compelling read.

The author brings you into the story of the life of a photographer and model. At age 22, Lee Miller states, "I'd rather take a photograph than be one." She wants to move out of the photo and into the story by becoming an artist- photographer. It is a sweeping saga from 1920's Paris to the battleground of World War II.

Lee meets and begins a life-changing affair with Man Ray, who initially is hesitant, but agrees to take her on as a photography assistant. Man Ray reluctantly agrees to this, after much debate, as he would prefer to 'use' her as a model. The word 'use' is a fundamental quandary throughout the book. Because of her beauty, Lee feels 'used' beginning with her Father, and as she begins to work full time as a model. She sees the shallowness of the 'quick pic' as a way to sell beauty, as if it were a commodity. She wants more.

"Here in Paris where she wants to start over, Lee seems to be another pretty detail in a city where almost everything is artfully arranged. A city built on the concept of form over function, where rows of jewel toned petits fours gleam in a patisserie's window, too flawless to eat. Where a milliner displays exquisitely elaborate hats, with no clear indication of how one would wear them. Even the Parisian women at the sidewalk cafes are like sculptures, effortlessly elegant, leaning back in their chairs as if their raison d'etre is decoration."

Man Ray and Lee Miller enjoy a passionate love affair that is cleverly drawn out, so you feel the trepidation of working with and loving an artist. Lee Miller accidentally discovers a photographic technique, which Man Ray claims was his. So, the melodrama is there and it is fraught with tension and the soliloquy of what underlies the juxtaposition of love and art.

I loved the artsy drama of the book-the quirky characters, the vivid descriptions of Paris, the Salon, the beauty of a photograph and the potential story it tells. Its all there. The ending, summarizes the finesse of the author, who closes with a vivid image. After being apart for decades, Lee Miller and Man Ray reunite at one of Man Ray's final photography exhibits.

"Lee is sitting, eyes closed, when she hears a noise behind her, the squeak of rubber on a hardwood floor. Someone in a wheelchair is rolling into the room. And then as the person gets closer there it is: a voice, his voice gravelly and thin now, but still familiar, a voice she wasn't able to recall until she hears it." "Lee?" Man says. What passes between them will be just a memory. There are no pictures of it.

I look forward to Whitney Scharer's next book.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Poison Thread By, Laura Purcell

This book may not be for everyone but, I loved it. Laura Purcell is an historian and the book is based on the life of Ann Nailor, a 13-year old milliner's apprentice, whose death was caused by the mother and daughter, she worked for.

Its a well spun mystery, that will grab your attention in the first chapter. Is Ruth a villain or victim? Is she mad or a murderer?

It is categorized as Victorian Gothic Fiction, which is defined as the utilization of supernatural elements, and could be described as a ghost story, with elements of horror. I would not describe this book as a horror story. Although, it does have a horrific subplot, highlighting the treatment of the poor and African Americans, during the Victorian era.

The main characters, Dorothea Truelove and Ruth Butterham live in different worlds. Dorothea is young, beautiful and wealthy. She volunteers at Oakgate Prison and is investigating the value of Phrenology, which is the study of the shape and size of the cranium, as an indicator of character. She believes this may signify a predisposition to committing a crime.

She meets Ruth Butterham, who is young, destitute and on trial for murder. Ruth is a talented seamstress, who has earned her keep with her handiwork. At a young age, she has observed the horrific deaths of her father, young sister and best friend Mim. She lives in  anguish, with the belief that she is evil, and is poisoning people supernaturally, by breathing her 'poisonous' thoughts, which seep into her needle and thread.

The author does an excellent job depicting the poverty and the treatment of the poor during that era. Her descriptions stay with you. This a dark and haunting tale in which the author brings to life a very bleak era, to the point where you feel the grittiness, soot and squalor; where poor destitute people live in 'camps' with a bucket for a bathroom.

I am new to this genre and generally this would not be a book I would gravitate to, but I LOVED it! I would classify this as one of the best books of 2019. I look forward to reading her other book, The Silent Companions.

Other Book by Laura Purcell

The Silent Companions 2018

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Bluebird Bluebird By, Attica Locke

Winner of the 2018 Edgar Award for Best Novel
A NY Times Book Review Editors Choice
A Finalist for the LA Times Book Prize
A Washington Post 10 Best Thrillers & Mysteries 2017
Kirkus Best Mysteries & Thrillers 2017
Best Book of the Year-Vulture, Strand magazine, Southern Living, Book Riot, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Lit Hub, Dallas News. Minnesota Public Radio, The Daily Beast & Texas Monthly.

Coming Soon to FX as a Television Series

This Book is 1 of 2 in the Highway 59 Series. Book 2 of 2, Heaven, My Home will be released September 17, 2019.

This book will stay with you.The author draws you in from the first page to the last. Ms. Locke, paints a vivid picture of the hard scrabble life of Geneva Sweet, who opens the story visiting the grave of her late husband, and son.

"Geneva opened the shopping bag and pulled out a paper plate covered in tin foil, an offering for her only son. Two fried pies, perfect half moons of hand rolled dough filled with brown sugar and fruit baptized in grease-Geneva's specialty and Li'l Joe's favorite."

I can taste the fruit pies 'baptized in grease'. The author takes you to Texas, and you feel the weight of the drama unfolding. Its a collective narrative of sights, sounds, smells, simmering racial divides, poverty, drugs, guns and the Aryan Brotherhood fraying the edges.

Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger is under investigation and possibly suspended from the force. Rather than remaining on the sidelines, to await the outcome of the investigation, he travels to Lark Texas, to 'look around' as a favor to a friend. Once there, he begins to unwind the back story behind two murders; a black lawyer from Chicago and a young, white local woman.

As Darren Mathews inserts himself in the thick of the drama, the locals, most notably Geneva Sweet are skeptical. The people of Lark Texas, are life long inhabitants, and the bloodline is generational. They are not comfortable, feeling the weight of a scrutinizing eye of a black Texas Ranger. As he untangles their secrets, with the intention of fully understanding what happened. Some things are better left "unsaid."

This is a rare book that combines the wealth of an engrossing read- a Literary-Mystery-Thriller-all in one, unforgettable read.

Other Books by Attica Locke:

Pleasantville 2015
The Cutting Season 2012
Black Water Rising 2009

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Recipe Box By, Viola Shipman (Wade Rouse)

What a delightful read with recipes! Whenever I choose a book, I always review the back cover to see the Author, so I have a sense of who they are, a 'visual' while I am reading. There is no photo of this author on the cover and no bio. I googled Viola Shipman and its a Pen Name for Wade Rouse! He chose his grandmother's name.

Samantha "Sam" Mullins grows up and out of northern Michigan to become a classically trained pastry chef.  She leaves behind a multi generational family apple orchard with a pie shop. She leaves to find her place in the sun in NYC. She soon becomes disillusioned while working for 'Chef Dimples' a reality star chef. When she can no longer tolerate his ability to both embarrass and insult her, she reluctantly returns to her family in Michigan.

Once there. she feels 'at home' working with her Mother Deanna and grandmother, Willow. They share recipes and stories. As a result, Sam learns about the history of the orchard and begins to recognize its meaning and significance and the impact it has had on her life.

Once she returns, Sam does feel the pull again to leave and return to NYC. She struggles with the comfort of home and whether she wants to carry on the legacy of the family apple orchard or establish her self as pastry chef in NYC.

Each chapter brought a pearl of wisdom from the grand matriarch Willow, who was fused with 'sugary wisdom' which was a constant reminder of the value of living a slower paced life, and the value of family and an exquisite bite of apple pie, where the apple was picked off the vine, the day before.

In the words of Willow to Sam, "You bake for someone because it is an act of love. And that is renewed each and every time a favorite recipe is made."

Other Books By Viola Shipman:

The Summer Cottage 2019
The Hope Chest 2017
The Charm Bracelet 2016

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Jimmy Bluefeather By, Kim Heacox

This is an extraordinary read and is unlike any book I have ever read. Set in Alaska, its a quest, a spiritual journey of 95 year old, Keb Wisting, who is a member of the Tlingit-- indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. Old Keb is part Norwegian, Tlingit, and the last of the cedar canoe carvers. The author lives in Southeast Alaska and spent time with Tlingit elders. He has many quotes stated in Tinglit language and has a Tlingit glossary at the end of the book.

The writing reads like poetry and I reread lines to savor the language and description.

Old Keb, "prodded the rain soaked earth with his alder walking cane. For a moment his own weathered hand caught his attention-the way his bones fitted to the wood. the wilderness between his fingers, the space where Bessie's hand use to be." Bessie was his late wife.

Keb is described as, "big ears, small bladder,bad teeth and having one good eye." His grandson Jimmy, "a prisoner of angr" was an exceptional basketball player; awaiting offers to play professionally, he hurt his knee in a logging accident. The accident was deemed suspicious, and was the result of jealousy and unrequited love, for Jimmy's girlfriend, Little Mac.

Old Keb feels the weight of death on him and realizes that his grandson needs to learn the value of life, beyond basketball. So they embark on a journey together after carving a cedar canoe. There are a litany of characters surrounding them, his daughter Ruby was a 'cliff nester, a risk taker, a big shot Princeton graduate and Professor and President of a environmental foundation, Jimmy's girlfriend, Little Mac, who is described as wearing a black beret, smart and empathetic. Keb's daughter, Gracie, who is Jimmy's mother, "could bend with a smile."

Its an epic journey, as Old Keb and Jimmy withstand the elements, politicians, bureaucrats, the media, well wishers, naysayers; who all have opinions and attempt to support or thwart the mission.
Its a raucous ride to Crystal Bay, which is the heartland of the Tlingit people.

As the story begins and ends, Old Keb states, "Used to be it was hard to live, and easy to die. Not anymore."

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Hideaway By Lauren Denton

I enjoy reading a wide range of genres, particularly literary and historical fiction, which are interesting, but dense with information. The story line can be challenging; multiple characters, time changes, the past then formulates the present, there could be unreliable narrators, did he decide to drink out of a glass or a cup? .....the scrutiny and analysis of every little thing, can become tiresome.

Sometimes, it is a pleasant diversion, to read a straight forward, light hearted narrative, that takes you away to a B&B in Sweet Bay, Louisiana with Sara Jenkins and her grandmother Mags.

This is an enchanting-feel good read, set in a warm and cozy B&B in Sweet Bay, Louisiana. Sara Jenkins learns that her grandmother has died and that she has inherited the B&B,The Hideaway. This forces Sara to leave the antique store she owns, Bits and Pieces in New Orleans and return to Sweet Bay to make a decision about keeping or selling the B&B.

Once there, she faces memories of a difficult childhood and bittersweet memories of the death of her parents and life with her grandmother, Mags. Also, the long term residents, an entourage of seniors, who have lived there for years, don't plan on leaving, anytime soon!

Sara is then faced with the decision to renovate or to sell. Once in Sweet Bay, the memories of her childhood, family and the muddled group of senior citizens challenge her to stay. Its a sweet, blithe tale of an "odd" grandmother who was eccentric, "with fuzzy gray curls peeking out from under a bird's nest hat complete with baby blue eggs perched on top."

Sara finds a box of treasures that her grandmother left, and she begins to unravel her secret history. She discovers long buried secrets and meets more colorful characters that entice her to stay. She encounters some challenges, a land developer threatens to seize the property, which further complicates her choices, of staying or returning to her life in New Orleans.

Its all good, in this wonderful tale that swept me away to Sweet Bay. I look forward to reading other books by this Author.

Other Books by Lauren Denton:

Glory Road 2019
Hurricane Season 2018

Monday, July 8, 2019

Dandelion Wine By, Ray Bradbury

This is the quintessential, nostalgic summer read. Ray Bradbury, best known for writing Science Fiction has written a semi-autobiographical tale of childhood, that takes place in the Summer of 1928, in a fictional town of Green Town, Illinois. Its the story of a 12 year old boy, Douglas Spaulding who explores the 'vastness' of his small town during his summer recess.
I found this book to be a nostalgic joyride to my long lost free wheeling summers, spent with my best friends, Lucia and Jackie. Every day was a new adventure that involved a variety of other local characters, who unwittingly allowed us to infiltrate their back yards and pick berries, jump off their porch and pick flowers. The end of the day was marked with a daily visit to Coopers candy store for ice cream or candy.

Whenever I consider buying new tennis shoes, Ray Bradbury's description is indelible in my mind.

When asked by his father why he needs new tennis shoes, The author presents a very good argument.

"It was because they felt the way it feels every summer when you take off your shoes for the first time and run in the grass. They felt like it feels sticking your feet out of the hot covers in wintertime to let the cold wind from the open window blow on them suddenly and you let them stay out a long time until you pull them back in under the covers to feel them, like packed snow. The tennis shoes felt like it always feels the first time every year wading in the slow waters of the creek and seeing your feet below, half an inch further downstream, with refraction, than the real part of you above water.
"Somehow the people who made tennis shoes knew what boys needed and wanted. They put marshmallows and coiled springs in the soles and they wove the rest out of grasses bleached and fired in the wilderness. Somewhere deep in the soft loam of the shoes the thin hard sinews of the buck deer were hidden. The people that made the shoes must have watched a lot of winds blow the trees and a lot of rivers going down to the lakes. Whatever it was, it was in the shoes, and it was summer."

Enjoy a nostalgic read that takes you back to small town America, in the eyes of a 12 year old boy. You'll never forget it.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

NOBODY'S LOOKING AT YOU Essays by, Janet Malcolm

Named one of BBC Culture, Lit Hub, O The Oprah Magazine and New York Times Books to read. The title story, is a profile of Eileen Fisher the fashion designer, who's Mother often said, "Nobody's Looking at You." Janet Malcolm clears the veneer in these essays, featuring interviews with Eileen Fisher, Rachel Maddow, Sarah Palin and others. Ms Malcolm follows her interviewees to their home, so she obtain a clear sense of who these people are, ' onstage and off.'

The essay on Eileen Fisher, I found to be laugh out loud funny. She offers insights and nuances with behavioral descriptions such as,when she arrives for lunch at Ms. Fisher's home,there was a mix up regarding the menu choice. Ms. Malcolm states in reference to Ms. Fisher, "she apologized for the lunch that clearly needed no apology." And later she offers this description regarding Ms. Fisher, "it occurred to me that Eileen looks better in her clothes than anyone else." She ends the essay describing Ms Fisher:

"These were the clothes for Mom's closet, in the obligatory black, gray and white, and as we stood before them. the image of Eileen, in all her delicacy and beauty, wafted out of them, like an old expensive scent."

Another fascinating interview and essay; the 29 year old stiletto wearing prodigy pianist, Yuja Wang. She wears extremely short and tight fitting dresses that ride up as she plays, so that she has to tug at them when she has a free hand, to prevent full exposure. When Ms. Wang was asked by a reporter why she wore such short dresses, Ms. Wang states, "I am 29 years old, so I dress for my age. I can wear long skirts when I am 40." Once again, Ms. Malcolm follows her here there and everywhere, to present a realistic impression of this music phenomenon. She describes Ms. Wang as experiencing an existential crisis at a young age. Ms Wang states in regard to her career, she began performing at 15. "I have been doing this for 29 years, do I want to keep doing this, or is there something more? I don't like to say this, but I am almost like a prisoner. I haven't ever enjoyed my free time."

And the chapter on Sarah Palin with Kate Gosselin is a must read. At one point, in the chapter Ms Malcolm aptly describes an encounter between Sarah and Kate, "What follows is like a scene in a dream-or piece of experimental theatre-where disconnected things happen all at once, very fast and slow, and anxiety covers everything like a sticky paste."

Its a diverse, cultural exploration of fascinating individuals as 'real people' with problems, and struggles, that are deftly epitomized by Ms. Malcolm. I look forward to reading her other books.

Recent Books by Janet Malcolm:

Forty one False Starts:Essays on Artists and Writers (2014)
Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial (2012)
Burdock (2008)
Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey (2002)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Happy Fathers Day! 5 Books Featuring Memorable Fathers

Published April 14, 2015 By, Little Brown & Company

A heart wrenching tale of Mothers, Fathers and Brothers. Mr. Obioma writes beautifully, when describing, his parents, on the first page, "My brothers-Ikenna, Boja, Obembe-and I had come to understand that when the two ventricles of our home-our father and out mother-held silence as the ventricles of the heart retain blood, we could flood the house if we poked them."

The story is told by 9 year old Benjamin, the youngest of 4 brothers,who formulate a deep bond when their Father is transferred to another city in Nigeria to work. The brothers feel a fit of freedom with his departure and skip school to fish.

The description of the interaction from young Ben, when his father tells his mother he will be leaving for extended periods, sets the stage.

"I remember the night Father returned home with his transfer letter; it was on a Friday. From that Friday through that Saturday, Father and Mother held whispering consultations like shrine priests. By Sunday morning, Mother emerged a different being. She'd acquired the gait of a wet mouse, averting her eyes as she went about the house."

One of my favorite descriptions in the book, is when Ben describes his younger brothers at the end of the book,

"David and Nkem were egrets. The wool-white birds that appear in flocks after a storm, their winds unspotted, their lives unscathed. Although they became egrets in the middle of the storm, they emerged, wings afloat in the air, at the end of it, when everything as I knew it had changed."

What follows is an allegorical tale, that is a mixture of tragedy and redemption.The weight of brotherhood drives the narrative to an apocalyptic end. Its a beautifully written, memorable book.

 Published Janury 3, 2017 by Atlantic Monthly Press

"One of New York Times Notable Books of 2017." Yes, I read this book two years ago and it has stayed with me. This book is not for the faint of heart. Its a book that describes the effects of religious fanaticism- and the impact of devout Christians who question medical intervention and rely on the 'power of prayer.'

Teenage Linda lives in rural Minnesota, her parents live in an aging commune, poor and Christian, struggling, seeking an intervention from God. The young, Gardner family, Petra and Leo move across the Lake, and they request Linda babysit their 4 year old son, Paul. Mrs. Gardener attempts to ingratiate Linda, so she begins to feel like part of the family. Linda remains skeptical and keeps them at arms length, as she slowly untangles a web of deceit. The father, Leo is a mercurial character in the book, and remains elusive, simmering in the background, but his role is pivotal in the destruction of this family.

One of the things I found so remarkable about this book, is how Linda is able to maintain a safe/remote distance from anyone and everyone, including, young adorable Paul. Initially this is what drew me into the book, Its very clear from the beginning, that Linda does not have the nurturing skills necessary to take care of this child.When Paul (who is 4 years old) jumps on her lap unexpectedly, this is her response.

"I prod Paul to go. It's time. But in the second before we rise, before he whines out his protest and asks to stay a little longer, he leans back against my chest, yawning. And my throat cinches closed. Because it's strange, you know? Its marvelous and sad too, how good it can feel to have your body taken for granted."

However, unknowingly, Linda is pulled in, and we as readers, are shocked by the tragic end.

 Published, July 01, 2009 By, Random House LLC

This is another book I read in 2009 that has resonated with me, through the years. I think it is a profound statement on the power of Art, religion and the relationships between fathers and sons. Asher Lev lives in a cloistered Hasidic community in Brooklyn. The local, Rabbi Rebbe is the 'all knowing' leader of this community who wields power, whens he deems it necessary.

Asher Lev a gifted artist is at odds with his Father who describes his drawings as nonsense and a waste of time. Asher is deeply committed to his family, community and his art and feels torn, that he is unable to please his parents with his decision to pursue Art. Rabbi Rebbe recognizes his gift and provides a mentor for Asher, to assist in cultivating his aesthetic abilities. This decision, proves contentious and deeply divides his relationship with his parents.

Asher's work is a cultural phenomenon both for its beauty and religious connotations. Asher's father never quite grasps the magnitude of his son's gift even as he becomes a Artistic icon.

His father states, "It's a strange feeling to me to hear my son Asher Lev, the painter. When I grew up, a painter was someone who painted the walls and floors of our house. People ask me what you are, and I can't bring myself to tell them you're a painter."

In the end, Asher has to make a choice between the family he loves, his religion and Art. Asher at one point describes his artistic gift as 'disquieting'. I found that word to be an adequate description of the inner turmoil most artists endure throughout their lives. And a term that resonates throughout the book.

Published By, Random House 2009

"It is easy to love people in memory; the hard thing is to love them when they are there, in front of you." John Updike

John Updike died in January 2009. In the last year of his life; 2 books of short stories were published posthumously, this one and, "The Maple Stories."
In this book, John Updike is clearly reflecting upon his legacy as an author, father of 4 and grandfather to 7 boys. All of the stories provide a nostalgic perspective on love, growing old, 'middle class everyman', religion and notably, contemplating past transgressions and a clear perspective on closing arguments to an impending death.
John Updike is a master of low key fiction, he provides the setting and the place and the characters with a handshake and tears write the story.

"I saw my father cry only once. It was at the Anton train station. I was on my way to Philadelphia, to catch, at the Market Street station, the train that would return me to Boston and to college."

"I was going somewhere, and he was seeing me go. I was growing in my own sense of myself, and to him I was getting smaller. He had loved me, it came to me as never before. It was something that had not needed to be said before, and now his tears were saying it."

I think of John Updike as the master of minimalist writing; a welp of palpable fiction in each sentence. He contemplates the inner struggle and evokes tension and turmoil, with each sentence that takes the reader on a pleasurable journey.

"We do survive every moment, after all, except the last one." John Updike

Published By, Random House 2016

New York Times Best Seller and Pulitzer Prize Finalist. I read this book in 2016 and it continues to resonate with me. At age 36, after decades worth of training as a Physician, he is diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer. As the tables turn, from physician to patient, his future as a loving husband and physician transposes to what can I do to extend my life or how can I enjoy my remaining days? Its a monumental question with no answer to guide you.

We follow Dr Kalinthi through the maze of medical care, as his health improves and then digresses. It is a whirlwind of emotions, as he struggles to hold onto each and every day. He decides to continue working as a physician, as long as he is able to, because he enjoys helping others, even when his health is clearly declining.

He and his wife decide to have a child, something he and his wife dreamed of and were looking forward to before the diagnosis. This proved to be a challenging question, what does it mean to have a child when you are facing imminent death?

In the words of the Author, "I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, changed nothing and everything."

Upon the birth of his child, "Cady" once again, he feels apprehension and joy, with the remark. "I hope I'll live long enough that she has some memory of me."

His wife, Lucy writes the heart wrenching Epilogue. "Paul died on Monday, March 9, 2015, surrounded by his family, in a hospital bed roughly two hundred yards from the labor and delivery ward where our daughter, Cady, had entered the world eight months before."

Upon rereading this book, I cried once again. It is a deeply moving book, that will leave you in tears but, also with a sense of hope, knowing a man who lived and loved life, knowing death was imminent but love was eternal.

Sunday, June 9, 2019


Engrossing, riveting, an original story line, unlike any other. No spoilers-but the author's tale becomes 'part' of the story. The story transitions from the past to the present from Bel Air California to Rio de Janeiro. Mara Alencar is a struggling voice over actress who will do anything to protect her young daughter, Ana. 

Mara in desperation to survive financially, becomes intertwined with a violent militant group. Mara is recruited because of her acting skills, but the part becomes much more complicated when she is asked to participate in a plan to overthrow the police chief in Rio De Janeiro. The consequences prove dire. 

Throughout the book, you keep asking yourself who is taking care of whom? Its the question that formulates the basis for the book. At times, you feel like you are in a story of espionage and violence and other times, it is clearly a meditation on living, and the passion to survive, one more day.

His descriptive writing takes you there. When describing Rio De Janeiro:

"Beaches where the sand was so fine, it glistened like the shavings of diamonds. Of water so cool, the sun felt like a friend. Bubbly and brown, like an ocean of milkshake. A place where you could hear the squeals of children, nearby, and you knew it was the happiest they'd ever been."

This book provides so much to the reader, a final gift from the Author. It's a meditation on love, life and the struggle to be present. As the Author describes, "as if night were a tall bottle of wine and because no one could find a cork, it kept spilling and spilling." its those moments, when we struggle to find meaning, to contemplate life in broad terms, and to remember the power, of a breath of fresh air.

"All she wanted was to be in a room, in a comfy chair, and able to breathe. That was enough. That was life. Those were riches. What could be more wonderful than to sit in a chair and say, I am alive. I am here."

Books by Samuel Park:

This Burns My Heart 2011
Shakespeare's Sonnets: A Novella 2006

Friday, May 24, 2019

Deep Creek Finding Hope in the High Country By, Pam Houston

I didn't want this book to end! I wanted to keep following Pam, her Irish Wolfhounds and farm animals on all of their adventures. In 1993, after the success of her first book, "Cowboys are my Weakness" Ms Houston receives an advance of $21k which she uses as a 5% advance on a $400,000, 120 acre ranch in the Colorado Rockies. She then states, "I had no job, no place to live except my tent, nine tenths of a PHD, and all I knew about ownership was it was good if all your belongings fit into the back of your vehicle, which in my case they did."

Its a memoir of her struggles and dedication to maintain a lifestyle she cherishes, when the odds, and the unpredictable environment (fires, floods, drought) challenge her. She begins to see the benefits of nature as a means of nurturing and  healing old wounds. She describes, her desire "to live simultaneously inside the wonder and the love the damaged world and do what I can to help it thrive."

"How do we become who we are in the world? We ask the world to teach us."

Ms Houston writes eloquently about the beauty she finds looking out "her kitchen window" the bluebirds, elks, horses, rams, chickens and snow covered peaks of the Colorado mountains that surround her. She details her "Farm Almanac" and  learns 'ranching' from the locals who take her under their wing, and offer physical and emotional support, so she can survive as a novice caretaker of an aging homestead.

Her depictions of farming are hilarious and heartbreaking at times. "In the winter of 2011, I had only two chickens-Cheryl Crow, who thought she was a rooster and Martina. Two is not enough chickens-everybody knows that-but that is how many I was left with after the summer of ranch fatalities."

Ms Houston survives and thrives, and notes her dedication to the homestead, "But right from the beginning I've felt responsible to these 120 acres, and for years I've painted myself both savior and protector of this tiny parcel of the American west."

This book was an education on the trials of tribulations of living in the west, taking care of a ranch, "when to turn the outside spigots off, to have four cords of wood on the porch and two hundred bales of hay in the barn, no later than October 1st and the birth of lambs which are born "like clockwork on the 25th of March every year."

Books by Pam Houston:
Cowboys are My Weakness (Short Stories) (1992)
Women on Hunting (1996)
Waltzing the Cat (1998)
A Little More About Me (1999)
A Rough Ride to the Heart (2000)
Sight Hound (2005)
Contents May have Shifted (2012)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Olive Kitteridge By, Elizabeth Strout

This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. HBO produced a 4 part miniseries, based on the novel in 2014. It is a collection of short stories that take place in a small town in Crosby, Maine. The stories all feature Olive Kitteridge. She is a retired Math teacher who is married to a pharmacist, Henry who finds loyalty in his marriage to be both 'a blessing and a curse.' She has one son, Christopher.

As I perused the reviews of this book, they are mixed. Many people disliked it and were upset that it won the Pulitzer. Others agreed with me, that it is a remarkable book, worth rereading.

Olive is the quintessential person you don't want to encounter when troubled, or in any sense, vulnerable in any way. Elizabeth Strout presents the lives of these characters in snapshots, from Olive's perspective, which can be ruthless at times. At her son's wedding which is being held at her house, she overhears the bride, "Dr Sue" speaking unfavorably about Olive's dress and is critical of Christopher, stating she understands he has had a "hard life especially since, he was an only child."

Olive's claws come out and she is incensed.

In Olive's world, this is her interpretation of the course of events, "Oh it hurts-actually makes Olive groan as she sits on the bed. What does Suzanne know about a heart that aches so badly at times, that a few months ago, it almost gave out, gave out altogether? It is true she does't exercise, her cholesterol is sky high. But all that is only a good excuse, hiding how it's her soul, really, that is wearing out."

Olive then proceeds to invade her son's bureau, once a place for "boy's socks and t-shirts, the drawer is now filled with her daughter-in-law's underwear-tumbled together, slippery, lacy colorful things. Olive tugs on a strap & out comes a shiny pale blue bra, small cupped and delicate." She balls it up and "pokes it down into her roomy handbag." Olive then proceeds to take a black magic marker and smears a black line down the arm of one of her sweaters.

I found the book to be both hysterical and tragic. She's awful-the proverbial victim, who tramples over everyone she meets, often with one phrase or a word. Olive Kitteridge goes for the juggler every time, when anyone crosses her path-even innocently. She is an unhappy person who lashes out at others, rather than taking a hard look at herself. She does soften .. a bit....over time.

But, I think it's a remarkable book that is beautifully written. Elizabeth Strout, captures the flaws and vulnerabilities of people and like Olive, fixates on them, to drive the point home. It's the narrative of the human condition, the struggle, the pull to be good, with all of our flaws, at times, they slip out and onto other people.
In the end, as an elderly widow, her final resignation, "It baffled her, the world. She did not want to leave it yet."

Ms. Strout will be returning to this lovable character in "Olive Again: A Novel" -Release Date October 15, 2019

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mothers Day! Five Notable Short Stories (Collections) on Mothers

Mothers Tell Your Daughters By, Bonnie Jo Campbell

Bonnie Jo Campbell's stories are hysterically funny. According to The Guardian, she is one of the top ten writers of "Rural Noir." She is the champion of working class people, who are poor but resilient and she is fighting for them. This book depicts the fraught relationships between mothers and daughters, with scrappy blue collar men, who may stay or leave and the problems that ensue.

In the story, "My Dog Roscoe" the opening paragraph sets the stage.

"As my big sister predicted from her cell in the county jail, I became pregnant early into my marriage, to Pete the electrician. That Tarot reading Lydia, did her last reading, before one of her cellmates reported her so-called activities, to the authorities and her cards got taken away."

All of these stories, are blemished, raw, stained and burnished with love, wounded wisdom and the belief that if you try hard enough you may not win, but, you may have learned something along the way.

Water Nine Stories By, Alyce Miller

Ms Miller writes fables, or dreams and you feel as though you are caught midstream, and the ending is never tied up in a pretty bow. I found all of these stories to be thought provoking and have an ending that is suspended, leaving it up to the reader to formulate the ending. The central theme of water can be healing and destructive, in the story, "Swimming" the opening sentence is, "Water was a way of forgetting. The very Blueness cast its spell, drawing her away from remembering." 

In this story, the narrator, Helen swims everyday as a means of relieving stress, and as a means of 'forgetting.' She has had three miscarriages and the death of each one, resonates within her, "What happens to a baby that is not born?" 

"One of Helen's friends, a staunch believer in reincarnation, suggested that some babies took several tries, that they chose their time. According to her curandero, Helen should try again. Try again. How many times do you try?"

It's a touching tale of imagined Motherhood and the trauma of miscarriages. She is overcome with grief, and the inability to describe the loss of a child in early stages of development, and is haunted by the ghost of a child.

Family Furnishings By Alice Munro

I adore Alice Munro. She is a critically acclaimed  Canadian short story writer who won the Man Booker prize in 2009 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013. She is the author of 14 books of Short Stories. All of her stories have a interwoven thread of love and loss, relationships, family, the small towns, and everyday life in Ontario and beyond. 

In the story, Jakarta, two young married women, are on a beach vacation. As they people watch and gossip they are captivated by other women, particularly 'the Monicas' who are pregnant or recently gave birth because they have lost their figures. The story then speeds up as we see the same women in present day, both marriages have ended. The story is a slice a life, a day in the life magnified and then transposed to the future, in the context of a life long continuum.

In the words of Hermione Lee, who reviewed this book for The New Yorker, "In the simplest of words, and with the greatest of power, she makes us see and hear an 'unremarkable/ scene we will never forget." 

A Manual For Cleaning Women By, Lucia Berlin

Lucia Berlin was an American Short Story writer who had a small following but, did not reach mass appeal until after her death in 2004. Her stories are based on real life experiences as she worked in the service industry as a cleaning woman, as a receptionist in the E.R. and as a swtichboard operator. She has been called one of America's best kept secrets.

Her books have recently been reintroduced with critical acclaim. She has clearly 'walked the walk' as she struggled most of her life, as a single Mother of 4 boys. 

In the short story, "So Long" she writes, "He came with roses, a bottle of brandy and four tickets to Acapulco. I woke up the boys and we left." There is always a ounce of detachment in her stories as she speaks of the need for compassion and also the fear of it, drawing you in.

But its her descriptive language that will draw you in. "We came to the bridge and the smell of Mexico. Smoke, chili and beer. Carnations, candles and kerosene. Oranges, Delicados and urine. I buzzed the window down and hung my head out, glad to be home."

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories By, Ken Liu

Mr. Liu writes Fantasy Fiction which read like Folklores and Fairytales. In this collection, he writes a indelibly touching story about his Mother called, "The Paper Menagerie." 

The story is about a bi-racial boy, named Jack who's Mother is Chinese and his Father is American. His Father signs up for a service, looking for a wife, and found her in a 'catalog.' In the catalog, she was listed as 18, spoke very good English and loved to dance. None of that was true.

Once born, Jack and his Mother struggle to formulate a relationship. She never learns English, and Jack is embarrassed by her inability to learn English and 'fit in.' She teaches Jack the art of Origami, and they make animals together that 'come alive.'

Years later, Jack looks back at the memory of making Origami animals with his Mother and the value of tradition. It is a touching and memorable story that will leave you with an indelible impression.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Happy Mothers Day! Five Poignant -Non Fiction Books on Motherhood

Blue Nights By, Joan Didion

In Joan Didion prose, a beautifully written book, that explores the textures of motherhood, life with her husband John Dunne, the life and unexpected death of her adopted daughter, Quintana Roo.

Ms Didion reviews her life with her husband and daughter, and focuses intently on the trials, tribulations and challenges of parenting. "This book is called "Blue Nights" because at the time I began it, I found my mind turning increasingly to illness, to the end of promise, the dwindling of days, the inevitably of the fading, the dying of brightness." Its a life review in questions, as she contemplates growing old, her fears, thoughts and doubts.

Mother Is A Verb, By, Sarah Knott

This newly released book on Motherhood, written by Historian Sarah Knott provides a historical interpretation of Motherhood from the Seventeenth to 20th century. Beyond medical jargon, Ms. Knott brings a comprehensive perspective from Cree and Ojibwe women, to old world wisdom of Appalachia to New York City to London's East End. It's an artist's narrative of the visceral aspects of motherhood; she reads diaries, records, medical records, first person narratives, items of clothing, her personal experience.

"Perhaps the best way to explore the pasts of having a baby is to put grand narrative aside, and pay attention to the fragments and the anecdotes. Perhaps the best way to explore mothering's many pasts is to build a trellis of tiny scenes, pursuing the many different actions involved. Conceiving, miscarrying, quickening, carrying, birthing. And then, cleaning, feeding, sleeping, not sleeping, providing. These make up the visceral ongoingness, the blood and guts of being "with child." The verbs."

"Historical forgetting leaves holes in the fabric that binds us. Things that seem natural only by force of repetition too easily take on a false status. Appeals to old, mistaken certainties, or to universals, stand uncorrected. How things are now too readily becomes how things were and should always be. It's not healthier to forget, to lose the past; historical remembering makes matters bigger and more open-minded."

This was a refreshing read on the realities of motherhood. Although it clearly offers an 'academic' experience, I found it refreshing to read a truly global perspective.

The Mother of All Questions, By Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit is one of my favorite authors.This book a follow up to her National Best SellerMen Explain Things to Me. The initial focus of the book was inspired by a question she received, when she was discussing the works of Virginia Woolf. During the question period that followed, the subject that seemed to most interest a number of people was whether Woolf should have had children. Ms Solnit, is familiar with this line of questioning, as she does not have children either.

"Part of my own endeavor as a writer has been to find ways to value what is elusive and overlooked, to describe nuances and shades of meaning, to celebrate public and solitary life."

The line of questioning was an endless drill of 'why don't you have children" and no answer given was satisfactory. Beyond this mantra, its a wise and woeful discussion of misogynist views and the trial and tribulations of navigating the waters.

Heart Berries By, Terese Marie Mailhot

This is a poetic memoir of a writer who begins with a "notebook" in a treatment center and candidly explores her life with heart wrenching detail. Its a tribute to her Mother, a social worker and activist. Ms. Mailhot grew up in Seabird Island,on British Columbia on the First Nation Reservation. She identifies herself as a Niaka'pamux, part of the Indigenous First Nation's people of Southern British Columbia.

I LOVED this book. As Kyo McLear describes, its "ache and balm. It's electric honesty and rigorous craft." As Ms. Mailhot deftly describes her life which she describes as "maltreated." She writes to explore the pain and acknowledges, that her memory is gilded with pain, imagination and what we choose to forget. "I know the math of regret and nostalgia."

She explores her culture of indigenous people, motherhood, love, relationships, mental illness and discovers her voice through the pleasures and pain.

"The thing about women from the river is that our currents are endless. We sometimes outrun ourselves."

MOTHERHOOD By, Sheila Heti

Ms Heti describes the gains and losses of Motherhood in a frank, exploratory tone, as she grapples with the choice herself. I enjoyed her previous book, "How Should a Person Be" as well. In making life decisions, Ms. Heti uses the pen to write through her feelings in a journalistic form.

In her late thirrties, as her friends are discovering the 'beauty' of Motherhood. She feels doesn't feel the same compulsion and begins to question whether she will ever have children. She is clearly ambivalent and struggles with the question.

"To go along with what nature demands and to resist it-both are really beautiful-impressive and difficult in their own ways. To battle nature and submit to nature, both feel very worthy. They both seem entirely valuable."

The author acknowledges its a controversial subject to discuss and there is much that is often left unsaid. I admire her willingness to speak openly of her fears and to put the question 'out there' when some people feel the question she not even be asked.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Every Last Cuckoo By, Kate Maloy

This was an engaging,interesting read that brought me into the woods of Vermont with pleasure! At 75, Sarah Lucas imagines a peaceful retirement with her husband Charles. Unfortunately, Charles has a tragic accident and dies, leaving Sarah distressed and alone.Sarah reminisces and is comforted by the memories, she and Charles had in a 50 year marriage. I especially enjoyed the cozy descriptions Ms. Maloy uses to describe life, in rural Vermont.

"The next morning while the pies were baking, Charles and Sarah drove to the village to deliver a turkey for the annual community dinner."

"Sarah took up her spot at the window seat. She wrapped herself in her quilt, opened the casement to the earth and sky, and breathed deeply. steadily, inhaling the cold, envisioning the light from the stars, entering her lungs. In and out she breathed, dropping further toward her center with every exhalation."

Ms. Maloy brings you into the story as we follow Sarah coping with grief, loss, her 3 distinctly different children,grandchildren, and the importance of establishing community. Its an engaging read, that is inspirational and thought provoking.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Our Souls at Night, By Kent Haruf

What a beautiful tale. In Holt Colorado, where Addie Moore and Louis Waters live, their lives intersect in an unconventional and thought provoking way. They are both widowed and have known each other for decades. Its a small and insular community, where the topics of conversation are politics and religion.
Its a deeply moving, and profound statement on the power of affection and kindness, which transforms into an intimate friendship that impacts both their lives. Its a complicated story, told frankly, mostly through dialogue and folksy language, you feel as though you are with them in the diner, eating apple pie.

But it also describes the plight of small town living, the towns people whisper and snicker behind their back. As they both reflect on their lives, and share regrets and  pain of losing their spouses, they are also painfully aware of the inevitable, the thought of dying alone.

"After dark one night they walked over to the grade school playground and Louis pushed Addie on the big chain swing and she rode up and back in the cool fresh night air of late summer with the hem of her skirt fluttering over her knees. Afterward they went back to bed in her upstairs front room and they lay beside each other naked in the summer air coming in from the open windows."

Kent Haruf is a master of sharing life in small town America. He writes descriptively and beautifully, with unassuming humor and grace that takes you there, feeling "the summer air coming in from the open windows."

This book was published in 2015, after his death in 2014.

Other Books By Kent Haruf:

Eventide & Benediction 2004
Plainsong 1999
Where You Once Belonged 1990
The Tie that Binds 1984

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry By, Rachel Joyce

What a delightful read! I would walk with Harold Fry anywhere. Harold Fry, age 65, recently retired,  lives in a small English village,with his wife Maureen. He receives a letter from a former co-worker, Queenie Hennessey, who he hasn't seen in 20 years, notifying him that she is dying of cancer. She is writing to say good bye.

Harold writes a brief letter in response, tells his wife good bye and leaves to mail the letter.While walking, he decides he is going to journey 600 miles, to greet her in person, which he believes will 'save her'.

It all seems absurd but, is it really? That's a question I kept asking myself throughout the book. And why not? Harold convinces himself as well as everyone he meets, that as long as he walks, Queenie will stay alive. Its the power of positive thinking exaggerated to the 1000th degree and I loved it!

Harold's wife Maureen, is passive and irritable, and slowly begins to miss him, as Harold checks in with her periodically, throughout the journey. Along the way, Harold reminisces about regrets, mishaps, pleasures, losses and shares unexpected, and interesting tales. Harold meets a variety of characters, some respond with support, others are amused.

He does arrive before Queenie dies, and he walks to her bedside. "He reached for her hand. Her fingers were fragile, barely flesh at all. They curled imperceptibly and touched his. He smiled."

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Lido By Libby Page

Heartwarming. Rosemary Peterson an 80+ senior, is distraught over the recent changes in the neighborhood she has lived in her entire life. The library has closed and the family grocery store is a trendy bar. And now, the outdoor lap pool "The Lido" where she has swum daily since it opened, is being threatened by a property developer to close. The Lido, is the central 'character' in the novel. It is the community that revolves around it, and provides the narrative for the story. The book interweaves the history of the characters, and the neighborhood from past to present day.

Kate Matthews, a 20 something journalist, who writes for the local newspaper, is floundering. She lacks direction, is insecure, and depressed. She is directed to write the news story about the closing of the Lido for the paper. She meets and attempts to interview Rosemary, who agrees to an interview, only if Kate swims in the Lido.

Kate's questions are naive and comical. To Rosemary, "why do you swim?" Rosemary laughs, "Asking me why I swim is like asking me why I get up in the morning. The answer is the same."

Kate and Rosemary meet on a regular basis to swim. We follow their friendship, loves, losses, and the profound affect the 'pool' has on their lives. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As a lap swimmer myself, I could relate to Kate's concerns about body image, the challenge to start exercising an outdoor pool, where its cold!The feelings of inadequacy about her job, herself and the struggles of growing up and out into the world.

The story poses the apocalyptic question about change and how it insinuates its tentacles into everyone's lives, and the aftermath that ensues.

Libby Page graduated from the London College of Fashion with a B.A in fashion journalism. There is a lovely photo of the author on the back cover insert, smiling by the Lido, where she swims. In Author's note she writes, "If you have never swum in a lido, I urge you to seek one out and take the plunge. If you do, perhaps keep an eye out for Kate or Rosemary in the water with you. I may well be there too. Happy swimming!"

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Women Rowing North By, Mary Pipher

I found this book to be thought provoking and poignant. As an aging woman, I could not get enough discussions on mental health-authenticity-real life stories-gratitude-nature references-empathy-humor-friendship-cultural and kitchen table wisdom.

The book is part memoir, a journal, a discussion on the aging process and the ways in which culture and societal norms ignore us, paint us as doting grandmothers, who are better off recessing into the woodwork, rather than challenging us to speak up and out. She describes aging as navigating life's currents and flourishing as we age. "As our bodies age, our souls expand."

"To grow into our largest best selves, we must be able to claim our own lives. We need to sort out what we truly desire and then go for it.'

In the introduction to the book, she writes, in reference to the aging process, "To be happy at this junction, we cannot just settle for being a diminished version of our younger selves. We must change the ways we think and behave. This book focuses on the attitudes and skills we need in order to let go of the past, embrace the new, cope with loss, experience wisdom, authenticity and bliss." 

She makes some very, very good points such as, with each new stage in life, we 'outgrow' strategies that worked for us at an earlier age. "If we don't grow bigger, we become bitter." She recommends expanding our capacities to cope, and describes growth as a qualitative process.

Mary does present 'happy stories' of people overcoming tremendous physical and mental health hurdles to reach to the other side of despair, a fulfilling life. She does profess to being a proverbial caretaker (oh yeah...we get it) which carries a heavy weight throughout the book, most likely for her and we as, readers. I did see her as the Grandmother in charge, nurturing, caretaker extraordinaire, which I found difficult to relate to, and a tad bit condescending.

Aging is a painful (literally) process. There are no quick solutions to life long questions. She does tend to gloss over the narrative, as a way to circumvent a deeper problem. For instance, she states we can all 'orchestrate' bliss. Its a shallow point to a much larger issue-how can we truly 'feel' bliss rather than arranging it.

I found some chapters to be more helpful than others. But overall, I found the book to be inspirational, and as a way of seeing aging as earned wisdom. "We have weathered strong storms and hold a long view of life's journey."

She is a Clinical Psychologist specializing in women, trauma, and the effects of our culture on mental health. She lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Other Wife By, Michael Robotham

Wow! I read this book in one sitting. If you are looking for a gripping, psychological-mystery-thriller, I recommend this author and book. Michael Robotham is a former investigative journalist. He lives in Sydney Australia.

Joe O'Loughlin describes his parents, William and Mary as childhood sweethearts, who have been married for 60 years. But, when Joe learns his father has been brutally attacked, his world as well as his family's are turned upside down. Joe arrives at the hospital to find a strange woman, covered in blood consoling his father, who he does not recognize.
There are many twists and turns throughout this novel, that will keep you, turning the page. 

I find it hard to find books in this genre that I enjoy. Many of them have predictable plots or I can't relate to the characters who are one sided and bland. You can tell the author was an investigative journalist,we follow the story, like a detective would, with clues that aren't obvious, but simmer with sparks throughout the novel. He inner weaves characters, and introduces family dynamics through time, as we follow the family and are left thinking, what happened?

Other Current books by this Author;

The Secret She Keeps
Good Girl, Bad Girl
Close Your Eyes

Saturday, March 23, 2019

At the Wolf's Table By Rosello Postorino

Germany 1943. World War II. The 'wolf' at the table' is Hitler and 26 year old Rosa Sauer has been ensnared, as one of 9 women, who is a 'taster' for Hitler. Three times a day, she must taste the food before Hitler does, to assure that it is not poisonous. Its a revolving daily process; after eating, she then waits an hour to see if there is a fatal reaction, and if not, she returns the next day.

"we know Hitler is there. They called it the Wolfsschanze, the Wolf's lair. Wolf was his nickname. A legion of hunters was out looking for him, and to get him in their grips they would gladly slay me as well."

It is a compelling read. Rosa's parents are gone and her husband is away fighting in World War II. One morning the SS arrive and inform her that she has been conscripted to be one of Hitler's tasters. "Fear comes to me three times a day, always without knocking. It sits beside me and if I stand up it follows me, by now its practically a constant companion." Within the sisterhood that develops, secrets and resentments grow to reach a dramatic climax.

The story evolves as Rosa begins to realize that she is on the wrong side of history.

"I couldn't have known then about the mass graves, about the Jews who lay prone, huddled together, waiting for the shot to the back of the head... But I was afraid and couldn't speak and didn't want to know."

Rosella Postorino is an internationally bestselling author and editor. This is her first novel to be translated into English.

Joan Boswell (Reviewer)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk By, Kathleen Rooney

As someone who ascribes to lengthy walking escapades, I walk 7 miles each way to work. I could certainly identify with Ms. Boxfish's 10 mile trek through Manahattan.  It is based on the copywriter, Margaret Fishback, who was, the "highest paid female advertising copywriter in the 1930's." The author, Kathleen Rooney obtained the archives of Ms. Fishback's work.

The author states, the book is a work of fiction and not a biography of Margaret Fishback. We meet Lillian Boxfish, an elderly woman, alone on New Year's eve in 1984. She decides to walk from her residence to her favorite restaurant, Grimaldi's and then to Macy's. Its a quirky, poetic pilgrimage as she meets many colorful characters, and reminisces with quotes memories, anecdotes, culture, art, marriage, family and a recipe along the way.

I would take a walk with Ms. Boxfish anytime and would be enthralled with the conversation. She is emphatic in her descriptions, but leaves room for a question, regarding any matter, she is currently discussing.

"I think I look alright. But who's to say? The insouciance of youth doesn't stay, but shades into eccentricity, as people say when they are trying to be kind, until finally you become just another lonely crackpot. But, I have always been this way. The strangeness just used to seem more fashionable, probably."

She ends, where she started, stating, "Now? The future and I are just about even, our quarrel all but resolved. I welcome its coming, and I resolve to be attentive to the details of its arrival. I plan to meet it at the station in my best white dress, violet corsage in hand. Waving as it comes into view, born toward the present on its road to anthracite."

Sunday, March 17, 2019

10 Irish Writers You Should Be Reading

Nora Webster, By Colm Toibin. He is one of my favorite authors. Nora Webster is set in Wexford, Ireland. Nors is widowed at 40, with 4 children and destitute. There is a depth and breath of understanding for Nora, that comes through in every page. All of Colm Toibin's books are layered with warmth, and unfold with a quiet, passive resonance, that reverberate over time.

The Spinning Heart By Donal Ryan. The book describes the 'destruction' of a small Irish town, after Ireland's recent financial collapse. It is a collection of connected stories, with a different narrator. Its a tangled web of dark tales, trials and tribulations, set in a working class neighborhood.

When All is Said, By Anne Griffin. This is a deeply moving tale about Maurice Hannigan, an 84 year old farmer, who decides to review his life at a bar, by raising his glass- 5 toasts to the most important people in his life. There are buried secrets, regrets and triumphs.  It is a deep meditation on guilt and loss as he deconstructs the lives of his family, including his wife, who recently died.

The Irish Times describes the novel as: "The most impressive aspects of this first novel are its rich, flowing prose, convincing voice, and its imaginative and clever structure."

The Sea, By John Banville. It's the story of Max Morden, who recently lost his wife. He returns to the seaside town, he visited as a child. There, he rekindles memories, reminisces and mourns failures and regrets, made over time. All of John Banville's books, are thought provoking, serried with prose, and rich with meaning.

Bruno's Dream, By Iris Murdoch. Bruno is dying, and his final wish is to see his estranged son, Miles once more. This book is rich with meaning-love, obsession, bitterness, retaliation. All of Ms. Murdoch's books are deeply philosophical and are multi layered, and thought provoking.

Antarctica By Claire Keegan. Short Stories. These are dark tales. Initially the stories seem banal in nature, but quickly turn sharp and intense. The stories are varied and could be described as fables or vignettes.

The Love Object By Edna O'Brien. Ms. O'Brien is a master of writing in poetic language. She uses phrases like, "stunned by lack of sleep and it was all terrible, tiring and meaningless." Ms O'Brien writes in an exaggerated tone, that is full of vivid descriptions, as if she were painting words on the page.

The Gathering By Anne Enright. Anne Enright is a beautiful writer. The Gathering is the story of a large Irish family that reunites over the death, of their brother Liam, who died at sea. There are deeply held secrets within the family. Ms. Enright masterfully leaves clues, and imparts wisdom with each step she takes, in telling the story of three generations of the Hegarty clan.

The Heart's Invisible Furies, By John Boyne. From the author of, 'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas'. This book is set in Post War Ireland, and is about the life of the adopted boy, Cyril Avery. We follow Cyril from Dublin to Amsterdam to NY and back. Cyril, born out of wedlock, from a young teenage outcast in a small town, is adopted by an eccentric couple who take of his physical needs only. They do not provide a loving, supportive environment. Its a tale of the power of the human spirit.

Last Stories, By William Trevor. William Trevor is known as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. His stories have been called 'small masterpieces' that grace the page.  Trevor's writes in depth stories about loneliness, and uses words like 'lone, alone and loneliness' and the concept within relationships. In the words of William Trevor, "People run away to be alone."