Friday Book Whimsy: Book Challenge, The Last

Today I will conclude the book challenge I have been pondering for the last few weeks. Click here to see Part I and Part II.

A book that reminds you of home: It sort of depends on what I consider home. For this purpose, however, I am calling home the place where I spent my formative years — Nebraska. Therefore, the book that most reminds me of my home is My Antonia, by Willa Cather. I, of course, am nothing like the main character — Antonia Shimerda. Her family are Bohemian immigrants who lived and farmed in southeast Nebraska in the late 1800s. She befriends Jim, who is newly arrived from the east coast. The reason this reminds me of growing up in Nebraska is because the people are down-to-earth, hard-working, honest, and live simple lives. That describes my experience growing up in the Midwest.

Favorite romance book: Can you really get more romantic than Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte? I mean, the wild and enormously troubled Mr. Rochester sees the good in the poor orphan girl who has led a tragic life up until she becomes a governess to Mr. Rochester’s child. the book apparently illustrates classism, sexism, and all sorts of -isms, but I simply adore the love between the two main characters, even after he loses his eyesight. Oh, and the crazy wife in the attic.

Favorite male character: Lots of favorite male characters, but I’m going to go with Father Tim, from Jan Karon’s Mitford series. I wish that Father Tim could be my spiritual advisor and my friend.

Favorite female character: I like many female characters, but one who has stayed in my mind is Eleanor Oliphant, from Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. I loved everything about Eleanor Oliphant. I love her outlook on life, I loved how she rose above her dysfunctional upbringing, and I loved her friendship with Raymond. I reviewed the book here.

Your favorite writer: Man, this is a hard one to pin down, but given my answer to the last question which follows, I think it would have to be the late Kent Haruf. When this Colorado author passed away in 2014, I literally cried, knowing that there would never be another story about fictional Holt, Colorado. I own every one of his books, and since I’m a dedicated library enthusiast, that’s saying a lot.

Your favorite book of all time: That would have to be Plainsong. The story takes place in the fictional small town of Holt, on the eastern plains of Colorado. It introduces a group of people who are only marginally connected, but who come together as though they were a family. The dialogue is as true as in any book I have ever read. The writing is lyrical and spoke to my heart. The characters are realistic and likeable, though some are broken. The McPheron brothers — two old bachlors who are ranchers — are wonderful and true.  Eventide takes over where Plainsong leaves off.

Well, what do you think of all of my choices? What are your choices?

Love in the Twilight

You’re born, and then the first 25 years or so of your life seem to take forever. Particularly in elementary school and high school, you can’t wait to get old so that you can do All Those Things. You can’t wait to have a car. You can’t wait to get a great job and earn lots of money. You can’t wait to get married to the perfect person and have those perfect kids.

But from about 25 years old and beyond, life seems to move quickly. You’re busy with raising your family. You’re trying to balance your family life and your professional life. You’re running to and fro to soccer games and school plays and making sure homework gets done while trying to get a few bites of healthy food into your kids’ mouths. And before you know it, your kids are grown and don’t live with you any longer and work no longer seems as interesting as it once did. And then you retire, and though you might not have as much to do, it seems like the weeks just fly by. Tick tock, tick tock.

Wow, the above two paragraphs sound very maudlin, don’t they? I don’t mean that to be the case, because I’m happily retired and love my life very much. But it really does seem like time moves quickly.

I’m not just being a flibbertygibbit; I’m just about to get to my point: the other day, Netflix sent me an email in which they told me about a newly-posted movie that they think I might like. They do this quite often, and most of the time I wonder why in heaven’s name they would think that I might like a movie featuring Bruce Willis as an alien space commander in the year 2080.

But the movie they suggested this time was Our Souls at Night, a brand new Netflix original film. Hmmm, I thought to myself. Why does that name sound familiar? And as I read the synopsis, it occurred to me. Our Souls at Night was the last book written by the late author Kent Haruf, published posthumously in 2015 and reviewed by this writer in July 2015.

Kent Haruf is one of my very favorite writers, and his novel Plainsong is one of my two favorite novels of all time (the other being My Antonia, by Willa Cather).

The movie stars Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, who play Louis Waters and Addie Moore. The two septuagenarians live in the fictitious town of Holt, Colorado (allegedly modeled after real-life Yuma, on Colorado’s eastern plains). Louis and Addie are widowed, and lonely. They have both experienced tragedy, and now are just living day-to-day. Time is rushing by, just as I mentioned above. One day Addie gets up the nerve to ask Louis if he would spend the night with her, just talking and platonically sleeping together. He agrees, and a beautiful story emerges. The movie hit home for me so much that I wondered if the movie-maker was peering into my windows.

Life after 60 is entirely different than life as a young adult. The issues you face aren’t getting kids to soccer practice. Instead, many people fight loneliness and chronic pain and kids who are so focused on their life that they quit being curious about yours. Some might struggle with memory issues. Maybe macular degeneration or cataracts are giving you fits.

The movie does a wonderful job of presenting the realities of relationships in your twilight years, so very different from those in your more youthful life. It hits on friendship instead of sex, and the important role of grandparents in the lives of their grandkids. It reminds us of what life was like before we all were staring at our electronic devices. It winks at small-town gossipers.

And wow, what a job by these two amazing actors. Redford is 81 years old and Fonda will turn 80 on her next birthday, but they haven’t lost any of their acting chops……

The movie doesn’t glamorize growing old by making Fonda look va va va voom. She looks like a senior citizen, albeit quite an attractive one. Redford’s portrayal of Louis reminded me of my father.

All I can say is thank you Netflix, both for making this movie and for suggesting it to me. Now stop with the Bruce Willis stuff.

Friday Book Whimsy-Thursday Edition: Favorite Books of 2015

I am often astounded at how many books some book bloggers read each year. Some post a book review almost every day. Of course, their blogs are devoted to book reviews, so it is incumbent upon them to read, read, read. I think that I read a lot, and yet I never seem to break the 100-books-in-a-year mark. This year my total was 93 books.

Oh well, I’m telling myself. I do have a life beyond books. Say, friends and family. Oh, and now crocheting.

I post a book review every Friday, but I read many more books than those for which I post a review. For example, I generally don’t post books (almost always mysteries) that are part of a series unless I found the book particularly compelling or I’m begging you to read the series. And since I’ve already admitted that my reading motto is Life is too short to read a bad book, I start many books that I set aside because I simply didn’t like them. That is why most of my book reviews are positive. So, sue me.

Having said all of the meaningless babble above, here are my five favorite books I read in 2015 for which I posted a review.

5. The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
An unexpectedly upbeat and pleasing read about a quirky family with an unhappy past joined together simply because they love one another. An interesting element of this book is that the mother is a hoarder, which definitely defines the family members and impacts the plot of the book. It isn’t, however, what defines this interesting story. I was surprised at how much I loved this book, which I wouldn’t have picked up if someone hadn’t so highly recommended it to me.

4. Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
Karon’s Mitford stories are like eating dessert first. They are simply delicious and not to be missed. The characters, the setting, the stories — all mix together to make for a wonderful read. Her latest novel involves the marriage of two favorite characters, and allows readers the opportunity to get to know better some who previously were only marginally present. Pour a cup of coffee or tea and settle down for a pleasant experience.

3. The Rent Collector by Camron Wright
Talk about a book I can’t believe I liked so much! This story takes place in Cambodia, which is the only reason I read the book (a daughter-in-law is from Cambodia). Based on a true story, the family — mom, dad, and little boy — lives in a municipal waste dump in Cambodia and they survive on what they make from scavenging the dump each day and selling the wares. That’s the setting, but the story is about friendship and loyalty and what it means to love someone. It was a truly beautiful story that I highly recommend.

2. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
My heart broke year before last when one of my favorite authors — Kent Haruf — passed away. Our Souls at Night was his final gift to those of us who love his writing. The book is once again set in the fictional Colorado town of Holt. Septuagenarian Addie Moore, a widow for many years, marches over to her equally-aged neighbor Louis Waters’ house and suggests they, well, hook up. Sleep together. Just see how it works out. The result is a surprisingly beautiful story about love and friendship. I enjoyed Haruf’s stories for his characters, and while not as good as his first novel Plainsong (nothing could be), it was a wonderful book.

And my favorite book of 2015…..

1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Dang, I hate being predictable. The Girl on the Train is likely to be the favorite read of 2015 of many book reviewers, but it’s for a good reason. I couldn’t put down this book. The author doled out the pieces of the mystery little by little, keeping the readers in constant suspense. The final pages were delicious. The characters were interesting, imperfect, multifaceted, and realistic. I can’t wait for Hawkins’ next effort. This one will be hard to beat.

I’m looking forward to many more good books in 2016. Maybe that will be the year that I finally beat that 100-book challenge.

This post linked to the GRAND Social 


Friday Book Whimsy: Our Souls at Night

searchKent Haruf’s last book, Our Souls at Night, completed very shortly before he died and published in May, was one of the few books I’ve ever pre-ordered on Amazon. I simply had to own the book as soon as I could. But here’s the thing: I let the book sit in my library without reading it month after month, and for a simple reason. I could almost not bear reading the last words written by one of my favorite authors, knowing I would never be visiting the fictional town of Holt, Colorado, again. Well, except for the many times I will reread all of Haruf’s novels.

I read the book in one morning, and nearly in one sitting. That’s not an exceptional fact as the book is only 180-some pages long. I tried my best to read ever so slowly, savoring every word.

Our Souls at Night tells the story of septuagenarian Addie Moore, widowed for some time, who pays a visit late one evening to her equally-aged neighbor who had lost his wife years before as well. She has a proposal. Let’s sleep together. Not sex; just closeness and talking. The neighbor, Louis Waters, is understandably surprised. But upon taking it into consideration, he decides to give it a try.

What follows is a beautifully poignant story about love, friendship, aging, and family, and finally finding the meaning of life as they approach the end of life. As with all of Haruf’s novels, the story isn’t a driving factor. Instead, it’s about the characters and Haruf’s wonderful dialogue. As far as I’m concerned, there is no author better at capturing the way people really talk.

The story was joyful, but ultimately broke my heart, both because of the storyline (which I assure you doesn’t end tragically, just left a lump in my throat) and because it was the author’s swan song.

While Our Souls at Night can’t compare to his first novel, Plainsong, it was a wonderful final effort and a tremendous gift to his many fans.

I wish you could publish from heaven…..

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: 2015 Must Reads

I have read a few 2015 releases already – World Gone By, by Dennis Lehane; Under the Same Blue Sky, by Pamela Schoenewaldt; and A Spool of Blue Thread,  by Anne Tyler, to be specific. I enjoyed all three, and have posted reviews of them all.

But there are a few 2015 books that have either recently been released or are yet to be released that I wouldn’t even think of missing for a variety of reasons.

In no particular order….

Few would argue that To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most important American books of all time. The characters are unforgettable. Scheduled to be released on July 14, Go Set a Watchman is, for all intents and purposes, a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. What makes this book particularly unique is that it was actually written and submitted years before To Kill a Mockingbird. Thought to be lost, the manuscript was found and will be released. Go Set a Watchman features the same characters as To Kill a Mockingbird, but 20 years later.

Sadly, author Kent Haruf passed away last year, but not before completing Our Souls at Night, which was released May 26. Set in the same fictional eastern Colorado town of Holt, Our Souls at Night is the story of two elderly people, both who lost their spouses several years ago, who find friendship and love in their later years amidst the small town gossip. Kent Haruf writes the most unbelieveably beautiful prose imaginable. I have this book sitting on my ebook shelf, and am eagerly looking forward to finishing the books I have borrowed from the library to dig into this one. I’m certain I won’t be disappointed.

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows was released June 9 to much acclaim. Barrows is the author of the much-loved (including by me) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Barrows’ newest novel takes place in 1938 in a small West Virginian town, and tells the story of a young girl forced by her father (a United States Senator) to live in this small town despite her boredom. Boredom that is until she meets the Romeyn family and begins to unravel some family secrets. Sounds very good.

Julia Keller has become one of my favorite authors, and her protagonist Bell Elkins is one of my favorite characters. Last Ragged Breath, which will be released on August 25, is the next in the dark mystery series that also takes place in a fictional town in West Virginia. Her novels are contemporary, however. Keller’s writing is phenomenal and richly realistic. I can’t wait for this book to come out.

Speaking of mystery series, I’m eagerly awaiting Louise Penney’s next book The Nature of the Beast, featuring my beloved Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. The mysteries take place in a fictional small town near Quebec in Canada. Penney’s writing is imminently readable, but for me, the series is all about C.I. Gamache. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I want him to be one of my BFFs.

Our favorite bail bondsman Stephanie Plum and her gang of hilarious friends will be back November 17 in Tricky Twenty-Two. I am compelled to include this book, not because it is great literature, but because every single one of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels have been so funny that I am in danger of, well, never mind. There is no way in the world I would miss a single one of these mysteries. The Stephanie Plum books are one of several that I really prefer to listen to as opposed to reading simply because the woman who narrates the books – Lorelei King – is absolutely tremendous.

Author Sue Grafton will be releasing the next in her so-called alphabet series featuring private investigator Kinsey Milhone on August 25. I used to love this series, but as of late, it has began to feel repetitious. Still, there are only so many letters in the alphabet, and this novel, entitled X, is the third from the end. I can’t quit now. For the past 23 books, I have been wondering what Grafton would title the X-book. You know, like A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, L is for Lawless, O is for Outlaw, etc. I haven’t been able to think past X is for X-ray. Instead, Grafton went for simplicity with the title simply being X.  Who knows? Maybe Grafton will start over with double letters. You know, like AA is for Awesome Aardvark.

All the Single Ladies, by Dorothea Benton Frank, is a must-read for me simply because I absolutely love her settings, all of which are the low country of South Carolina, near Charleston. Her books always feature a strong-willed woman facing difficult circumstances and coming out unscathed. I like Frank’s writing. All the Single Ladies was released June 9. The story centers around three women facing the death of a fourth woman. I hate books where characters die, but I will undoubtedly give this one a try.

My new favorite author, Karen White, has a new novel out, released on May 12. The Sound of Glass follows a familiar Karen White theme – a young woman learns she has inherited a family estate that, of course, has a secret attached. The Sound of Glass takes place in Beaufort, South Carolina, which is a draw for me. I’m not sure I’ll get to this novel right away as White is very prolific and I have only recently begun reading her books. But I will definitely read it sometime soon.

Are there books either recently released or soon-to-be-released that you are going to read?