Friday Book Whimsy: The Blind Side

I know. I know. You are all thinking that you can’t believe I’m doing a review on a book published 15 years ago. Or maybe you think I’m doing a movie review of a film older than many of my grandkids. Never fear. It’s football season and watching the games reminded me of the book I first read shortly after it was published. The Blind Side by Michael Lewis was one of my favorite books when I first read it, and I liked it just as well when I re-read it recently.

It’s complete title is The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. The game, of course, is professional football, and Lewis gives readers a lesson on how the game evolved from a mostly running game — power football, not that much different than traditional college football — to a the more finessed game that we watch every Sunday.

Everyone knows the story of Michael Oher, the homeless, nearly illiterate young man whom a wealthy, football-loving Memphis family took under their wing, giving him a fresh new life. The Blind Side movie will always be one of my favorite movies of all time. Two words: Sandra Bullock.

,Lewis’s book definitely uses Oher to demonstrate the real point of the book, which is how power football became the passing football we are all used to these days. And as the passing game increased in popularity, thanks largely to San Francisco 49ers Coach Bill Walsh and his then-renaissance “West Coast offense,” the game of professional football was permanently altered. He and Joe Montana changed the game of football.

Once the quarterback began dropping back to pass more frequently, having someone to protect the QB’s blind side — namely, the left tackle in most cases — he became the second most important player on the team as evidenced by salaries. What was a fairly nondescript position suddenly was critical to the game. Keeping the QB safe was top of everyone’s minds

Lewis is a wonderful writer, turning nonfiction into readable stories that are understandable to those unfamiliar with his topic, as evidenced by some of his other books such as Moneyball and The Big Short (both which interestly also became movies).

Just as I enjoyed the movie, I enjoyed the story of Michael Oher that was written within the pages of the book very much. But The Blind Side is so much more than the story of Oher. As much as I love football, so much about the game always has eluded me. Lewis’s descriptions of football plays and football players added texture and interest to this already readable book. And I learned so much about the game of football.

I can’t recommend it enough, especially for football fans.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Finding Dorothy

When I was a little girl growing up in Nebraska, every year around Thanksgiving, one of the television stations would present The Wizard of Oz. Our whole family watched that movie, likely with varying degrees of enthusiasm. As for me, I was in wonderment throughout the film. When the movie went from the dreary black and white of Kansas to the technicolor splendor of Oz, well, I knew I wasn’t in Nebraska anymore.

I never got around to reading L. Frank Baum’s book because the movie provided all of the excitement that I needed to take the journey to Oz along with Dorothy and her friends. Perhaps it’s one of the books I should read before I die. But, so many books, so little time. Sigh.

I enjoyed reading Elizabeth Lett’s historical novel about the making of The Wizard of Oz, some years following Baum’s death. The only person left who remembers the wonderment and excitement and magic of the book when it was first written is Baum’s 77-year-old widow, Maud Gage Baum. Once she learns that this movie is to be made, she takes it upon herself to make sure that MGM captures the whimsy that her husband envisioned.

She maneuvers her way into the MGM studio just in time to hear the young actress selected to play Dorothy sing the iconic Over the Rainbow. She realizes that the character of Dorothy is in good hands. But what concerns her more is whether Judy Garland is in good hands.

The book looks back at Maud’s own life. She is the daughter of a well-known suffragette whose upbringing is very different from that of other Victorian-aged young women. Plenty of time is spent talking about her relationship with her husband, who never could quite find his niche in life until he used his vivid imagination to write one of the most well-known books of all time.

The author seems to take great liberties with the historical part of the book, especially when it comes to the period of time during the making of the movie. It is true, however, that Maud Baum spent some time with Judy Garland while the movie was being made…..

Judy Garland looking at the book with Maud Baum at MGM studios during the making of the movie.

Nonetheless, I found Finding Dorothy entirely enjoyable and interesting. Garland was a very talented woman who lived a very tragic life. Finding Dorothy gives the reader some insight into Garland’s sad journey.

I recommend the book very highly.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Tin Camp Road

Laurel Hill has lived in the upper peninsula of Michigan her whole life, and wants her daughter Skye to have the same sorts of experiences as she did growing up in this desolate but compelling part of the state. In fact, the two live in the very same town where she grew up, in a cozy house they both love. They are very happy despite the fact that Laurel has to scrape and save to take care of her child. The precocious Skye learns more from spending time with her mother than she does in her classroom of four children.

But then the landlord unexpectedly explains that he is turning them out so that he can fix up the home and offer it as a vacation rental, a move that will make him lots more money, but leave Laurel and her daughter homeless.

Laurel does everything she can to continue making life normal for her daughter, but it becomes increasingly difficult as money diminishes and it becomes more difficult to find a place to live. Laurel can spend less time as a mother because she has to hold down several jobs. They are walking a tightrope until the rope breaks, almost bringing disaster.

Tin Camp Road’s author Ellen Airgood grew up and lives in Michigan herself, and clearly has a love for the area. Her descriptions of the landscape and the lake are so distinct and believable that the reader can almost see the sparkling Lake Superior and feel the need to put on a coat to prevent a chill. I can’t imagine living in such a place, but after reading the book, I can certainly see how it holds appeal to some.

The story is told with such love, and the relationship between mother and daughter is bound to make readers smile. I loved Laurel and Skye, and envied the way they interacted with each other.

Tin Camp Road is a story of the strength that comes from love and feeling a part of community. I enjoyed the book very much.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Razorblade Tears

It’s clear that author S.A. Cosby isn’t afraid to tackle the difficult issues of the day. His 2020 novel Blacktop Wasteland made many readers like me squirm while looking at what it’s like to be poor and black in America, especially the south. The protagonist in that book wanted so much to escape his life of crime, but didn’t know where to go. That novel was one of my favorite reads of 2020.

Razorblade Tears will be one of my favorite reads of 2021. The protagonists this time are the unlikely combination of a white father and a black father whose gay sons were killed. The police haven’t found the killers, and Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee are pretty sure nobody is trying too hard.

Like the protagonist in Blacktop Wasteland, Ike served his time and has kept a clean record since being released from prison. Buddy served time too, but he isn’t too worried about staying out of trouble because he is poor and uneducated and has very little to lose. Each man suffers acutely from the memory of how he reacted to learning their son was gay.

They intend to make up for their sins by finding out who murdered their boys, leaving a daughter behind.

The story is told in measured tones. The author paints such a wonderful picture of the anguish felt by each man for the way they treated their sons, and how they intend to make up for their shortcomings, no matter what it takes, no matter how much they have to lose.

Razorblade Tears is not a cheerful book, but it is a rewarding read. I loved watching the two men develop throughout the story. The ending, while not what I would call lighthearted, was entirely appropriate and satisfying.

Don’t miss this wonderful book, and this amazing writer.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Godmothers

You probably remember the movie Godfather II in which Michael Corleone tells his brother Fredo, “Nobody goes against the family,” and then has him killed because he had gone against the family. Now imagine four godmothers instead of a godfather, and you are ready to sit down and enjoy The Godmothers, a novel by Camille Aubray.

Filomena, Amie, and Lucy are three very different women with secrets of their own. The three women are strangers to one another, but fall in love with three brothers who, unbeknownst to them, have ties to the New York City mob. Throw in Petrina, their sister-in-law, and you have what amounts to a fearless foursome. They become friends and are godmothers to one another’s children. They live in the same house together, cook meals, take care of each others’ kids, and try to find their place in their new opulent and powerful world.

And just when things are going pretty well, World War II hits America. It becomes incumbent upon the four women to handle mobsters like Lucky Luciano and other real-life mafia bosses, keeping their families safe and trying to successfully get out of a business that most people are unable to escape.

I loved these feisty women, who, despite the wealth and power held by their families, are determined to hold everything together by themselves, and figure out a way to become free of mafia ties. In a world where the word feminism had never been heard, these four women were feminists of sorts.

While I’m not familiar with the ways of the Mob, I’m pretty sure that in real life, these women wouldn’t have survived some of the situations in which they found themselves. However, those situations, and the women’s responses, made for a fun and exciting read. The author threw in some real-life NYC mobsters, and that made the book even more interesting.

This book gets a thumbs up.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Our Woman in Moscow

Remember the good ol’ days (at least the good ol’ literary and film days) when the Soviet Union and the Communists therein were our archenemies? We’ve tried to make the radical Muslims and the Chinese Communists our enemies in books and films, but it’s never been quite the same. Cold War spies on both sides of the Iron Curtain just make dandy enemies. And great stories.

Author Beatriz Williams offers readers a dandy look at the United States, Europe and the Soviet Union in the days following the end of WWII. The communist party has taken over the Soviet Union, and no one was to be trusted. They could be agents. They could be double agents. Secrets abounded.

Iris and her sister Ruth are living in Italy during the last days of the war. Iris meets and falls in love with Sasha Digby, a U.S. Embassy official with communist sympathies. Ruth and Iris have a falling out. Ruth returns to the U.S. Iris marries Sasha, and the two continue to live in Italy until they vanish.

Some time later, Ruth receives a cryptic message from Iris, indicating that she and Sasha are in Moscow, she is about to deliver a baby, and she wants out of the Soviet Union. Despite her feelings about Iris and Sasha, Ruth agrees to go undercover with an American counterintelligence agent posing as her husband in an effort to return Iris to safety. But there is a spy in their mix, and no one is sure who it is and what side the spy is on.

Our Woman in Moscow is a terrific spy thriller with a unexpected ending.

I like all of Beatriz Williams’ books, and particularly like that she ties characters and storylines together. Even in this novel, Aunt Violet makes an appearance.

I highly recommend this book.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Malibu Rising

From its title, Malibu Rising sounds a bit like a beach read. I have nothing against beach reads, but I haven’t even been in the vicinity of a beach this summer. In fact, aside from a trip to Vermont, I mostly haven’t been outside of my back yard. Still, author Taylor Jenkins Reid wrote two of my favorite books of all time: Daisy Jones & the Six, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I was ready to give this book a try.

What I like best about this author is that she doesn’t tackle books in a traditional way. Daisy Jones & the Six is presented as an oral history, making it unique and extremely readable. I hoped for the best from Malibu Rising, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Every year, Nina and her siblings (Jay, Hud, and Kit) hold a summer-ending party. Nineteen eighty-three was no exception. Except this party changed many lives completely.

These four are the children of a famous singer who knows how to entertain but doesn’t know how to be a faithful husband or a good father. He leaves his family when the children are young. His wife tries her best, but sadness and the stress of raising four kids alone drives her to drink herself to death when Nina — the eldest — is only 16 years old. She reaches out to her father, but doesn’t hear back from him. She quits high school to take care of her siblings the best that she can.

While the bulk of the story takes place in a single day, flashbacks tell the story of how the four cope with their unusual family situation. Once she turns 18, Nina takes over the restaurant that her mother’s family always ran. Jay becomes a professional surfer, while the youngest — Kit — tries to figure out where she fits into the family.

They author’s description of the party are vivid and crazy. There are no invitations, if you hear about the party, you can come. Alcohol and drugs are plentiful. Famous people mix with blue-collar workers. Nina’s siblings look forward to the party every year. This year, Nina — in the midst of getting a divorce from her famous husband — is not as enthusiastic.

Normally back-and-forth stories are troublesome to me. I sometimes find them confusing. The author’s telling of this story is, however, seamless. The characters are interesting and realistic. Most important, though they could be obnoxious, they are likable. Well, at least the main characters are likable.

Malibu Rising is a story of survival and figuring out who you are amidst chaos and confusion. The ending was satisfying, except for the fact that I wasn’t ready to be done reading. Yes, it was that good.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Lilac Girls

It’s not difficult these days to find a novel that takes place during World War II. But it’s refreshing to read a WWII novel with a bit of a different twist. Though fiction, The Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly, features real-life New York philanthropist Caroline Ferriday, whose heroic story needs to be told.

Caroline Ferriday was a fledgling actress who found her niche working at the French Embassy in New York City. Her work took an important turn as Hitler’s armies became more powerful, and it looked as if France was going to fall. Her role was to assist the French people who had fled to the United States to either return to their families in France or bring their loved ones to the United States. Her work became even more important when the Germans overthrew Poland and the war escalated.

Kasia Kuzmerick was a young Polish girl who watched her country fall into pieces around her. Feeling helpless, she became involved in the resistance movement, couriering messages back and forth. She was eventually caught in the act, and she, along with her family, is captured and sent to Ravensbruck, an all-women concentration camp in northern Germany. Ravensbruck is notorious for the medical experiments conducted on many of the women. Referred to as the Ravensbruck rabbits, they were mutilated and purposely infected with bacteria so that the new antibacterial drugs called sulfonamides could be tested on them. They were mostly refused subsequent medical care, leaving many permanently disfigured.

One of the German doctors working on these experiments was young Herta Oberheuser, who became involved as a means of using her medical degree and making something of herself in the new Reich. Oberheuser is not a fictional character. She routinely performed horrific surgeries on young women as part of the experiments.

The story of strength and optimism and ability to overcome horrific circumstances is as compelling as a story can get. At the same time, the contrast between good and evil (Ferriday and Oberheuser) takes your breath away, especially knowing the the circumstances and the stories are all too true.

I highly recommend this book.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: No Time Like the Future

Actor and author Michael J. Fox lives with Parkinson’s Disease. He was diagnosed in 1991 with early onset PD. Since that time, he has written four novels about his life with PD. More important, in 2000, he founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation to research cures for this yet-uncurable disease. His foundation provides support for both people with Parkinson’s and for the caregiver. Thanks to this foundation, a whole heck of a lot of money is going into research about the disease.

I pay particular attention to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and to the founder himself, because my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009. I asked my husband once if it bothers him to read Fox’s books or see him on television. He gave a resounding no, saying instead the man inspires him. I find that to be amazing.

No Time Like the Future is Fox’s fourth book. I will admit that I have not read the other three. I was coaxed into reading this particular book, and was ever-so-glad that I did. Fox’s writing is funny and smart and self-deprecating. He doesn’t wallow in his sorrows, but instead, is forthright about his condition and how he and his family live and cope with the disease.

No Time Like the Future tackles an unrelated issue that the actor recently went through, that being a spinal cord issue requiring very risky surgery. His recovery was obviously impacted by the fact that he experiences the symptoms of PD, and his ability to work so hard to recover is inspiring.

His story gave me perspective and made me laugh at the same time. I frequently read parts out loud to my husband, saying, “Don’t feel bad. Michael J. Fox is going through the same things you are!”

Fox, of course, has the advantage of wealth and fame. As such, he is able to experiences that we will never obtain. But I didn’t find that offputting at all. Instead, I was reminded that pushing forward, and even more important, laughing at your own foibles, is critical in facing this disease.

I think the book would be interesting to anyone who knows a person with PD. I also, however, think it is just a well-written and funny story.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Bodies in the Library

Sometimes a lightweight, easy-to-read-and-solve mystery is just what the doctor ordered. The Bodies in the Library, by Marty Wingate, does the job most agreeably.

Hayley Burke takes on the position of curator of Lady Georgiana Fowling’s First Edition library in Bath, England. The First Edition Library features books written during the so-called Golden Age of Mysteries, offering authors such as Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler. She is hired for this position despite the fact that she has never read a single mystery story. Her expertise lies in Jane Austin novels. Still, she knows she can learn, and hopes she does so before her board of directors figures out she doesn’t know a thing about detective stories.

And then Hayley is presented with her own mystery. She has agreed to allow an Agatha Christie fan fiction writers’ group to meet weekly in the building that was once Lady Georgiana Fowling’s home, and now is the library and Hayley’s living quarters. Before she knows it, one of the members of this group is murdered. The victim is killed elsewhere and carried into the library, left for Hayley to find.

Hayley puts on her Miss Marple thinking cap and sets out to help the police solve the mystery. It is the best way to show the board of directors that she is capable of doing the curator’s job. She is faced with clues and red herrings and even a handsome love interest.

The book was a quick and fun read, as long as you can get past the fact that while the title is The Bodies in the Library, there is only one body ever found in the library — or anywhere else in the book. I presume that is because the title is so similar to an Agatha Christie novel — The Body in the Library — featuring Miss Marple. But when Hayley puts on her own Miss Marple hat, she solves the mystery.

Here is a link to the book.