Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Rising Tide - John M Barry

subtitle: The great Mississippi flood of 1927 and how it changed America

I picked this up at Goodwill browsing the books on half-off day.  It's a winner!  The older I get the more I enjoy history.  I get a perspective on topics I had no knowledge of in my youth and I can tie together facts and experiences to richly enhance my reading.

This book, as the subtitle indicates, is the story of a flood and its legacy.  Just prior to the depression of the 1930's the Mississippi River inundated 28,400 square miles from Ohio to Louisiana.  That is about the size of the entire state of South Carolina.  500,000 people were displaced and the damages ran to about one-third of the total U.S. federal budget at the time.

The book weaves facts about the movers and shakers in each state affected by the flood, particularly Mississippi and Louisiana and details the politics that lead to the first major federal government control of a national disaster.  Another story is told of the race relations of the time.  And yet another story is told of the fading of southern traditions and the rise to power of men like Herbert Hoover, Huey Long and the bankers of the South.

The author has become an adviser to the rebuilding of Louisiana and the gulf after Katrina.  He has also written about the influenza epidemic in 1918, a book I plan to seek out.

If you enjoy history, you'll enjoy reading this story.

Published: 1997  Read:  February 2013   Genre: History

Monday, February 25, 2013

We Are What We Pretend to Be - Kurt Vonnegut

Did you read Vonnegut in high school?  college?  He was required reading for my age cohort in those years.  So when I saw this new book on the library shelf I had to snag it.  It's a short couple of novellas, the first was written when he was in his late teens or early 20's and the second was left unfinished when he died. His daughter, Nanette published the book and provided a foreword.

I enjoyed the first story as it reminded me of his witty banter and characters.  The second story was more cynical and chaotic and...well, unfinished.  A quick read that led me to explore Vonnegut's family and history and learn a little more about an author I'd enjoyed reading many years ago.

Published:  2012   Read: February 2013   Genre: Short Story

Saturday, February 23, 2013

the Time in Between - Maria Duenas

This book's jacket states this is "the inspiring international bestseller of a seemingly ordinary woman who uses her talents and courage to transform herself...etc.".  It was a recommendation for one of my book clubs and a hefty tome, but I waded in anyway.

This is the story of a poor seamstress who falls for a jerk and gets stuck in Morocco during the Spanish Civil War, eventually returning to Spain during the early years of WWII.  I have to say I did not like her.  Her gullibility and willingness to be led by others (mother, boyfriend, lover, arresting officer, landlord, friends, etc.) was off putting.  I kept wanting to shout at her, "think for yourself!".  It took almost the first 125 pages to get to the next phase of her life and I almost gave up but finished reading to see if it would get any better.  It didn't.  She didn't seem to learn from her poor judgment and never developed much backbone.  The last few chapters tried to make her appear "plucky" but the change was unconvincing.

Part of the problem may be that it is a translation from Spanish and the translator resorted to using the same lead in style of storytelling at the end of every chapter.  The writing didn't "flow" and instead I felt it was stilted and formal.  The historical perspective could have been interesting as the bibliography revealed that many of the characters were based on real people.  There wasn't a convincing portrayal of the times or a "painting the picture" of the setting in historical terms that gave me an understanding of the time and place as we see everything through the eyes of our gullible and uninteresting heroine, who can hardly keep track of her own life much less grasp what is happening around her.  Not a recommended read.

Published: 2011  Read: February 2013  Genre: fiction

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt - Beth Hoffman

I loved this book.  It sneaked up on me and in the end made me cry.  It's a story of a mother and daughter, family and caring, pain and surviving.  CeeCee is a pre-teen whose mother is mentally unstable.  Her antics burden her daughter with embarrassment, shame and having to be the grown up in the family.  Her father runs away from the problem, leaving CeeCee with no respect for him.  When she goes to live with her great-aunt, she is surrounded by love and acceptance and understanding.  Being accepted teaches her to accept her mother's illness and realize her love.
One of my favorite bits:  The idea that we all have a "Life Book" and that moving through life is like going from one chapter to the next.

Published: 2010  Read: February 2013  Genre: Fiction

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Eve - Iris Johansen

I have to admit up front that I'm not much of a mystery fan.  I tend to skip through a mystery to find out how things end (and often confirm the ending I already suspect).  This book is part of a trilogy featuring one of the author's regular characters, a forensic sculptor named Eve.  She is searching for her daughter's killer with the help of friends in the CIA.  The story to me was implausible.  Everyone is super fit, super intelligent and either very good or very bad.  It felt like 90% of the book was dialogue.  The characters get around at the speed of light, the entire story taking place in a couple weeks, I think.  It probably would help if I'd read early books with the main character.  I have the rest of the trilogy and will probably read them just to find out what happened.  I just need to find a beach somewhere.

Published:  2011   Read: January 2013   Genre: Mystery

The Island - Victoria Hislop

This was a lovely story of family relationships in trying times.  One of my book groups read this last year and I finally read it myself.  It's the story of a Greek family living in Crete in the 1930's.  The mother, Eleni, is separated from her two daughters and husband when she is banished to an island for lepers.  The story is told by her daughter's best friend to Eleni's great-granddaughter, Alexis.  Alexis is seeking to know of her mother's past and family to help her in understanding her own relationship.

The leper colony is a factual place, Spinalonga, now known as Kalydon.  The Venetian fortress described in the book still stands and the island is a tourist attraction.

I enjoyed the portrayal of Greek life and traditions.  The family relationships between father and daughters, sisters and parents were touching.  I think the book bogged down a bit in the middle when describing life on the island. I would have liked a little more about Alexis's relationship.  The ending seemed rushed to wrap up all the story lines.  I suspect the author was able to write off some nice vacation time in Crete as a business expense!

Published:  2005  Read: February 2013  Genre: Fiction

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Circle of Quiet - Madeleine L'Engle

This is a journal of sorts recounting the life of the author and writer at her summer home in Connecticut called Crosswicks.  My DH suggested my summary of this based on my description should be B...O...R..I..N..G.  It was interesting to read about how she ran a home, was a mother and a writer.  There were many insightful comments on life, raising children,, marriage, small town life attitudes and friendships.  Overall however the book rambled and never got to a point and I finished it with relief instead of satisfaction.

Published: 1972  Read: February 2013  Genre: Memoir

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Rose in Bloom - Louisa May Alcott

I enjoy going to estate sales.  I picked up this book at one recently because I remember as a little girl reading books of this style. They must have been inexpensive but they looked nice, hard-covered and shiny covers.  I hadn't realized that they were "modern abridged editions" back then; I had always thought I'd read the original classics.

This story is part of the series Alcott wrote after "Little Women".  Rose was orphaned and taken in by a group of aunts who had many sons who became her cousin playmates.  In this volume, Rose has returned from a trip abroad with her Uncle Alex, a budding young woman ready for adulthood who finds her cousins have grown into dashing young men.

It is still a good story to read, with strong family and moral values and a life when manners and decorum mattered.  Having read of the life of Alcott and her father (Eden's Outcasts) I saw the influence of her beliefs in the story.  I noticed her references to the writers of her day; Thoreau, Emerson and Keats.  I was able to reflect on how reading these stories when I was young undoubtedly influenced my attitudes toward life, romance and being a woman. I felt the  vocabulary was advanced for the age I would have been when reading it the first time.  I plan to seek out the unabridged version and see how it differs.

Published: 1876 (original) 1952 (abridged version)  Read: February 2013  Genre: Fiction

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Wild - Cheryl Strayed

subtitle: From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail

This book was recommended to me by my BF's Mom, a hiker and explorer. It's the story of a 20 something woman who decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail that runs from the border in Mexico to the border in Canada.  Although she only hikes from outside of Tehachapi (the place with all the wind generators) to Oregon, skipping a chunk of the Sierra Nevada mountains because of snow.

I think memoirs like this are supposed to be inspiring.  The girl has been in self-destruct mode since the early passing of her mother from lung cancer.  She bounces from one poor decision to another before tackling the trail with inadequate preparation.  I guess I was annoyed that stories of what amounts to "dumb luck" are lauded (the book was an Oprah pick) and the really courageous achievements of others who were better prepared are not.

The author did provide me with a peek into the experiences of a generation that came after me.  Her casual attitude towards sex and drugs was described in a way that seemed to say this was the norm for her and her peers.  There never seems to be an acknowledgment of what poor choices she was making.  While she seems to settle her feelings toward her mother, she makes no judgment of herself.  She was lucky to make it to write the book.

Published: 2012  Read: January 2013  Genre: Memoir