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Reading Wednesday

    Reading Wednesday

    Reading Wednesday Year In Review

    As you likely know if you have been following all these years, I track my reading year from July to July. Nothing fancy, just keep a little tally in my notebook of all the books I read. This year I read 80 books, and today I will share with you some of my favorites, once again, for Reading Wednesday Year In Review.

    Over the past year I have written 52 book reviews, pulling into reviews my favorites of the 80 books. Sixty of the 80 were read on my kindle, five were traditional books, while 13 were audible books we listened to on road trips. Some of my top books of the year were on Audible…a fantastic way to enjoy a book while driving.

    My Top Fifteen

    So today I will share with you my top 15 of my Reading Wedensday Year in Review, beginning with my top five in order;

    1. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doer – This remarkable book is either loved or hated, but for me, it was one of the most beautifully written, uniquely plotted, and astonishingly creative books of the past several years. I admit, if you can’t spend the time really digging deep to understand the complicated plot, (which jumps from medieval times to the distant future) you might not like it. It is not for the faint of heart. But it took my breath away and it is my favorite book of this year. This is a story of how life goes on.
    2. Trust by Hernan Diaz – Like Cuckoo Land, Diaz is brilliant in plot development of Trust taking multiple complicated storylines and weaving them beautifully into a book I could not put down. The story of early 19th century Wall Street is written in several different styles, and it adds to the fun and intrigue of this great book. This is a story of things aren’t always what they seem.
    3. Project Hail Mary by Anthony Weir – to be honest I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book. Generally I’m not a Science Fiction reader, but Weir’s story of a space mission to save the Earth had me falling in love with the characters (both human and not) and enjoying every aspect of this fun and exciting adventure story. This is a story of friendship and heroes.
    4. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabelle Wilkerson – last year one of my top books was Caste by Isabelle Wilkerson. When I learned she had an earlier book, I really wanted to read it. In this story Wilkerson’s vast research and interviews bring to life in the pages what it was like for the black population in the American South in the years after the Civil War. She follows a handful of real people as they make the life changing decision to leave the racially toxic southern states for points north and west. It’s a brilliant book that every American should read. This is a story of America’s racial tension then and now.
    5. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel – Mandel’s Station Eleven was one of my favorite reads of 2018, and once again she captivated me with Sea of Tranquility. It’s another story of alternate realities, looking both forward and back and ultimately leaving the reader wondering about their own daily reality. Is what we do and see each day real? Or is it all an illusion. This is a story about time and place and the human experience.

    And Ten More I Loved

    In no particular order, these ten more I recommend very highly;

    1. The Bonesetters Daughter by Amy Tan – This is a story of family and how cultural misunderstanding can lead to a life of sorrow. Sweet.

    2. The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton – This is a story of what some people will do for fame. Intense.

    3. So Brave Young and Handsome by Leif Enger – This is story about the early 1900’s in the United States and coming to terms with aging and choices we have made. Sentimental.

    4. The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn – This is a story of WWII and brave females who changed the course of the war. Exciting.

    5. The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz – This is a story about writers, plots and psychotic people in our midst. Jaw Dropping.

    And these too…

    6. Playing With Myself by Randy Rainbow – This book is about more than a comedian and satirist – it’s about growing up, coming out and love that binds through thick and thin. Heartfelt.

    7. The Candy House by Jennifer Eagan – This book is about a near future life where the internet rules our thoughts and memories. Creepy.

    8. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrel – This book is about the power men (husbands, fathers, lovers) had to make women disappear in the early 20th century. Horrifying.

    9. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – This book is a classic American novel about a young girl coming of age in tenement in Brooklyn in the early 1900’s. Wonderful.

    10. The Maid by Nita Prose – This is a book about a quirky and lonely young women who finds adventure as a maid in a swanky hotel. Hilarious.

    Go Read a Book and Explore a New World

    Thanks for reading my Reading Wednesday Year in Review. I always welcome book suggestions, and I hope some of these make their way onto your reading list. Reading, like travel, is a door to understanding the world. Go read a book.

    See all our book reviews from the past year on our Reading Wednesday list here.

    Some more suggestions for you here from Goodreads.

    Next Wednesday we will be back to our weekly book reviews.

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Trust by Hernan Diaz

    I loved the writing and clever plot presentation in this enthralling book. By the time I got it from the library wait-list I couldn’t remember what it was about or who had recommended it. But I dove in, and barely came up for breath. Here is my book review Trust by Hernan Diaz.

    The novel opens with a story about a 1930’s Wall Street Tycoon Benjamin Rask, with uncanny ability to know what the market will do, before it does it. The story also opens with the wife of this tycoon, Helen, who is slowly going mad.

    Next we jump to another story, but gosh the characters seem so familiar…but not exactly. Another wealthy Wall Street speculator Andrew Bevel, and his wife Mildred. Living in a world of wealth and philanthropy in the 1920’s in New York City, but the wife is slowly dying of cancer…I begin to wonder if this book is a collection of novellas pulled together about Wall Street?

    But no. Diaz has a exceptional writing style and he eloquently pulls these narratives into each other. The reader is not quit sure if you are reading an autobiography, a fictional tale, a diary or a manuscript. And you honestly are reading all of the above. What is going on here?

    Enter Ida Partenza. This young woman, will be the one who pulls all of these storylines together. But we first meet her as a 70-year-old women, looking back at her remarkable time with Andrew Bevel. A brief and strange employment that ended abruptly and left so many unanswered questions. Through her memory, and Diaz’s brilliant plot development, all of the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place. And you will wonder…who can you ever really Trust?

    *****Five Stars for Trust by Hernan Diaz.

    Thank you for reading my book review Trust by Hernan Diaz.

    Read last week’s book review A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

    This is a timeless and beautiful book, that for whatever reason, I have failed to read until now. And despite it being written nearly 80 years ago, the story remains captivating, graceful and engaging. Here is my book review A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

    This coming of age story is largely autobiographical as the protagonist, a young girl named Francie and her family, are based on the author herself. We meet Francie in 1912 when she is eleven years old. Living in Williamsburg, a tenement neighborhood in Brooklyn. Life is very difficult for Francie and her family; Mother Katie a house cleaner is the family breadwinner; father Johnny sings in a restaurant but drinks away most of his earnings; and ten-year-old brother Neely is one of Francie’s only friends.

    Francie is intelligent but shy and her families circumstances make it difficult for her to make friends or do well in school. Francie escapes through books and reads everything she can. She also releases much of her pent up imagination through writing.

    Smith writes the family story jumping between present day (starting in 1912) and back to the early days of courtship of Johnny and Katie. Francie loves her father dearly, and senses her mother loves her brother more than her. But Katie realizes how smart and independent Francie is, and so leans more love Neely’s way.

    Francie and Neely both leave school to help support the family. Alcoholism eventually takes the life of Johnny, just before Katie learns she is pregnant with a third child.

    Francie wants to finish high school and go to college and have a boyfriend, but life is so hard for her and her family and leaving Brooklyn seems like an impossible dream.

    Throughout the book the reader will be drawn effortlessly into the deep feelings and emotions of these characters, and particularly the young girl Francie who goes from age 11 to age 17 – from a child to a young woman. Francie represents an entire generation of young girls like herself, whose 2nd generation immigrant parents give them everything the can for a better life.

    Betty Smith should have had a Pulitzer for this exquisite book. I loved it. It’s not too late to read this American masterpiece. Thanks for reading my book review A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

    See last week’s review The Candy House by Jennifer Eagan.

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Candy House by Jennifer Eagan

    Eagan is a remarkable writer and I have enjoyed the three novels I have read by her, most recently Manhattan Beach. Eagan’s earlier novel A Visit From the Goon Squad won the 2011 Pulitzer, and The Candy House revisits many of the characters from Goon Squad. Here is my book review The Candy House by Jennifer Eagan.

    The Candy House

    As I mentioned in last week’s book review The Immortal King Rao, The Candy House is eerily similar in it’s plot. Like King Rao, The Candy House takes us into the not too distant future, a time where living on planet earth has become all about the internet, and how everything we think say and do is connected to an online presence. Not so difficult to imagine.

    As The Candy House begins we meet the brilliant Bix Bouton, a tech demigod who creates a new technology known as “Own Your Own Unconscious”. This technology is a sharing tool, where you can share every memory you have ever had and access all the memories of other people. Just like The Immortal King Rao.

    The story follows multiple characters all looking for something in this world; love, hope, stability, companionship, privacy and even family. Many characters reappear from A Visit From the Goon Squad, but the reader of The Candy House won’t need to have read Goon Squad to follow the story.

    And what a story it is. An imaginative, inventive and sometimes disturbing plot. Eagan’s writing style is phenomenal as she guides you through the character development sometimes writing in first person, sometimes not. One chapter presented all in Tweets. Another all in letters of correspondence. She is one of the preeminent writers of the day and The Candy House is masterful.

    *****Five Stars for The Candy House. A perfect summer read. Thanks for reading my book review The Candy House by Jennifer Eagan.

    Read last week’s review of The Immortal King Rao.

    See this week’s top performing pin here Visit Nashville Music Capital

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Immortal King Rao: A Novel by Vauhini Vara

    What a great and unexpected book. I had no idea even what it was about when I picked it up. So glad I stumbled on this unique story. Here is my book review The Immortal King Rao: A Novel by Vauhini Vara.

    dystopian (dis’to pean)

    We seem to be going through a phase of several remarkable books placed in a dystopian time, somewhere in the near future with a focus on a negative world, the result of an online world we have created. For reference;

    adjective – relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

    Not only does The Immortal King Rao take us to such a place, but the next book I picked up to read (see next week’s review) did the same. The Candy House and The Immortal King Rao were eerily similar. What the what?

    The Immortal King Rao

    Vara introduces us to a child, whose name is King, whose beginnings are simple and modest, whose life is based on a coconut farm in India in the 1950’s. But whose future will change the world forever.

    Through a series of fortunate (or unfortunate?) circumstances and meetings as King grows into a man and travels to the USA to be educated, King Rao will become the most powerful and accomplished tech CEO and leader of the world. Until he is not.

    A World In Disarray

    Technology has taken over the world. Climate change is raging. King is in the middle of it all. The world is run by a corporation rather than a government, and it is only a matter of time until revolt.

    Surprising to me a major part of the story takes place on two islands in Washington State, both just a few miles from where my home is. The island’s, Bainbridge and Blake, have become a shelter for people who have turned against the world order. Including King Rao’s daughter Athena.

    But Athena is more than a normal human being, because through technology created by King, Athena holds in her brain all of King’s memories from his remarkable life. There are many people who would take everything to get a hold of that…everything.

    I really enjoyed this unusual story, somewhat difficult to describe, but totally worth a read. As is next week’s book the Candy House. I hope you enjoyed my book review The Immortal King Rao: A Novel by Vauhini Vara.

    See last week’s book review The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox.

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

    Maggie O’Farrell wrote the phenomenal Hamnet, my favorite book of 2021. And I am on pins and needles for her new book, The Marriage Portrait, due out this fall. I have read two other O’Farrell works, Instruction for a Heat Wave and I Am I Am I Am, neither as good as Hamnet, but this one…ah this one was really good. Here is my book review The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell.

    Not unlike another story I read a couple years ago, The Women They Could Not Silence, O’Farrell takes us back in history to a dark time when husbands, fathers and even brothers could commit women to asylum’s…often for absurd reasons.

    This is the basis of the plot of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. When Iris Lockhart learns she has an aunt she never knew existed, who is being released from Claudstone Hospital after being locked away for 61 years.

    Iris begins to unravel the story of Esme Lennox, sister to her grandmother Kitty – a grandmother who has never mentioned Esme and has always claimed to be an only child.

    The author takes the reader back and forth between the viewpoint of multiple characters (Esme, Iris and Kitty) and through the past and the present day as she magically weaves the plot and the sad story.

    I didn’t love the ending…it kinda leaves you hanging. But nonetheless I really enjoyed this book. I hope you enjoyed reading my book review The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

    Read last week’s review Night

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Night by Elie Wiesel

    Elie Wiesel survived. Millions did not. I have known about this book most of my life, but for some reason it never made it into my hands, until I picked it up when I was in New York at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Here is my book review Night by Elie Wiesel.

    There are many World War II and Holocaust survivor books worth reading. I have read many. But this short and even simple story is so personal, so heartbreaking, so real. It took Elie ten years from the time he was liberated from the Nazi death camps to even talk about the experience. And in 1956 he finally did, in the book Night.

    When Elie was 15 years old, he was deported with his family (father, mother and sister) from Hungary to the Auschwitz – Birkenau camp in Poland. Elie’s mother and sister were likely killed shortly after their arrival, but he never knew. Elie’s father died a horrible slow death. Elie was the only one to survive.

    Over the years the book has had it’s critics questioning its factuality. Of course it has. There are those who think the holocaust is a hoax. But the pages of Night tell a nightmare of a young boy pulled from his studies in his home in Hungary and thrust into unimaginable horrors.

    Night was a watershed moment for the holocaust literature. It has been translated into thirty languages and is often on the syllabus at universities. It contains profanity, violence and horror, as told through the eyes of a young man living it. Wiesel would live the rest of his days (he died in 2016) with regrets. He would go on to write dozens of books and in 1986 he would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Wikipedia writes –

    “The Norwegian Nobel Committee called him a “messenger to mankind”, stating that through his struggle to come to terms with “his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler‘s death camps”, as well as his “practical work in the cause of peace”, Wiesel delivered a message “of peace, atonement, and human dignity” to humanity. The Nobel Committee also stressed that Wiesel’s commitment originated in the sufferings of the Jewish people but that he expanded it to embrace all repressed peoples and races.”[6] 

    I am so glad I finally read this masterpiece. Thanks for reading my book review Night by Elie Wiesel.

    Read last week’s book review of The Maid by Nita Prose.

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