Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Prize: A Novel by Jill Bialosky

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WATCH THE MANUVERINGS IN THE ART WORLD

The Prize: A Novel
Author: Jill Bialosky
Publisher: Counterpoint (2015)
Genre: literary fiction
Hardcover Edition: 348 pages
Source: Library copy

This novel grabbed me from the opening paragraphs and I seldom put it down until I had finished it. Is it the author’s voice creating the connection? Is it her portrayal of the art world: galleries, artists, those who sell art? Was it the characters she created?

At the center of her story is a man who perceives he is trying to hold on to his moral center in the face of money, power, ambition and living. Edward Darby, father, son and husband is a partner in an art gallery and he represents an artist who has made a major impact on the world art scene. The story is concerned with betrayal but also with the sustaining power of love.

Not all critics have been kind to this book. Some have read the characters as not well-drawn and the themes as less than high-minded. Goodreads gave it a 3.5 rating and focused on its theme of betrayal. Kirkus Reviews put it on the Best Books of 2015 list. Clearly, it is a novel that provokes different reactions.

The author Jill Bialosky is the author of 4 collections of poetry, two previous novels and a recent memoir that became a best seller and a critical favorite. She knows how to pull a reader with her prose. This look at life in the art world certainly holds interest for readers who know little of that environment. Edward, the protagonist of this tale demonstrates his temptations and his faults. But this reader always turned the page wondering what he would do next, always hoping for the best for him and those he loved.

See www.jillbialosky.com for more information. She is a writer worth exploring. Not only does she write in different genres, she is also an editor. Her website, filled with interviews and information offers some very interesting reading.

I don’t wonder if I will read her again; but which of her publications will I chose? It may well be her voice as a writer that I do not want to resist. It takes hold of me and I hold on to it for the read.

LUCY BARTON: QUIET AND UNFORGETTABLE

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My Name Is Lucy Barton: A Novel
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Publisher: Random House 2016
Genre: literary novel
Hardcover edition: 191 pages
Source: Personal copy

Elizabeth Strout, in seemingly simple straightforward prose, illuminates the deep feelings people experience as they live their lives. Her stories are not complicated or fancy. In this one Lucy Barton is forced to spend a long period in the hospital, mostly away from her husband and children. Her mother lives half a country away in another state but comes to the hospital to visit even though they have not seen each other for many years; and her mother stays by Lucy’s bedside. She and her mother talk of home-town gossip and Lucy remembers her childhood, much of it unpleasant, deprived and worse. But Ms. Strout doesn’t dwell on this, events are conveyed in short explosive bursts.

Ms. Strout writes scenes between characters and short tales of people known by her characters, ordinary people with ordinary failings. We readers are forced to see our unlovely characteristics. Reading about Lucy makes me sorry for my cruelty to others, those I like very much, those I truly love and those I care less about. I am reminded how cruelty escapes us when we least expect it, moving like a dripping faucet and sometimes like the quick cough from a long unused water pipe.

Lucy Barton is a writer and she goes to a workshop conducted by a more well-known writer named Sarah Payne. Ms. Payne says her job as a fiction writer is to report on the human condition, tell us who we are and what we think and what we do. This is what Strout does so well. The characters in Ms. Strout’s novels make me sad or at least this reader feels like Strout writes the icy sadness we often allow to crust over the surface of our lives. She does this with beautiful prose, simple and spare.

As I read the book, I find myself wondering what is story? What is the best way to tell a story. What is the value of a story within a story? I do not discover the answers to any of these questions, but it seems Ms. Strout is a master of storytelling, especially stories that seem simple, and perhaps are not.

Lucy Barton is a character I will remember and I will be filled with sadness and empathy for her for a long time, I think. Yet she is a successful author who overcomes difficulties and finds love and happiness in spite of the challenges in her life. She is, after all, an inspiration. Character and author have that in common.

FREE FICTION WINNERS

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THANKS TO ALL WHO COMMENTED AND ENTERED THE DRAWING FOR FREE FICTION. FIVE NAMES WERE DRAWN.

HERE ARE THE WINNERS:
STEPHANIE WICKER – MI
BERNADETTE MAINZER – NY
MARY ANN PHIMISTER – MI
ALICE REED – PA
JAN KUCHAR – WI

Books will be mailed next week. Time will fly until the next book give-away. Until then enjoy your reading.

FREE FICTION FOR READEATLIVE/BLOG READERS

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I find myself a week behind with my dates, published this morning for the Free Fiction Give-Away. Dates have been corrected. See the post below. Contest will close on Friday, Jan. 22 at midnight.

I will follow my own advice and Keep Calm. The cold has slowed down my month. 🙂

FREE FICTION FOR READEATLIVE/BLOG READERS

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Time for the January Book Give-Away. Five works of fiction will be mailed to five winners, one book to each winner.

You can be the lucky person to receive a slightly used book of fiction in your mailbox. Entering this contest is easy.

Please comment on this blog. Click on Replies or Comments at the top of the page. You must comment at the blog site to have your name in the drawing for a free book. Name a book you are glad you read about in this blog, a favorite recipe or make any comment you might like to write.

You can be one of five lucky winners. Entries will close on Friday, January 22 at midnight. Winners will likely be announced on Saturday, January 23. Books to be mailed sometime next week.

Okay, have a go at this chance.

Happy Reading!!!!

THE REAL STORY BEHIND WINNIE-THE-POOH

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Finding Winnie:The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Author: Lindsay Mattick
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Source: Personal Copy

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Finding Winnie is the charming and heartwarming tale of a friendship between a soldier and a real bear. Each year the American Library Association awards the Caldecott Medal to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. Sophie Blackall is the 2016 recipient for Finding Winnie.

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Readers follow this enticing story interpreted by detailed realistic watercolor art bringing the story to life with the emotions they evoke. Art and story compliment each other in their excellence. The charming and heartwarming text by Lindsay Mallick delivers the account of the soldier and the bear as they travel from the forests of Canada to the World War I Training Camp in England and then to the London Zoo. The book tells a second connected story and then, an album of historic photos detailing the real story that inspired this book.

Several creative elements take this book beyond what we expect in a good picture book. One is concerned with what a story is as connected to the mind of a child. Some illustrations are grouped on a page. This enlivens the journey, showing passage of time, and also clearly relates elements of the plot. In this and in other ways the variety of the illustrations increase interest and give depth to the storytelling.

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Author Lindsay Mattick is the great-granddaughter of Captain Harry Colebourne. He bought and trained the bear that inspired Winnie-The-Pooh and this story Finding Winnie. This book makes the connections clear. And for many, the story behind the beloved classic tale Winnie-The-Pooh is unknown. You can follow Sophie Blackall and Lindsay Mattick on Facebook and Twitter and each has a website. www.sophieblackall.com www.lindsaymattick.com

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I loved the interesting historical text and the incredible drawings. For yourself, for your children and grandchildren, because you love history and literature, I urge you to buy this book! I’ve read many children’s book. I assure you this one is unforgettable.

Note: Story illustrations are in color. Most album pictures are sepia toned. Apologies that one of my pictures does not show correct color.

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FIND HUMOR, PASSION, STRONG THEMES

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Go Set A Watchman
Author: Harper Lee
Publisher: Harper Collins 2015
Genre: Novel
Hardcover Edition: 278 pages
Source: Library copy

This book has come into print amidst much publicity and the memories of the many readers who hold Harper Lee’s Pulitzer winner To Kill A Mockingbird in high esteem. Many readers thought we knew the story behind this book. Some wondered at what the publishers were about; well, making money of course and that is the business. Some readers couldn’t wait to get their hands on anything written by Harper Lee. Some of us were much more skeptical and even certain Go Set would not be a personal reading choice.

Instead, this naysayer found pleasure in sinking into Harper Lee’s familiar prose about a familiar place. The description of Maycomb, Alabama, the place and the people brings to life another time and place with nostalgia and magic. When a grown-up Jean Louise ––Scout––returns home from New York for a visit, she sees her childhood love, her beloved father Atticus, and all her family and the community with a different eye than previously. As is often true, losing memories and assumptions brings her pain.

The novel has something important to say about race relations. Race continues to be a very big issue in our country as it has been for many years. The landscape may change, but the issue remains. Seeing the situation in 1950’s rural Alabama informs us about the issue as we may see it today. These characters share some of their wisdom. Which is not to say that readers will not identify with Jean Louise’s passion and viewpoint. She’s a strong character. She plunges into living with a heartfelt conscience.

More experienced critics have dissected the book. Google Go Set A Watchman reviews if you wish a learned look at the book.

I found it an enjoyable read. Yes, the familiar characters and Lee’s strong writing of place were major reasons. Most readers remember when they began to see “home” differently from how they had seen it previously, and thus identify with Jean Louise, her memories, and her painful discoveries. The book moves along pleasantly, especially if a reader enjoys childhood fun and long family discussions on the important issues of life.

So, this reader is eating a double helping of crow with all the trimmings. I’m glad I read this book. I enjoyed the read. Especially, if you are a Harper Lee fan, don’t miss it.

AUTHOR RACHEL SIMON BRAVELY SHARES HER FAMILY’S HEARTBREAKING AND HEARTWARMING STORY

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Riding the Bus With My Sister: a True Life Journey
Author: Rachel Simon
Publisher: Penguin 2003
Genre: Memoir
Paperback Edition: 293 pages
Source: Library copy

This memoir does not oversimplify the complexity of any life, and certainly not the life of a person with cognitive challenge/mental retardation. The reader gains insight into the life of Beth, a woman with a mild mental disability. She eventually lives independently. She spends her days riding the buses in her mid-sized Pennsylvania city. Readers learn about her family and her complicated relationship with a sister close in age, the author. The book traces growth and change over time.

It cuts away the sentimentality that so often accompanies stories of people with mental disability. This author provides specificity and detail for the people involved in Beth’s life. This includes many from the larger community. One of this story’s revelations was the extent of support Beth received from those in her community. She was valued for herself and not for her behaviors.

Beth has strong abilities. She is a problem-solver. She irritates when she repeatedly gets in the face of those around her. She often demonstrates her stubbornness. Like most of us, she has many facets to her personality and capabilities.

In spite of trauma and hardship, this is a heartwarming story. My faith in humankind is bolstered. My admiration for this writer who willingly exposes her own shortcomings to communicate the strength of love for her sister grew stronger as my reading progressed. There are strong emotions exposed in the telling of this story and strong emotions aroused in the reader. I learned much, though I have lived much of my life with a son with mental disability.

This memoir will be discussed at an upcoming book club meeting. Without its status as a book club pick, I would not have read this book, thinking I had read as much as I cared to about disability and pathology. I’m glad I didn’t miss out on this reading experience. There is little sugarcoating in this story. It holds tenderness, anger and heartbreak along with a tight brave love. Thank you to this family, those around Beth and this author for sharing their story.

READER INTERVIEW WITH MICHIGAN READER STEPHANIE WICKER

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AND…here is the next installment of our popular Interview Series. Stephanie is a busy woman with job and family among her responsibilities. She is also a reader and she reads many books in a year and likes to talk about them. Let’s share in her knowledge and wisdom. She gives us some ideas of books we may want to add to our reading lists for next year. This interview was conducted right before the Christmas holiday.

Tell us about what you are reading?

I just finished reading my 20th book for 2015, which isn’t so many for some readers but I feel it is a good accomplishment for me. My favorite two books I read this year were Circling the Sun by Paula McLain and All the Light We Can Not See by Anthony Doerr. Circling the Sun is based on the true-life story of Beryl Markham. She was a remarkable woman, born in England but raised in Kenya by her Father and the local tribe after being abandoned by her Mother. Due to this upbringing she chose a very unconventional lifestyle and broke gender boundaries for the times. All the Light We Can Not See is set in WWII France and Germany. It intertwines stories of two families on either side of the war and how they eventually connect.

Do you have a favorite author?

No

What books are in your waiting-to-read stack?

I have several books waiting to be read:
Riding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel Simon (for my book club)
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
Paradise City by Elizabeth Day

How did you become a reader?

When I was probably in late Elementary School I became ‘horse crazy’. I wanted to own a horse, I took riding lessons, rode as much as I could, and began reading as much as I could about horses, both fiction, non-fiction and other informational books. Then my Middle School English Teacher and librarian turned me on to some of the classics and I’ve been an avid reader ever since.

How do you decide what to read?

I pick books to read in various ways:
My daughter is a big reader and we exchange recommendations all the time,
Other Friends recommendations
My book group – I have read many books that I really enjoyed that I would never have read if not for the book group choices
Book Reviews in magazines and other print media

Why is reading important to you?

Reading takes you away from it all and opens doors to places and things that are different from your everyday life. It expands your knowledge and understanding of others and yourself.

Are there books you truly treasure? Tell us about them and why they are important to you?

A hardbound copy of Gone With the Wind that my Grandfather gave me and wrote an inscription. It was the first “adult” book I owned and it is extra special because it came from my Grandpa that I was very close to.

Do you have genres you especially enjoy, or some you avoid?

I enjoy a variety of genres and try not to read the same type of book in a row. In my 20’s I read all of the Stephen King books that he wrote but when they started keeping me up at night and gave me bad dreams, I stopped reading them and those types of books.

Is there a special place you most like to read?

My favorite place to read is in my Lazy Boy Chair in my family room. AND, weather permitting, I love to read on my backyard deck, listening to the birds sing and looking out at my flower garden.

Stephanie’s List of Books for 2015

1. Winter Street – Elin Hilderbrand
2. The Boston Girl – Anita Diamant
3. Ordinary Grace – William Kent Krueger
4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Koots
5. Girl on a Train – Paula Hawkins
6. The Language of Flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh
7. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
8. Funny Girl – Nick Hornsby
9. Gray Mountain – John Grisham
10. Before I Go to Sleep – S.J. Watson
11. Ship of Brides – JoJo Moyes
12. My Life from Scratch, a Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness – Sasha Martin
13. Laura LaMont’s Life in Pictures – Emma Straub
14. Go Tell a Watchman – Harper Lee
15. Circling the Sun – Paula McLain
16. The Rumor – Elin Hilderbrand
17. Station Eleven – Emily St. John
18. Who Do You Love – Jennifer Weiner
19. We Never Asked for Wings – Vanessa Diffenbaugh
20. 800 Grapes – Laura Dave

Thank you Stephanie for sharing your love of reading and the books you read last year. We cheer you on as you sit in your comfy chair with a book!! And aren’t you a lucky woman to have a flower garden even for part of the year?

FIVE TRAVEL TIPS

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Conde Nast Traveler sends out a bookmark titled top 5 Secrets to Savvy Travel. I’m just returned from a short trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma and I know many of you are traveling this time of year. So in the interest of sharing, here’s some of their secrets and some of my own ideas. Food for thought for your next trip.

1. Read up on the place you plan to visit. Travel Books can be expensive. Hit your local library and see what you can find. The search is part of the fun.

2. Fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. Hopefully this equals lower fares, less crowded cabins. If it is a short trip over a weekend, try flying on a Saturday and returning on a Tuesday. I traveled successfully on Wednesday and at an early hour for a great experience.

3. Pick at least one special sight-seeing opportunity. Perhaps somewhere you have not visited before. An aquarium, a museum, a library, a bookstore, a waterfront walk, whatever you fancy. If you are a regular reader of this space, you know I discovered a great aquarium with special sights, and special guides and companions (another family perk.)

4. Find hidden deals. Sign up for e-mail notifications. If you are a loyalty program member or credit card holder, or are registered at certain Web sites, e-mail alerts may get you an unannounced sale on whatever travel need you have in mind.

5. Get a room for the best possible rates. Family visits have that advantage, but even luxury lodging offers less-crowded times and thus lower rates. Call the manager and ask questions regarding your dates, special rates, lowest rates and possible upgrades such as a great view.

OK, all you savvy travelers out there in blogland, please share your best travel tips. We are listening.