Stacy's Books

books, movies, and boy

The Blind Side by Michael Lewis

fpoThe Blind Side. Finished 10-6-15, rating 4.25/5, sports, 320 pages, pub. 2006

Unabridged audio read by Stephen Hoye. 11 hours, 47 minutes.

When we first meet Michael Oher is one of thirteen children by a mother addicted to crack; he does not know his real name, his father, his birthday, or how to read or write. He takes up football, and school, after a rich, white, Evangelical family plucks him from the streets. Then two great forces alter Oher: the family’s love and the evolution of professional football itself into a game in which the quarterback must be protected at any cost. Our protagonist becomes the priceless package of size, speed, and agility necessary to guard the quarterback’s greatest vulnerability: his blind side.    from Goodreads

I loved this book, even the very footbally parts.  Many people have seen the movie that won a Best Actress Award for Sandra Bullock and are familiar with the rags to riches story of NFL player Michael Oher.  His upbringing was heartbreaking, but good fortune finally showed him some love by getting him off the rough Memphis streets and into a private Christian school in his teens and having the privileged Tuohy family adopt him as one of their own.  His transformation was inspiring and proved so many things about race and wealth and the importance of a loving family.

The Tuohy’s seemed too good to be true in this book (and that fact that the author and Sean Tuohy are old friends should be taken into account).  What they did was the epitome of charity, not just giving money, but charity of the heart.  They saw Michael had a need, housing and someone to look after him, and they stepped in, arms wide open.  When this large black man joined their Southern white Christian Republican family others may have had reservations, but the Tuohy’s paid no attention.  The miracles they were able to make happen for Michael showed great love.

At its heart it is a football book and alternating with Michael’s story is the history of the left offensive tackle position, the very one  that Michael would be called to play because of his size and athletic ability.  It all started in the 1980’s with Lawrence Taylor and Lewis managed to make even these somewhat dry passages come alive with humor.  It deftly explains why the position became so important and allowed Michael the privilege of becoming so sought after, essentially every college in the country making visits and calls to get him to their campus.

I did have my reservations about the way Michael was portrayed.  So many stories about his lack of understanding of basic things, while highlighting the economic divide also repeatedly painted him in an unflattering light.  He is still playing in the NFL and has recently talked about this in an interview.

“People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie. They don’t really see the skills and the kind of player I am.  This stuff, calling me a bust, people saying if I can play or not … that has nothing to do with football. It’s something else off the field. That’s why I don’t like that movie.”

As much as Michael may not like it, the glaring light shone on privilege, be it the privilege of race or money, is an important one.  The inner city public schools were, at best, negligent and the city not much better.  The story of Michael Oher shows one of the few that made it, his last NFL contract paying him $7M over two years.  And the story of the Tuohys show that with a charitable heart the world can change, one kid at a time.

This is a football book, but Michael’s story will appeal to anyone.  If you don’t like football, you can just skip those parts 🙂

October 15, 2015 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | , | 4 Comments

Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb

fpoBest Boy. Finished 9-25-15, rating 4.5/5, fiction, 246 pages, pub. 2015

Sent to a “therapeutic community” for autism at the age of eleven, Todd Aaron, now in his fifties, is the “Old Fox” of Payton LivingCenter. A joyous man who rereads the encyclopedia compulsively, he is unnerved by the sudden arrivals of a menacing new staffer and a disruptive, brain-injured roommate. His equilibrium is further worsened by Martine, a one-eyed new resident who has romantic intentions and convinces him to go off his meds to feel “normal” again. Undone by these pressures, Todd attempts an escape to return “home” to his younger brother and to a childhood that now inhabits only his dreams.    from Goodreads

Okay, let’s start with the ways that this book was a difficult read for me. Autism communities, like the one in the book, are both reassuring and frightening for a parent. I know someone who works at a community home, similar but on a much smaller scale, and he said because of the pay the staff turnover was high and the quality of employees was sometimes so bad that the residents were robbed of the money their families sent.  This is something I pray about every night, Gage’s independence. But the surprising thing for me was how hard I was hit by Todd’s love for his dead mother. Todd still needed his mother and she had been the only one who really looked out for his best interests, so I shed a few tears at those points of the book that I’m sure wouldn’t affect someone else the same way. I need to live forever, guys!

To the story, I love that this was told from Todd’s first person perspective.  Todd is a higher functioning man in his 50’s and this is not a character I’ve seen before.  Todd loves his routine, oldies music and to be helpful. He works around the center and even goes to the local school to help serve lunch.  But Todd’s routine was disrupted by a hateful roommate, a girl who makes him ‘have wind in his pants’, and new staffer who uses Todd to cover for his extracurricular activities.  Those three people leave Todd unsettled and wanting to return home to his brother so he does something drastic.

Gottlieb, whose autistic brother lives in a community not unlike Todd, gets the voice just right. Every person on the spectrum is different, with different abilities, but Todd is a fair representation of many of the commonalities of those on the spectrum.  I enjoyed my time with Todd even it was tinged with apprehension.  If you’ve never spent time with an adult on the autism spectrum then I think this book would give a great perspective with a great story too.  The end was very satisfying and left Todd and the reader in a good place.

Thanks for sending me a copy Golda!  I also enjoyed meeting the author when he was on tour last month and he wrote this article  in the Washington Post about his real life experiences with his 57 year old brother.  I highly recommend it.

September 29, 2015 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | , | 3 Comments

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

fpoThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Finished 7-27-15, rating 4.75/5, thriller, 590 pages, pub. 2005

I both listened and read this one.  The audio was expertly read by Simon Vance, 16 hours and 30 minutes.

Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families disappeared over forty years ago. All these years later, her aged uncle continues to seek the truth. He hires Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently trapped by a libel conviction, to investigate. He is aided by the pierced and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander. Together they tap into a vein of unfathomable iniquity and astonishing corruption.  from Goodreads

When I first started listening to this one I found myself lost in a sea of unfamiliar names and it made the beginning a slow start.  The set up of the Vanger history and all of the players, big and small, was something to get through not really to relish.  That came later.  Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist and magazine publisher, was convicted of libel and looking at jail time when Henrik, the head of the Vanger family, makes him an offer he can’t refuse.  Henrik also tapped the troubled and enigmatic Lisbeth Salander to check him out and what she found made her more than curious about Mikael.

All three, the Vangers, Mikael and Lisbeth, had their own stories and then came together for one big revelation.  Just as one storyline came to a close there was still plenty more story to tell and what a story it was.  For me, it was the way everything was expertly woven together that made the characters so rich and vibrant.  These were characters that I had never met before and I was intrigued.  All three were unapologetic and totally at home in their own skin and I loved it.

If the story started a bit bogged down it certainly didn’t suffer from that by the middle when the investigation and personal relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth became heated.  This was when listening to the audio in the car wasn’t enough and I had to pick up the book.  There was abuse, horrific abuse and violence, but it only made me in more of a hurry to see what would happen next, how redemption might come.  As for Mikael, he seemed to have no problem loving the ladies and I was struck by the very civil way the women sharing him acted.  I’ve never seen anything like it in real life, but hey, maybe I need to visit Sweden to see if that’s the way it works over there 😉

I already have the next one ready to go!

 

September 1, 2015 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | | 8 Comments

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

fpoThe Woman in White. Finished 7-6-15, rating 4.25/5, classic thriller, pub. 1860

Unabridged audio read by Ian Holm (Bilbo Baggins :)). 24 hours, 37 minutes. 783 pages (paperback). I both listened and read this one.

‘In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop… There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth, stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white’

The Woman in White famously opens with Walter Hartright’s eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter becomes embroiled in the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons, and poison. Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.

from Goodreads

I first heard of Wilkie Collins from my fellow bloggers, he certainly hadn’t been on my radar before.  I read ‘first gothic thriller’ and I knew I wanted to take a look.  I mostly listened but there were times during the 24 hour audio that I just needed to know what happened so I followed along in the book.  Published in 1860, it’s long and slow but very satisfying.

The story was told after the fact and by many different characters at Walter Hartright’s request.  Walter had a chance encounter with a mysterious woman who was obviously fleeing someone the night before he left for Limmeridge House to become an art instructor for a young lady there.  These two women, who looked eerily alike, are the heart of this mystery thriller.  The story was full of twists and turns, heroes and villians and comic relief (my favorite chapter was written by Laura’s uncle, Mr. Fairlie, and it had me laughing out loud).  I especially loved Laura’s strong half-sister Marian. She was a breath of fresh air in a book that takes place when women were more delicate and had no power without money or looks.  I was rooting for her way more than Laura.

As the first successful gothic thriller I can say that it delivered.  If published today it may have been quite a bit shorter since there were many lulls, but that only built up the suspense for me and let me enjoy the mystery a little bit longer.  My husband had a hard time listening to the audio because he was frustrated with the language (listening during rush hour might not be the best idea). He gave up but I think if he’d given it some time his ears would have adjusted 🙂

A perfectly satisfying read for classic and mystery fans.

I read this as part of my 50 in 5 Classics Club challenge.

 

 

 

 

July 23, 2015 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | 6 Comments

By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie (a Tommy & Tuppence novel)

By the Pricking of My Thumbs: A Tommy and Tuppence MysteryBy the Pricking of My Thumbs. Finished 5-26-15, 4.5/5 stars, mystery, pub. 1968

Tommy and Tuppence series #4 (1-The Secret Adversary)

Unabridged audio read by Alex Jennings. 7 hours.

While visiting Tommy’s Aunt Ada at Sunny Ridge Nursing Home, Tuppence encounters some odd residents including Mrs. Lancaster who mystifies her with talk about “your poor child” and “something behind the fireplace”.

When Aunt Ada dies a few weeks later, she leaves Tommy and Tuppence a painting featuring a house, which Tuppence is sure she has seen before. This realization leads her on a dangerous adventure involving a missing tombstone, diamond smuggling and a horrible discovery of what Mrs. Lancaster was talking about.      from Goodreads

I discovered Tommy and Tuppence back in 2011 with their first book, The Secret Adversary, and loved their relationship and adventures.  As much as I feel the need to read a series in order, there are five books and several short stories, this audio called to me from the library bookshelves before my Chicago road trip. It was refreshing to find out that T&T age as their series progresses and instead of 20 year old whippersnappers I found a married couple well into middle age and settled in their life together.

Tommy’s crotchety old aunt dies, but before she does Tuppence meets another woman at the same nursing home who says a few mysterious things that unnerve her. When the lady goes missing, Tuppence sets her mind to finding her to return a painting.  As you might guess, the search leads to dead-end after dead-end until Tuppence is put in harm’s way and Tommy isn’t around.  The plot is convoluted, and full of suspects and possible crimes.  This book is creepy.  Even with the picturesque countryside and small villages, there are dead children and dark characters I wouldn’t want to meet in real life.

Even though Tommy and Tuppence were separated much of the novel I really enjoyed their comfortable relationship and willingness to go off on adventures (well, Tuppence mostly).  I haven’t read a lot of Christie, but I do plan reading the rest of this series.  Loved it.

June 23, 2015 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | 9 Comments

What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey

What I Know For SureWhat I Know For Sure. Finished 5-18-15, rating 4.5/5, inspirational, pub. 2014

From all her experiences, she has gleaned life lessons—which, for fourteen years, she’s shared in O, The Oprah Magazine’s widely popular “What I Know For Sure” column, a monthly source of inspiration and revelation.
 
Now, for the first time, these thoughtful gems have been revised, updated, and collected in What I Know For Sure, a beautiful cloth bound book with a ribbon marker, packed with insight and revelation from Oprah Winfrey. Organized by theme—joy, resilience, connection, gratitude, possibility, awe, clarity, and power—these essays offer a rare, powerful and intimate glimpse into the heart and mind of one of the world’s most extraordinary women—while providing readers a guide to becoming their best selves. Candid, moving, exhilarating, uplifting, and frequently humorous, the words Oprah shares in What I Know For Sure shimmer with the sort of truth that readers will turn to again and again.

from Goodreads

 “While I was waiting on God, God was waiting on me. He was waiting on me to make a decision to either pursue the life that was meant for me or be stifled by the one I was living.” – Oprah

I’ve never considered myself an Oprah fan.  Sure there are things that I like about her, she does good things and sends positive energy out into the cold, cruel world, but every time I watched her show she seems both sincere and out-of-touch.  But Kathy said she liked this one and the audio was short (only 4 cds) and read by Oprah herself so I thought I’d give it a listen.  I’m so glad that I did.

Oprah has many gifts and one is the power of communication.  I loved listening to her read her short columns from O Magazine about the things in life that she knows for sure.  It was like having Oprah sitting in the car with me (much like the cross-country road trip she takes with best friend Gayle that she talks about in the book) telling me to live my best life.  As often as I get pulled into the drudgery and annoyances of everyday life, it was such a breath of fresh air to hear Oprah tell me to open my eyes and live my best life.

There may have been no brand new lessons, we’ve heard many of these things before, but Oprah sharing her varied experiences and what they taught her left me with a smile on my face as well as in my heart.  Inspiring and positive and definitely worth a listen.

June 4, 2015 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | , | 9 Comments

The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos

The Precious OneThe Precious One. Finished 4-25-15, rating 4.5/5, fiction,

In all her life, Eustacia “Taisy” Cleary has given her heart to only three men: her first love, Ben Ransom; her twin brother, Marcus; and Wilson Cleary — professor, inventor, philanderer, self-made millionaire, brilliant man, breathtaking jerk: her father.

Seventeen years ago, Wilson ditched his first family for Caroline, a beautiful young sculptor. In all that time, Taisy’s family has seen Wilson, Caroline, and their daughter Willow only once.

Why then, is Wilson calling Taisy now, inviting her for an extended visit, encouraging her to meet her pretty sister — a teenager who views her with jealousy, mistrust, and grudging admiration? Why, now, does Wilson want Taisy to help him write his memoir?
from Goodreads

I really identified with Taisy, a woman in her 30’s who lost her only love and never really had the love of her father.  I think it’s easier to think that a parent doesn’t care about you by just telling yourself that they are a jerk, but what happens when another kid comes along and proves that your parent could love.  But it just didn’t happen with you.  Poor Taisy wanted the love of her father and never received it and has spent more than a decade always secretly hoping there might be a chance to reconnect.  When that time comes, we really get to see what an ass Wilson is.  I’m sorry I can’t come up with a nicer word, but he was something else.

At first I was a little disappointed when we cut to Willow’s story.  The Precious One had been raised pretty much single-handedly by her father and she had some very interesting and lofty ideas.  But, as she started working through being a teenager without her father’s influence my heart softened.  What makes a family?  Willow is about to find out.

I loved Marisa’s first book, Love Walked In, and I knew within five minutes that I would most likely love this one too.  Her writing engages me, it feels like a comfort read but with lightness and fun.  The story and the writing felt fresh and while there were serious storylines it never felt heavy.  Loved it.

I received this from the publisher courtesy of She Reads.

May 5, 2015 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | | 10 Comments

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow ChildThe Snow Child. Finished 4-21-15, rating 4.25/5, fiction, pub. 2012

Unabridged audio read by Debra Monk.  10.75 hours.

Finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm, she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them. from Goodreads

Whenever I read books set in Alaska, I become immersed in the barren, yet lush and beautiful landscape and this was no different.  Ivey’s words describing Alaska were mesmerizing.  In the beginning, when Mabel and Jack were first learning their way in the new, wild country, the often depressing tone of the story was mirrored by the hard nature of Alaska and I was drawn in.  As the story moved from dark to light, so did the reality of Alaska’s land.

The story was based on a Russian folk tale of the snow child but I wasn’t familiar with it.  This skittish girl who Jack and Mabel, who were still longing for children in middle age, saw more and more frequently was real, or maybe she wasn’t.  In the end, did it matter?

I loved the struggle of living off the land and their outspoken neighbor Esther.  I also loved how the words drew such vivid pictures in my mind that I can still see Alaska in my mind over a week after finishing the book.  The writing wasn’t sparse, but emotions and intentions were described in such a simple way that the story seemed somewhat magical.

Was she a snow child or just a girl?  That’s what kept me reading when the story dragged and the ending was both a surprise and expected.  Not bad for a debut novel, I’d say!

Recommended for anyone looking for something a little different.

April 23, 2015 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | , | 9 Comments

The Residence:Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White HouseThe Residence. Finished 4-20-15, rating 4.5/5, history/politics, 320 pages, pub. 2015

Thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours  for inviting me to be a part of this book tour.  I received the book in exchange for my thoughts (and thankfully my thoughts are good :))

America’s First Families are unknowable in many ways. No one has insight into their true character like the people who serve their meals and make their beds every day. Full of stories and details by turns dramatic, humorous, and heartwarming, The Residence reveals daily life in the White House as it is really lived through the voices of the maids, butlers, cooks, florists, doormen, engineers, and others who tend to the needs of the President and First Family.

These dedicated professionals maintain the six-floor mansion’s 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, three elevators, and eight staircases, and prepare everything from hors d’oeuvres for intimate gatherings to meals served at elaborate state dinners. Over the course of the day, they gather in the lower level’s basement kitchen to share stories, trade secrets, forge lifelong friendships, and sometimes even fall in love.  from Goodreads

I like keeping up with current politics, so reading this book that spans 50+ years of White House inside information was fun for me.  The stories from the full-time and part-time workers who make  the first family’s time in the White House run smoothly were told with pride.  I loved hearing about the bullying Johnson, the warm Bushes (the first ones there), the partying Clintons, the domineering Nancy, and secret scene of the Obamas first night in America’s house.

I had no idea that the White House was designed by James Hoban, who won a competition planned by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and that it was built on the backs of slaves being paid in pork, bread and whiskey.  In 1941 the annual budget was $152,000 and today it comes in around $13 million.  That’s a lot of inflation!  I was surprised to learn that with all that money in the budget the first family is still required to pay for their move into and out of the White House and pay for all the food that they and their friends  eat (I always assumed we were feeding them).  President Carter didn’t think so much tax payer money needed to go to flowers (in other administrations $50,000 for state dinner flowers was the norm) so he sent the staff out to parks to find flowers, with one staffer even being arrested.  It was stories like these that had me chuckling.

The staff does their best to make each and every family, regardless of party, feel at home.  They take pride in serving not only the first family but representing the United States at state dinners and when taking care of the dignitaries from around the world.  I loved these behind-the-scenes looks at the best and worst of times.  I was shocked at the complete chaos on 9-11.

I was struck by how Brower wrote about the discretion of the workers on one page and then included unflattering tidbits about the children a page or two later.  I felt like the Chelsea and Secret Service story was disrespectful in a way that she tried to avoid in the rest of the book. There was another story of some bong-loving sons that I felt didn’t need to be included either.  She went out of her way to paint them in a positive light later, but I wish she could have saved the unflattering stories for the President and First Lady.

Definitely worth reading for anyone with an interest in history, the White House, or even current politics.

Oh, and there’s still a few days to enter the Goodreads giveaway.

April 21, 2015 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | , | 9 Comments

The Prophet by Michael Koryta

The ProphetThe Prophet. Finished 2-17-15, rating 4.5/5 stars, thriller, pub. 2012

Unabridged audio, 11 hours 50 minutes.  Read by Robert Petkoff.

Adam Austin hasn’t spoken to his brother in years. When they were teenagers, their sister was abducted and murdered, and their devastated family never recovered. Now Adam keeps to himself, scraping by as a bail bondsman, working so close to the town’s criminal fringes that he sometimes seems a part of them. Kent Austin is the beloved coach of the local high school football team, a religious man and hero in the community. After years of near misses, Kent’s team has a shot at the state championship, a welcome point of pride in a town that has had its share of hardships. Just before playoffs begin, the town and the team are thrown into shock when horrifically, impossibly, another teenage girl is found murdered. As details emerge that connect the crime to the Austin brothers, the two must confront their buried rage and grief-and unite to stop a killer.

We get to know Adam from the very beginning and he was such a fascinating character.  Haunted by his sister’s murder and fiercely protective, he is willing to cross every line that the law has placed in his way.  Enter his brother, the football coach, the other side of the family tree is viewed as the local hero, an image he strives to cultivate every day.  When the law seems unable to protect him he isn’t afraid to ask his big brother for help if though they’ve long been estranged.

This is an excellent thriller, especially if you love football and I do.  The action centered around the high school football team and their quest for a state title, which includes a lot of play by play. It’s set in a small, Cleveland area town on Lake Erie and I knew this town even if it wasn’t real.  This book felt like the character study of two brothers and one small Ohio town and I was drawn into the bleakness and pain as much as I was into the current bad guy running around town.

This was my first Koryta read and I can’t wait to read more. Any Koryta fans out there? What should I read next?

March 3, 2015 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | , | 8 Comments