Saturday, December 31, 2016

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

I seem to think that readers of contemporary fiction either love Jodi Picoult or hate Jodi Picoult. I am a fan... and that might color the way I read and review her novels. Jodi Picoult takes contemporary issues (in this case it's race) that she takes from real news sources. She expands them into a fictionalized version of their earlier selves, tells the story from many different points of view. There's a trial. And there's a twist. It's her formula and it works really well. At least I think so.

Small Great Things was no different. But unlike many of her other books, this one was so incredibly thought provoking and one that will stick with me a long time. It made me rethink my views on race in America, something I will continue to ponder over. Prior to reading the book, I thought I knew how I felt. Now I'm not so sure.

The story centers on Ruth, a black nurse in a Connecticut hospital, who is forbidden to care for a newborn baby, Davis. Davis, named after Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, is the son of white supremacists, Turk and Brittany. When Ruth is conveniently the only medical staff person around when Davis starts seizing, stops breathing and dies, she becomes the easy target to blame for Davis' death.  Ruth gets arrested, her public defender is Kennedy, the character in the story that I most related to. Like me, Kennedy thought she knew how she felt about races and racism. Like me, Kennedy had to rethink a whole lot of things. Things like white privilege. I knew it was there... but never really thought about it much, just because, well, it was...

The character that I found most fascinating was Turk. He was the window to learn about different groups of white racists. It was unsettling for the most part but it made me understand that the different groups feel differently about the races and their ways of making things right (in their) worlds can be quite different. I don't know that the differences will really stick with me but the quality of the hate and the anger, that will remain with me a long time. It also gave me insight into some of the racial tensions that I see brewing around me. A usual history and current events lesson all rolled into one.

Picoult weaves real life race issues into the novel. There are references to Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and several others. She even has a fictionalized version of Reverend Al Sharpton.

Some reviewers of Small Great Things found Ruth and her sister, Adisa (previously known as Rachel) as the least believable characters of the novel. They comment that Ruth and Adisa are caricatures of the groups they are meant to represent. I'm not 100% sure about that. Yes, Ruth goes on to get her graduate degree at Yale, to live in a nice neighborhood, to raise one son who is an all-star student in a good high school. Adisa lives in the projects with her five children, although we are reminded that they all had the same father.

Ruth and Rachel were the daughters of single mom, Lou, who worked as a domestic in the home of a wealthy family in Manhattan. They were raised in Harlem. (My one source of serious irritation with the novel was when someone asked Ruth if she was from Manhattan and she said, no, she was from Harlem. Is it my whiteness that has always made me think that Harlem was in Manhattan? Or did Picoult goof here?) Ruth showed academic giftedness at an early age and Lou's employers helped facilitate Ruth's entry and scholarship to be able to attend Dalton, a prestigious private school in good neighborhood. Rachel continued going to her local school up in Harlem. That's when the sisters begin to drift apart, inhabiting totally different worlds. Ruth becomes closer to Lou's employer's daughter, Christina, than she is to her own sister.

It's Ruth and Christina's relationship that really forces those two characters to think about their differences due to race. Quite interesting thoughts at that.

Another comment I saw in more than one review was that Picoult was clearly writing for a white audience when she wrote this book. She most probably was. But to me, a white woman, it didn't diminish the story or how thought provoking I found the novel.

If you're already a fan of Jodi Picoult, I predict that you are going to love this book. If you're not, you might pick apart the story and the characters, and you might really dislike the novel, but I bet you will start rethinking about your views on race and racism. It was an easy read, even with its heavy subject matter. I was able to finish it in two sittings (on my flight to New York and then finished on the flight home). I've read some good books in 2016, but this one, most likely the final book I'll finish this year, stands out as one of the best.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A little bit of this and a little bit of that

I have been remiss in not posting while reading A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander #6) by Diana Gabaldon. It seems like I started the book months ago, then had the problems with Overdrive, then while I was waiting for the e-book to become available again, I had book club books to read. But finally had a good long reading session yesterday and finished Book #6.

You may or may not recall that after Book #5, I felt as though I was at a good point in the series to take a break and get some other reading done. I kind of knew what might happen next, just not what it might mean. Well, after the conclusion of Book #6, I immediately went in search of Book #7. I really, really, really want to know what happens next! I'm not at a good breaking point at all!

I can't really tell you what the book is about since I can't really recall where book #6 started. The bulk of the book was about the days leading up to the American Revolution. What was especially interesting to me is that most of the American Revolution history that I already knew was related to New York, New Jersey or Pennsylvania. I'll even admit that I never really gave much a thought to what was going on in North Carolina before or during the early days of our country. (In my little teeny mind, prior to reading this book, North Carolina didn't become a player until the days leading up to the Civil War. Have I mentioned that I love a book where I learn something new?)

I also won't tell you what happens at the end of the book, the type of cliffhanger I'm now left with. That would be a spoiler and I'm determined not to include spoilers when reviewing or writing about books. Suffice to say, it's a major cliffhanger and I can't wait to see what comes next. I'm #3 on a waitlist for the e-book.

That should give me a little time to get some other reading done while I wait.

Who I recommend this book to? Anyone who is hooked on the Outlander series!

Last night I started the January Books & Beer Club pick - The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, another classic that I've never read. Fantasy is not my cup of tea so I wasn't even sure if I would take the time to read this one. So far, it's not quite what I expected. I'm not sure what I expected. And it's a much quicker read than I imagined it would be. Stay tuned for my review.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The banning of books

No stranger to banned books, Judy Blume's young adult
novel, Iggie's House (1970) was banned.
Yes, I've been reading Outlander (#6 A Breath of Snow and Ashes) meaning I have nothing new to review. I feel like that gives me nothing to write about.

I've had some great book talks with my sister-in-law, neighbors and friends with probably a dozen titles added to my "To Be Read" list. Are you following me on goodreads?

Why am I writing about banned books today? Isn't Banned Books month in September? I saw a news story the other day and it's weighing heavily on my mind. After a parent complaint to a school district in Virginia, To Kill A Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have been temporarily banned. The parent's complaint was that the racial slurs (the language in the books) distressed her mixed-race son.

Just a few months ago, after I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for probably the first time (shocking, I know!), I came across an article debating whether or not the original book in Mark Twain's words should be read or should a book with "nicer language" be read instead. (My commentary here.) At the time, I felt strongly that it was important to read the original with students for all the teachable moments.

Personally, I don't believe in banning books. And I don't understand books being banned in a school setting. I do understand how a parent might not want his or her child to read a book independently that might appear to normalize racism... or sexual assault... or any negative value the parent might not want the child exposed to on his or her own. 

Aren't these books the ones that need to be read and discussed? And yes, discussion is key in the reading of books that might be "uncomfortable."

Do we want to simply give lip service to racism? Is it enough to say "Never use the n-word?" Or do we want our youth to understand the implications. What easier way to give enough exposure for a meaningful discussion than be reading a book.

Racism is real. It exists today. It existed in the time of Scout Finch and Huck Finn. The two books in question might be fiction but each one is based on the realities of the time periods in which the books are set. These stories challenge prejudice. They don't encourage it. They don't suggest it. They don't condone it. Isn't fiction a great starting point for discussions about icky subjects? And isn't it important to learn lessons from the past so that maybe the future can be a brighter, more peaceful, less hateful time?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Invisible Wall: A Love Story that Broke Barriers

When I first heard about The Invisible Wall: A Love Story that Broke Barriers, I really did expect this to be a true life, adult version of the children's novel, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. It sort of was, but it sort of wasn't.

Maniac Magee is about an orphan boy who runs away from the "home" he has with his dysfunctional aunt and uncle after the death of his parents. He finds himself in the midst of Two Mills, Pennsylvania. Two Mills is a town divided. The whites live on the West End and the blacks live on the East End. Somehow, mostly due to Maniac's skill as an athlete, Maniac is able to somehow break some of the barriers that separate the races in Two Mills.

Harry Bernstein's real life story isn't that different. Although in Harry's case, it's his own street outside of Manchester, England, around the time of the World War I. Written after the death of Harry's beloved wife, Ruby, he writes the story of his childhood in a poor mill town, living on a street that has an invisible wall right up the middle of the cobblestone. The Jews live on one side of the street and the Christians live on the other. Rarely do the two meet.

The story isn't unfamiliar to me. I lived for years with someone who said that he would sit shiva should any of his children marry someone who isn't Jewish. I can easily see how the invisible wall would continue to stand... with a slight crack in the wall during World War I... that was quickly plastered up after the end of the war. Because the story wasn't unfamiliar to me at all, I was able to appreciate the style of the writing. This memoir is written in the young Harry's voice. The story is the story. It's told without bitterness or anger. Just a little bit of confusion at times. But the confusion makes sense. Harry was young when all this was taking place.

I also paid very close attention to the nuances of the relationships within Harry's family. Harry's mother put her family first. She dreams for a better future for herself and her children. Since divorce was probably something unimaginable in that time and place, she worked hard to keep the peace in a home with an abusive, uninvolved father who always put himself - and his boozing - first. Harry is the fifth child in a family of 6. We learn that his sister Rose takes after their father in many ways. He's most connected to his sister, Lily, who is book smart, kind and ambitious... and becomes quite the rebel. His brothers, in the telling of the story, serve as a contrast to Harry. Harry is also obviously devoted to his mother.

About two thirds of the way through the book, we have gotten to know the neighbors on the street pretty well, being able to predict how they will react to any situation. This goes for the Jews as well as the Christians.

The love story referred to in the title is a forbidden love. With Harry stuck right smack in the middle. the only thing missing in this memoir are Harry's feelings about what was going on with his sister and her love for a Christian neighbor. But I was okay with that because the story is told through Harry's childhood voice and it's very likely that a child didn't think too much about how he felt about being asked to keep a secret for a much older sister.

In the current divisiveness in our society, I wonder how transferrable some of the lessons learned by Harry's family and neighbors are. I wonder what it takes for us all to get along. As a society, how far have we come? How do we remain true to our heritages while still being accepting of others?

I gave this book 4 stars on goodreads.  Even with the difficult subject matter, I found it to be a "sweet read." Harry comes off as a sweet boy. He was a devoted son and a devoted brother to Lily. Would I recommend this to anyone? I would recommend it with qualifications. I consider it a heavily "Jewish" story. References are made to cheder (the equivalent to Hebrew school or religious instruction), to women wearing wigs, to rabbis without beards, and a few other references that I don't remember off the top of my head that I think might be confusing to someone unfamiliar with Orthodox Judaism.

This is my December community book club read. I still don't have a volunteer to facilitate our discussion and I wonder if I am the right person to lead this discussion.

(The only time this book took me so long to read is because I wasn't able to adjust the font size on the Overdrive app. It stayed tiny - the book on the app was only about 150 pages long. I do most of my reading at night and my eyes got tired after reading more than 10 pages. The length of time it took me to complete the book bears no relation to what I thought about the book.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I Am Malala

November is the month that Books and Beer Club reads something inspirational. And this year's choice, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban certainly fit the bill. Malala told her story to Christina Lamb. They are listed as co-authors (although I tend to wonder how much of the writing Malala did).

Malala's story is incredibly inspiring. She had beliefs and a passion, education for girls, and she was willing to do what needed to be done to make her voice heard. Her father ran schools in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. Both girls and boys received an education at his schools. The Taliban came in, forbidding girls to attend school. Malala wanted to be educated and her father was in full support. She continued to go to school.

She started blogging under a pseudonym about what life was like for a girl living under the Taliban. Eventually, she started speaking out. Long after the Taliban "left" the Swat Valley, they were still around and impacting daily life in the life of Malala, her family and her friends. Even after the family was alerted to death threats against Malala, she and her family, her teachers and her classmates, continued to live their lives, attending school, making speeches, going on field trips, being hospitable. The only real change was the way Malala got to and from school. She no longer walked.

On October 9, 2012, at age 15, heading home from school on a school bus, Malala was shot at point blank range by men who were later identified as Taliban. Miraculously, Malala wasn't killed. She was transferred from her local hospital to a larger Pakistani hospital. When the doctors and family (and miliarty officials) realized that Malala couldn't get the rehabilitative services she would need to resume life in Pakistan, she was flown to Birmingham, England which she had several more surgeries and slowly recovered. It's where she and her family were resettled and were living at the time the book was published.

Malala is really something special. In a culture where daughters aren't as "valued" as much as sons, Malala is the sun and the moon to her father. In addition to receiving encouragement from her father, she is also fortified by the strength of her illiterate mother. While still living in Pakistan, Malala received national and international peace awards.  She is also the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

While Malala's story is incredibly inspiring and I would definitely recommend reading this book, I wasn't totally crazy about the way her story was told. The book didn't have a voice, possibly because it was Malala's story as written by Christina Lamb. When reading memoirs, I prefer them to be written chronologically. And when that can't be done, to be written anecdotally. This book was all over the place, combining Malala's stories with the history of Pakistan and current events. At times, even though I knew a lot of the history and what was going on in the area in the first 10 years of the 21st century, I got very confused.

This book has been on my "to be read" list since I first learned about it and I'm grateful that I was nudged to read this by having Books and Beer Club select this title.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Lightkeepers, NOT The Lighthouse Keepers

Each time I tell someone about the book that I just completed, my first instinct is to call it "The Lighthouse Keepers." The title of the debut novel by Abby Geni is, in fact, The Lightkeepers. It's not until about two-thirds into the book where we learn the distinction. Our main character, Miranda, is reading a book given to her by one of the scientists on the islands.

It occurred to me that the book had not used the term "lighthouse keepers." I was glad of this. To do so would have implied that the primary task of those people had been to maintain a building, a human structure, instead, the book had referred to them as the keepers of the light itself. There was something important in that. Something fundamental... ...Perhaps there were only two kinds of people in the world - the takers and the watchers - the plunderers and the protectors - the eggers and the lightkeepers.

Miranda is a nature photographer who has chosen to live on the Farallon Islands, about 30 miles off the coast of California, to take photos for a year. Having never heard of the Farallon Islands, I had to quickly look them up, at the start of the book, to see what they were all about. In a word, wild! The Pacific is wilder there than at the coast, and the wildlife is truly wild. It's wondrous as well and Miranda sees and photographs things she never imagined she'd photograph. She's living in a cabin with the scientist who have been on the island for varying lengths of time. The scientists are like a family without the warmth. The relationships are revealed as the book progresses.

It's my habit not to read reviews prior to starting a book so I my first impression was that this book was going to be about how the adult Miranda is still trying to come to terms with the death of her mother when Miranda was 14. Yes, that was a big part of the book. But the book is also a thriller.

Thriller isn't a genre I'm drawn to but I suppose with the addition of nature and photography, I ended up loving this book. I found it difficult to get into. Some evenings I had trouble reading for long and not because I was tired. It's also not surprising that last night after finishing the book, I had terrible dreams about birds attacking. Yes, there are scenes reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds in the novel. If you're frightened of birds attacking, this might not be the book for you.

The story is told through unsent letters that Miranda writes to her mother who has now been dead for decades. I love her description of why she did mail some of her letters to the Dead Letter Office of the post office. The letters give us a chance to learn more about Miranda and how badly scarred she has been by the death of her mother.

I loved all the references Miranda makes to photography in the novel. About how painters and people who draw can focus on an event and then afterwards create a visualization of the event while photographers have to be focused (pun intended) on capturing the event in the moment. She talks about the purpose of photography. At the end of the book Miranda writes this:

I have imagined my pictures to be immutable and honest, as sure as the ground beneath my feet. But now I see the truth and photography are fundamentally at odds. A snapshot is a two-dimensional representation, like a painting or a sketch, carefully prepared, framed, and cropped. It is the world represented by the mind of an artist, rather than the world as it actually is. The photographer can cherry-pick what will be included in a collection of images; they can be selected or omitted with purpose, then assembled and arranged so that, as a whole, they might suggest any story at all.
As a hobby photographer, I understand her conclusion very well. It also reminds me of things I've read about Facebook, about people portraying their lives as better than they actually are, by only sharing the wonderful photos that represent their lives. It's no wonder that Instagram now has a way to add photos in "Stories." We can take the photos we think add to our story, we crop them and edit them and end up with the story we wish to present to our audience. I'm not sure if this message will resonate as clearly with people who aren't avid (okay, obsessed) photographers but it spoke loudly to me. I don't think this is the reason why I loved the book.

Until the very end of the novel, we only learn about the other human characters, the scientists living on the islands, through Miranda's eyes. As such, they remain sort of mysterious to us. The culture of the islands is that the past is not discussed. Maybe because Miranda is different because she's not a scientist, she gets some of the characters to share bits of their past with them. That adds to the thriller/mystery.

I was not surprised by the ending of the novel. In fact, I was able to predict how it would end pretty early on. I had to read to figure out how the plot would move from point A to point B. Since I'm not a regular reader of thrillers, I can't say if this would diminish the enjoyment to someone who is a thriller reader.

As I prepare to facilitate the discussion in my community book club, I am all set to do more research on the Farallon Islands. I'll add a postscript to this post if I learn anything that I think it very important or very interesting. When a member recommended this book for the club, she said that it might not be a book that the other club members would enjoy. I'm really curious to see how many enjoyed the book versus how many didn't... or how many didn't finish reading it.

I gave this book 4-stars on I loved the book but it might not be for everyone.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Overdrive is driving me over the edge!

I used to love Overdrive. Now we've got this love/hate thing going on. I wrote about my issues with Overdrive several weeks ago when I had to uninstall the app on my iPad, reinstall and then create a new Overdrive account. In the process, I lost a bunch of books and access to one of my libraries.

Weeks later, I'm still having issues with the app on both my iPad and my iPhone. The book I'm finishing up now, The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni, has an unadjustable font size. What I loved about reading on the iPad was the fact that I could make the font a comfortable size for reading in any sort of light. The Lightkeepers stays tiny. No matter what I do. A more than 300-page book in print is reduced to 177 pages in Overdrive. That's small print for anyone!  (I wonder why I'm able to adjust the size of Dracula. Makes no sense.)

My second problem is that even after renewing A Breath of Snow and Ashes, the book I currently choose to read when I'm not reading a book club book, it shows up as expired in Overdrive. Coincidentally (and annoyingly), that's the book I lost when I was uninstalling and reinstalling. I got the book back... only now it's non-renewable! Talk about frustrating.

And the final problem I'm aware of right now is the fact that even though I've asked Overdrive to remember my library log-ins, it isn't. So each time I go to request a book or check on a hold, which usually happens in bed either late at night or super early in the morning, I'm forced to log-in. And of course all my log-in information and library card sit on my desk in another room.

The Overdrive app has been updated twice since I've started having all my problems. Each time I've updated, I've held my breath, hoping against all hopes that the particular update was going to solve my problems. So far it hasn't.

The ups and downs of technology.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Man Called Ove

Sometimes when I know I can't make it to a book club meeting, I just don't bother reading the book. I'd heard so many good things about A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman so I was determined to read it no matter what. (It's probably a good thing that I wasn't going to the book club meeting since the book wasn't available to me until the day before the meeting. It was a quick read, but not that quick!)

A Man Called Ove is about a 59-year old Swedish curmudgeon who really comes into himself after two major life events, two losses to be more precise, and with the help of his new neighbors. The book proves my thoughts on life - that connection with others is one of the keys to a meaningful life. The reader gets to see that Ove's life takes on new meaning once he's personally connected to his neighbors, both young and old.

One thing that struck me as I was reading the book was that Ove is 59 years old. Now that isn't old! I had to remind myself frequently that I wasn't reading a book about an 80-year old man. He's... well, he's... okay, basically my age. One point made in the book is that life looks different when you're looking at your future life being shorter than what you can look back upon. But that doesn't mean that you're old - or that life is over. I took it as a reminder that I need to live life as best I can until the last possible minute. Frankly, some people are just old souls and I believe that with Ove's fairly sad upbringing, he was naturally an old soul with a strong sense of right and wrong.

I loved the cast of characters. I loved getting to know Ove's neighbors (both people and animals) and I loved the nicknames he called each one of them by, sometimes in his head, sometimes out loud. I loved that they were able to draw together as a community after so many years of being disconnected. I could very easily picture Ove's friendship with Rune, the man a few houses down who moved in with his wife the same day that Ove and his wife moved in, years earlier.

Ove's changes were realistic. People can change. Sometimes it's too late but other times it's not too late. Ove's story is somewhere in between.

The book is humorous at times and bittersweet at others. It was a quick easy read and I'd recommend it to nearly anyone who enjoys reading character studies. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

I love talking books

The other day I was talking to my older daughter and at one point realized that we'd been talking about books for a good chunk of the conversation. I interrupted her and said, "I love talking books with you!" And I do.

I've mentioned that my husband doesn't like to read. Of my three children, this one, my older daughter, is the only real reader. She loves to read. Finally. She didn't love to read as a kid. But now she does, and I'm thrilled.

I love hearing her say, "Mom, you need to read the book I'm reading. You'd love it." Even though she's a relatively new reader, she has a good sense of what I would and wouldn't like to read.

The first book that she recommended is the one she's reading now, The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery. Her description reminds me of The Elephant Whisperer. This one might be a good one to suggest at my January community book club meeting when we suggest books we might want to read in the coming year. I might try to read it first myself.

I'm not going to mention the title of the other book. It's a political book. She and I lean the same way, we talk politics (lately) as much as we talk about books. It's not a book I would ever recommend to anyone since I don't care to discuss politics with most people. The description of the second book sounds like another one I'd like to read.

Too many books, so little time!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

How many books are too many books?

Wow, this hasn't happened in quite awhile. That I have 4 books to read at the same time. Sort of.

I've been happily reading A Breath of Snow and Ice since my Overdrive fiasco last week. Pleasure reading of a book I'm reading only because I want to read it! I'm making slow and steady progress but it's a really big fat book! I wouldn't expect to finish it before the ebook expires.

Yesterday, I was finally able to pick up A Man Called Ove from the library. It's a print book so I can't read it in bed at night. I sat outside in the sunshine yesterday and read the first two chapters.

Later that afternoon, when I checked my email, I learned that The Lightkeepers, my November book club title for my community book club, was available to read. So last night when I went to bed, I started reading that.

Seriously. Three books. I haven't done this in... well... maybe forever. Back when I was doing three books at a time, one was an audio book, one was a print book and the third was a kids' book. Not three adult books at the same time!

Plus... I've got Dracula, my October Books & Beer Club title, downloaded onto my iPad as well. (Found it free on amazon. At least that one book doesn't have a due date.)

I struggled last night to decide how and when to read all these books. Since I need to get the book club books read and I want to get book #6 of Outlander read, too. It helps that I'm going on a trip involving air travel.

Here's the plan:

  • Outlander is due in 6 days. I'll read that at night for the next 6 days, trying to get as far into the book as I can. (There's not a whole lot of difference dropping an Outlander book in the middle - or taking a break between books.)
  • I'll read A Man Called Ove at the airports and on the airplanes. It's not a long book. I should be able to finish it in the 7 or so hours I'll have.
  • Once Outlander expires off my iPad, I'll read The Lightkeepers. I should be able to finish that in the 2 weeks I'll have left before it expires. I have a feeling that by default I'm going to be leading that book club discussion.
  • When to read Dracula, the one title that I don't really care about reading except that I love attending Books & Beer and wouldn't attend if I hadn't read the book? That's the question that remains.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

E-Readers... or Something I Never Thought I'd See

I spent several hours yesterday afternoon on the verge of tears. Why? Because I couldn't get the Overdrive app on my iPad to work. I never thought I'd become so reliant on an e-reader. Ever. I mean... I love the feel of a print book. I love being the first person to read a new book. I love the touch of the pages. I love the smell of a book. It's a sensory experience that I thought I'd never been willing to give up. But gradually over time, I did. I probably only read about 2 or 3 print books per year.

There are three things I like most about e-readers (and possibly the only three things I really like about them).

  1. I read books on my iPad. I have four different apps for reading: Overdrive, 3M (which I think is now called something else), Kindle and Nook. I carry one device with me, that I would be carrying any, and I have an unlimited library of books to read. As long as I have wifi, I can get new books. But even without wifi, I have a nice little library of books I've picked up here and there already on my device. I no longer have the fear of running out of books to read while away from home.
  2. I can read in bed at night without having the light on. The light coming from my e-reader doesn't bother the guy I share my bedroom with as much as my book light used to bother him. And I can see better.
  3. I like being able to adjust the size of the font of the print. My eyes just aren't what they used to be.
As I wrote, I've gotten more and more attached to my e-reader. I got a little bothered when on Saturday my e-reader got a little sluggish. It took quite a lot longer to "turn the pages" than it had previously. On Sunday, I got a little worried when the problem of turning pages became much worse. Did I really want to wait minutes between finishing one page and starting the next? You're right. No, I did not.

On Monday morning, I could no longer open the book I was trying to read. It was time for some serious trouble shooting. 

Step One: Close the app. Reopen. Have problems gone away? NO
Step Two: Restart the iPad. Turn it completely off. Turn it back on. Open the app. Have problems gone away? NO
Step Three: Delete the app and redownload. Be sure you have your password so you can sign back in. Okie dokie.

It was certainly easy enough to delete the app and redownload it. Easy peasy. 

Then the trouble began. I had to log into Overdrive again. I had my Adobe password which is how I thought I'd logged in to Overdrive in the first place  Only when I went to log in, my Adobe password did nothing. Nothing. I was able to see which email was associated with Overdrive right there on the app. I clicked on "Forgot your password," typed in my password and got the response that I had no account associated with that email. Really? What's going on here?

I searched my password books for Overdrive. I'd never written down a password for Overdrive. Just for Adobe... and that email didn't match. So I started guessing at passwords. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong... and wrong! (I tried some of the passwords many times. Back when I set up my Overdrive, I wasn't using all that many passwords.) I searched all over the Overdrive help section to see whom I could contact. They suggest you contact the library where you first signed up for Overdrive.

Okay, now we have a big problem here. I signed up with Overdrive (for audiobooks) when I still had a library card in New Jersey. I haven't had that library card in years. How was a library I was no longer affiliated with going to help me?

I decided I'd just set up a new account. (I used the same email address that Overdrive said was associated with my account. Interesting how when I signed up for the new account it never said that there was an account already associated with that email. I found that pretty interesting.)

I added my library to the Overdrive app, then I put in my library card number and PIN. Finally, I went to the library website to redownload the book I was in the middle of reading. I got an error message saying that if I want to download again, I have to use the Overdrive account I'd used to originally download the title. Who knows whatever happened to that account?

After all that frustration, I had what seems to be a working Overdrive app - but with no access to the book I was reading. Grrr. I searched for another title, just to make sure I'd be able to open and read any new books I took from the library. That worked. Thank goodness. And miraculously, I was able to find a different version of the book I'm reading (Breath of Snow and Ashes, book #6 in the Outlander series). And happily, I could open the book.

One advantage of having a new account is that I was able to download the Overdrive app onto my iPhone so now, even when I'm caught out without a book, I'll be able to read whatever is on my iPad. And it's supposed to sync to my latest bookmark. In the past, I wasn't able to get the two devices to sync. At all. Ever.

Last night, I went to read in bed. I opened my book, it asked if I'd like to go to my latest book mark, it opened to Chapter 4. Yay. 

Only there's a little problem. I can't change the size of the font. Really? So now I'm down to only two reasons why I like my e-reader. But can I give it up?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

I discovered The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katrina Bivald quite by chance. It was delightful! Originally published in Swedish in 2013, it was published in English in 2015. It's the story of a reader, Sara, who prefers books to people and believes there is a book for every single person. That every single person can be a reader if given the right book to read.

Sara and Amy become pen pals, exchanging books and information about books. Sara, dissatisfied with her life in Sweden, is going to lose her job. Amy invites her to Iowa for a visit. Sara arrives in Broken Wheel, Iowa, just as Amy's funeral is coming to a conclusion. Now what is Sara supposed to do?

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a love story. It's a love story between Sara and her books, between the dying town of Broken Wheel and Sara, and between Sara and Tom. It's not exactly chick lit. But if you like chick lit and you love reading books about books, this could be the book for you.

Lots of references are made to books and authors in the novel, most of which I have either read or am familiar with. There have been times in my life when I've preferred books to people. I'm sure you won't be surprised that I found Sara very easy to relate to. Living where I live, I also have a sense about what a dying town might look like and how a new business in town brings a new life to the place. After all the heavy historical fiction I've been reading, it was nice to read something contemporary and light.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Judy Blume, Airplanes Falling Out of the Sky, and Me

Warning: This isn’t just a review of In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume’s recently released adult novel. It’s about a whole lot more. 

However, if you don’t care to read all I have to share, I’ll make my qualified recommendation first. I really enjoyed this book a lot. It was like a young adult novel written for adults. A combination of historical fiction and coming of age.  It’s told from the perspective of 20 characters that gives it a depth that wouldn’t exist if we only heard the point of view of two or three of the characters. It makes it a bit more difficult to keep track of who is who and how the characters are all connected but it definitely enriches the story. If that sounds like something you might enjoy and you won’t be disturbed reading about airplanes falling out of the sky, this book could be for you.

I didn’t grow up reading Judy Blume novels. She didn’t publish her first book, The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo, in 1969. When Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret in 1970, I was probably the proper audience for that novel. I might not have been the most mature preteen but by 1970 my reading preferences were pretty advanced and that book slipped under my radar.

It wasn’t until I became of mom of three children that I was introduced to Judy Blume. The perfect gift for my middle child after the birth of her younger sister was The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo, Judy Blume’s first book! As my kids got older, I became acquainted with Fudge, Ramona and several other Judy Blume characters. Then, as I fifth grade teacher, I became a true fan of her middle grade novels. Iggie’s House was a favorite of mine.

When a student suggested we read Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret together, I was happy to do so. I loved the book and I especially loved the dialogue it opened up with my student. When I got to the ending of the book, when Margaret gets her period for the first time, some of the story seemed familiar. Had I read it before? In my memory, though, Margaret was outfitted with a sanitary belt and pads, not tampons. That just didn’t seem right. It didn’t match my personal experience. Newly menstruating girls in 1970 wore nasty belts and pads. They didn’t start of using tampons. I found an email address for Judy Blume, sent off a quick email asking her about it. I was delighted a few days later when I received a response directly from the author. Judy Blume told me that at some point, her publisher felt that the book needed to be updated for girls who were going to be reading the book. They would have had no idea what a sanitary belt was! Years later, I was so sorry I hadn’t somehow saved that email correspondence. I loved how approachable Judy Blume was. She was the first author that ever responded to any correspondence I had sent. And believe me, in all my years as a reader, I’ve sent off many fan letters, or letters asking questions of the author. To date, she’s still the only author who answered me directly, not through a publisher or an editor. Yay for Judy Blume!

Now about In the Unlikely Event. Don’t those words sound familiar to you? Hasn’t a flight attendant said that on nearly every flight you’ve ever been on? Between December 1951 and February 1952, there were three unlikely events. Yes, three. Three airplanes fell out of the sky, disturbing the peace of Elizabeth, New Jersey, a city in the flight path for Newark Airport. Newark Airport opened on October 1, 1928 and quickly became one of the world’s busiest commercial airports.  It was the first major airport servicing New York City. (LaGuardia Airport didn’t open until December 1939.) The Port Authority took over the airport in 1948. Yes, in less than three months, three passenger airplanes fell out of the sky, crashing in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Coincidence, conspiracy, UFOs? How? The three tragedies had a major impact on all those living in Elizabeth, New Jersey at that time. Including young Judith Sussman whom we now know as Judy Blume. It took over 40 years for Judy Blume to feel like this was a story she needed to tell. I can’t help but think that a big part of Miri’s story is Judy’s story.

I was shocked to learn about these plane crashes. I had been a travel agent in New Jersey for nearly 16 years. How had I never heard of this? When I was only about a quarter of the way through the book, which grabbed me right away, I had to put aside the book and do some research on these plane crashes. My research got me thinking about a whole lot of other pieces of my life that I haven’t really thought of lately.

My research informed me of the unsafety (relative to now) of air travel as recently as the late 1960s. I grew up flying back and forth between New York and Miami all the time. I was too young to realize how unsafe air travel was. But it makes me wonder if my parents knew what a big risk we were taking. (Two of the planes that fall out of the sky in the novel… in real life… were headed to Miami.) I started thinking about propeller planes, trying to recall when we started flying bigger airplanes, when we started flying jets. I remembered receiving airplane wings from the stewardesses. Always stewardesses. Who had ever heard of flight attendants? I remembered getting decks of cards on the plane that we never played with on the airplane but only after we’d reached our destination. I remembered flying late at night because it made the trip to Miami for our family of four more affordable. I also remembered how my mom, my brother and I would fly down to Miami first and then my dad, who still had to work, would fly down a few days later. (That part still shocks me. My dad was an assistant principal, later a principal and my mom was a teacher. If dad still had to be at work when I flew down to Miami, did that mean that school was still in session? Did my parents pull my brother and I out of school just so we could get a less expensive fare?)

I remembered a trip with Jonathan O who flew down with our family rather than fly alone to visit his grandparents in Miami Beach. “Are you going to eat your roll?” Jonathan asked the gentleman sitting across the aisle from him. Yes, those were the days when eating an airplane meals was a lot of fun.

I brought back memories of really bad earaches as the unpressurized propjets came in for a landing. I remember being carried down the steps from the plane, down to the tarmac (this was way before the age of jetways), by someone in the crew. My mom sure did have her hands full, traveling with two small children, one shrieking her head off with an earache, the other who more often than not threw up as the plane was getting ready to land.

I thought about Eastern Airlines, about National Airlines, about Northeast Airlines (an airline I never would have remembered had my brother not mentioned it a week or so earlier – reminding me of listening to the Calypso song, Yellow Bird, playing over and over again). Airlines of my youth that no longer exist.

I remembered the heartbreaking moment where my mom would drop my cousin off at the airport, so she could fly back to Florida, leaving me fighting back tears in the car. I worried more about her flight being hijacked than about it falling out of the sky. There have always been so many worries associated with air travel.

Eventually, I felt as though my research was done and I got back to reading the novel.  I got to know the characters better. My amazement about the string of tragedies didn’t really diminish. I couldn’t put the book down. I finished it in the wee hours of the night. And then started thinking of all sorts of other things.

I thought about my very strange but very real fear of driving in my car under airplanes. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t afraid of a car dropping out of the sky onto my car with me in the driver’s seat. I knew that sometime in the 1970s an airplane had fallen out of the sky onto Rockaway Boulevard in Queens, a route I drove to work daily the summer of 1976. Back to Google. Rockaway Boulevard plane crash. I was surprised that the crash took place on June 24, 1975. The same week that I got my driver’s license.  That made me wonder if Judy Blume’s heart starts racing if she’s driving her car underneath a low flying airplane.

I thought about the crash of TWA 800, in the Atlantic Ocean in July 17, 1996 and about how just that afternoon, sitting in the Rockaways looking at the planes coming and going from JFK, I had a feeling. A feeling about a plane falling out of the sky into the ocean in front of my eyes. I felt a little terrorized when the TWA jet fell out of the sky just a few hours later. Was that a premonition? What was that all about?

A little more than 5 years later, in November of 2001, a year that had already been marked by great tragedy, another plane fell from the air, much closer to where I spent most of the summers of my life.

My final airplane association, specifically an airplane falling out of the sky association was with Malaysia Airlines flight 370 on March 8, 2014. Isn’t it bad enough when a flight falls out of the sky, but to have it fall over the sky and no one having an idea where the debris was scattered, is that worse than having a plane crash in your backyard? This catastrophe gave me something to wonder about, to try to get to the bottom of (no pun intended) as my mom lay in the hospital taking what would be her last breaths.

Back to In the Unlikely Event. Not only a historical fiction novel, this was a coming of age novel. It’s about family relationships. It’s about changes within families. It’s about banding together as a family and about falling apart. The characterizations were excellent, character development was straight on, and the fast-forward from 1952 to 1987 made total sense. This was a novel that I could sink my heart into.

I think my favorite character was Miri’s nana, Irene. I wonder if that’s because the nana character was 2 years younger than I am now? I certainly can’t relate to any of what Irene went through in her life.

While I was totally satisfied with the plot, it’s ups and downs and resolutions, it still left my mind reeling. About air travel, about wondering, as a little girl, what it would be like becoming a stewardess. About how I hope air travel is so much safer today.

I was drawn to do a little more research. Some of it was a review of what I’d researched before. I read about a change to zoning laws laws prohibiting hospitals, schools and houses of worship in a fan-shaped area beyond the runway safety zone so a situation like Newark Airport being “an umbrella a death” could never happen again. I was grateful for that, thinking back to the battles the parents at the school where my dad was principal trying to get the flight path away from their school which was just a stone’s throw from JFK.

I still wonder how Judy Blume kept this story inside her for all those years. Especially since as I read her story, all my stories came bursting forth from my brain. And not just to the extent that I lost a night of sleep, but to the point where I felt I needed to sit down and write about this and share with anyone who is interested in reading.

Finally, I wonder… Judy Blume, during your life, have you been like me. More afraid of a plane falling out of the sky on top of you while not nearly as afraid of being a passenger in the airplane?

Judy Blume, now 77, says this is the last book she plans to publish. Not because she doesn’t have any more stories inside of her. Because at 77 she’s too tired to have to go through promotional tours. That’s okay. Because I didn’t grow up with Judy Blume, I still have plenty of titles that I can add to my To Be Read List.