Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#20: The Answer Is (Alex Trebek)

Driving back to Texas is always a perfect time to fit in an audio book and increase my annual reading tally. This trip, I opted for a significantly shorter book because I also wanted to catch up on some podcasts that had stacked up on me while in Arkansas. I have long been a fan of the quiz show Jeopardy! and thought that listening to The Answer Is….Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek (read by the author and Ken Jennings) would be a great option.

The book required about 4 hours of my listening time. Most of the book was read by Jennings with a few pivotal chapters read by Trebek himself. Chapters were very short and succinct for the most part. By his own admission in the opening, The Answer Is was not intended to be a memoir. It was simply a look back at some of Trebek’s fond memories and his experiences in television and broadcasting. Perhaps that is where things fell flat for this listener. I found myself hoping for more detail quite often; just as I became interested in a story or recollection, the memory ended and we moved on to the next. In the quiz show, I enjoy the constant shift of topics. In my reading, it leaves me wanting more.

When the book arrived at Trebek’s memories of Jeopardy! contestants, the increased continuity made the listening experience much more enjoyable. I began to sense the rhythm of the book hitting a comfortable pacing. Then Alex basically ended the book as though it was his farewell swan song to his fans and family. It was heart-breaking.

What’s my final take on the book? I still don’t really know. I enjoyed much of it. I feel as though I have a better understanding of Trebek’s life and career. I find myself still having questions. I struggle with the knowledge that this man that I have welcomed into my home for many hours over the years will not be with us much longer if the doctors’ prognosis is correct. So much uncertainty and so many questions have me wondering what The Answer Is.

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Catch Up: Books 14-16

It has been on my to-do list for nearly a month to write posts about my last two reads. Now that I finished a third book last night, I came to the realization that I simply had to put something down — no matter how short it is — and give the books some attention. I also want to make sure that I have a record of my thoughts before the reading experience is too far separated. I regret that these tremendous books are being grouped together in a single post, but I feel it is the only way to make sure that they are covered here on Reading for Me.

#14: Grit by Angela Duckworth

I think it was this outstanding book that was causing me the greatest difficulty in reviewing. It is a remarkable work that explores the importance of persistence, patience, and perseverance in the pursuit of success. Duckworth’s writing is very detailed and thorough, but she maintains a manner that is approachable by the careful reader. I especially enjoyed her application of concepts as they were found in the lives of athletes, businessmen, and musicians. There is nothing that I can say here that will adequately express my admiration for Grit other than this — I plan to review the book again in a future reading and strongly recommend that it be read by every student, parent, professor, and professional. I promise that you will be challenged and encouraged by each page.

#15: Naturally Tan by Tan France

While driving back to my native Arkansas a few weeks ago, I decided to devote my time to enjoying the audio book of Tan France’s memoir. What a delightful and insightful way to spend several hours in the car! As most of my followers will already be aware, Mr. France is one of the hosts of the current iteration of Netflix’s Queer Eye. (I have also read the memoirs of Karamo Brown and Jonathan Van Ness.  I look forward to reading similar books by Bobby Berk and Antoni Porowski when they *hopefully* appear.) I enjoyed Tan’s stories from the fashion industry and his journey to stardom. What I found most profound were his candid discussions about race, prejudice, and discrimination. Little did I know that Tan’s openness would resound so clearly in my ears as I watched the upheaval that our nation is currently facing. Simply an exquisite read.

#16: The Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer

This second volume of the Clifton Chronicles was just as riveting and well-written as its predecessor. Set against the backdrop of the Second World War, the novel focuses largely on Harry Clifton’s time in the United States as a convict, serving time for a crime he did not commit. Emma, Harry’s jilted love, travels to America in hopes of finding out what happened to the man she adored when he left British soil. Many of the characters we came to enjoy during Only Time Will Tell reappear and continue their story line. In typical Archer fashion, the second novel of the series ends with a tremendous cliff hanger that leaves the reader wondering what will happen and longing to know how the circumstances will impact Harry, Emma, and Giles. Thankfully, the entire series is published and the next volume sits on my night stand, waiting to be read. The Clifton Chronicles are proving to be enthralling yet do not demand so much brain power that I feel as though I must labor through them. Perfect material for a summer vacation as we all try to recover from the recent pandemic’s strain upon our minds and emotions.

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#9: Home: A Memoir of My Early Years (Julie Andrews Edwards)

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Home on audio book while driving back to West Texas after Spring Break. There is something comforting about listening to Julie Andrews’ lilting voice amid all of the stress surrounding our nation’s health crisis at the moment. For a few hours, it was thrilling to seclude myself away inside the rental car and just listen to Mrs. Andrews’ impeccable diction and enthralling stories.

Home details Julie Andrews’ earliest years as well as the beginning of her career. Broadway credits during this time include productions of My Fair Lady and Camelot. As the memoir comes to its conclusion, Mrs. Andrews has committed to play the title role in the Disney film Mary Poppins and has just given birth to her first child, Emma. It is endearing to hear of her relationships with people such as Richard Rodgers, Burt Lancaster, and Carol Burnett.

While I loved the stories from backstage and Julie’s home life, what thrilled me beyond imagination was the constant discussion about vocal technique and vocal health. Mrs. Andrews speaks clearly about the importance of breath support and vowel placement. Her familiarity with the Polonaise from Mignon by Thomas (“Je suis Titania”) was very interesting to me since WBU Opera was slated to produce the opera this semester before COVID-19 entered the scene and forced the show’s cancellation.  I especially laughed aloud when she mentioned that she returned to the works of Handel throughout her career whenever experiencing issues with alignment. (How I detest playing Handel for singers!)

Whether you are a musician or a fan of the stage, there is something that you will enjoy and appreciate in Home. I look forward to reading the follow up to this memoir as well – Home Work. I highly recommend spending a few days with Julie Andrews. You will leave with a greater appreciate of the arts in general and an amazingly talented artist specifically.

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#1: Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing and Hope (Karamo Brown)

Here it is….the first review of 2020! Not surprisingly, the first book that I completed this year was an audio book.

Karamo: My Story is the memoir of Karamo Brown, life coach on Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye. For those of us who grew up with MTV’s The Real World, we first met Karamo there. Things have definitely changed since our first encounter with the author all those years ago.

As I listened to the book, I was immediately struck by Karamo’s honesty and openness. He shares details about his childhood, his early relationship with organized religion, and his struggles with addiction that are startling in their frankness. Yet, it quickly becomes clear that Karamo is sharing these stories in order to help others learn from his experiences. I especially found his discussion of the intersection between faith and his sexuality to be thought-provoking and timely. Quite simply, Karamo sums up his feelings on the subject with three words: “God is Love.” Whether you are interested in the rest of this memoir, this single chapter is worth reading. (I think it was chapter 3…)

As Karamo speaks of his sons and his husband, it is easy to hear his love for them. The level of commitment that he expresses for his marriage is one that many couples in traditional marriages could benefit from. I don’t care what you think about this hot-button topic, Karamo’s proposal story will make anyone believe in romance.

I first began listening to this audiobook simply out of curiosity. Did this man that I watched on television many years ago have anything substantial to say? What I found was a gracious man who is passionate about life and helping others to live theirs in the most honest, fulfilling way possible.

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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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#8: Code of Conduct (Brad Thor)

I’m nearing the end of Middlemarch, but this week’s road trip meant I had to take a break. The rental doesn’t have satellite radio, so it was the perfect time to return to my old friends– audio books! I was entertained and intrigued by the return of Scot Harvath in Code of Conduct.

In this installment of the series, we find our former Navy Seal fighting an unseen enemy. A strain of Ebola has been weaponized and is threatening lives around the world. Set in Congo, Switzerland, and the US, Code of Conduct features exciting battles in humanitarian jungle hospitals as well as the streets of the Nation’s Capitol. Members of the federal government and UN dignitaries join forces to enact the most diabolical genocide the world has seen….and it is up to Scot Harvath to stop them.

Not only exciting, the book is thought provoking. In an age where biological weapons are a reality and international wars remind us just how small the globe is, Thor’s novel feels as though it could easily be plucked from tomorrow’s headlines. Once again, Brad Thor’s writing is riveting and doesn’t disappoint.

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#13: An Accidental Woman (Barbara Delinsky)

Somehow I tend to forget just how much I enjoy Barbara Delinsky’s work until I pick up another audio version of one of her books. An Accidental Woman was another enjoyable read (although the title’s meaning still confuses me).

The story follows Heather Malone, a young woman in rural New England, enjoying life with her boyfriend Micah and his two daughters on their farm. Without warning, the FBI shows up on their doorstep and charges Heather (or is her name really Lisa?) with a murder of a man 15 years ago on the other side of the country. The entire town is thrown into an uproar as they begin to search for answers about Heather’s past. Heather remains silent and seems to be hiding something both tragic and traumatic. Leading the charge for answers is Heather’s best friend, Poppy — a smart woman dealing with the personal pain of her past resulting from a snow mobile accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Poppy is assisted by Griffin Hughes, the investigative reporter who unknowingly led the FBI to the small town and upset Heather’s peaceful existence.

Filled with heart and carefully crafted story lines, An Accidental Woman will please the most cynical of readers and touch your heart as you root for both Heather and Poppy. Definitely worth adding to your to-read stack!

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#9: King and Maxwell (David Baldacci)

I hate to admit that it’s June and I’ve not even read 10 books this year. I don’t see this being a reading year for the record books.

Anyway, since I had to take a LONG road trip to Guymon, Oklahoma last week, an audio book seemed like the perfect companion to pass the time. David Baldacci’s King and Maxwell certainly kept me entertained and listening intently. The story centers around a young man, Tyler, who has been informed that his father was killed in Afghanistan. Something about the story doesn’t add up, so Tyler hires secret-service-agents-turned-private-investigators King and Maxwell. Through lots of twists and turns, Tyler’s dad proves to be alive and running for his life after a massive delivery fell into the wrong hands. The only question is exactly who has the delivery now? Was the soldier set up or did he betray his country? With lots of references to current events, Baldacci proves once again to be a very smart, thoughtful author.

I enjoyed the distraction that King and Maxwell was. Now it’s time to get The Winds of War finished!

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#6: Think Twice (Lisa Scottoline)

I discovered Lisa Scottoline’s work in 2010 when I first read Look Again. Somehow I never got around to reading another of her books. I decided that needed to change when I picked up this week’s audio book. I was not disappointed at all!

Think Twice is the story of Alice and Bennie, identical twins separated at birth. The two are reunited when Bennie, a successful lawyer, successfully defends her sister in a murder case. It appears that Alice has turned her life around when she suddenly quits her job. While at dinner at Alice’s home, Bennie finds herself extremely drowsy and wakes in a dark box with the sounds of an angry animal scratching in hopes of getting inside. While Bennie is coming to grips with the fact that she has been buried alive, Alice is taking over Bennie’s life and plans to steal the $3 million in her bank accounts. When Bennie escapes from her underground prison, the excitement really gets underway. Bennie’s friends attempt to sort out which “Bennie” is authentic. Lives are on the line and the thrills keep coming on every page. Whether reading the pages or listening on CDs, Think Twice is a novel that you are certain to enjoy.

 

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#4: Gone (James Patterson)

Since my work as a traveling minstrel musician is in full swing again, I returned to audio books to help the miles pass a little faster. Gone was an exciting story featuring Detective Michael Bennett. Bennett and his large family are in the witness protection program because of threats from the criminal that Michael had helped to apprehend. The crime boss escaped custody and has declared war on southern California…..and hopes to annihilate Bennett in the process. This thriller is packed from beginning to end with scandal, intrigue, mystery, and pulse-raising suspense.

I especially enjoyed the descriptions of familiar locales from my days in southern California; Patterson’s words vividly paint with broad, colorful strokes. Because of the genre, the thriller contained a lot of violent scenes as well. Normally I’m not of fan of these scenes, but Patterson had me by the throat with his story. Perhaps I was just intrigued by the story, but I never felt as though the violence was overly graphic. The use of vulgarity was minimal; when foul language was employed, its impact was undeniable and appropriate for the scene. Once again, we see the power and artistry of Patterson’s use of words.

All in all, I was surprised that I enjoyed the book as much as I did. I don’t know that I would have enjoyed “reading” the book itself, but I found myself looking forward to my time in the car to find out how this tangled plot line was ultimately going to work out.

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