Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Open Me Last List!~

A Good Book---the Gift that keeps on Giving!

What books did I read this year? Which ones am I giving as gifts? I enjoyed so many, having to narrow it down was difficult. In no particular order, here they are:

Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller
Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon, need I say more? If you  love the songs they wrote and sang, this tells you how they came to be some of the best singers/songwriters of their day. Music lovers delight.

Zeitoun by David Eggers
Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and here Eggers tells the tale of what happened to Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a prosperous Syrian-American, married to an American, and their four children. One of the best novels about the events  in New Orleans after Katrina

The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley
First of all, Douglas Brinkley writes great historical books; second, Theodore Roosevelt lived a life that was never boring. What might be a surprise is that Roosevelt, being  the great hunter he was, believed in conservation and went on to make it a universal effort. Written with humor and the vitality that Roosevelt was known for, it's a great book for anyone who admires, Roosevelt, conservation, and maybe explain how someone who revered animals, could have no qualms about killing them...

Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
Was there resisitence in Nazie Germany? Meet Otto and Elise Hampel who try, in their own small way, to undermine Hitler after their son is killed in the war. The Hampels print postcards denouncing the war and Hitler, leave them around Berlin hoping they will make a difference with someone. While you know there can only one way for the book to end, you keep hoping maybe........ Wonderfully written.

*Hans Fallada wrote this book in 24 days. Fallada was a bestselling novelist before the war and refused to leave Germany like some of his friends. He was brutalized psychologically by Goebbels for refusing to write a anti-Semitic book, hounded by the Gestapo, put into an asylum for the criminally insane. While Fallada died in 1947,  he did outlast the Reich.

Good Soldiers by David Finkel
True story about the 2-16 battalion, called the Rangers, and their experiences when they were sent to Baghdad in 2007. The changes that occurred within themselves, the horrors that they saw, and how war changed them, some for better and some for the worse. Did the surge in Iraq work? Do you ever recover from being in war? Finkel gives opinions from those who were there.

Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton
While this book reads like a fiction thriller, it is true. A small band of Special Force soldiers sneak into Afghanistan after 9/11. They went to help the Afghans fight the Taliban. They needed to take the town of Mazar-i-Sharif to put a dent in the Taliban. One of the first obstacles to overcome was the fact that the Afghans mode of travel was horses...which most of the soldiers had ever been on. As always in war, there is the horror, but Stanton somehow shares some of the humor that occurred. If you want to have a better understanding of why we are where we are with Afghanistan, read this. Stanton did a terrific job of researching and talking to those that were there.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

King Henry VIII and the one man who would do anything to ascend to political power...Thomas Cromwell. Mantel fills in the empty spaces of what transpired during eight years of Henry's reign, the Anne Boleyn years. Not afraid to get his hands dirty and achieve his ends by any means, Cromwell becomes Henry's right hand man. If someone loves the Tudors, or if you do, the history of England during their you go.

*Mantel won the Booker Award this year. for this book.

Clapton by Eric Clapton

Clapton played with some of the best in the music world, he wrote and sang songs that are considered classics. In his straight forward, honest autobiography he shares everything, how he went after his best friends wife, (George Harrison) and strangely, this didn't affect their friendship; and his anguish when his four-year-old son Connor fell to his death. I was glad when he came to realize how talented he is and what pleasure he has brought to many people. For those who love Clapton, the history of the 60's music and how most of it came to be, this is the book for them.

These are the books I am giving as gifts., hopefully one of them will make you think of someone who might enjoy it. I call this my Open Me Last list because when I open the gift of a book, I want to stop everything and start reading it. .....

I wish you a Blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year...and always...Happy Reading!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Books

Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we've no place to go.....
read a book read a book read a book.....
(thanks to Sammy Cahn and Julie Styne)

When you are in this situation, read a book. This time of year, when I pick up a book to read, I want it to be about Christmas, I want to be able to read it in a day or two, and I want a warm, fuzzy feeling when I'm done. With that in mind, I have a list of some of the best Christmas stories I have read over the years..that fit my criteria.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

Capote tale of the wonderful relationship between an orphaned boy and elderly woman gives you a warm glow. The making of the fruitcakes and the homemade gifts as they prepare for Christmas, the feelings they have for one another....eating the remains of the fruitcake and getting a little tipsy. Set in Alabama in the 1930's, it is about a time long gone when times where simpler. A little gem of a story.

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

Who sometimes doesn't wish to just opt out of Christmas? Funny story about Luther and Nora Krank who decide to skip Christmas when their only child tells them she isn't coming home for Christmas. They decide to go on a cruise. The neighbors are furious when the Kranks don't put up any decorations and make clear they are forgoing Christmas. Last minute shenanigans ensue when, at the last minute, their daughter calls Christmas Eve as they are sneaking out of their house and she has decided to come home and wants to celebrate their usual family holiday. The whole neighborhood springs into action to save Christmas for the Kranks.

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg

After being told by his doctor that this could be his last Christmas ever, 52-year old Oswald T. Campbell leaves cold wintry Chicago and heads to Lost River, Alabama. One grocery store...and the local cardinal, a redbird called Jack...and with attempts to fix him up with a widow, things are different. When Oswald and his new friends become involved with abandoned, crippled young Patsy, the tugging at the heartstrings begin. Will there be snow for Christmas? Will Oswald make it to another Christmas? Will Flagg combine sass with love, humor and charm? Will she get you get a little teary-eyed? Oh yeah.

A Christmas Blizzard by Garrison Keillor

If you enjoy Keillor like I do, give this a go. If you like audio, definitely listen to it read by Keillor. I always like an authors interpretation of their books. On his way to Hawaii for Christmas, our traveller is summoned to his sick Aunt's side and ends up spending it in his North Dakota hometown instead during a blizzard. The electricity goes out and lo' and behold our traveller is visited by friends from his past, and some historical figures pop in....he hears angles singing, the silence of the night amazes him...and it changes things for him and how he will live his life. Humor and the heartstrings pull here!

A Blue and Gray Christmas by Joan Medlicott

I love Medlicott "Ladies of Covington" series, so this one I was looking forward to cozing up with. When the Ladies of Covington find an old tin box, they find letters inside written by two Civil War soldiers, one an Union soldier and one an Confederate soldier. The discovery of the contents in the box turns this into an historical saga. Another wonderful heart tugger....I was sorry to close the last page.
*Note-I love Medlicott's Ladies series. It is definitely one to cozy up with in front of the fire during the cold months.

The Christmas Letters by Lee Smith
Another author I love to read. This book is three generations of women who write a Christmas letter every year, beginning in 1944-1996. They share what the past year has brought them, both good and bad. A charmer of a read.

Christmas on Jane Street by Billy Romp
I discovered this book a few years ago. I gave it as gifts to those of my friends who had teenage daughters.

This is based on a true story about Mr. Romp, his wife, and three children who for ten years have come from Vermont to New York City to sell their Christmas trees. Romp's daughter, his right hand, the one who he counts on to make sure all is running smoothly is on the cusp of becoming a teenager, and not as interested in the tree business as in the past. Traditions are wonderful, but what happens when new traditions come around?

The Polar Express by Chis Ban Allsburg
This book brings back such happy memories for me! This was the book I read Christmas Eve to my girls, and my oldest had a bell she kept with her that she jingle during the night. I still read it, to anyone who will listen. Ah, this one makes me smile.

I hope one of one of these give you a wonderful happy holiday reading!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd

The worth of a book is to be measured
by what you can carry away from it.
James Bryce

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd

Jim Fergus

I love books based on "what if?" One Thousand White Women is very much a "what if" book.
While this is fiction, it is based on an historical fact. In 1875, the chief of the Cheyenne, Lone Wolf, came to Washington and met with President Grant. Knowing that the way of life of the Indian was changing, he requested "Brides for Indians," he offered one thousand horses for one thousand white women. The idea being that the white women would marry the Cheyenne, have a baby, and therefore assimilate the Indians into the white man's world and hopefully bring peace between the two. That's the fact, now we begin the fiction.

While publicly Grant was aghast, secretly he gave his consent to send one thousand white women to the Cheyenne. Recruiters went to jails, mental institutions, debtors' prisons, and were sent out to find women to fill the quota. May Dodd was in the first group to head west, having been recruited from a mental institution. She joined quite a cast of characters when they were loaded on the train to take them to Indian Country.

We did this book for book discussion, and over bison stew--made by yours truly--came to the consensus that we loved this book. We agreed that we had to keep reminding ourselves that it was fiction. We were amazed that the author, Jim Fergus, could do such an amazing job from a women's point of view. May Dodd kept a journal from the beginning of the journey to the end. The deal is that the women have to stay with the Cheyenne for two years, have a child, then they are free to do what they want. All teh women had been pardoned so they didn't have to fear being returned to prison, instituions or home. The writing about the lives of the women while living with the Cheyenne is wonderful. How the women adjust to the life among a different people, a people who they have been taught to fear, does take some time but when they realize these are not the vicious savages they had heard about, life isn't awful The women learn to ride horses, eat different foods then they were used to, (choked, boiled puppy was a big favorite in the Cheyenne diet) cook, pack up and move, and live in crowded teepee's. Cheyenne braves could have more then one wife and, yes, they all lived together. The women are amazed at how accepting the Indians are of someone being different and how they hold them in high regard. Half-breeds, who the white man considered as beneath them, the Indians believed to be special and treat them with respect. When the women see the affects of liquor on the Indians they realize that not everything the white people have brought the Indians is good.

The historical writing has been well researched. The violence between the different tribes, the distrust between the Indian and the white man, and the government reneging on the "deal" that was made; the Indians had forfilled their part of the deal, delivered the one thousand horses, but no more white women were coming. When gold is discovered in the Black Hills, the Black Hills that had been given to the Sioux and Cheyenne "forver and ever" in a treaty, all hell breaks loose when the news reaches the East as the mad rush for gold begins.

One of the most interesting things about this book was that author, a male, could write with such insight about women. Fergus made his female characters strong, independent and definitely before their time. We had to keep reminding ourselves reading the book that this was fiction.

While this book is based on fact, the Cheyenne did approach the Grant administration for "brides," the Grant administration was horrified at the request...or were they?

The book came to an end that was not one any of us liked...

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy historical fiction, or... even if you don't.

Happy Reading!