Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Trevor Noah)

The book’s title sat on my TBR list for several years after a colleague’s recommendation. With a long drive back to west Texas in front of me and a free subscription to Audible, I decided it was time to download Trevor Noah’s memoir and see what all the fuss was about. I am certainly glad I did.

Born a Crime brilliantly shares heart-wrenching stories from Noah’s childhood during the final days of apartheid. But the book is about so much more than racial prejudice. It’s about the challenges and laughter that result from growing up in a deeply religious home. It’s about the bond between a mother and son. It’s a tale of the horrors of domestic abuse and the struggle to come to freedom. It’s about life in the face of opposition and seemingly insurmountable challenges.

From his early revelation that his mother was shot in the head by his step-father, Noah pulls us into his childhood and begins to unravel his story with an obvious gift for storytelling. We are brought into a world where a child’s only crime is that he was born to a black woman and a white man. Not finding a welcome place in either racial community, Trevor struggles to be included and is the victim of bullying. He watches as his mother begins to innocently flirt with the handsome mechanic who will ultimately become his stepfather. Trevor explains why everything changes when a son is born to his mother and her new husband….and how the abuse quickly escalates.

Born a Crime is an excellent read filled with moments of thought-provoking asides about life as we know it. Noah explores the power of language as a unifying force and challenges our thoughts about race, freedom, and power. I enjoyed listening to the book, but I fully intend to pick up a copy of the written work as well so I can continue to digest the beautiful language and the insightful commentary. This is one book that you don’t want to miss!

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The Finishing School (Joanna Goodman)

I’ve never done this before, but I feel compelled to include a TRIGGER WARNING for readers due to the presence of childhood sexual abuse and teen suicide found in The Finishing School. Both issues are prevalent themes of the novel.

Having said that, The Finishing School was an outstanding read! The novel’s setting is split between Lausanne and Toronto. Kersti is an Estonian-Canadian whose family owns a small travel agency in Toronto. Rather than educating her in Toronto, her family sends her to the same all-girls boarding school in Lausanne that her mother attended. It is at the Lycee that Kersti becomes friends with her roommate, Cressida.

Cressida is a wild-child, experimenting with drug use and exploring her sexuality. Cressida soon confides in her roommate that she is having an affair with an older man; Kersti later discovers that the man is the girls’ married history teacher. After an upsetting night during the girls’ senior year including lots of tears and alcohol, Cressida falls from her third floor balcony, leaving her paralyzed and spending the rest of her life in a vegetative state. The school determines the event was an unfortunate accident caused by Cressida’s alcoholism and the investigation is closed.

While working on her third novel, Kersti receives a disturbing letter written by one of her Lycee friends just before her death that suggests that something sinister was actually occurring behind the secluded doors of the exclusive boarding school. Is it possible that Cressida was pushed from the balcony because she knew too much? Were other girls suffering in silence? This letter begins Kersti’s search for the truth in order to gain justice for her friend and to bring closure to her own experiences at The Finishing School.

Goodman’s novel certainly qualifies as a page-turner and quickly engages the reader. The writing style is fluid and allows the audience to seamlessly move between the recounting of events at the school in the 1990s and the present day search for truth. The inclusion of Kersti’s personal struggles with fertility and the impact it has on her marriage can sometimes become distracting from the overall storyline, but I still find The Finishing School to be a worthy read for any book club or a reader needing a fun thriller to add to their shelf.

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Ballplayer (Chipper Jones)

I’m not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination. I was never on a team during school. Hell, I would only go to sporting events once I got to college because of the social aspect of the games. But there was one game that I always enjoyed watching — baseball.

My love for the American pastime probably has its roots in early childhood evenings watching my brother play for the local community team. My interest waned as my brother served the military and my personal focus turned to music. When the Pepperdine Waves won the college World Series in the early 1990s, my interest was piqued again and I began to enjoy professional ball.  Of course, I had a lot of fun watching the Dodgers since I was in town, but most of my loyalty was rooted in my southern heritage. I fell in love with the Atlanta Braves and Chipper Jones became one of my heroes. I always wanted a crisp white #10 jersey and never got one.

During the 1990s, I spent many weekends in front of the television with my eyes glued to TBS to cheer on my Braves. When I saw Ballplayer in the digital library, I knew I wanted to read the memoir of my favorite player. I enjoyed reading about Chipper’s accomplishments from his perspective and seeing that even the best players struggle with relationships, criticism, and self doubt. It was a refreshing read and one that I’m very glad I took the time to explore.

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Insurgent (Veronica Roth)

This post has been challenging to write. Why? I finished reading Insurgent while on vacation with my parents last week. When I closed the novel, I found myself asking “What am I going to say about THAT?” I don’t know. Even as I am beginning to write this post, I don’t really know what I’m going to say. This may be an interesting review for all of us….

Insurgent continues the story of Tris and Tobias’ love affair in their dystopian world. As war looms, our young heros face the issue of figuring out who they can trust and who is telling them the truth. Themes of loyalty, forgiveness, freedom, and independence course throughout the work. As a work of fiction, however, I found myself unimpressed repeatedly. The plot simply seemed to circle on itself and never move forward. I was no longer drawn into the story as I was in Divergent and discovered that I kept reading because of my commitment to the previous novel. As I neared the end, I began to question if I really wanted to read the final novel in the trilogy. I don’t have the confidence that the story and writing will grab my attention again. Part of me wants to read it just to complete the cycle; the other part of me hears my former literature teacher telling me to walk away from a bad read without guilt because there are so many good books awaiting my attention. We will just have to see what the future holds.

I’m rather shocked that this has been my response to Insurgent. The reviews for the book were tremendous. The book appears at first glance to be the kind that I will thoroughly enjoy. I can’t really put my finger on what it was about the second installment of the trilogy that turned me off so badly, but I can’t really come up with anything good to say about the reading experience.

So I’m taking a departure from young adult fiction for a while and returning to more familiar territory. I wanted to immerse myself in several different books in hopes that SOMETHING would re-ignite a passion for reading at the moment. So what am I reading right now? I’m working my way through 3 books — which is rather unusual for me!  I am reading The First American (H.W. Brands), The Finishing School (Joanna Goodman) and Ballplayer (Chipper Jones). Hopefully I’ll have a new reading review on one of these books by the end of the week. Now I’m going back to my reading chair and diving into a book.

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Educated (Tara Westover)

It should come as no surprise to those that know me personally that this memoir immediately caught my attention when I saw it on the bookstore shelf. I have always been passionate about the individual pursuit of personal education in the face of challenging situations. While Westover’s memoir does grapple with this important issue, Educated is a book about much more than this.

Tara Westover was a young woman raised in an ultra-religious Mormon home in Idaho. Because of her father’s belief that government institutions were not to be trusted, the family’s five children were “home-schooled” (if her limited education can truly be called that) and medical attention was limited to what could be provided through Mother’s homeopathic remedies. Tara, however, wanted more for her life and sought to experience higher education despite her limited education. To further compound Westover’s challenges, she experienced incredibly violent abuse at the hands of an older brother while her parents watched. Through tremendous perseverance and personal growth, Tara successfully attends BYU in Utah before culminating her studies at Harvard and Cambridge.

Tara’s story as recounted in Educated was profoundly moving to me and has caused me to think about my own struggles in life. Like Tara, I was also raised in a fundamentalist Christian movement that seemed to fear conventional education. Also like Tara, I experienced abuse — although my abuse was primarily verbal and mental — in my childhood home while my parents were seemingly unaware of what was truly going on. I identified with Tara’s feelings of inadequacy as she struggled through the first years of collegiate study. I vividly remember the first time that I recognized that the home life I had experienced as a child was not the norm — and, in fact, not emotionally or mentally healthy. I am currently in the process of coming to the realization that the place where I was raised is no longer “home” because I am no longer the child that silently suffered there for so many years.

Tara Westover’s book has certainly been a life-changing read for me. I took comfort in identifying with the emotions of another person who had escaped. Like Tara, I don’t know that I consider my departure from my abuser’s influence an escape or a harrowing experience. I think I finally came to the point that I was able to realize that they no longer had any influence over me and that I would no longer allow their voice to pierce the quietness of my mind. Like Westover, I too have been Educated and I am forever thankful for it.

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Divergent (Veronica Roth)

I tend to avoid getting on the bandwagon with popular series. It took me forever to experience the world of Harry Potter and the Hunger Games saga. Why? I didn’t want to get swept up into the hoopla of the popular experiences. By waiting, the books are able to stand on their own merit and my encounter with the written word is mine alone.

To that end, I dove into Veronica Roth’s Divergent this summer….and I thoroughly enjoyed the first book of the series! The storytelling was engrossing and the plot easily kept my attention through its many twists and turns. Now I completely understand why Roth’s writing was so well received by the young adult audience.

For those who have no idea about Divergent, the novel is set in a world where people are sorted into factions — essentially a caste system — based upon skills that they possess. There are a select few, however, who have superior skills that cannot be manipulated by the sorting process. They are classified as the Divergent….and face constant danger if their status is discovered. 

The adventures of Beatrice, Four, Will, Peter, and the others will keep the attention of every reader. Looking for an exciting adventure story? Look no further than Divergent. Need a little romance in your life? It’s here, too! Hoping for something that raises questions about bravery and selflessness? Roth’s novel addresses these topics splendidly.

I highly recommend that you and your teen read this book! However, be advised that there are scenes depicting violence, warfare, sexuality, domestic abuse and death that may be disturbing for some readers.

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17th Suspect (James Patterson)

On my recent flight to Europe, I read the latest installment in the Women’s Mystery Club series, 17th Suspect. This time, Lindsey Boxer and her colleagues find themselves pursuing a serial killer who is preying on the city’s homeless population while also investigating corrupt police officers. Paired with Lindsey’s health issues, the novel is filled with uncertainty if things will work out for everyone. Truthfully, this read felt as though Patterson was beginning the process of bringing the series to a close once and for all. However, it is not ending immediately…..18th Abduction is on shelves now.

The pattern of the Women’s Mystery Club novels have become predictable, but I still really enjoy occasionally sinking into the familiar world of these quick reads. Now back to the bookstore to figure out what will be the next thing on my reading list!

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After Anna (Lisa Scottoline)

B541AFA0-9FB7-4998-8FFA-424D18EB8E33I finally managed to finish a novel this week! It’s an exciting accomplishment to say the least. This time, the novel was Lisa Scottoline’s After Anna. This gripping family drama tells the story of Noah, a pediatric allergist, and his wife, Maggie. Maggie lost custody of her infant daughter after her powerful ex-husband had her declared unfit. An unexpected call reunites Maggie with Anna, her long-lost daughter. Anna moves into Maggie and Noah’s home in hopes of beginning a new family.

Things do not go smoothly for the family. As the novel opens, the reader finds Noah on trial for the murder of Anna. When the prosecution’s witness reveals that Anna had accused Noah of sexual abuse while she lived in his home, Noah’s fate seems to be sealed. As Maggie deals with her own grief over the loss of her daughter and her marriage, she receives another disturbing phone call. Just when you think you know where Scottoline’s story line is headed, an unexpected twist lands in your lap, making After Anna an enjoyable read from start to its dramatic finish.

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Jack’s Book Club (April 2019)

Since my own reading life is non-existent at the moment, I am choosing to enjoy feeding Jack’s love of books. I’m hoping that my own reading begins to return to its normal pace in the coming weeks as the spring term finally begins to draw to a close. (In case you can’t tell, I’m ready for summer break!)

In the meantime, let’s look at the three books that are making their way to Jack’s book shelf this month.

img_0137Dandy by Ame Dyckman is a funny story about a little girl who finds a flower in the middle of Daddy’s perfectly manicured lawn. Unfortunately, Daddy realizes that the intruder is no flower, but actually a WEED! Whenever Daddy attempts to remove the weed from the lawn, his daughter is always there to protect her prized possession. With lots of humor, Dyckman expresses the lengths a father will go to in order to see that his child is happy and treasured.

 

 

 

img_0136The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach is a hysterical book for adults disguised as a children’s book. The young caterpillar cannot wait to become a butterfly, but lacks the patience required. Children will be mesmerized by the vivid images and the carefully crafted science lesson about the metamorphosis process. I suspect they will enjoy watching Mom and Dad laugh as they read the book, too! The little caterpillar’s constant questions throughout the process will strike home with anyone who has spent time with a toddler.

 

 

 

img_0135In keeping with the Easter celebration this month, I couldn’t pass up Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson. Rabbit collects carrots and cannot bear to be separated from them. There’s a problem though — there’s no room in the house for Rabbit now because of all the carrots! Rabbit decides to take the problem to his friends….but the problem continues to grow. Too Many Carrots quickly becomes a charming lesson about friendship and sharing.

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A Spark of Light (Jodi Picoult)

Spark of LightThe novel had been sitting in my TBR pile for several months. I had made several attempts to start, but life always tended to get in the way. That’s actually a fairly accurate summary of my 2019 reading life — everything else always seems to get in the way of my reading. When Spring Break arrived, I realized this was my opportunity to escape into the world of Jodi Picoult again and explore A Spark of Light.

A Spark of Light is set in Jackson, Mississippi and traces the events of a single day at The Center – a reproductive health center…..an abortion provider. George Goddard enters the bright orange building, asks what they did to his baby, and pulls out a handgun. Shots are fired. Blood is shed. Professionals and patients in The Center now find themselves as hostages. Hugh McElroy, the police negotiator celebrating his 40th birthday, is called to the scene in an effort to end the standoff before the SWAT team is sent in. Once he arrives at the scene, Hugh makes an unsettling discovery. Two of the women in The Center are his older sister, Bex, and his 15-year-old daughter, Wren.

In typical Picoult fashion, A Spark of Light is a gripping tale. The narrative shifts between character perspectives throughout each chapter that explores the events of each hour of the fateful day at The Center. Surprisingly to this reader, the timeline emerges in a reverse-chronological fashion, exposing many of the causes of previously seen events. Picoult’s characters are beautifully drawn and are anything but one-dimensional. Just as you think you understand a woman’s choices, you learn that there is more to her back story that is vitally important.

Is this novel about abortion rights? Yes and no. Of course, the issue is present throughout the book with its views of providers, patients, and protestors. However, I didn’t feel as though I was reading a treatise on the issue of abortion in the US. (When you read the author’s note at the end of the book, Picoult’s views on the topic become much clearer in case there is any doubt though.) Instead, the novel itself was an examination of humanity and how a cast of characters may respond to the abortion debate while attempting to explain how they might have arrived at their view. While I did not always agree with Picoult’s characterization of some groups, I thought that she ultimately managed to treat all considered equally and with respect.

I’m always fascinated by the titles of novels. The use of A Spark of Light is explained in the closing chapters of the book. While traveling to The Center from his Atlanta home, Dr. Ward (the central abortion provider of the story) is catching up on his reading of medical journals. In one of his articles, researchers have observed that at the moment of fertilization, a rush of calcium into the egg caused the release of zinc. As the zinc exited the egg, it attached to fluorescent molecules, creating a tiny spark of light.

Once again, Jodi Picoult has produced a fascinating novel that addresses a topic that is relevant to our culture. She examines the issue from both sides of the argument with grace and clarity. By inserting heart and the human condition, Picoult shows that things are not always as black and white as we might initially perceive. I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next.

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