Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Fond Farewell

It was a very good year.

Actually, it was a great year. 


I set some goals this year, and I am happy to say I met most of them (and I continue to work on the others). I find joy in the struggle...when I can see I'm making gains. And, surprisingly, I don't seem to be wearing out at my age.I actually feel like I'm gaining momentum.

I like that.

I like it a lot.

And I feel very, very blessed.

Speaking of goals, I'm happy to say I reached my 2017 Goodreads reading goal! Today, I completed 75 books by finishing the delightful How to Find Love in a Bookshop, by Veronica Henry. What's not to love about a grown daughter who inherits her father's failing bookshop in a lovely English town? There's all sorts of problems to be solved and good friends who help and love to be found...and books! A friend recommended it to me, and I am so glad she did. It's the perfect happy ending to end a perfectly happy year.

So, while I bid a fond farewell to 2017, I look forward to what the new year will bring. I hope you're looking forward to a new beginning, as well.


I wish you all a safe and Happy New Year! May you dream new dreams, set new goals, and enjoy the journey to achieve them in 2018!





Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Stealing from the Poor to Give to the Rich

From now on, I will get a shiver down my spine whenever I hear the name Georgia Tann. I put her in the same category as Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler. I didn't know who she was until I read the historical fiction book Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. Now, it's a name I will never forget. 


Before We Were Yours is a powerful book that tells the story of families who were forever changed by Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children's Home Society, which consisted of a network of people who stole children from poor families and sold them to rich people. Not only that, many children died from abuse and cruelty of every kind while under the "care" of Georgia Tann and her minions. Georgia Tann was a serial killer, a kidnapper, a human trafficker, and a child abuser...before those types of labels were commonly heard in the United States.


The novel is set in two different timelines by two narrators. One narrator, 30 year old Avery, is a successful lawyer from a powerful political family in present day. While visiting a nursing home one day, for a press opportunity, she encounters an older woman named May...which leads Avery down a path she was unprepared for. Rill is the other narrator in this novel, a young girl from the past who lives in a shanty boat on the river with her family in the 1930s. It is from Rill's narrative that the reader learns about how children are stolen from their families. Wingate weaves an excellent story that includes the joy of family, the sorrow of a difficult past, and learning to come to terms with how life turns out. Rill's story is one of survival.

This historical fiction novel gave me a glimpse into an area of America's past I was unaware of before (which is why I love historical fiction). I had heard tales of movie stars adopting babies (I clearly remember the story of "Mommy Dearest" from Joan Crawford's adopted daughter), but I never would have thought the adopted children were stolen from other families - poor families.

And poor families are something I understand.

I have a deep connection to my extended family on my paternal grandmother's side. In fact, my grandmother's niece still owns, and lives on, the plot of land my great-grandparents owned during the Great Depression. I've heard tales of people walking the dirt roads in search of work back then, some of them approaching my great-grandmother as she labored in the yard over laundry. She never turned anyone away. She didn't have much, but she had a well. And she would always say to people walking by on that dusty road, "We don't have much, but we have plenty of water and welcome for anyone who needs it."

My great-grandparents, like so many farmers back then, had little to nothing...and had many children. I can't imagine someone thinking them "unfit" because they were poor and taking their children from them or stealing them off the front porch when no one was looking. I can't even begin to imagine what this kind of tragedy would do to a family, the grief everyone would suffer. I just can't imagine.

My own mother is the ninth of ten children that survived to adulthood. My maternal grandmother had another child that died from dysentery before he was two. I wonder how Georgia Tann would have viewed my grandparents and all their children living in a two bedroom house with more dirt in the yard than grass, and siblings sleeping head-to-toe to fit in one bed. When I think of how close all of my aunts and uncles have always felt to one another, I can't imagine someone taking them as children, and separating them, simply because they were poor.

I hope there's a special place, in the hottest part of hell, for Georgia Tann. May she burn forever.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Yes.

Yes, it's been a lovely weekend. 

Yes, I was able to enjoy some pleasure reading time this last week.

Yes, I finished A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman earlier last week, and I truly enjoyed it (only a real Scrooge wouldn't like it). Who wouldn't love a book about a crotchety 59 year old man who has no filter when it comes to giving his opinions to people? Ah, but that's only what it looks like on the surface. After all, there are reasons why we are the way we are. Isn't there? This book will make you laugh and touch your heart. 

Yes, I started and finished another book by an author I enjoy: Jennifer Donnelly. This time I went back in time to Victorian days to follow a young lady on a quest to solve her father's death...and a few other mysteries. These Shallow Graves was a good YA novel. While it doesn't rank as high as Donnelly's Revolution in my gradebook, I should say that no one else's YA has been able to rank as high as that one, either.

Yes, I'm already reading another book, which is completely different from the two previous ones I've mentioned. Are you ready for this? I'm reading The Snowman by Jo Nesbo. This book is definitely not my usual genre. It has completely pulled me in, and I am totally creeped out by it. Snowmen and a serial killer? It's horrifically fascinating. And the only things I'm saying to myself, at this time of night, is...'Do I have the courage to continue reading this book tonight, while I am curled up in bed and completely alone in my house? There's no snow on the ground here, does that mean I'm safe? Is that the wind howling outside? Is a cold front moving in? You know,...I don't need to read tonight. I can always read tomorrow. In the daylight. With people around. Lots of people around.'

Yes, it has been a wonderfully enjoyable day today, and I am too tired to write anymore tonight.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Currently Reading and Enjoying...

    
     "You like reading?" she asked him brightly.
     Ove shook his head with some insecurity, but it didn't seem to concern her very much. She just smiled, said that she loved books more than anything, and started telling him excitedly what each of the ones in her lap was about. And Ove realized that he wanted to hear her talking about things she loved for the rest of his life.

~ Fredrik Backman,
   A Man Called Ove


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Just What I Needed

I am happy to report my reading brain found happiness on my TBR shelf! And, for me, it was a special kind of happiness. Please allow me to backtrack, first, as I often do (This is also known as "rambling" to some people. If you'd prefer to get right to the review, skip down a couple of paragraphs. You're welcome.)...

I picked up Let It Snow at Sam's Club one day...just because the snowflakes on it reminded me of Christmas shows from my childhood. I would like to tell you that isn't why I bought it, but...I'd be lying. Sort of. I admit that John Green's name on one of the snowflakes also convinced me the book wouldn't be total drivel. I like Green, love his sense of humor, and often watch him on YouTube. I've read a couple of his novels, too, and I enjoyed both.

I also found it an interesting concept to weave three stories together by three different authors: Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle. The book is clearly labeled "three holiday romances" on the front cover, so I considered myself warned. It isn't my typical kind of read, but I bought it and put it on my TBR shelf, thinking it'd be a fun read over Christmas break. 

When I found myself needing some cheer after reading Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews, I decided to take a chance on Let It Snow. I'm so glad I did! I'm actually smiling like a silly teenage girl, even as I sit here looking at the computer screen to write this. The book lifted my spirits and put me in the holiday mood.

Here are some reasons why I liked it:

First, Let It Snow is set in North Carolina, which is where I am originally from. So, I guess you could say, there was a bit of "home" in it for me.

Second, it has snow and trains and a Waffle House and snow and a Starbucks and snow and a teacup pig named Gabriel and...other ingredients that just make it a good time.

Third, while each story has its own tale to tell, the three stories - and the main characters from each one - are interconnected in some way. 

And, most importantly, it played like a 1980s John Hughes movie in my head. Completely and totally. There was fun banter between characters (well, the smart characters, anyway), lots of wit and sarcasm, and a satisfying ending. And I reacted to it in exactly the same way I do whenever I see an old John Cusack, or Molly Ringwald, movie: Big. Goofy. Smile. 

Now, either you know exactly what I mean, or you don't. (And if you don't, I feel sad for you.) 

I've heard authors complain that writing a present day story in this age of technology isn't nearly as fun as writing in the past...because, often, technology gets in the way of the story. So, how do you write a good, ol' fashioned teenage story - where things get mixed up and miscommunicated, where the teenagers have to figure things out for themselves and allow Fate to take its course - in a present day setting? You make it snow. A lot. A snowstorm, in fact, and you strand people here and there. Perfect. Now, you've got something to work with. 

Is the book a little schmaltzy sometimes? Yes, but it works. It's supposed to be a little schmaltzy. Will this book ever win a Pulitzer? No, but it certainly won my heart. And, for me, that's all that really matters.

Happy reading!


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Oldies, Buuuut...Goodies?!

Oldies,...

Last week, I became fascinated with a "drama in poetry" book by Mel Glenn. The title of the book is The Taking of Room 114. A friend of mine, and fellow teacher, came across it in a used bookshop and thought she might find something in it to share for our poetry study at school. After she read it, she knew the content was definitely not for sixth graders. It was geared more towards high school students. Still, she was kind enough to share it with me and thought I'd find it interesting. And I did.

The Taking of Room 114 is a about a history teacher who takes his class hostage one day. Each poem is a different perspective from different people, primarily from students. Every student has their own tale to tell about their own lives before the actual incident takes place. Glenn does an incredible job of saying so much in just a few lines of poetry. The reader completely understands the situation. I found it fascinating that it was a satisfying tale. I liked it enough to seek out a copy of my own and look into what else Glenn has written.

Mel Glenn has written several "poetry dramas," and I've read two, so far, and have another on my TBR shelf. These books are not recent releases (published in the late 1990s). In fact, when I decided I wanted my own copy of The Taking of Room 114, I had to search online for it and purchase a good, used copy from a third party seller through Amazon.

My search also brought me to his award-winning poetic drama, Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?: A Mystery in Poems, which I really enjoyed. A high school teacher is shot on the high school track, early one morning before school, and no one knows who killed him or why. Again, you hear from different characters through poetry. The cast of characters include students, faculty, the police, and a guidance counselor. It really is quite good, and my favorite of the two! (And much easier to get your hands on.)

This type of poetry is a shorthand of prose. I think it's much more difficult to convey a message with a few lines than to write pages of descriptions. I didn't expect to like Glenn's style as much as I do. So, if you're looking for something a little different, but well-written, I definitely recommend Glenn's Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?: A Mystery in Poems for a tasty literary snack.

Buuuut...Goodies?!

Speaking of 'oldies', I just finished reading Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews, published in 1979. I found a copy of it at a library sale, and I had heard several of my book club friends express how they loved it as teenagers. Now, mind you, they didn't say it like it was a great book. These grown, college-educated women would giggle when they mentioned it and talk of how they used to hide it from their parents and read it. I knew the premise was about children being locked in an attic, but I had no idea what was in store for me when I read this novel. Or why a teenager would feel the need to hide it from their parents. But I found out.

Flowers in the Attic is a horrible and completely fascinating story about four children who are locked in their grandmother's upstairs room and attic, while their mother tries to find her way back into her very rich father's good graces. He doesn't know she has four children, and he wouldn't approve, so the children are hidden away in an unused bedroom on an isolated wing of the father's mansion. Only the mother and grandmother know the children exist in the house.

Seldom have I read a book where I was so mortified and intrigued at the same time. The grandmother is pure evil, hiding behind the guise of a devout, pious, religious woman. (Religious zealot would be an understatement.) She controls the children by telling them God sees everything they do, and He punishes those who disobey. There are even paintings depicting hell and demons in the room, to remind the children to be good. And all this? Is the very least of it.

While I could not put the book down, and devoured it in a couple of days, I don't think I'll read the rest in the series. I considered it, but find that the ending of the first book satisfies me enough to let it go. It was a bit heart wrenching to get through the first one, and I'd rather leave it at that. I'm glad I read it,...I think. I mean, it's written well,...but the content isn't something I'll be able to forget anytime soon.

After I read the novel, I read online that Andrews once said she wanted her books to be fast reads, something you couldn't put down. Well, it certainly was that.

Now, I want to bathe my reading brain in something light and airy and happy. Let's see what I can find on my TBR shelf that suits me...

Happy reading!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

About A Gentleman

I finished Amor Towles' novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, today. I would not consider it an easy read due to the amount of Russian history mentioned throughout the book, but, for me, it was twice the pleasure to research and learn about Russia, as I enjoyed the novel. I don't think, however, you have to understand Russian history to enjoy the humanity of the book,...but I'm more than a bit of a nerd, so....yeah. I also listened to the same classical music Count Rostov enjoys in the book. Like I said, nerd alert. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, Count Rostov is put under house-arrest in 1922 due to a poem he published which was considered rebellious against the government. Rostov is an intellect and a gentleman, and he must learn to make a new life for himself within the walls of a hotel. He is witty and charming and sincere. Rostov becomes friends with the employees of the hotel and with a young girl, Nina, whose father frequents the hotel. Rostov's life is not without challenges in his confinement, especially as the Russian government seems to constantly change its course, and its rules, as years pass. It is, in fact, the way he faces his challenges that makes him so endearing.

One of my favorite scenes in the book (one of many, I might add) is when a lovely lady friend mentions to Rostov that "everyone dreams of living in America" because of its 'conveniences' - such as dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, toasters, and the like. Count Rostov responds:

"I'll tell you what is convenient," he said, after a moment. "To sleep until noon and have someone bring you your breakfast on a tray. To cancel an appointment at the very last minute. To keep a carriage waiting at the door of one party, so that on a moment's notice it can whisk you away to another. To sidestep marriage in your youth and put off having children all together. These are the greatest of conveniences, Anushka - and at one time, I had them all. But in the end, it has been the inconveniences that have mattered to me most."

I know I will carry Count Rostov in my heart for a very long time. He is, most definitely, my kind of gentleman.