Sunday, October 13, 2019

OCTOBER READING GROUP UPDATE






Quite a nice and varied lineup in my groups this month. 

Carol's Group:
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Tina's Group:
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One Book At A Time:
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Bookie Babes:
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I have finished reading The Ten Thousand Doors and loved it. Currently struggling through A Passage to India. I have already read and discussed Where the Crawdads Sing for another group but it's always good to discuss a book I thought was great.
Have you read and/or discussed any of these?

Thursday, October 10, 2019

THE LONELY HEARTS HOTEL


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The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O'Neill, Riverhead Books, 2017, 389 pp
 
Summary from Goodreads: Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1914. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.

Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both descend into the city's underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs and theft in order to survive. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes after years of searching and desperate poverty the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they'll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. Soon, Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls have hit New York, commanding the stage as well as the alleys, and neither the theater nor the underworld will ever look the same.
 
My Review:
My favorite book read in September will also be on my Top 25 Books Read in 2019. 
 
There are many reasons to read books: to learn about life and the world, to understand history, to find empathy for all types of people and creatures, to be entertained, to feel any and all possible emotions. I read for all those reasons.
 
My #1 reason for continuing to open the covers of as many books as I can is to find the ones that take me away to places of wonder. The Lonely Hearts Hotel did that for me, more completely than perhaps the great majority of books I have read.
 
Orphans, a love story, music, magic, clowns, deepest sorrows, highest achievements, all set in two iconic cities: Montreal and New York. These are ingredients that never fail to lure me in and when they are combined with style and sympathy and a clear-eyed look at life, as Heather O'Neill has done, I never want the book to end.
 
This is a novel for grownups who will not ever forget the spells cast on them by certain books in their childhoods, maybe more geared for females but I wouldn't want to make that judgement on either the book or the readers. I guess what is more true is it's a book for a select group of readers who would recognize each other anywhere. 
 

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

THE TESTAMENTS


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The Testaments, Margaret Atwood, Nan A Talese/Doubleday, 2019, 415 pp
 
I first read Margaret Atwood in 1996. The book was Cat's Eye, her 7th novel published in 1989, the year I turned 42 and she turned 50. Next I read The Robber Bride, then Alias Grace. I found her to be one of the most intelligent authors I'd read and utterly brilliant when it came to females and their relationships with each other as well as with men. I wondered how I could learn to be that intelligent.
 
Now I am 72 and Margaret is almost 80. As I moved towards the end of middle age I had decided that I would navigate my older years seeking wisdom. As always, Margaret Atwood is way ahead of me. From The Handmaid's Tale through to the MaddAddam trilogy, The Heart Goes Last and now The Testaments, her wisdom as well as her wit has just grown and grown.

I loved The Testaments! The characters, the pace, and the reassurance that women can fight oppression at any age with smarts, courage, cooperation and even a touch of evil. Women of three generations inhabit the story. Not all of them are nice people, well perhaps none of them are. It's not always about being nice. Some are good, some are horrible. 

They are united only by an aversion to being under the thumbs of men. Not all men are bad of course, but they easily can become handy with those thumbs as well as other body parts.

Margaret Atwood's wisdom, along with a sharp sense of politics and deep awareness of how human beings act and react, shines through The Testaments on every page. She has said she may be done writing novels. I say she deserves to make that choice. After all, that is one of the things wisdom is for. If she is done, she has left us with a perfect sequel to The Handmaid's Tale.

Monday, October 07, 2019

OUR TRIP TO LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK







As I mentioned last week, I have wanted to go to Lassen ever since reading Nevada Barr's mystery Firestorm. On Sunday, September 29, we got up at 5 am and were on the road by 6:30. Most of the 8 hour drive from Los Angeles to Lassen is on I5, the interstate that runs from the California/Mexican border at Tijuana to the Canadian border at Vancouver. We like to stop, stretch and change drivers often so we made it to Mineral, CA in about 10 hours.

Our first stop in the area was Highlands Ranch Resort. We did not get rooms there but had heard about their excellent restaurant. So after a leisurely happy hour at the bar with its great bar menu we headed to our more economical cabin. By then it was close to dark and the predicted storm of rain mixed with snow had begun.

I loved that our front porch was tucked behind two huge pine trees. We had a kitchen, small living room, bedroom and bath. Once we got the heater going we were cosy under lots of blankets because it rained and snowed all night.
 
We woke to a wonderland of snow on trees and the ground though the roads in the area were cleared. But when we arrived at the park we learned that the road through the park was closed. We walked up the road as far as we could, adjusting to the altitude of 5000 feet! But we could see Lassen Peak where the last eruption of its volcano was in 1913. It was cold and I was bundled!
 

 
We spent the rest of the day studying the exhibits in the Visitor Center and driving around the Lassen National Forest which surrounds the park, enjoying a picnic by a lake, and another great dinner at Highlands Ranch.
 
On Tuesday morning the 29 mile road through the park was open! Some of the trails we had picked out to hike were still covered with snow, some were too steep for me, but we walked along a creek, then hiked to and around Summit Lake. I lagged along while Greg went ahead and then came back to fetch me. I loved seeing chipmunks, birds, snow cascading down from the trees as the sun warmed the area and spotting animal tracks.
 
 
By the end of the afternoon we had driven the entire road and then drove back to the entrance. Amazing how much different things looked when going in the opposite direction!
 
 


 


 
The rocks in the foreground of this last photo are from the 1913 eruption! That area is called Chaos Crags.
 
After another 10 hours on the road on Wednesday we were home. All that driving was so worth it!! The next day I started another Nevada Barr mystery, Blood Lure, set in Glacier National Park. Thanks to our trip I could just feel the atmosphere, the unique combination of wilderness and human care that keeps our National Parks protected and gives us a chance to experience a bit of what our country was like before we made it into what it is now. 
 
I can't recommend those books enough for giving the feel of the parks, the experience of what park rangers go through to keep us safe while also protecting the parks from human wrongdoing. If you can get to any of the many American National Parks it is the most wonderful adventure, even for weaklings like me, and the most soul reviving, nature appreciating thing I have found. We met a couple guys who had been off-trail for four days and had not even known the road was closed until we connected at Summit Lake! 

I wonder where we will go next year.
 
 

Friday, October 04, 2019

BOOKS READ IN SEPTEMBER





September was a busy month including a family weekend in the middle and our trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park beginning on the 29th. The trip was amazing, epic and soul nourishing. I will try to squeeze in a post about it. The National Parks of the USA are one of our best national treasures. I am so grateful to have the time and the resources to visit at least one a year and I encourage everyone to do so. 

Meanwhile I managed to read a good number of books, the shortest and yet some of the best were four Caldecott Medal winning picture books. I am making a brief study of the illustration styles that were awarded in the 1990s and will do a post on those books when I get through the decade.

Stats:
15 books read. 13 fiction. 7 by women. 3 for My Big Fat Reading Project. 2 memoir. 2 speculative. 3 thriller. 4 picture book.

Countries visited: Russia, Canada, Great Britain, France, USA, Israel.

Authors new to me: Jason Matthews, T Kira Madden, Abby Geni, Heather O'Niell, Alex Michaelides, David Wiesner, Peggy Rathmann, Paul O Zelinsky, Allen Say, Hubert Selby Jr.

Favorite: The Lonely Hearts Hotel
Least Favorite: The Silent Patient
 
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Have you read any of these? What were your favorite books read in September?


Saturday, September 28, 2019

OUR ANNUAL FALL VACATION







We are about to embark on our latest National Park adventure. This year we will visit Lassen Volcanic National Park in northeastern California. We hope to hike as much as the weather and my lung capacity will allow. There are rain, possible snow showers, as well as sun in the forecast!
 
The photo above does not do justice to the entire area but you can get further info and pictures here  and the history of volcanoes in the area here.
 
I was inspired to go to Lassen by a book, of course. Nevada Barr's fourth mystery, Firestorm, was set there. Finally we will see it in real life without the wild fires and blizzards that feature in the book.

I will be back to my blog and yours later next week.

THE WILDLANDS


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The Wildlands, Abby Geni, Counterpoint, 2018, 357 pp
 
I read this novel for a reading group. When we discussed it last week we all agreed that it started out rather unimpressive, got better as it went along, then became totally gripping and had a perfect ending.
 
The McCloud family of Mercy, Oklahoma, lost every bit of their home and farm due to a Category Five tornado. The four siblings had already lost their mother at the birth of the youngest; their father disappeared without a trace in the tornado. Darlene, the eldest, was left with no choice but to give up her dream of college and take care of Tucker, Jane and Cora.

Tucker soon took off. Darlene worked at the local grocery store while Jane and Cora went to school. All of them were crammed into a rundown motor home living in near poverty.

After a year, Tucker resurfaces, having become an eco-terrorist. He lures 9 year old Cora to join him on a cross-country mission to wreak havoc on those who mistreat animals.

I felt the author took too long setting up the story with a tightly controlled narrative style, telling rather than showing the extreme emotional distress of these siblings. Once Cora leaves with Tucker the pace and style of the story picked up. 

It was then I saw that Darlene's tightly controlling nature had been the voice of that first part. When Tucker is in control of the story, it gets progressively wilder and crazy. Darlene's life then becomes a desperate search for her abducted sister.

I have read novels about eco-terrorism before. Like any terrorist, a madness takes over with such characters. The author got that exactly right with Tucker. You don't know until the very last chapters whether Cora will survive the madness or perish.

All in all, a great read with a well-constructed plot.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

LAST DAY


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Last Day, Domenica Ruta, Speigel & Grau, 2019, 274 pp
 
Domenica Ruta is an author to watch. Her debut With or Without You, a memoir, was so gripping I read it in a day. Last Day, her first novel, was one I had to warm up to but she left me impressed by the end.
 
We may be reaching saturation on the post-apocalyptic novel just as we may be reaching saturation on the climate change debate. Who among us can go through each and every day knowing that the long prophesied end of the world as we know it is quite probably coming in the next 50 to 100 years?

Last Day is another look at the ultimate outcome for the sentient being experiment on planet Earth. It is told from multiple viewpoints as various as we have in real life: an astronaut on the International Space Station, a young woman raised by religious helicopter parents, a messed up tatoo artist with criminal tendencies, a mentally challenged orphan aging out of group homes, and a lapsed Jehovah's Witness.

At the fictional future time in which the story takes place, all around the world humans celebrate/anticipate the end of days. Once a year on May 28, in accordance with each area's traditional ethos, Last Day is a worldwide event.

The tone of Domenica Ruta's sparkling imagination is layered with humanist wit. A funny doomsday story, you might ask? Yes, I say.

Within all the variety of human personality types, goals and ethics, she seems to say, we share the responsibility and the consequences for our home world and our individual lives. Really, because of that deep truth, how else could it end?