I Need Your Advice!

Some of you may know that I’ve recently joined a book club. I love being part of this group and I’ve enthusiastically embraced the duties of membership (i.e., I have to be ready to discuss each book we read and I’ve agreed to host the club at my house at least once a year–where we discuss the book of my choosing).

So here’s where I need your help. It’ll be my turn to host the book club in March, and I need to be thinking about which book I’m going to choose. I’ve narrowed it down to five books, and I’d like you to vote on which one you think our book club should read (many thanks to blogger and author James J. Cudney for sharing this idea–click on his name to be redirected to his site, which I think you’ll love).

Whichever book you choose, we’ll read. I won’t tell you which one I hope you pick! Scroll down through the choices to the poll at the bottom of the page.

Here are the choices:

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“In a life that spanned nearly a century and witnessed some of the most momentous events in American history, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. A gifted seamstress, she earned her freedom by the skill of her needle, and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln by her devotion.

A sweeping historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker illuminates the extraordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trials of the Civil War and enduring almost, but not quite, to the end of Mrs. Lincoln’s days.”

***

Woman Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“In the 1950s, movie star Louise Wilde is caught between an unfulfilling acting career and a shaky marriage when she receives an out-of-the-blue phone call: She has inherited the estate of Florence “Florrie” Daniels, a Hollywood screenwriter she barely recalls meeting. Among Florrie’s possessions are several unproduced screenplays, personal journals, and—inexplicably—old photographs of Louise’s mother, Ethel. On an impulse, Louise leaves a film shoot in Las Vegas and sets off for her father’s house on the East Coast, hoping for answers about the curious inheritance and, perhaps, about her own troubled marriage.

Nearly thirty years earlier, Florrie takes off on an adventure of her own, driving her Model T westward from New Jersey in pursuit of broader horizons. She has the promise of a Hollywood job and, in the passenger seat, Ethel, her best friend since childhood. Florrie will do anything for Ethel, who is desperate to reach Nevada in time to reconcile with her husband and reunite with her daughter. Ethel fears the loss of her marriage; Florrie, with long-held secrets confided only in her journal, fears its survival.

In parallel tales, the three women—Louise, Florrie, Ethel—discover that not all journeys follow a map. As they rediscover their carefree selves on the road, they learn that sometimes the paths we follow are shaped more by our traveling companions than by our destinations.”

***

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“When they were children, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle were friends. But then a strange car pulled up to their street. One boy got into the car, two did not, and something terrible happened — something that ended their friendship and changed all three boys forever.

Twenty-five years later, Sean is a homicide detective. Jimmy is an ex-con who owns a corner store. And Dave is trying to hold his marriage together and keep his demons at bay — demons that urge him to do terrible things. When Jimmy’s daughter is found murdered, Sean is assigned to the case. His investigation brings him into conflict with Jimmy, who finds his old criminal impulses tempt him to solve the crime with brutal justice. And then there is Dave, who came home the night Jimmy’s daughter died covered in someone else’s blood.

A tense and unnerving psychological thriller, Mystic River is also an epic novel of love and loyalty, faith and family, in which people irrevocably marked by the past find themselves on a collision course with the darkest truths of their own hidden selves.”

***

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.”

***

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“The hardscrabble folks of Troublesome Creek have to scrap for everything―everything except books, that is. Thanks to Roosevelt’s Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Troublesome’s got its very own traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter.

Cussy’s not only a book woman, however, she’s also the last of her kind, her skin a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. Not everyone is keen on Cussy’s family or the Library Project, and a Blue is often blamed for any whiff of trouble. If Cussy wants to bring the joy of books to the hill folks, she’s going to have to confront prejudice as old as the Appalachias and suspicion as deep as the holler.

Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere―even back home.”

The poll will close on Monday, January 20, 2020, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

Until next time,

Amy

 

A Review: The Plum Tree

For those of you who have been reading my blog, you may remember that one of the books on my TBR (to-be-read) list was The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman. I’ve finished reading it and I hope you’ll read it, too.

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The Plum Tree is a beautiful story about a young woman, Christine, who lives in Germany during World War II. She is in love with a young Jewish man, the son of her employer, and the horrors of the Third Reich and pre-war Germany begin early in the story. Christine’s journey of love and loss and hope is heart-wrenching; the reader easily forgets that this is a work of historical fiction, not a memoir. The story is filled with characters and events that seem so real and so close that one is sure that there must be a real Christine out there and Ellen Marie Wiseman has somehow read her mind and put Christine’s feelings onto the page, into words that are at once touching and terrifying.

More than once I had to put the book down because I didn’t want to read what came next, like the scene where a little boy is torn from his mother’s arms upon their arrival at Dachau. More than once I gasped out loud because of my revulsion over what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust, making my own children ask what in the world I was reading that was having such an effect on me. More than once I flipped ahead (I know, I know) because I couldn’t stand not knowing who would live and who would die.

But I always went back because I had to read the rest of the story.

And the story didn’t end where I expected it to. It introduced me to the shocking conditions that existed in Germany after the war ended, something I’d never thought much about. It reminded me that innocent Germans suffered, too; many of them paid a steep price simply because they were German.

If you’ve ever read Sarah’s Key, you’ve experienced the haunting feelings that linger after you’ve read the last paragraph of The Plum Tree. It’s a book that will stay with me, as I’m sure it will stay with anyone who reads it. I think it would be an excellent reading selection for a high school history or English class.

Next up from Ellen Marie Wiseman: What She Left Behind. If it’s anywhere near as good as her first book, I’ll love it.

Sources for Readers

Writers are readers. Most of them have bookshelves spilling over with favorite books and ones they haven’t had a chance to read yet. If they’re anything like me, they have a list of about a hundred or more books that they want to read next, if only there were enough time in the day.

I know many of the people who read my blog are avid readers, too. So today I’m blogging about websites (and a couple other places) that are great for readers. They run the gamut from review websites to organizational websites to websites that will help you decide what to read next.

The first one, and my current favorite, is Goodreads. You can find and make friends on this site who have similar tastes in books, or you can use it on your own. You tell Goodreads the types of books you enjoy, then put titles on your virtual “Want to Read” bookshelf. If you wish, you can alert your friends when you’ve started or finished a book. You can review the books you’ve read or you can simply rate them (using a system of 1 to 5 stars). The more you use the site, the better the site becomes at pinning down the types of books you like to read and recommending other titles in your preferred genre. Just this week, a friend of mine reviewed a book that I’m going to pick up for my son. He’s always looking for good books, and I know he’ll love the one my friend read. Check out Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/.

One great website I discovered recently is at http://www.whatshouldireadnext.com. This is great for people who are looking for books that are similar to ones they’ve read and enjoyed. It’s simple to use: you just type in a title or an author’s name. A title or list of titles will come up and you click on one of them. You’ll be given a list of authors and titles that are similar to the one you typed. This is a great way to discover new authors that write books in the genres you like to read.

Shelfari is another website worth checking out. It’s at http://www.shelfari.com. Full disclosure: it’s owned by Amazon. Like Goodreads, it can help you catalog your books, allow your friends to view what you’re reading, what you want to read, your reviews, and your ratings of books. You can also join or start an online discussion about a book you’ve read.

Another website I follow is called Shelf Pleasure. It’s at http://www.shelfpleasure.com. Though generally for women, anyone can join or benefit from it. The site has recommendations and reviews for book lovers, author interviews and live chats, and an online book club. I always enjoy reading the different blogs on this site, but I especially enjoy the monthly blog entitled “Will Travel for Words” by Karen A. Chase.

A good website to check out if you’re interested in a book club might be http://www.onlinebookclub.org. There is a Book of the Month that you can read and discuss (as I write this, it’s still March and the Book of the Month for March is Inferno by Dan Brown). There are countless other discussions going on about lots and lots of other books, too- not just the Book of the Month. There are also book reviews, fun discussions that you can join (such as “Books that have made you cry?” or “Dating someone who doesn’t read?”), and a page on up-and-coming authors and new books.

One place where I have found lots of great book suggestions is http://www.npr.org. Or you can just listen on the radio. You will often hear author interviews and book reviews. One of the best interviews I’ve heard lately was with the author of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Mohsin Hamid. He was fascinating, and though I haven’t had a chance to read his book yet, it’s getting closer to the top of my TBR pile. I’ve read a number of books by authors who have been interviewed on NPR, and I’ve never been disappointed. I encourage you to check out this great source for readers.

Last, but certainly not least, is your public library. I encourage you to visit the library, not just its website. The local library is a great place to learn about all kinds of classes, workshops, clubs, trips, activities for kids and adults, and of course, books.

I’d love to hear where you go for great book recommendations and reviews.

Until next week,

Amy