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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

    I recently re-read Homer’s The Iliad, which I read in high school probably 45 years ago. I had forgotten much of that story, but definitely think it should be called “Let’s Just Kill Everybody”. But the re-reading helped me really enjoy with renewed meaning The Song of Achilles. A fascinating book. Here is my book review The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

    Even if you don’t know The Iliad and the story of the Trojan War, you still will enjoy The Song of Achilles. Miller has taken the age old story and rewritten it with an emphasis on Achilles and even more emphasis on his companion Patroclus.

    Told from the viewpoint of Patroclus the story begins when he is a young prince. An unfortunate accident gets him shunned from his father’s halls and he is sent to live with King Peleus and his golden son Achilles – “the best of the Greeks”.

    Achilles and Patroclus could not be more different. One brave and confident the other quiet and meek. But in each other they find a bond, a common need for companionship and rapport. As young boys they learn the ways of war and prepare for their future. But as they grow to young men they find love for each other as well. Miller’s imagination creates a retelling of their relationship, a true love story, heartfelt and beautiful.

    When Helen of Sparta is kidnaped the Greeks lay siege on Troy and the decade long Trojan War begins. Much is written about this war and the heroes. The Song of Achilles goes deep into the personalities of both mortal men and gods, the women in the shadows and the egos of the leaders. Miller’s imaginative dialogue and storyline is far more interesting to me than the Iliad, though the ending remains sad and bloody just the same.

    I highly recommend The Song of Achilles for it’s intelligent, thoughtful, moving and fresh look at this ancient tale.

    *****Five Stars for The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

    Read last week’s review of What We Carry.

    My current read A Thousand Ships

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review What We Carry: A Memoir by Maya Lang

    Reading Wednesday

    This is one of the best books I have read about dealing with Alzheimers in a parent. I loved the book Her Beautiful Brain by my friend Ann Hedreen. And this book was just as good. Here is my review of What we Carry: A Memoir by Maya Lang.

    Some of you know my father has Alzheimers and has been living in a lockdown facility now for three years. He no longer knows who I am. As I read this book and the account of the author with her mother’s spiral into Alzheimers it was all very familiar to me.

    Like Hedreen’s book, Lang shares her day to day struggles with her mother’s dementia; from the early days when she just seems confused, to the anger and finally placidity before no memory at all.

    During this journey with her mother Lang learns a great deal of history of her family that she never knew. Through her formative years she had idolized her brilliant doctor mother for immigrating from India and making a life for herself and her family in the USA. But as the dementia slowly tears her mother apart, Lang learns astonishing and heartbreaking information that makes her question her family and decisions her mother made along the way.

    It’s a beautifully written tale of mothers and daughters, families and the foundations we build through facts and fiction we are fed as children. A wonderful memoir for anyone who has a parent with Alzheimers and frankly, anyone who has a parent.

    ****Four stars for What we Carry: A Memoir by Maya Lang

    See last week’s review of About Grace by Anthony Doerr

    My current read Run by Ann Patchett

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review About Grace by Anthony Doerr

    Gosh I wanted to like this book. I really, really did because to this day I still find Doerr’s eloquent book All the Light You Cannot See one of the best reads of my life. But, sigh….About Grace just didn’t do it for me.

    Doerr’s way with words is amazing, even in this book. He really can conjure compassion. He can conjure emotion. He can even conjure the weather for the reader in a way you will feel frostbite on your toes or sunburn on your cheeks. Alas though, for me, About Grace was too discombobulated and unbelievable.

    Interestingly, About Grace has it’s champions, and to me that is one of the fun things about reading…no two people look at a novel the same.

    In this book we follow the very confused life of David Winkler from Alaska to the Caribbean and then all across the USA as he searches for his daughter and searches to find peace in his own mixed up life. Winkler has spent his life fearing his dreams will come true, after one dream does when he was just a child. When he dreams as a young father that he will drown his own child, he flees from her trying to distance himself in an effort for the vision to not come true.

    But over the decades he is tormented, haunted and at times crazed. Following him through this book can be both painful and inconceivable. I found myself loathing this character.

    You may like this book more than I did. You may even like it more than All The Light You Cannot See. You will need to decide for yourself. Thanks for reading my book review of About Grace by Anthony Doerr.

    ***Three stars for About Grace by Anthony Doerr.

    See last week’s review of The Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.

    My current read The Broken Circle

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

    This is the fourth, maybe even fifth book I have read by Neil Gaiman. This story most reminded me of Gaiman’s American Gods, possibly his most well known book. Anansi Boys was written in 2005, but I had never read it. I listened to this book on Audible while we were driving around Iceland and Audible is a great choice for the way Gaiman writes. I hope you enjoy by book review Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.

    Gaiman is known for fantasy and magic in his novels. His work often creates character who are just your average, often under achieving, people going about their daily lives. That is until something or someone “magical” enters their humdrum life. So it is with “Fat Charlie”, a less than inspiring Londoner leading an uninspired life.

    Until Fat Charlie’s father, known as Mr. Nancy, passes away unexpectedly in Florida. Fat Charlie leaves his boring job and uninspired wedding planning fiance in London to fly to Florida for the funeral. It’s here that Fat Charlie learns some surprising history about his father and family. His father is a god, and Fat Charlie has a brother who also has magical traits. Mr. Nancy is named for the African God Anansi (Spider God) and Fat Charlie’s brother is named Spider.

    Of course Fat Charlie is skeptical, confused, and a little pissed off that all this information has been kept from him all these years. But when brother Spider arrives at Fat Charlie’s London flat, a wild and raucous adventure begins that includes travel to far off mystical places, loosing his fiance but gaining a girlfriend, outrageous behavior by Spider, criminal activity by Fat Charlie’s employer and on and on.

    In true Gaiman fashion the story will come together happily in the end, with all characters finding satisfaction in this crazy magical world of the gods. I hope you enjoyed my book review Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.

    ****Four Stars for Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

    Read last week’s review of America’s First Daughter

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

    I both loved and didn’t love this book. Mostly I loved it. It’s a very unique look at the life of a slave, who, without trying became a world traveler and brilliant marine biologist. I hope you enjoy by book review Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

    A Slave

    Washington Black was born a slave in Barbados on a sugar plantation. He both loves and fears Big Kit, the slave women who watches over him. From a very young age “Wash” is in the fields working alongside Big Kit. When the “Master” dies and his son arrives from London to take over the plantation, Wash and the other slaves lives change to a life of fear.

    Unexpected

    The new Master’s brother Christopher arrives for an unexpected visit when Wash is eleven and nothing will ever be the same. Christophe is an eccentric “scientist” fascinated with flight and chooses Wash as his personal assistant to both live with him and help him with his scientific work.

    This relationship will define who Washington Black will become. Working next to Christopher Wild Wash will learn to read and write, will fly through the air in a hot air balloon contraption, will crash land and sail on from Barbados to the Arctic. Wash will also be the only witness to a suicide, and the resulting blame for the death will haunt him for his entire life. But Christopher takes him under his wing to protect him,

    When Christopher abandons Wash, a third life will begin for the teen.

    Love

    As Wash “survives”, his travels will continue from the Arctic to London where he will discover two things he loves; marine biology and a girl named Tanna. But always Wash can’t stop thinking about Christopher abandoning him when he was just a boy. And so Wash will search out his friend in the far reaches of Morocco.

    Adventure

    More adventures than one boy could ever imagine make up the life of Washington Black…an unexpected life of a slave child from Barbados. Sometimes parts of this story seemed so far-fetched to me a scoffed at it, and yet Edugyan writing kept me wondering how this wild ride for this boy/man would end.

    I hope you enjoyed my book review of Washington Black by Esi Edugyan.

    ****Four stars for Washington Black by Esi Edugyan.

    See last week’s review of A Single Swallow by Zhang Ling

    See our Reading Year in Review 2020-2021 here

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review A Single Swallow by Zhang Ling

    Clever. Heart Warming. Brutal. This new English translation of Zhang Ling’s unforgettable novel will have you on the edge of your seat. Here is my book review A Single Swallow by Zhang Ling.

    When Emperor Hirohito announces Japan’s surrender to the Allies, three men make a pact, agreeing that after thier deaths their souls will return to this Chinese village each year. The village is where they have met, fought and befriended each other.

    But it takes seventy years before all three will find themselves together again, their souls converging on the tiny Chinese village where their story began. An American missionary, a gunner and a local Chinese soldier. How these three men from very different backgrounds will touch each other’s lives is a remarkable journey.

    And of course there is a girl. Her name is Ah Yan also called Swallow. Her profound impression on the three men in unique and very different ways will change her life, and the lives of each man.

    The best part of this remarkable book for me is the telling. Ling’s beautiful writing narrates in the voice of each man from beyond the grave…a unique telling of the story as each man looks back on his life and the impact Ah Yan has on it. I hope you enjoyed my book review A Single Swallow by Zhang Ling.

    Remarkable book and beautifully written and translated.

    *****Five stars for A Single Swallow by Zhang Ling

    Read last week’s review of Unsettled Ground.

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    Reading Wednesday

    Fourth Annual Reading Round Up

    My Reading Year In Review

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    It’s been four years since I started adding a weekly book review to My Fab Fifties Life blog. At the time, many of my followers and friends were asking me for book suggestions, knowing how much I read especially while traveling. So Reading Wednesday was born and quickly became one of the most popular aspects of our blog. So today I once again share my year of reading, my fourth annual reading round up.

    Fourth Annual Reading Round Up

    My reading year runs from July to July…not to be difficult but just because July was when I did my first reading round up. You can see my past reading round ups by clicking here – for 2018 click, and for 2019 click and for last year 2020 click.

    July ’20 to July ’21

    In 2021 I read 84 books. I wasn’t trying to beat my previous year but I did by one book. My goal is just to love and get lost in books…and 84 books is a lot of books to love. Most of my books were read on my Kindle. A dozen or so were in good ole fashioned hardback and paperback. And another dozen or so were Audible books that we enjoy when on our car trips.

    I might mention that we do not own a television. A lot of people find that astonishing…but we really have no desire at this time in our lives to have a TV. Instead we read – a lot – thus creating my fourth annual reading round up.

    My Reading Year In Review

    I wrote 52 book reviews again this year, culling the best of the best from my 84 reads. I rarely write a book review about a book I didn’t like. Since I have so many books to choose from I usually write about only the best. That’s not say I don’t occasionally slam a bad book or boring author…but it’s unusual. If you want to find all the book reviews from 2021 just click on the Reading Wednesday topic on the blog or click here.

    My Top Five

    Of my 84 books from the past year (July 2020 to July 2021) below I share twenty of my favorites, and five of the best. It was really hard for me this year to choose twenty favorites….I loved so many of the great books I read this year. But choose I did and they are listed here, beginning with my top five in order of the best in my opinion. Here you go;

    1. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel – You know it’s something special when a book ends and you just can’t stop thinking about it. My heart was heavy when this remarkable novel ended…I loved it. Mantel is a brilliant storyteller and we are transported to 16th century England and the court of Henry VIII.
    2. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab– We have all read or at least heard of stories where the protagonist sells their soul to the devil. We have also had a variety of books available over the decades about time travel. In addition there are so many books floating around out there about magic and curses, witches and spells. But here in V.E. Schwab’s remarkably unique novel we find a beautiful, touching, sad but heartfelt story that covers all of these topics.
    3. The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri – Books about war and war refugees are certainly not rare. But this story is incredibly rare as it deals with the plight of the worn torn region of Syria and the dangerous and nearly impossible lives of refugees trying to get to Europe.
    4. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger – Written in 2001, Peace Like a River is the story of Reuben Land and his family and their small town life. Once again, Enger’s character development is perfection, as we fall quickly in love with Reuben, his brother Davy, sister Swede and father Jeremiah – a miracle worker in Reuben’s mind. The family finds itself on a cross-country trek in search of outlaw brother Davy, after a murder takes place. The journey include miracles and adventure and tests the family’s faith to it’s core. Along the way the family will befriend strangers who touch their lives and find peace like a river in family, friends, love and faith.
    5. Virgil Wander by Leif Enger Virgil Wander nearly dies in a car accident, only to come out of the experience with a new life awakening. As he heals he begins to notice more clearly people and things in his small Midwestern town life. Given the small town setting, as you might expect, Virgil’s story is accompanied by a wide range of characters that Enger brilliantly develops. In fact the character development of this cast is one of my favorite things about this story; from the sudden appearance of Rune, a kite flying old man, or the reappearance of the town’s prodigal son Adam Leer, to the life-long residents like down on his luck Jerry, town drunk Shad, widow Nadine and Mayor Lydia. These are the people who make the plot of Virgil Wander unfold in a humorous and captivating way.

    Fifteen More Favorites

    And fifteen more I adored and couldn’t put down in no particular order;

    1. Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
    2. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
    3. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
    4. The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett
    5. Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
    6. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
    7. The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare’
    8. News of the World by Paulette Jiles
    9. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
    10. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farell
    11. The Music of Bees by Eileen Garvin
    12. Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris
    13. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
    14. The Great Influenza by John M. Barry
    15. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

    …and so many more!!!

    Read for Joy, Read for Understanding, Read for Life

    I hope you enjoyed my fourth annual reading round up. Reading has made me a better human being. A more caring, patient, understanding and tolerant person. Reading and travel provide me so much insight into our tiny planet and the people and cultures who share this space. If you can’t travel I beg you to read. Explore different cultures, religions, histories and stories through books. I guarantee you will become more empathetic, more aware, more curious and a better earth steward through books. And if that happens, my work is done here.

    Find your local library here.

    My current read is The Song of Achilles

    Read last week’s book review Unsettled Grounds by Claire Fuller.

    Read last year’s Reading Year in Review 2019-2020

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