Sunday, February 22, 2015

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Out of Human Bondage Into Emotional Bondage (Slavery)

by Toni Morrison is about a woman who escapes slavery to the free state of Ohio where she settles into her mother-in-law’s house with her kids to try and start a new life. The book slowly reveals Sethe’s horrifying journey out of human bondage into an emotional bondage. 

The story enthrallingly dissolves in and out of the past and present offering readers glimpses of wholly tragic situations.  It begins in the middle when Sethe’s mother-in-law dies shortly after her two boys run away.  This leaves Sethe alone with her daughter, Denver, and the spirit of her dead baby, Beloved. Beloved is an oppressive reminder of the meaning of freedom and eventually manifests herself in a human form to reveal the haunting truth behind her death.

I’ve read a couple other moving novels about slavery, but nothing like this.  This book unfolds vivid, raw descriptions of unimaginable horrors—atrocious acts committed by one human against another.  I can see why this won a Pulitzer prize.  It’s hauntingly unforgettable:  the chokecherry tree, the chain gain, and mostly Beloved. The circumstance of Beloved’s death is also based on a true event, which makes it all the more wrenching.


This is not a book to be read for enjoyment.  It’s about enlightenment.

This book met several of my 2015 Book Challenges:   Read a Pulitzer-prize winning book; Read a book set in the 1800s; Read a classic book from “Kicking It with the Classics”; Read a book from “The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge” list. 

For other enlightening books that transcend the color of skin and expose unforgettable human injustices, consider the following memoirs and biographies:



Left to Tell by Immacculée Ilibagiza

Modern-Day Slavery:

Slave by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis

Boy Soldiers:
A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

These books remind us that regardless of race or religion, we are all the same.  We are humans—humans who are sometimes tragically conditioned to hate.


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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Serena by Ron Rash

Power Couple in the Logging Industry (Love and Ambition)

Serena by Ron Rash is about a newly married couple who owns a timber company in North Carolina in the 1930s.  While Pemberton efficiently runs his successful logging business, his new bride, Serena, a smart, self-assured, and manipulative woman, steps in with steely resolve to take production to the next level.  Pemberton (as he is ever referred to, even by Serena who never calls him George) is in awe of his wife’s strength and knowledge and proudly watches her smooth management skills not just in the logging industry, but also in their fight to control great portions of wooded land that politicians want to turn into a park—The Smoky Mountains National Park.  To what level of ruthlessness will this power couple take their quest for dominance? 

This book was a page-turner and an eye-opener.  I kept turning the pages because I wanted to see what that slimy Serena and her accomplice husband were up to next. The eye opening portions were the dangers that I never considered in the logging industry—especially in the 1930s.  Safety may have been a concern, but the equipment and standards of the times left room for many gruesome maimings and deaths. And forget workman’s comp.  There was never any concern about lawsuits or finding the next employees to take place of injured or dead workers. Employees were disposable. It was, after all, the Great Depression, where there was always a line of eager men waiting for someone to kick it so they can grab their chance at a paycheck.

This book will soon be a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence as Serena and Bradley Cooper as Pemberton.  Should be a good one! It’ll come out in February or March, depending on which source you believe.

This was a book club selection and my book club members thought…..  Well, we haven’t actually discussed it yet.  We’re due to meet in the middle of March but by that time the movie may already be out, so I thought I’d release my review early so that you can quickly read the book before the movie.

Update:  3-15-15.  My book club met and thought pretty much the same as I mentioned:  

Both Serena and Pemberton were evil, unlikable people, but for some reason Serena was worse.  She was the instigator, a calculating manipulator. Serena lived way too long before karma caught up with her.  Satan, I mean, Serena deserved much worse, much sooner. We were also shocked about the logging accidents and safety issues—or basically the non-safety working conditions. We all liked the book and are looking forward to the movie.  

This book met one of my 2015 Book Club Challenges:  Read a book that will or has become a movie. 

Happy Reading,


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Monday, February 9, 2015

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

A Sea of Supernatural Incidents (Para(Ab)normal)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is a book about a boy’s childhood filled with paranormal activity—not the kind where a possessed person is watching you sleep, but the kind where three women have “unusual” talents for recipes (spells) and one other-worldly, evil being reeks havoc in all four of their lives, mainly the boy’s.

When a man goes back to his hometown for a funeral, he starts to remember odd occurrences when he was seven years old, things he had forgotten and will later forget again.  It all begins when he meets Lettie Hempstock, an eleven-year old at the end of the lane.  Like in the movie The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, a 1977 movie starring Jody Foster, strange things are happening there.  Instead of dead people though, there are strange people like Lettie, her mother Ginnie, and grandmother Old Mrs. Hempstock, who seem to know things they couldn’t possibly know.  They’re older than humanly feasible; one is old enough to know when the moon was formed. And they have special abilities to manipulate time, memories, and instances. 

This is something the unnamed narrator will discover after he takes one weird walk in the woods with Lettie, where they discover a humongous tent-like being floating under an orange sky.  The tent (Ursula) has intentions of turning their world upside down, and starts by gaining entrance to their world through a wormhole in the boy’s foot.  And so it goes. It’s the beginning of a bizarre tale.

This was a book club selection and one of my sisters who read it first was taken aback by ethereal story.  She was blindsided. She (we) didn’t know that it was a book about supernatural events and she didn’t quite like or get it.  Even though she knew the author wrote the eerie kids’ movie, Coraline, she didn’t know this adult book would follow that mystic path.  Now she knows, and she’s not thrilled.

When I read the book I had been pre-warned about its weirdness. Forewarned is forearmed.  I went into the book knowing to expect the unexpected and my experience was much more rewarding.  I’ve seen so many 4-5 star ratings on the book, I thought if so many people enjoyed it, it has to be worth a try. It’s certainly a fast read, so there wasn’t too much time wasted even if I hated it.  But hate is a very strong word.  So is love. I ended up liking it, not loving it, not enthusiastic fondness, just like.

As I mentioned this was a book club selection and the other members thought the description on the back cover was deceptive in that it never mentioned any supernatural events. The votes came in: one thought it was really good, one thought it was pretty good, one thought it was goodish, the others thought....whew that was weird. But all agreed that it was fast-paced, the writing was excellent, and it wasn't overly descriptive or dry. 

If a dark, other-worldly adventure is not your idea of a good time, you might want to wander down some other lane.  If you’re open for something new and mind-boggling, stroll down to The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

This book met a couple of my 2015 Book Club Challenges:  Read a book containing magic or supernatural events; read a novel with a recipe in it.  (I learned that one from one of my book club members.  I didn't notice it had a recipe at the very end when I read it.  Anyway, I think I'll give the lemon pancakes a try.)

Happy Reading,


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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Notable February-born Authors

Happy Birthday to Notable Authors 
born in February! 

Click on the links to read reviews.

James Michener
February 3, 1907
American author known for long sagas of historical interest set in distinct locations:  Alaska, Hawaii, Caribbean, Texas, and Poland to name a few. So far, I’ve read Sayonara and Tales of the South Pacific, both of which I’ve enjoyed.  Michener won a Pulitzer Prize in fiction for Tales of the South Pacific.

Charles Dickens
February 7, 1812
An English writer known for his classic works including A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Great Expectation, and A Tale of Two Cities to name a few. Jump into tales of struggles and hardships of the downtrodden. 

Laura Ingalls Wilder
February 7, 1867
American author known for her Little House on the Prairie series based on her pioneer childhood in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Kansas.  

Sinclair Lewis
February 7, 1885
American novelist and playwright  who became the first U.S. writer to receive the Nobel prize in literature. His well-known works include Main Street and Babbitt.

Jules Verne
February 8, 1828
A French author known for his fantastical adventures: Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, Five Weeks in a Balloon, and my favorite, Around the World in Eighty Days.

Kate Chopin
February 8, 1850
An American author known for her advanced feminist work, The Awakening, which was panned at the time for her shocking lack of morality.

Sidney Sheldon
February 11, 1917
An American novelist and TV show writer who created I Dream of Jeanie, The Patty Duke Show, and Hart to Hart. In the literary field, he’s known for page-turners like Master of the Game, The Other Side of Midnight, and Rage of Angels.

My mom recently read The Other Side of Midnight some twenty years after Sidney seduced me on my honeymoon.  While mine was a memorable, but one-time fling, my mom has become Sidney’s regular mistress. She searches out his books and slinks away with him over and over again.  Not only that, she gushes about him and sends me more of his books as further proof of their dalliances.  She’s addicted.  Just take that as a warning. Sidney has a powerful, irresistible draw.

February 18, 1931
Toni Morrison
An American professor, editor and novelist known for her somber novels including The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, and the unforgettable Beloved, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize. She also won the Nobel Prize in Literature. (Review of Beloved to come soon).

Lisa See
February 18, 1965
American author known for her novels set in China, including the popular Shanghai Girls, Dreams of Joy, and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan among others.  See’s great-grandfather was Chinese.

Carson McCullers
February 19, 1917
American novelist and short story writer known for stories in which characters are societal outcasts such as The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and The Ballad of the Sad Café. McCullers was 23 when she wrote The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

Amy Tan
February 19, 1952
An American writer known for stories centering on Chinese-American families such as the bestselling novel The Joy Luck Club which was made into a movie. Other popular books include, The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, and The Bonesetter’s Daughter.

Gillian Flynn
February 24, 1971
American author known for suspenseful novels including Gone Girl, Sharp Edges, and Dark Places all of which have or will be made into movies. Get ready for a thrilling ride!

John Steinbeck
February 27, 1902

American author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for The Grapes of Wrath. He’s known for short stories and novellas many of which have been made into movies including Tortilla Flat, The Red Pony, Cannery Row, and the heart-breaking Of Mice and Men.