Readers Recommend what to read, watch, and listen to
Cora Blake is a widow who lost her only son in World War I. By the 1930s she's moved on as much as she can, raising her neices with her brother-in-law after the death of her sister. But when the US government offers to send her to France to visit her son's gravesite, she gladly accepts. Together with a group of other bereaved mothers -- an Irish maid from Massachusetts, the wife of a Russian chicken farmer, a socialite, and a former tennis star -- Cora travels to Paris. There, the women discover a web of shocking events that combine with their grief to tie them all together.
Like many novels about war, A Star for Mrs. Blake looks at the wider costs of conflict. Its main characters are Gold Star Mothers, so the book starts out with the basic, horrible fact of millions of young people dead before their time. While they're in Europe, Cora and the other mothers interact with other survivors of the war, including a journalist living with serious war-time injuries. It's also hard to read the book without thinking about World War II over the horizon. Cora and the other women are often hopeful that people will have learned from their mistakes, but as a modern reader, I know history is not that simple. A Star for Mrs. Blake is complex and often painful, but this makes it a powerful story.
Interested in this book? Click on the cover and sample the eBook below!
If you read this book and want to talk about it, come to the next meeting of the Southwest Morning Reading Group! The group meets at 11 am on the second Wednesday of the month, in the Southwest Branch Community Room. The next meeting is September 10 at 11 am. A Star for Mrs. Blake is September’s book. Come discuss!
The very premise of this book is exhausting! In 2011, Jennifer begins hiking 2,181 miles in 46 days in order to set the record for through hiking the Appalachian Trail. I enjoy backpacking and am aware of the discomfort involved in even modest hiking so when I saw this book I quickly grabbed it. Why would anyone want to attempt such a hike? For me the joy of hiking is experienced when you round a corner and see a spectacular view or when you are resting at the end of a long day next to the roar of a stupendous waterfall that can only be seen by hiking to it. If you are hiking an average of 46 miles a day you are hiking quickly with your head down and during hours when it is dark and therefore missing the beauty all around you. After finishing the book, I still do not understand why anyone would want to do this but I do have enormous respect for the author. Her ability to continue under severe pain and fatigue was phenomenal and I enjoyed the descriptions of sections of the trail and her interactions with some of the men who have set records. The book starts out a bit whiny but is definitely worth your time. If you have any interest in backpacking or what it takes to set an athletic record, check it out!
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Summer's almost over! Even though we'll likely have at least another month of hot weather, it always feels like the end of the season to me when school starts up. Luckily, there is still a little bit of time before that. Today I'm sharing my last new book recommendation for the summer. The publisher's summary is given below. Check out a copy to read by the pool, in line during back to school shopping, or stretch it out with the heat into September.
The Noble Hustle is Pulitzer finalist Colson Whitehead’s hilarious memoir of his search for meaning at high stakes poker tables, which the author describes as “Eat, Pray, Love for depressed shut-ins.”
On one level, The Noble Hustle is a familiar species of participatory journalism--a longtime neighborhood poker player, Whitehead was given a $10,000 stake and an assignment from the online online magazine Grantland to see how far he could get in the World Series of Poker. But since it stems from the astonishing mind of Colson Whitehead (MacArthur Award-endorsed!), the book is a brilliant, hilarious, weirdly profound, and ultimately moving portrayal of--yes, it sounds overblown and ridiculous, but really!--the human condition.
After weeks of preparation that included repeated bus trips to glamorous Atlantic City, and hiring a personal trainer to toughen him up for sitting at twelve hours a stretch, the author journeyed to the gaudy wonderland that is Las Vegas – the world’s greatest “Leisure Industrial Complex” -- to try his luck in the multi-million dollar tournament. Hobbled by his mediocre playing skills and a lifelong condition known as “anhedonia” (the inability to experience pleasure) Whitehead did not – spoiler alert! - win tens of millions of dollars. But he did chronicle his progress, both literal and existential, in this unbelievably funny, uncannily accurate social satire whose main target is the author himself.
Whether you’ve been playing cards your whole life, or have never picked up a hand, you’re sure to agree that this book contains some of the best writing about beef jerky ever put to paper.
- (Random House, Inc.)
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August sees some young adult books being adapted into movies, but there’s a wide selection of adult books to watch as well. Check one of these out before or after you go to the theater and see how they compare! Below are publisher summaries for the books. Click on the cover pictures to find a copy in branch near you or to place one on hold.
In theaters since August 8
“Hassan Haji is a skinny Indian teenager with that mysterious something that comes along once a generation. He is one of those rare chefs who is simply born. He is an artist. Born above his grandfather's modest restaurant in Mumbai, Hassan first experienced life through intoxicating whiffs of spicy fish curry, trips to the local markets, and gourmet outings with his mother. But when tragedy pushes the family out of India, they console themselves by eating their way around the world, eventually settling in Lumiere, a small village in the French Alps. The boisterous Haji family takes Lumiere by storm. They open an inexpensive Indian restaurant opposite an esteemed French relais, that of the famous chef Madame Mallory, and infuse the sleepy town with the spices of India, transforming the lives of its eccentric villagers and infuriating their celebrated neighbor. Only after Madame Mallory wages culinary war with the immigrant family, does she finally agree to mentor young Hassan, leading him to Paris, the launch of his own restaurant, and a slew of new adventures.” (by Scribner)
Coming to theaters August 22
“Stuck with nothing but a seedy gumshoe job and some demons, Dwight's thinking of all the ways he's screwed up and what he'd give for one clear chance to wipe the slate clean, to dig his way out of the numb gray hell that is his life. And he'd give anything. Just to feel the fire. One more time. But he can't let himself lose control again, can't ever let the monster out. And then Ava calls.
With a new look generating more excitement than ever before, this third edition is the perfect way to attract a whole new generation of readers to Frank Miller's masterpiece!” (by Random House, Inc.)
Coming to theaters August 22
“This insider’s account of the greatest winning streak in sports history brings to life the tragedies, triumphs, and unforgettable characters that inspired the major motion picture. Neil Hayes takes readers behind the scenes at De La Salle High School, where coaching legend Bob Ladouceur led his football team to a historic 13-year run of consecutive wins. A coming-of-age saga as well as an exciting sports story, When the Game Stands Tall provides a deft portrait of the enigmatic and visionary coach who instills in his players a discipline, commitment, and dedication to doing one's best that endure well beyond high school. This latest revised edition takes readers onto the film set for an introduction to the movie-making process, and includes a full-color insert of scenes from the movie, an afterword updating storylines of many of the memorable characters, and details of Ladouceur's final year as head coach.
As the story opens, the 2002 team, guardians of The Streak, is shaping up to be the most vulnerable in years. How the coaches and the players pull together throughout a difficult and challenging season to ultimately triumph is the thread of the book, with alternating chapters providing historical background on the school, past teams, stand-out players, and the dedicated coaching staff.” (by Random House, Inc.)
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Thanks for coming out on the 16th. Those of us able to make it, had a good time. I love the spirit of our group and it has certainly inspired me to read and know more about adult literature. We all have such different tastes and it is a pleasure to share your company. And now for the report…
In the spirit of a challenge to library employees to check out more e-books to try to win some freebies from Overdrive, Laureen willingly downloaded The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg. APL owns this book in many forms. We already discussed this title in Good Grounds so I won’t go into much detail. Laureen thought it was a light summer read, with twists and turns in the plot, plus Flagg is known for her humor. It was a “TV” book, in our group lingo. Laureen checked out the next book because she saw a review of an audiobook that noted this work is a history of the United States but the reader had a British accent. That got Laureen’s attention and when she checked the book out, The Men Who United the States: America’s explorers, inventors, eccentrics and mavericks, and the creation of one nation, indivisible/Simon Winchester, she discovered the author must have read his own audiobook. He was a British citizen most of his life but officially became an American citizen a few years ago. The title says quite a bit about this book and Winchester took the interesting tact of organizing his work through the Five Elements of Asia and East Asia. They are: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Winchester’s work concentrated on non-political men whose work or adventures or passions helped build our nation’s cohesiveness. The story of Lewis and Clark led off the book and then the author talked about geologists and map makers who spread the news about what made up America. The vocabulary in the book was eye-opening and the side stories made each section fascinating. Laureen should buy this book and give it more time, because she wasn’t able to finish it in the 3 weeks she had it. Laureen is now reading Jacob’s Ladder: a Shady Grove mystery/Jackie Lynn (2007) so she’ll report on that next time.
Ronnie brought the fiction work, Orphan Train/Christina Kline to Good Grounds. Our group previously discussed this book but Ronnie gave us her perspective on it. This book caused her to look into the actual orphan trains that ran between 1853 and 1929. This was a welfare program that placed more than 250,000 orphaned children in homes along the railroad routes. Many of these informal adoptions were not successful but some were. Ronnie considered this novel sensational reading and it has a satisfying happy ending. She also shared a recent Op-Ed piece that compared the historical orphan trains with the “new” orphan trains coming out of Mexico with South American children. Next on the table were two Susan Wiggs books, The Apple Orchard (2013) and The Beekeeper’s Ball (2014.) Both books employ orchards as settings but the first book is about inheritance and lifestyle change and the second is about relationships and setting up a cooking school on a large hacienda with an apple orchard and beehives.
Betty told us about reading James Michener’s first novel (1947) Tales of the South Pacific. She expected this post-WWII book to seem familiar, and it did, but she still felt it was good and a credible story that came out of the war in the Pacific. A play and the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s movie South Pacific were offshoots of this book. The 326 page book is well worth the read. The back cover of the paperback novel, owned by APL, says “It is a strange fact that he (Michener, a WWII vet) had written most of the manuscript of his book before he was appointed to the (military) job which almost exactly parallels the one held by the narrator of the book.) Betty’s next offering was a purchase but APL owns Vertigo 42: a Richard Jury novel/Martha Grimes. Betty told Good Grounds people that Grimes uses pub names in her titles. Betty also told us she loved the characters and this book is a good mystery without too much blood. Betty’s library read, this past month, was Dead to Me/Cath Staincliffe. This mystery has 2 women crime solvers (Detective Constable Scott and policewoman Bailey) who don’t like each other but manage to work together to solve a terrible murder. One of the book reviewers called this novel “Cagney and Lacey” British style.
LOIS (welcome to our group!)
New member, Lois, came to our group to see what we were all about and wasn’t completely ready to share her latest reads. She did, however, tell us she read two books by Charles Todd. She told us this author is a North Carolinian but that he writes Scotland Yard mystery books that take place after WW1 and that the main character was wounded in the war. Perhaps Lois read the last two Inspector Rutledge books-#15 and #16. Their titles are Proof of Guilt and Hunting Shadows. Lois mentioned there are quite a few characters to keep track of, in Todd’s books.
Mystery reader Linda gave us 3 titles to savor, although the last one is a memoir. The first book was mentioned by Betty last month. It is Dead Water: a Shetland mystery/Ann Cleeves. Both ladies and Trish Conaway, who works at the Woodland West Branch Library, enjoy these books. Dead Water is the 5th in the Shetland Island series and Linda recommends reading them in order. The next series book Linda shared is Drawing Conclusions/Donna Leon. It is book 20 in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series. Linda thinks this author’s works are stand-alone titles. The memoir, by Frances Mayes (author of Under the Tuscan Sun: at home in Italy) is Under Magnolia: a Southern memoir. One reviewer says “Mayes explores the power of landscape (Fitzgerald, GA), the idea of home and the lasting force of a chaotic and loving family.” Linda shared that Mayes’ mother led a particularly sad and unhappy life. Last of all, Linda showed us her Advance Reader Copy of The Paris Winter/Imogen Robertson. This book will come out in November 2014. A reviewer called it an historical thriller. It takes place in early 20th Century Paris. Linda recommends and is ready to lend out this book, if any of us are interested in it. It is an intricate story of romance, secrecy, greed, deceit and revenge.
Sandy shared her appreciation for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner, The Goldfinch/Donna Tartt. Others in our group have commented on this book already but Sandy added that this author can inhabit different places around the world and make them very real to readers. She seemed to really enjoy it. Sandy also shared a self-published children’s book called Napi: The Pug that Survived Katrina/Martha Faulkner. It is written by a teacher from Aledo and is based on a true story. Good Grounds member Linda is the illustrator’s (Carmen Rousseau) grandmother. It is a post-Katrina story, told from a dog’s viewpoint. It is only 88 pages long and the donated copy of this paperback will be in the Woodland West Branch library soon. It is also published as an e-book.
Barbara has been absent from Good Grounds for a couple months, so this prolific reader had quite a list to share with us on July 16. Her lead off book seemed to be her favorite. It is The Art of Hearing Heartbeats/Jan-Phillip Sendker. The plot is that a man abandons his family and his daughter tries to find him. Barbara said it is a love story and the country of Burma is involved. Next, Barbara read an Anna Quindlen book, Still Life with Bread Crumbs (2014.) The catalog write up for this fiction work says “a once world-famous photographer bonds with a local man and begins to see the world around her in new, deeper dimensions while evaluating second chances at love, career, and self-understanding.” Book 3 on Barbara’s list was The Invention of Wings/Sue Monk Kidd. This twice-discussed book is historical fiction and involved the 19th Century Grimke sisters and the anti-slavery movement. Barbara also read a book that Tony brought to our attention two months ago, The Museum of Extraordinary Things. Book 4 is Under the Wide and Starry Sky/Nancy Horan. This novel recreates the turbulent 20-year love affair between Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. Horan did something similar in the book Loving Frank, which relayed the relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney. The last book on Barbara’s list is one that several of us have read in the past—Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything/Steven D. Levitt. This 2005 non-fiction book gives an unusual perspective on what drives the economy. Although Levitt is an economist, and therefore very much a numbers man, Barbara said Levitt looks at data from its application in everyday life-from a people point of view, rather than hard, cold numbers.
Science Fiction is usually David’s genre and both books brought to the table this month were certainly in that category. First up was Rogue Star/Michael Flynn (1998.) It seems to be the middle book of a 3 part Firestar Saga. In 1996, Flynn wrote Firestar and in 2000 he wrote Lodestar. Rogue Star takes place in the early 21st Century and involves the building of a space station. David said one interesting aspect of this book is that a blue-collar steelworker is recruited to work on the project. David said there isn’t great science behind the story and there are many characters but he still managed to enjoy it. The title is taken from a line of poetry written by one of the characters. Next up, APL owns quite a few of Greg Bear’s work, but not the title David brought to us—Moving Mars. This 2007 title may not be worth your while. The story involves the colonization of the Red Planet and an ensuing revolution but what AMAZON calls “audacious scientific speculation,” David calls “going off the deep end.” David also shared that he listened to more of Dan Carlin’s history podcasts called Blueprint for Amageddon (I, II and III.) The website for such downloads is http://www.dancarlin.com/disp.php/hharchive.
Ron read a paperback of James Patterson’s NYPD Red, in which Detective Zach Jordan investigates a series of crimes that coincide with the arrival of many celebrities to New York who are there to attend parties and premieres. He will now read the 2014 follow-up book NYPD Red 2. Ron also took home Ted Bell’s recent book, Warriors. One of the descriptors for this book called it an “adrenaline-fueled thriller.” Too much adrenaline for Ron, who returned the book unfinished. It has short chapters and the action took place with tension between China, North Korea and the U.S. As of our Good Grounds meeting, Ron was reading Act of War: a thriller/Brad Thor. In this novel, a private Intelligence Officer, Scot Harvath, leads a team to prevent terrorism attacks. This sounds like an exciting summer read!
Pete and Laureen attended the library lecture: “Buckskin Scots and the Littlest Hero: Authors Loughry and Vanderburg Discuss the Revolutionary Experience” on Tuesday July 8th at the SW Branch Library. Pete bought both historical fiction books mentioned in the title and is now reading them. Buckskin Scots/Art Loughry takes place during the American Revolution. Loughry names this as #1 in a series called The Creation of America. The Littlest Hero/Dan Vanderburg takes place during the Texas Revolution. The lecture spoke to similarities between the two wars and the authors gave their opinions on why the British and the Mexicans failed to stem the tide of revolution. Pete is finding the reading of the Loughry book somewhat difficult because of its spare, non-descriptive style.
Joyce had 3 books to share with us on July 16 and two of them have not been previously mentioned. The repeat title was 10% Happier: How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found a self-help that actually works—a true story/Dan Harris. Surely you must remember that title! Television personality, Dan Harris, wrote this book about his way to mental peace through meditation. Harris suffers from depression and was somewhat pushed into meditation by friends, and it worked for him. Joyce’s other reads this month included The Sea House/Elizabeth Gifford, a story of “hope and redemption and a study of how we heal ourselves by discovering our histories.” She also read a modern classic, A Death in the Family/James Agee. Wikipedia says “The novel is based on the events that occurred to Agee in 1915 when his father went out of town to see his own father, who had suffered a heart attack. During the return trip, Agee's father was killed in a car accident. The novel provides a portrait of life in Knoxville, TN, showing how such a loss affects the young widow, her two children, her atheist father and the dead man's alcoholic brother.” Joyce said this book is beautifully written and Agee posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1955.
That’s it, folks. We meet again on Aug. 20. Happy reading in the meantime! Laureen
Is anyone looking for a good book to wrap up this summer? If so, come see what we have! I’ll be highlighting some exciting new titles over the next few weeks. The publisher's summary is given below. Check one out to read by the pool, on a last-minute vacation, or as part of your usual routine.
Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a poor town of twelve thousand people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.
Heather never thought she would compete in panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She'd never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.
Dodge has never been afraid of panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game; he's sure of it. But what he doesn't know is that he's not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.
For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.
In this gritty, spellbinding novel, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver delivers a gripping narrative of friendship, courage, survival, and hope.
- (Harper Collins)
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Whitney comes from an affluent family, advantages above and beyond the norm. She decides to spend her summer at Martha’s Vineyard preparing for a September wedding.
Describing her personality, the author does not give Whitney a particular beauty, but does endow her with the ability to see life as it is, the strength to make wise decisions without the emotional overlay that would color her judgment. This quality affects not only her personal relationship with her intended marital partner but her own parents.
Whitney knows that she wants to write and uses her journal to chronicle her thoughts and feelings. Along the way, in the midst of planning her wedding day, she befriends Ben. Although their friendship is platonic, she enjoys his company, feeling comfortable talking about her private ambitions as a journalist, her concern about her sister, and her political insights. Ben gives Whitney respect as a woman in her own right, a rare compliment in 1968! Resistance by her family, given Ben’s lower class in the community, gives Whitney pause to consider her options.
The author brings out the true nature of the people that Whitney trusted: a special friendship with one who has shared her innermost thoughts as well as her own family who supported her but gave her cause to question her own values about life, about love, and about friendship.
I really liked this story because the author gives Whitney the strength needed to squarely face the facts dealt her by people she loves who betray her and then deal with them. Enjoy!
Written by Joy B., Lake Arlington patron
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