Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Summer Sisters

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume.  416 pages

In the summer of 1977, Victoria Leonard's world was changed forever when Caitlin Somers chose her as a friend. Welcoming her into the heart of her family, Caitlin introduces Vix to a world of privilege and vacations on Martha's Vineyard, a place where the two become "summer sisters," and where Vix has some unforgettable experiences.

Now, years later, Vix is working in New York City and is still friends with Caitlin, although not as close as she used to be. When Caitlin calls and tells Vix that she's getting married on the Vineyard, begging her to be her maid of honor, Vix knows she will go, even though this is the friend whose casual betrayals never lost their edge over the years.

When I need to reset my brain from reading, I pick up this book. Even though I've read it many times, I still enjoy revisiting the book and the characters, and I like how Blume gives a number of perspectives to tell the story. We get most of our narration from Vix, but Blume adds in narrative from other characters, so you understand how the different people relate to each other and create the storyline.  Judy Blume's storytelling, which most of us know from books we read growing up, is just as engaging when it's a story for adults. I find she has a way of creating characters that I can instantly visualize and empathize with (even though she sometimes barely describes what they look like).  I wouldn't ever say that this is a deep read, but that's why I like it: it's fast and it just tells a story that I like and don't have to think too much about (which definitely is appreciated sometimes).

I’ll Be Damned

I’ll Be Damned by Eric Braeden       Audio Book:  7 hours     Hardback book:  288 pages          

Wow!  That is as apt a word as one can use to describe what you will learn here of the life lived by the actor, Eric Braeden born Hans-Jorg Gudegast.   Born during the Hitler regime in 1941, Hans was just a toddler when World War II came to an end.     He had no understanding of who Hitler was nor of what was happening.   His home life growing up in the town of Bredenbek, Germany was pleasant during his childhood.   The family had maids and a cook to help keep the house running smoothly, his father was mayor of the town and had a driver.   His mother often entertained guests at 4:00p.m. with cakes and tea served.  His father died when Hans was 12 years old which threw the household into a downward spiral and which to this day is a heartbreak he has never recovered from.   Without his father’s income the servants were let go and the family was forced to move to the lower quarters of what had been their home.   His mother continued her practice of serving tea and cakes at 4:00p.m. now and then but she had to take a job in a factory to support the family (all sons).   The boys went to work for local farmers bringing home food from the fields they were able to scrounge.   Christmas meant each boy received a new pair of shoes that had to last them till the next Christmas.   Never was mention of Hitler brought up in his classes at school.   German history was taught but the generation after the Hitler regime was not privy to the atrocities that transpired during the 17 years Hitler had been in power.    Hans had a good life, fell in love with a well-to-do young lady but at 17 when the opportunity arose that an American cousin living in Texas offered to sponsor him to come to America he jumped at it.   Having seen western films from the U.S. his dream was to move to America and become a cowboy.    His first job in America was working in a lab cutting the knee joints out of cadavers – read the book for the whole scoop there – yikes!   How messed up is that?   He continued his education enrolling in college and taking courses as his time and money allowed.   A college professor asked him in class one day, how a country that was the birthplace of Beethoven, Goethe, Albert Schweitzer, Sigmund Freud etc. could allow Hitler to commit the crimes he did?    Embarrassed, Hans had no answer.   He did not know what the professor was talking about.   After that he began to read everything he could get his hands on to find out what happened during WWII, who Hitler was and what he had done.   Upon learning of the death camps and the cruelty of the psychotic fuhrer, Hans felt deep and utter shame for what he termed throughout his life the sins of the father.   He wrote stern letters to his mother demanding to know if she and his father had participated in the Nazi regime?   To which his mother answered they would talk about it when he came back home.  She had a neighbor explain that while his father was a member of the Nazi party it was only because Germany was suffering at the time and when Hitler delivered bread to the hungry and restored jobs and gave validity to the mark everyone’s life improved.   They did not see what all was going on in the camps.   They didn’t know.    They thought all was well and saw Hitler as a strong leader who restored the country.   Not everyone participated or even knew what was happening elsewhere although they learned later.  Hans bears guilt to this day for what he feels his country did.    Around this time another relative living in Montana offered him a place to live and had a neighbor who needed help on his ranch.   Hans went for it – he could realize his dream of becoming a cowboy – which he did!   He returned to taking classes at the University of Montana, joined the track team and the local soccer club going on to champion status.   Due to his athletic prowess on campus he was sought out by a documentary film director/writer/actor to help him make a film called, “The River of No Return,” in which they were filmed shooting rapids and surviving a trip on treacherous water.   This led to his interest in pursuing an acting career so he rode a grey hound bus to Los Angeles to see if he could make it in Hollywood.    He lucked into several roles as German soldiers and many roles as Nazi officers under his given name.    He was told if he really wanted to do well in Hollywood he was going to have to change his name, it was too German.   Hans feeling was when will people get over that 17 years of Hitler’s regime and start treating the German people with respect for all the good that has come out of Germany?   To this day he strives to do away with prejudice in all of its forms and has dedicated his life to humanitarian work.    After hearing at a party that he needed to change his name and then getting an agent who told him the same thing that if he wanted to do more than play Nazi roles the rest of his life he really needed to change his name, He finally did though under extreme duress.    He took the name Eric which was popular in Germany and he took a version of his hometown as his surname adding an a and shortening it to Braedon.   The roles began to pour in.   He guest starred on all the top t.v. shows even landing a year’s contract on “The Rat Patrol.”   When the “suits” wanted him to portray his character with a limp and wear an eye-patch he refused to do so saying that stereotype of German soldiers had been perpetuated for too long.   A German officer was a well-trained soldier who acted with honor serving his country as any soldier does, and he would not play the part any other way.    The “suits” allowed him to do it his way and the character was a many faceted person rather than a ridiculous cartoon.   Fans of the show liked the character so what started out as a 3 episode deal lasted a year.   His then agent told him to only accept film roles but he told his agent he wanted to know of every offer that came in and he would decide for himself what he wanted to audition for.   When the offer came in for a soap opera role his agent was against it, but intrigued by this new genre he hadn’t tried, yet, Eric Braeden decided to go for it.   And to go with a new agent.   Turns out the fans responded to his performance on the show.   They liked this tough rich guy on the show, Victor Newman.   At first the character was one dimensional, always evil.   Eric was tired of playing a jerk.    He asked the writer to flesh out Newman’s character get to the meat of his background and why he was so evil.   Give him a personality.   And that is how Victor Newman told the world on a Christmas episode of The Young and the Restless that his father was an alcoholic that left his mother and she being unable to support him left him at an orphanage.  The audience fell in love with Victor Newman.    He wasn’t evil!   He was a poor mistreated child in the body of a man crying out against the indignities and injustices he had suffered that is why he acted like he did.   BINGO!   The audience embraced Victor and his character has been a major player on the show for 37 years and counting!   To which Eric Braeden says, “I’ll Be Damned.”   There is so much more to learn about Hans-Jorg Gudegast a.k.a. Eric Braeden.    This is a terrific book that offers up an unashamed honest look at what lies beneath the character we know and love and sometimes love to hate – Victor Newman.   Eric Braeden has a star on the Walk of Famie in Hollywood.   The reader will learn the mayor of L.A. actually declared it Victor Newman Day on the show’s anniversary of its 1,000 episode.    Eric has fans throughout the world and is always amazed when he goes different places even different countries and hears “Victor!”   To which he again says, “I’ll be damned.”   It’s always a surprise and a good feeling to be appreciated and he is always gracious to his fans because he knows he wouldn’t be where he is if not for them.   He has had the distinguished honor to meet many world leaders and chat with them even calling many of them friends over the years and strives to use every opportunity to reach out and make the world a better place.   Very well written.   A wonderful introduction to a man who is passionate about life.  

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Book of Life

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness              Audio Book: 23 hours, 52 minutes       Paperback:  576 pages               

Excellent book.   I didn’t realize it was part of a series, but, trust me, it stands alone as a great story.   Powerful (Spell) Weaver Witch, Diana Bishop and Vampire Matthew Clairmont fall in love and marry against the wishes of the Council of Witches, Daemons and Vampires, and honestly against the recommendation of their families and friends.   It seems in magical society it has been thought down through time that each species, witch, daemon, vampire must keep their blood lines pure and marry only others like themselves.    But as Blaise Pascal said, “La coeur a ses raison que la raisnon nes connait pas.”  (The heart has reasons that reason doesn’t understand.)   A perfect match these two each loves the other completely.    After getting around all the nay sayers, turns out not only do they make a lovely married couple, they also make a couple of lovely babies – twins!   This is unheard of!  How can two different species/creatures procreate?   None of the magical set can figure that one out but apparently mother nature has reasons that reason doesn’t understand or can’t calculate the DNA on.   The mystery of how this becomes possible is revealed in the book as are many other mysteries.   There are very graphically brutal scenes described during battles and kidnappings so be warned.     There are monsters in this realm that are of the raging serial killer variety causing an intense climax.    The story will keep you guessing as to who the informant might be.   So many possibilities.      Really good reading here for vampire, witch, demon fans and gothic novel fans.   I would love to see this book made into a film or a t.v. series.   Enjoy, I did.

Way to Happiness

Way to Happiness by Fulton J Sheen, 192 pages

In 59 short essays - none more than a few pages long - Fulton Sheen lays out the Way to Happiness with his customary wit and erudition.  In the simplest terms, his "way" - which is, of course, not really his - is to have less but to be more, to know the difference between the highest things and the lowest and to act accordingly.

A man of remarkable intelligence and education, Sheen believed, in classic American fashion now sadly out of fashion, in the ability of the average man or woman to grasp, and grapple with, the insights of the great thinkers of the past.  As such, his book is studded with references and allusions to figures from Plato to Freud, all presented and integrated in his usual accessible style.  In the same tradition, he is uncompromising in his insistence that, to find happiness, "we must go out beyond the limits of this shadowed world - to a Truth not mingled with its shadow, error - to a Life not mingled with its shadow, death - to a Love not mingled with its shadow, hate."

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.  336 pages

Eleanor Oliphant is unusual compared to most people. She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she's thinking. She has an unusual appearance and a tendency to live life completely practically, letting her set a carefully planned timetable life of avoiding social interactions and weekends filled with frozen pizza, vodka and lots of sleep.

However, all that changes when she meets Raymond, the somewhat bumbling new IT guy at her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become friends. Although Eleanor is ill-at-ease initially, Raymond's persistence and big heart eventually help Eleanor find the way to repair her own damaged life.

Eleanor is a quirky heroine. At first, she's a bit difficult to understand, although I appreciated her straightforward way of looking at things and could appreciate some of her direct approach to everyday life. However, it's apparent that she is lonely, and because you get her perspective throughout the entire book, you are experiencing things as she does, widening your perspectives as she does. It's a great way to tell a story and really make her a sympathetic and fascinating character. The way that the layers of her life become peeled back so slowly really make this a compelling read. She has a lot of secrets and ways that she has developed over the years to cope with those secrets, loss and hurts that she has experienced, and as those carefully constructed layers start to come apart, she's so vulnerable that it made me want to reach out (through?) and give her a hug. Reading this story is like watching some kind of unusual flower grow, bud and unfold and it's an extremely rewarding read. I also feel this is a great book to pair with Eggshells by Catriona Lally.

This Is What a Librarian Looks Like

This Is What a Librarian Looks Like: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information by Kyle Cassidy, Ronald Rice (Editor), Richard Russo (Goodreads Author) (Foreword), Emily St. John Mandel (Goodreads Author) (Afterword)     240 pages.

Of course I picked up this book! Partly because I knew it was being published and partly because I remember what a few people told me when I started library school: "But you don't look like a librarian!"  Since then, I've picked up some pencil skirts and cardigans so I'm sure I fit their stock image a little better now.

This book stems from a photo essay published on Slate.com by author and photographer Kyle Cassidy in 2014. It was a montage of portraits and a general tribute to librarians. Since then, he has made it his mission to remind people how essential libraries and librarians are to our communities. This book has all kinds of people in it, women and men of all ages, background and personal style. Each person share their personal thoughts on what it means to be a librarian, and there are also original essays by Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, Nancy Pearl and others.  I found it to be an interesting read, and it was nice to see so many different kinds of people represented in this book (as well as a range of different types of libraries).  While this book is great for librarians to see, I feel like it would be a great book to get in the hands of a lot of people, especially those who proclaim that libraries are redundant, since we have the Internet.  It's a fun read, but also thought-provoking.

Final Girls

Final Girls by Riley Sager.  352 pages

Ten years ago, Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the sole survivor of a horrific attack. In an instant, she became a member of a club that no one wants to belong to: The Final Girls. Other members of the group include Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a killer and Sam, who went up against the Sack Man. All three of them are putting their nightmares behind them, never meeting each other. Quincy, herself, is doing well, thanks to her baking blog (and her Xanax prescription) and Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Things are almost great, in fact . . . until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub and Sam, the second Final Girl, appears on Quincy's doorstep. Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, making her wonder just why Sam has showed up. When details about Lisa's death come to light, Quincy realizes she is in a race against time to unravel Sam's truth from her lies, evade the media and most crucially, remember what really happened to her ten years ago.

This is a great thriller, where the pace and the pressure build slowly until it becomes a relentless speed, making you turn the pages faster and faster. The author does a nice job of building this pressure and creating characters that are interesting and sympathetic, with just enough mystery to them that you're kept off balance. It's an intense story, and it's difficult to know if Quincy is a reliable narrator or not because she doesn't have a full memory of what happened to her. As Sam keeps picking at her, and challenging her to engage in dangerous situations, you get the feeling like Quincy, herself, is about to come apart at the seams. I thought I knew what was going to happen and was blindsided (which was great). If you enjoy thrillers, especially ones where you're not sure if you can trust the narrative, this is your book. And a suggestion: clear some time because once you start this one, it's hard to put down.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Sellout

The Sellout by Paul Beatty.  289 pages

"Born in the "agrarian ghetto" of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: "I'd die in the same bedroom I'd grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that've been there since '68 quake." Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father's pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family's financial woes, but when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that's left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.

Fueled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town's most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court."

I don't think I could write a summary of this book if I tried, which is why I copied what's here from Goodreads.  The book is a slow starter and I admit that for a while, I wasn't sure if I wanted to keep reading because I didn't feel like I was getting what the author was writing about (and generally feeling a bit out of my element).  The book does pull together about halfway through, and once I had finished, I went back to the beginning and it all made more sense and came together.   The sense of being out of my element never changed, but I felt like reading this story made me think, which is always a good thing. The author definitely puts a lot of elements in this book that make for good discussion, and while I don't think this is a book that everyone will love, it definitely makes for an interesting read (if you can get past the slow start).  

A Gift From Bob

A Gift From Bob by James Bowen                 Hardback Book: 172 pages             
My favorite dynamic duo, Bob the Street Cat and his human friend, James.    In this book,  James Bowen shares a lot of stories about Christmases he and Bob have spent together since 2007 when they became flatmates.    Some happy memories, some sad, some kind of harrowing with near misses and escapes from dark characters and a time or two some pretty rough circumstances with guardian angel interventions or surely divine intervention from a higher power, James claims to be a Buddhist, afterall, so perhaps it is the Nirvana of the enlightened path.    The hard times and the dire times have led to much enlightenment in James’ life and that is where Bob comes in.   A teacher, a friend,  a mysterious visitor who drops in unannounced and stays to bring joy and comfort even strength and love to a young down on his luck “busker”/recovering addict, named James.   This furry friend helped James turn his life around.   Looking after Bob helped James to focus on caring for someone else besides himself.   Bob helped James to become a responsible adult instead of the heroin addicted burnout he had been previously.  As the saying goes, “When the student is ready a teacher will be sent,” and James’ time had come.  Divine intervention sent Bob the StreetCat to help James with a paw up to get back on his feet, to stand clean and proud and rightly so after all James had been through in his life.    We all need someone in our corner that we can count on, that someone for James is Bob.   I am a fan of these two and I loved hearing some of their Christmas stories from their 10 years and counting together.      Bravo!    Well done, James and Bob!  J

Road to Wellville

The Road to WellvilleThe Road to Wellville by T Coraghessan Boyle, 476 pages

In the first decade of the twentieth century , the capital of healthy living was Battle Creek, Michigan, and the center of Battle Creek was the Sanitarium made famous by Dr Harvey Kellogg.  Dr Kellogg, in turn, is one of the main characters of T Coraghessan Boyle's tragicomic novel of those seeking health and those seeking wealth in Battle Creek.  He is joined by the Lightbodies, Will and Eleanor, she devoted mind and body to the Doctor's gospel of healthy living, he somewhat more reluctant and skeptical; Charlie Ossining, a would-be cereal entrepeneur who increasingly comes to suspect that his partner, Bender, is conning him as well as their investors; and Dr Kellogg's Luciferian adopted son, George.  Individually and collectively, they must struggle to stay fit in a treacherous world of obsession, greed, lust, and daily enemas.

Boyle is undoubtedly a skilled writer, and there are definite moments where The Road to Wellville shines.  More frequently, however, there is a certain atmosphere of artificiality - the characters are not quite realistic enough to be entirely believable, not quite caricatured enough to be absurd.  The novel seems to promise a colorful cast of characters, from the quacks at the Sanitarium to the hustlers in the town, but remains stubbornly focused on the main characters, of whom only Kellogg is particularly interesting.  Combine this with the indulgent length of the novel, and many readers are likely to find reading about Dr Kellogg's Sanitarium as interminable as Will Lightbody found his stay.