Monthly Archives: December 2013

FIVE WAYS TO TRAVEL FLORIDA: THEN AND NOW

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The sun comes up earlier each day. Some winter weeks in Florida will be coming up soon for me. That will mean more hours of daylight. Naturally, my mind turns to Florida books. Here are some titles for traveling to Florida.

Burn Offerings by Michael Lister. This is crime fiction set in North Florida. Michael Connelly recommends this author. Amazon posted good reviews. Another recent title by this author is Blood Sacrifice.

Continental by Russell Banks. This classic American novel explores late twentieth century Florida land development. It raises the moral and cultural questions that never seem to go away when this topic is put before us. It has been described as a dark lament and a powerful book. Russell Banks always show readers the hearts of his characters. I would expect him to do the same in this novel. I missed it when it was originally published and when it was reissued in this decade. This might be the time for me to read it.

Florida Off the Beaten Path, 12th: A Guide to Unique Places. Early blog readers know I am a fan of this travel series. (See: “Off The Beaten Path. Travel Books” on the Reading Page about third post from the beginning/bottom.) A new edition of this book is available. This book is a must for anyone spending time in Florida.

Remembering Blue by Connie Mae Fowler. I count this one of her best books. Her heroine will likely break your heart. She gives a close look at the Gulf Coast of North Florida and the shrimp business before the oil spill. Many of her books are set in Florida. The Problem With Murmur Lee is a novel where action takes place at Matanzas Inlet and on the intercoastal waterway of the Atlantic Coast.

Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen. In 2008 Matthiessen won the National Book Award for this new version of his Killing Mr. Watson Trilogy. He is one of the best writers today and writes both fiction and non-fiction. This novel is set at the turn of the twentieth century near the Everglades. I read the three novels in their original form and have not forgotten their excellence.

These titles all give a reader the experience of a part of Florida or a time in Florida that may be unknown, or less well known. I believe any one of them is worth your while whether you are looking for enjoyment, inspiration, information or relaxation.


MERRY CHRISTMAS WISHES

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MERRY CHRISTMAS WISHES

Thank you readers. I appreciate each and every one of you. Enjoy the holidays with your family. Celebrate your culture and traditions. Do good for others. Worship in a way that is meaningful to you. I join you in praying for all the loved ones you are not able to be with this year, as well as those who join you in celebrations. God Bless!

Here are two classics book suggestions for you to read with the younger members of the family. Enjoy.

The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett. Illustrations in beautiful colors are one of the things that make this book special. Santa asks a young girl Teeka to get the reindeer ready for Christmas Eve. Then the fun begins.

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Welcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco. This foster child enjoys a special Christmas adventure riding with Santa through the night sky. It’s a unique story that tells what becomes of Welcome Comfort. It will tug at your heart strings.

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Both stories can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Jan Brett’s story can be easily adapted during read aloud to include your youngest listeners.

Christmas is a wonderful time for books. What Christmas story do you most like to share?


FIVE GOOD BOOKS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED THIS YEAR

FIVE GOOD BOOKS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED THIS YEAR

Here are five books published this past year, books not written about at length on this blog. I recommend any and all of them. Three are novels, one a collection of short stories, and one a book of poetry.

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Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. This is the follow-up to her tremendously successful Wolf Hall. Henry the VIII and Thomas Cromwell live on these pages, more real than in real life. Perhaps politics in another age is more fascinating than it seems in our own time. The women can be as ferocious as the men.
“His children are falling from the sky.”

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Canada by Richard Ford. This story took my breath away. A teen-age boy must fend for himself after his family comes undone. I can’t say why but it held my interest more completely than any other book I read this year.
“First I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed.”

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Dear Life by Alice Munro. This volume of short stories won the Nobel Prize in Literature. It is now #1 on the Trade Paperback bestseller list. Alice Munro at her best is not-to-be-missed.
“I lived when I was young at the end of a long road, or a road that seemed long to me.”

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The Round House by Louise Erdrich. This is probably my favorite book of 2013. There is suspense and urgency to the tale. The story tells of a teen-age boy who tries to help his mother after she is attacked. It addresses a serious subject, justice on a North Dakota Reservation. I am a great admirer of this author’s writing abilities.
“Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation.”

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A Thousand Mornings: Poems by Mary Oliver. This volume includes a more beautiful poem about a mockingbird than can be imagined. Mary Oliver’s poems heighten experience in the natural world. She is able to capture nature so the world shines. The reader enters that light.
“for he is the thief of other sounds”

Every year there are some books that interest me that I don’t find the time to read. Some, I never even hear about. I love it when a book I missed jumps into my path and brings me a great reading experience. I hope one of these will be that book for you.


AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE LIVED LONG AGO

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BOOK OF AGES: THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF JANE FRANKLIN
By Jill LePore
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf 2013
Genre: Biography, History
267 pages plus appendices and extensive historical notes
Source: Library copy

This is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary woman. Nothing I say can adequately praise it. Still, I will reach for superlatives and expect to support them.

The rhythm of the author’s lines is a kind of perfection not often encountered. “Benjamin Franklin was his father’s youngest son, but he wasn’t his youngest child. Josiah Franklin’s youngest child––the youngest child of the youngest child of the youngest child of the youngest child, for five generations––was a girl.” Often I yearned to read her sentences aloud, not to enable understanding, but to enjoy words and rhythms. I turned the pages with enthusiasm, dived into each new chapter. I couldn’t know enough about Jane.

We are able to know Jane Franklin, Benjamin’s youngest sister, in large part through correspondence. In that time the letter was a favor, an act of goodwill and kindness. We may wonder about the popularity of social media today. Remember this. In Revolutionary times, Jane and her brother wrote frequent letters throughout their long lives, even though the possibility of delivery often seemed unlikely. Many letters were lost and undelivered. The call to talk to each other lived with a strength that is almost unbelievable.

One of the strengths of this book, and one of the reasons I love it so much is the window it opens for us to understand ordinary life in the eighteenth century in early America. Benjamin Franklin left the family home when he was seventeen and his sister was eleven. Though he helped her financially in later years, for much of her life, she lived with hardships of many kinds, including poverty. She cared for children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, made soap, sewed, and took in boarders.

Jill Lepore teaches that history is to a large extent what is kept. What is not kept is lost. From a few letters and scant historical information she brings to life a woman who completely holds our attention and admiration. The author is masterful with details, details that matter.

She gives a sense of what life was like in a cold, crowded, dark, stuffy house at that time. The trades those in this family engaged in contributed to the unhealthy environment. They made soap, sewed, made candles, worked leather, and learned to set type and run a printing press. Often these trades were conducted in the home.

Death carried children and adults away with alarming frequency. Children were born and they died. Those that survived to adulthood in these crowded, less than healthy conditions, died while still young. Some of her children were a great sorrow to Jane, ill of mind and body, lost in time of war. One son remained so mad he needed constant care throughout his long life. Her husband was mostly a worry, ill or in debtor’s prison. Jane Franklin Mecom’s life was often dark in nearly every way.

But for one very important thing. She could read. She practiced reading. She practiced writing. She wrote in her Book of Ages. And in these endeavors, her brother gave her aid. She had time for reading and writing in her later years, but she had always made time for such. Her brother sent her books. She struggled to obtain books for herself. She kept a library in her home.

Book of Ages has received a number of awards and positive reviews. It is one of the most interesting and enjoyable pieces of history I have ever read. I was truly astonished by how this author brought Jane Franklin and her time to life.


THE FINAL BOOK OF THE HUNGER GAMES

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MOCKINGJAY
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic Press 2010
Genre: Futuristic Science Fiction
390 pages
Source: Personal Copy

The popularity of the Hunger Games Trilogy is a modern phenomenon. Tremendous numbers of people are reading the three books and flocking to the latest movie, the second in the series, Catching Fire. Ten days into release it has grossed 296.3 million dollars; it broke the Thanksgiving weekend record. The stories are action packed thrillers that explode on page and screen.

The appeal of Hunger Games crosses generations. Four distinct age groups were represented in my family when we went to the theatre to see Catching Fire over the Thanksgiving Day holiday. The next day I went out and bought Mockingjay. What a book!

It’s a great read, imaginative in every area. Plot twists and turns keep the reader jumping. The settings are full of surprises, clearly reported. Katniss Everdeen is a heroine for the ages, brave, yet able to examine her actions. She is a complicated young woman. At her worst she never looses her appeal. The author shows her heroine’s vulnerability, her doubt, and her confidence without ever being too repetitive or overwriting her thought processes. Katniss is never too perfect.

Ms. Collins has created a whole new world, and yet it is only one step away from the one we know well. Yes, there are echoes of the Roman Empire with character names like Plutarch, Fulvia, Octavia, Flavius, and fights to the death broadcast for all to see, but this is not a replay of that time. With constant styling, and public relations messages, it is closer to our own time.

In this book, Ms. Collins causes readers to ask themselves questions about life that perhaps we have not ask as seriously as we might. Not long ago I said why would I read a book about children killing children? I seemed to put aside the awareness that children were killing children across the world: in the drugged-choked streets of U. S. cities, on the deserts of northern Nigeria, and in Al Qaeda training camps and their exit destinations, to give just a few examples.

Reading this book one sees war and peace from a different perspective, though the similarities to modern life are present in every chapter. There are districts where the majority of workers mine coal underground, and districts where food is scarce and districts where food is plentiful, wasted. What is important, real emotion or what we see on TV? These stories have something to say to us about power, greed, war and sacrifice that will make any reader stop and think. For me, this book demanded I pay attention to major life questions.

Futuristic science fiction has never been a favorite genre of mine, and add the darkness and I am usually even less interested. But like so many readers, I am now hooked on Hunger Games. When is the next movie coming?

“Read or not real?” This phrase from the book will stay with me. This question will help me contemplate life in modern times, or any time.

As always, please share your comments on Hunger Games.


FINDING JOY IN A GIFT OF POETRY

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Aren’t we all looking for a special Christmas gift? When you give a slender new volume of poems, the person who receives it is likely to hold it close, then gaze at the cover, and before long turn randomly to a page and take a taste by trying out a line or two. Recently, a good friend sent me a link concerning new releases in poetry.

New releases in poetry, hmmmmm, the perfect way for poetry to grace the home page of this blog. Some suggestions on this list are published by Knopf Doubleday, but I have added others as well. All of the poetry listed here is written by poets I have read and enjoyed, or by poets I would like to explore further. All are recently published. One of them might be the special gift of poetry you are looking to find.

Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins.
This poet has broad appeal and this volume is said to include some of his best work.

April Twilights and Other Poems by Willa Cather
This new edition reproduces her early poems and some previously unpublished poems along with a selection of newly released letters. Lyrical poems, ballad, and sonnets were forms she used to communicate her sensitivity to the landscapes in the West that later became such an important part of her prose.

The Crooked Inheritance by Marge Piercy.
Subjects of the poems in this collection range from current events to the poet’s childhood in Detroit. I have always found her poems very accessible and would expect these to especially speak to those familiar with Detroit and those interested in the news of our times.

Poems 1962-2012 by Louise Gluck
This volume includes poems from her book A Village Life (my favorite) spoken in the voices of the people in a Mediterranean town, as well as many of her finest poems from a long and distinguished career.

A Walk with Thomas Jefferson by Philip Levine.
This author is well known for poems about working class life in Detroit. The inspiration for the title poem is an African American living in a run-down area of industrial Detroit.
This poet is a favorite of many readers and a Pulitzer Prize winner.

I encourage you to search for a gift of poetry. What a good excuse to go to your favorite book store. Peruse the shelves. You may well find something that appeals to you more than any of the titles suggested here. Happy hunting. Joy for you and the recipient.