Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The wildest race ever

The wildest race ever: the story of the 1904 Olympic marathon / Meghan McCarthy, 42 pgs.

A great book about the 1904 Olympic marathon held in St. Louis. McCarthy uses quotes from the newspaper reports of the time and shows us just how different this marathon is from contemporary sporting events.  Cars and bikes followed and lead the runners kicking up so much dust the competitors, at times, could not see.  The participants from around the world were not always well supported.  Felix Carvajal from Cuba stopped frequently along the route to eat as it was later discovered that he had spent all his money and not eaten for a couple of days before the race.  South African Len Tau lost a lot of time when he was chased by an angry dog and went off course by at least a mile.  The inside covers of the book are decorated with post cards from the era.  St. Louis at its finest, hosting the Worlds Fair and the Olympics.

The Gatekeepers

The gatekeepers: How the White House chiefs of staff define every presidency / Chris Whipple, 365 pgs.

A fascinating look at chiefs of staff from H. R. Haldeman (Nixon) to Denis McDonough (Obama).  It is very interesting to read about the role of the chief of staff...perhaps the most powerful person next to the President and who are not elected and not confirmed by the senate.  The best parts, of course, are the honest stories about mistakes made and personalities of the various men (yes, all men so far) who have held the job.  Don Regan (Reagan) was kind of a jack ass but sealed his exit when he hung up on the first lady.  Great for political junkies.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Saints for all occasions

Saints for all occasions / J. Courtney Sullivan, read by Susan Denaker, 335 pg.

Nora and Theresa Flynn leave Ireland for America where Nora, engaged to Charlie, plans to live for a few years to make money to buy their own farm in their home town.  Theresa is the younger of the two and much more interested in fashion, lipstick and meeting boys.  Not long after they arrive in America, Theresa finds herself in trouble and Nora, the responsible, believes she is taking care of the problem and doing what is best for everyone.  Fifty years past and the sisters are no longer speaking.  Without giving you any spoilers, believe me when I tell you this book does a great job of depicting the messiness of FAMILY.  Even when people love each other, there is still underlying resentment, anger, hurt feelings and SECRETS.  Of course, the secrets are my favorite.  I loved the way the book follows the sisters through their lives.  Once the party girl, Theresa is now a nun. Once a wall flower, Nora is now a strong mother of four that no one pushes around.  The audio is read well by Susan Denaker who provides accents where appropriate.

The tea girl of Hummingbird lane

The tea girl of Hummingbird lane / Lisa See, read by Ruthie Ann Miles and others, 380 pgs.

Li-Yan lives with her family who are tea farmers in the mountains of  China.  She is being trained as a midwife but doesn't have a lot of interest. She does well in school and may be able to be the one in her village who continues on to higher education (AKA secondary education).  Instead, she falls in love and ends up pregnant, a state that is unacceptable for an unmarried woman.  Her boyfriend has left for Thailand to make money so they CAN get married but the baby is coming too soon.  Despite thinking that her mother will make her "get rid" of the baby (kill it after it is born and bury it in the forest), she instead helps Li-Yan hide her pregnancy and deliver her new born to an orphanage.  The baby is adopted out to an American couple.  Li-Yan's life seems to be going down hill fast but then takes a turn when her teacher helps her get into a training program to become a tea expert.  She moves to the big city and starts a business.  Now she is interested in tracking down the daughter she gave up.  The story goes between Li-Yan's perspective and her daughter in America.  Will they ever be able to find each other?  Listen to this great audio book and find out.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Exit West

Exit West / Mohsin Hamid, 231 pgs.

Nadia and Saeed live in an unnamed city that is heading into disorder. They are starting a tender love affair but things around them are getting worse.  There is fighting and destruction and everyone is worried.  Saeed lives with his parents who are devoted to him.  His mother's death makes the young couple decide they need to leave.  Saeed's father refuses to leave.  Doors appear that take migrants to new places.  They end up in a camp in Greece.  There are people from all over.  Next they are in London, squatting in a large abandoned house with other migrants, mostly from Nigeria.  Finally, they go through a door and end up in the bay area of California.  Along the way, Nadia and Saeed decide to part but they are on good terms. The end of the book tells of a meeting much later back in their city of origin.  Hamid is a master of making the bit of magical realism just seem real.  The story does not hinge on these details but the relationship between Nadia and Saeed that gives us a window into the state of the world and a hope for the future.

The Bullet

The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly  357 pp.

How does a woman live with a bullet in her neck for thirty-four years and know nothing about it? The answer is startling and French literature professor Caroline Cashion learns the startling truth. When she was three a double murder was committed and she was injured. The doctors chose to leave the bullet lodged at the base of her skull for fear that the surgery would cause more damage. Now the bullet is causing her health problems and it could be the only key to convicting the suspect from thirty-four years ago. Family secrets, a cold case, insistent journalists, and crooked lawyers all combine in this convoluted but page-turner of a story. Just when I thought I knew what was going to happen there would be a twist that took it in another direction. It's a mostly satisfying thriller.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao

The brief wonderous life of Oscar Wao / Junot Diaz, read by Lin-Manuel Miranda & Karen Olivo, 339 pgs.

A family story that tells of Oscar, his mother, his grandparents.  Is there a curse on the family?  Everyone has issues but no one more than Oscar.  After a childhood of being cute, he turns into an overweight nerd who has no chance with the ladies.  He is miserable and suicidal.  Is there hope for Oscar?  The narrator is Oscar's former college roommate and his sister's on again, off again lover.  He knows Oscar as well as anyone, has read his writings, has seen him strike out over and over.  I first read this book when it was newly published and was not impressed.  This audio version has made me change my tune.  Loved every aspect of the dysfunctional family and Oscar's travails.

The beautiful dead

The beautiful dead by Belinda Bauer read by Andrew Wincott, 341 pgs.

Eve Singer is a crime reporter who stumbles onto the work of a serial killer, then attacks the attention of the killer himself.  Eve is a woman with a lot on her mind.  She is taking care of her dementia suffering dad Duncan while trying to push her career to the next level.  She decides to use the serial just like he is using her, to get ahead.  This book is a thriller but some of the scenes seem pretty ridiculous.  I also thought the reader made Eve seem weak instead of smart and strong so can not recommend the audio version.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Hobbit

The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien  365 pp.

I originally read the LOTR trilogy and The Hobbit when I was in college. Several years ago I spent a good portion of the summer listening to the audio version of all three LOTR books. I finally got around to listening to The Hobbit. For those who are completely unaware, it is the story of a Hobbit by the name of Bilbo Baggins who is chosen by Gandalf, the wizard, to go on an adventure with a group of dwarves to reclaim their mountain and riches from Smaug, the dragon. Along the way Bilbo finds the ring that gives the wearer invisibility which he uses to much advantage during the journey. The audio version read by Rob Inglis is perfectly voiced including the songs. I enjoyed this version a great deal.

Anything is Possible

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout, 254 pages. Narrated by Kimberly Farr.
A truly wonderful collection of interconnected stories that follows the people living in Amgash, Illinois. Lucy Barton, the main character of Strout's previous book, grew up here, and all the characters in this latest work know her or knew her or her family, and many of the townspeople express strong feelings about her and her (fictional) work. There is a lot of pain and anguish here, but it's revealed in an almost unsentimental way that makes it possible for the reader and most of the characters to get through. Everyone is carrying around secrets and hidden wounds in the town of Amgash. Really worth the read. I read the author's Olive Kittredge years ago, but had avoided her subsequent books for some reason I look forward to catching up on all of them now.