The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Title: The Water Dancer (Oprah's Book Club), Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates The Water Dancer. Finished 2-27-20, fiction, 3.5/5 stars, 403 pages, pub. 2019

Unabridged audio

Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the deep South to dangerously utopic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.     from Goodreads

Hiram was born into slavery.  He was known for his remarkable memory and that plus the fact that his master was also his father moved him from the fields to the big house and eventual right hand man to his half brother.  After an accident when a special gift saves Hiram’s life his journey with the Underground begins.

There are many things I liked about this slave narrative, but I’m in the minority of readers who was underwhelmed.  I thought his time with the Underground was fascinating as there were so many people at cross purposes that it showed some of the dysfunction.  I liked his journey from South to North to home again, the full circle of the story.  The slave families being split apart as plantations lost their luster was heartbreaking.  But, for some reason, Hiram’s special gift didn’t gel with the rest of the story for me.

I missed book club last month so I may have been swayed by the people who loved it, but since I wasn’t  I’ll just have to chalk it up to not quite living up to the hype for me.

 

Home Truths by Susan Lewis

Title: Home Truths: A Novel, Author: Susan Lewis Home Truths. Finished 2-6-19, 3.5/5 stars, fiction, 480 pages, pub. 2020

Angie Watts once had what seemed like an idyllic life: a house in a small town in the English countryside with her beloved husband Steve and their three adored children. She never could have predicted how her life would one day turn out.

When her oldest son, Liam, grows from a sweet-natured boy to a troubled teen, Angie’s world begins to crumble. Expelled from school and disappearing from home for days on end, Liam falls in with a notorious local gang. After arriving home one day to find their 5-year-old son with a syringe Liam has left lying around, Steve makes a rash decision that will have lasting repercussions on their family.

Two years later, Steve is gone, Liam is missing, and with money running out, Angie and her other two children are on the brink of eviction. Then Angie is called into the police station and informed that there’s been a murder—and Liam is a suspect. As Angie’s desperation to save her family leads her to take drastic measures, her daughter secretly devises her own plan to save the family…which could put everyone in danger.   from Goodreads

I have never read a book with such dramatic lows and dizzying highs.  For over half of the book Angie is faced with a multitude of of woes straight from the evening news.  Brutal murder, human trafficking, extreme poverty, homelessness, child disappearance, drugs, and gangs.  Through it all she has the love and unwavering support from her sister and even manages to keep her job.  Her pride stops her from seeking out the help she needs and she spirals down until all that is left is her walking down the main drag begging shops for a job while she sleeps in her van at night.

Amazingly, she walked by a man who had known her husband and justlikethat he became a knight in shining armor the likes of which I rarely read about outside of romance novels.  Now every low was countered by a high that gave me whiplash.  I know this may seem like I didn’t like the book, but that’s not true.  I liked this book and the large cast of characters and their plights.  Angie’s story showcases how fast one’s life can spin out of control. My biggest issue was that the last fourth of the book was every aspect of her life, unbelievably, turned around tenfold thanks to a man.  Angie was rescued.  I was happy for her and her family, I even shed a tear near the end, but the triumph was a turnaround of her situation, not because of her fortitude.

So, for all the issues that I had with the rescuing, I did like Angie and her family and friends.  The reality of Angie not eating all day just so her kids can have food and the hopelessness of a parent when their child falls prey to the perils of social media were gripping and emotional.  Thankfully, there were happier endings almost all the way around.  I never tired of the story and at 480 pages that’s quite a feat.  This is my first book by Susan Lewis and she drew me in with sympathetic characters and a compelling story.

I want to thank TLC Book Toursand Harper Collins for the book and the hours of enjoyment they sent my way 🙂

 

Keep This Toss That by Jamie Novak

Title: Keep This Toss That: Unclutter Your Life to Save TIme, Money, Space, and Sanity, Author: Jamie Novak Keep This Toss That. Finished 1-19-20, 3.5/5 stars, home, 304 pages. pub. 2015

Quick answers to the one key question everyone needs to answer in order to get organized and save their time, money, space, and sanity: “Should I keep or toss this?”

Keep This, Toss That answers all of these questions and much more. Featuring dozens of illustrated Keep/Toss Checklists, the book shows you exactly what you need—and what you can safely toss, regret-free (even if you’re a sentimentalist or saver)—in every room of your house, for each hobby or activity, and even online. It also includes:
• quick tips on clever storage solutions
• tools and utensils that can do double duty
• advice on how to customize the lists to suit your house, your family, and your lifestyle Answering the one key question you need to get organized and live happily with just the stuff you love, Keep This, Toss That is the one organizing book you must have.   from Goodreads

I have a clutter problem.  If there is a flat surface in a well used area of our home I am fighting a constant battle.  I can pare down, but it must be something I do fairly regularly.  Some of the problem is just not having a home to put everything, more of an organizational issue I guess.  So, I picked this up as I was browsing the library shelves in this area and found it useful and easy to read.

There are lists of what to keep and what to toss or give away for every room in your home, including outdoor spaces.  The lists themselves became somewhat redundant, but the extras that were included were where I found most of the value.  Recipes for natural cleaners to eliminate all those cleaner bottles, lists for emergency bags or boxes for different purposes, lists of different ways to wear a simple white shirt and the shoes every woman should have, and different places to donate your extras.  Have too many reusable bags (who doesn’t have too many of those freebies you get?) send them here and let them find new life.

I found it’s value in the easy and fast way it read and how it encouraged me to rethink some of the organizational choices I’ve made.  The paperwork section was helpful because I am forever trying to find something  that works for me.  If you’re a clutterbug like me this is worth taking a look at.  There is a newer revised edition so that may be the way to go.

Merry Christmas!

It’s been a merry Christmas here with a day we all stayed in our jammies.  We introduced Gage to Home Alone for the first time 🙂  I hope you all had a great day, and that you all received at least one gift that you loved as much as Sammi loved her new green mouse.  For Gage it was the microscope Santa brought him.  He spent hours making slides.

IMG_3090 (2)

 

I read a book that I had given my mother at Thanksgiving and she gave back to me yesterday saying that she loved it.  Today was a perfect time for the short read The Purpose of Christmas The Purpose of Christmas by Rick Warren.  At only 127 pages it was a quick read about the reason we celebrate Christmas and all of the ways that Jesus Christ has changed the world and how we can accept him and do the same.  He wrote it for believers and non-believers alike.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Title: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oz Series #1), Author: L. Frank Baum The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Finished audio 9-1-19, 3.5/5 stars. classic, pub. 1900

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the classic story of fantasy that has delighted readers young and old for decades. Dorothy finds herself transplanted to the magical land of Oz when her house is sucked up by a tornado. To get back home she must follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City to ask the Wizard to help her get back to Kansas. Along the way she meets several interesting characters, including the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion, who join her on her travels to ask the Wizard for help of their own.  from Goodreads

As I was updating Goodreads with my book reviews of 2019 I realized that I had somehow neglected this one.  It’s been a while, but I remember being struck with how different it was from the movie.  Yes, there is still Dorothy and her dog, her three companions, some witches and flying monkeys, but it was darker than the movie.  There are no ruby slippers and the backstory was nonexistent.

It opens with the cyclone and Dorothy being swept off to a place that was inexplicable.  She meets the tin man, lion and scarecrow and they do go off on adventures, but there is imprisonment and evil too.  But as with the movie, everyone needs friends such as these, willing to go the distance with you and for you.

I liked it even though it felt (at least listening to the audio) different than the iconic movie, which is okay since I have no great love for the flick.  It’s a story that you recognize but don’t really know and that somehow makes it work.

This is   my 33rd selection for the Classics Club challenge.  I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50 (lol).

 

The Bungalow by Sarah Jio

Title: The Bungalow: A Novel, Author: Sarah Jio The Bungalow. Finished 11-3-19, 3.5/5 stars, fiction, pub. 2011

In the summer of 1942, twenty-one-year-old Anne Calloway, newly engaged, sets off to serve in the Army Nurse Corps on the Pacific island of Bora-Bora. More exhilarated by the adventure of a lifetime than she ever was by her predictable fiancé, she is drawn to a mysterious soldier named Westry, and their friendship soon blossoms into hues as deep as the hibiscus flowers native to the island. Under the thatched roof of an abandoned beach bungalow, the two share a private world-until they witness a gruesome crime, Westry is suddenly redeployed, and the idyll vanishes into the winds of war.    from Goodreads

Bora Bora housed our men and women in uniform during WWII and Anne, following her best friend, is stationed there in the Nurse Corps.  While some of the other women seem to be searching for men in uniform, Anne is recently engaged and only interested in serving and finding her purpose before she goes home to marry.  She meets Westry and the two have a connection and find a way for private time together in a half hidden bungalow on the beach.  But this relationship comes at the expense of her friendship with Kitty, who becomes distant.

There is a war going on and although Bora Bora is beautiful, the bloody war finds a way on to the island.  Not all of the men we meet will survive and other lives will be born and lost during Anne’s stay and when it is time to go home she can only think of Westry who has signed on for another tour, this time in Europe.  What will happen to them and the magic they found in the bungalow?

There is another storyline.  One that involves Anne at around 90 sharing this story with her granddaughter.  There is a mystery or two to be solved and lives will change.  I liked this one, but did think it had a few too many crazy things happen with the current story.  But for my issues with the modern tale, I was drawn into the wartime drama.

I always like Jio’s stories and this one is no exception.

Continuing with two romance series

I love a good romance.  In my younger years they were often the bulk of what I read outside of school.  My tastes have evolved to include more genres (okay, okay, pretty much all genres) but I still partake in a good romance to clean my reading palette.

Title: Anything for You (Blue Heron Series #5), Author: Kristan Higgins Anything For You. Finished 9-16-19, 3.5/5 stars, romance, 408 pages, pub. 2015

This is the 5th and I think final book in the Blue Heron series.  1-The Best Man, 2- The Perfect Match, 3-Waiting on You, 4-In Your Dreams

For ten years, Connor O’Rourke has been waiting for Jessica Dunn to take their on-again, off-again relationship public, and he thinks the time has come. His restaurant is thriving, she’s got her dream job at Blue Heron Vineyard—it’s the perfect time to get married.

When he pops the question, however, her answer is a fond but firm no. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Jess has her hands full with her younger brother, who’s now living with her full-time, and a great career after years of waitressing. 

But this time, Connor says it’s all or nothing. If she doesn’t want to marry him, he’ll find someone who does.  from Goodreads

I loved this series so much and was a little disappointed in this finale.  We know Connor and Jessica because they show up in all of the other Manningsport books, but somehow I never really fell in love with either of them.  I really liked the depiction of Jessica’s life as she took over care of her adult brother with autism, so maybe there was just a touch too much reality in it for me?  I liked it okay, just not as much as the rest of the series.  I’m sad to say goodbye to the Blue Heron Winery.

Title: Devil's Daughter: The Ravenels meet The Wallflowers, Author: Lisa Kleypas Devil’s Daughter. Finished 9-12-19, 4/5 stars, historical romance, pub. 2019

Unabridged audio read by Mary Jane Wells, 9  hours.

The newest book in the Ravenels series.  1-Cold-Hearted Rake, 2-Marrying Winterborne, 3-Devil in Spring, 4-Hello Stranger

Although beautiful young widow Phoebe, Lady Clare, has never met West Ravenel, she knows one thing for certain: he’s a mean, rotten bully. Back in boarding school, he made her late husband’s life a misery, and she’ll never forgive him for it. But when Phoebe attends a family wedding, she encounters a dashing and impossibly charming stranger who sends a fire-and-ice jolt of attraction through her. And then he introduces himself…as none other than West Ravenel.   from Goodreads

First, let’s admire the cover.  The covers for this series are all so beautiful.  I want all of the dresses, even if they just hang in my closet to admire.  Okay, on to the nice surprise, the books are just as good!  I love this series about the Ravenel family.  Well, I did have issues with the last one so I was even more excited to see that this one was back on track.  I’ve been hoping for a nice match for West since day one and it’s nice to see him finally fall for someone and a widow with small children at that.

This is a Wildflowers book too, but I haven’t read that series.  It wasn’t really necessary to enjoy this one.  Although you could this series out of order I wouldn’t.  Start with Cold-Hearted Rake if you enjoy 19th century English romances.

 

Mrs. Pollifax twice in a month

I first read Mrs. Pollifax at the urging of a book loving friend about two decades ago.   There are 14 Mrs. Pollifax books and with these two I’ve now read ten.  They are short and cozy and feature a woman in her 60’s that seems to be hitting her prime years as an asset to the CIA.  I just love these quaint books that take me to exotic locales but also to a bit of a simpler time.

Title: Mrs. Pollifax Pursued (Mrs. Pollifax Series #11), Author: Dorothy Gilman Mrs. Pollifax Pursued.  Finished 9-15-19, mystery, 3.5/5 stars, pub. 1995

Mrs. Pollifax series #11

The last thing Mrs. Pollifax expects to find in her closet is a young woman hiding. Kadi Hopkirk insists that that she’s being pursued by two men in a van. Under the cover of darkness, Mrs. P. tries to drive Kadi home to Manhattan, only to have a dark green sedan give them a run for their money and, Mrs. P. begins to suspect, their lives.

Finally Kadi shares the startling truth: her friend, Sammy, is the son of the assassinated president of an African country, and unbeknownst to the young man’s bodyguard, he passed her something important during a recent meeting. Ever resourceful, Mrs. P. puts in a call for help to her CIA colleague, Carstairs, who installs them in a safe house—at a carnival!   from Goodreads

Kadi sure is lucky that the house she chose to hide in belonged to Mrs. Pollifax who has friends in high places.  The carnival that served as their safe house was a lively addition to a mostly stateside story. As two stories intertwine Emily finds herself in the middle of a worldwide scandal and, as always, she proves she’s tough enough for the job.

Title: Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist (Mrs. Pollifax Series #13), Author: Dorothy Gilman Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist. Finished 10-20-19, mystery, 3.5/5 stars, pub. 1997

Mrs. Pollifax series #13

Working with her retired CIA friend John Farrell, Mrs. Pollifax must smuggle a manuscript out of Jordan, a document that encodes the shocking truth of Saddam Hussein’s reign.

Hardly are the two airborne when the coils of Middle Eastern intrigue begin to unwind. Mrs. Pollifax’s seatmate is not the affable Arab businessman he pretends to be. It is not imagination that persuades Mrs. P. that wherever they go, she and Farrell are followed. To elude their pursuers in such a politically volatile country isn’t easy. In fact, it can be downright deadly…     from Goodreads

I always love the different places that Mrs. Pollifax finds herself in and I was equally happy to find an old friend, John Farrell.  The two of them share a friendship borne out of danger, trust, and respect.  The Jordan setting was perfect for some insight into the people and the international stage.  Mrs. Pollifax is at her best when learning new things and engaging with new people.  I aspire to be just like her when I’m in my 60’s 🙂

 

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

Title: Clock Dance (B&N Exclusive Edition), Author: Anne Tyler Clock Dance. Finished 8-15-19, 3.5/5 stars, fiction, pub. 2018

Unabridged audio 9 CDs narrated by Kimberly Farr

Willa Drake can count on one hand the defining moments of her life: when she was 11 and her mother disappeared, being proposed to at 21, the accident that would make her a widow at 41. At each of these moments, Willa ended up on a path laid out for her by others.

So when she receives a phone call telling her that her son’s ex-girlfriend has been shot and needs her help, she drops everything and flies across the country. The spur-of-the moment decision to look after this woman – and her nine-year-old daughter, and her dog — will lead Willa into uncharted territory. Surrounded by new and surprising neighbours, she is plunged into the rituals that make a community, and takes pleasure in the most unexpected things.    from Goodreads

I love stories that take a main character from one life to another.  Willa gets a phone call from a neighbor of her son’s ex-girlfriend asking for help and Willa…hops on a plane.  She is married and has two grown sons, but is unfulfilled.  She convinces her husband to fly across the country with her, but after an extreme amount of patience he decides to head back to his real life while Willa stays.  At first she stays because she is needed, but then continues to stay because she likes living in the small house with mother and daughter in a close knit neighborhood with interesting people.  I liked the relationships and the people, but Willa was hard for me.

I think Anne Tyler has a gift writing recognizable people, stories and relationships.  I always feel some spark of understanding who the people are in her books.  This one was mixed for me because while I liked everything else Willa’s motivation and choices were hard to accept as something that could happen.  And the end didn’t help anything in that regard.  If you like Tyler you’ll probably like this one, but it wasn’t one of my favorites.

 

 

 

A Dirt Road To Somewhere by Romona Robinson

Title: A Dirt Road to Somewhere: An Emmy Award-Winning Anchor 's Incredible Journey of Faith Over Fear, Author: Romona Robinson A Dirt Road To Somewhere. Finished 9-20-19, memoir, 3.5/5 stars, 248 pages, pub. 2017

Raised in a tiny, poverty-stricken town in rural Missouri, Romona Robinson, along with her ten siblings, knows what it means to struggle. Under the tutelage of her hardworking, protective, and God-fearing mother, Romona develops an affinity for the Bible and Walter Cronkite. She also believes her home on a dead-end dirt road would lead her to somewhere. And it does. While crossing paths with the likes of the Ku Klux Klan, Nelson Mandela, and Barack Obama, Romona experiences unimagined pain, love, and success. Her compelling story will inspire you to examine your own purpose and leave you filled with a desire to walk in faith, not fear.   from Goodreads

Romona Robinson is a beloved Cleveland broadcast journalist who also lives about five minutes from me (not that I’ve ever been invited to her house :)).  She spoke at our Friends of the Solon Library annual meeting in the spring and did an encore in the fall.  She’s a presence: tall, beautiful and confident.  Not only has she won numerous awards but she started her own charity, Romona’s Kids, some of whom were in the audience.  She spoke for about 45 minutes and shared stories from this book.  I’m glad that I waited until after she spoke to read it because I could picture her telling the stories and that added to my enjoyment.

I think this book is a good choice for Clevelanders, but also kids growing up in poverty.  She found her way out and has inspired many I’m sure.