Monday
Jan222018

Need to Know

If you like mysteries (and I do) and you see recommendations from some of your favorite mystery writers (Louise Penny, Lee Child, and John Grisham) for a debut novel called Need to Know by Karen Cleveland on Net Galley’s advance reading copy offerings (and I did), you have a tendency to take their word for it and add it to your Kindle reading queue, and maybe start reading as a lead-in to a good night's rest.

In a very slight spoiler, the first chapter ends with CIA analyst Vivian Miller finding her husband’s face on the file she opens of a Russian sleeper cell. You might guess that I did not turn over and go to sleep. The trouble was that each chapter after that kept me in suspense as CIA investigations, family anxiety, and questions of who Vivian can trust leaves something hanging at the end. Then there is the question that recurs about her own ethics beginning with her deletion of that file and her loyalties to country, family, and colleagues. The ending, which I will not give away, had me returning to read it again and asking, “Really?”

The author’s authenticity comes from her own background in eight years as a CIA analyst focusing on counterterrorism which brings to mind the old and sometimes reliable saying that one should write what she knows. 

The release date for the Need to Know is Tuesday, January 23, but I was not at all surprised to see that movie rights are already in the works. In the meantime, if you are looking for a nice quiet book to lull you to sleep at night, this is not it.

Friday
Jan192018

Inventory - 2017

The new year starts for me without any resolutions. Dealing with things that fragile and likely to break makes me nervous, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have new year habits for January. Some of you have been with me long enough to have seen one of them – my annual reading inventory for the preceding year.

I read 82 books in 2017, not counting those requested by the two nearby grandsons who need a book read before nap, after nap, while they are eating lunch, or just because. Forty were for adults, thirty-two were for middle grade or young adult, and ten were for young children. The books were 71% fiction and 29% nonfiction. A protagonist that fit somewhere in the category of diversity made up 34% of the books.

I thought I might give some shout-outs to the top and bottom of my list for the year. The best pairing of books that were for different ages was the adult book The Radium Girls, a nonfiction account by Kate Moore, and Glow, a young adult fictional account by Megan E. Bryant, of one of those girls as her life might have been lived. I read Glow first, but knowing what I know now, I would have reversed the order. Either way is fine, but I do recommend both.

The best sequel set in my list for this year belongs to Linda Williams Jackson with Midnight Without a Moon and A Sky Full of Stars. The pair fit as nicely together as their titles with hints of the night sky. They are also the books that most left me wanting more, which makes me happy that a trilogy is possible.

The very worst book was The White Rose of Memphis by Wm. C. (Clarke) Falkner. Out of curiosity aroused by its mention in Myself and My World, an excellent biography by Robert Hamblin of his famous grandson William Faulkner, I thought I’d see how the grandfather wrote. That was one wasted bit of curiosity.

Along with my inventory, I have also tried to look back to see what worked for me and what did not in 2017 and look forward to how to make it better in the coming year. A big part of that search is to find a way to work more books into my schedule. My “read soon” stack is getting out of hand.

Monday
Jan152018

Dixie

Curtis Wilkie’s book Dixie, chosen by a member of our Mississippi writer’s book group in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (lovingly called OLLI), became a trip down memory lane for me. Covering the second half of the twentieth century, the book is part memoir, part Mississippi political history, and entirely interesting.

I made personal connections early as the book began with his ancestry in Toccopola, where my father once served as pastor of the Baptist church, and the author’s own childhood upbringing in Summit – not that far from where I live today in Hattiesburg. Threaded throughout are Mississippi governors’ races where his family voted with mine for candidates classified as “moderates,” his attendance at Ole Miss one year behind me, and even a mention of his friendship with a high school classmate of my sister’s.

After his graduation, he returned to the Delta as a journalist and became involved with many leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Eventually, he became disenchanted with the progress of Mississippi toward equality and moved away to continue his journalism in what seemed to be a more inviting environment, intending never to return. The draw of Mississippi with all its flaws, was strong for Curtis Wilkie, as it has been for many of her children who thought themselves ready to leave for good. The story of how he wandered and how he returned home is filled with a myriad of emotions in a readable account of the history of the period.

I recommend the book for its accurate view from a personal standpoint at this time in the recent past even if you have no connections to Mississippi – and especially if you do.

Friday
Jan122018

One Wish at Eighteen

Sometimes a book takes me into my own “What if?” like As You Wish in my last blog. The premise of having one wish on an eighteenth birthday that would be permanent intrigued me and kept me going back to what I would have wished for on my eighteenth birthday.

Looking back, I am quite sure what that wish would have been. Having skipped second grade, I entered college the month of my seventeenth birthday in the community college on a school bus route that ran on the highway right in front of my house. The choice was economic. I planned to get two years before transferring to a nursing program at a four-year institution.

If I had known I had one wish on the following birthday, it would have been for a full scholarship to a university with a prestigious nursing program, but nobody handed out magical wishes in the Furrs community in Pontotoc County, Mississippi.

If the wish had been offered and taken, I would have missed a few things:

  • The boy with the red-and-white Buick hardtop convertible who took his afternoon work break from his family’s country store shortly after my bus arrived from school.
  • Logically with my schooling paid for, the marriage that took place in my eighteenth summer would have been delayed at least and, with distance not always making the heart grow fonder, might never have happened at all. Truthfully, I don’t even want to consider what that would have entailed with a strange and totally different family. I truly like the one I’ve got.
  • Nor would I really want to consider what I would have lost in the life of a military family when that boy, now my husband, was drafted into the Army with ensuing homes in New Jersey, New York, France, Belgium, Kentucky, Texas, Germany, Louisiana, and now back to Mississippi.
  • As for the nursing program, by the time the two years of community college was complete, I’d made a decision to marry that boy and change majors to education. I continued my new degree goal by commuting to Ole Miss to major in English with plans to become a high school teacher. Over time, I got a Master’s in Early Childhood Education and became certified to teach K-12. I loved the six years I taught kindergarten, the fourteen years I taught second grade, and felt like I’d hit the jackpot when I spent my last seven years teaching a two-hour block of language arts to gifted junior high students.

I have a great deal of appreciation for nurses and may have adapted happily to that life, but there has always been a teacher in me craving to get out. At this point, I’m grateful that economics and that boy with the red Buick determined my future instead of a wish which might have been nice, but would certainly have been second best. There’s an old warning about being careful what you wish for, perhaps because life has something better in store.

Monday
Jan082018

As You Wish

In Madison, a small town lost in the Mojave Desert, Eldon counts down the last twenty-five days to his eighteenth birthday in As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti, published on January 1. Lest they learn the secret perk of living in Madison, outsiders who stop for gas are sent on through as quickly as possible when they travel to Rachel where the UFO hunters congregate. Citizens get to make a wish on their eighteenth birthday that will come true with few restrictions (nothing that will affect the world outside Madison, for instance). Eldon faces the secret blessing – or curse – of being able to make his wish. After Chapter One sets up the situation and the idea that the seventeenth year is besieged with brooding about the contemplation that becomes more intense as the day nears, the book moves to “Chapter Two Countdown: 25 Days” and builds tension as each chapter continues the next daily count.

Not only his own happiness but relationships around him depend on Eldon’s choice and, having already seen enough results of other people’s wishes to know that not everybody has chosen one that brought happiness, he follows a suggestion to research past experiences. A telling comment comes from Othello, the artist who seems to be the only one to forego his wish. “Accomplishment comes from toil,” he says and ends with, “But it’s also the journey. A finished piece is nothing without the labor and emotion of the artist behind it.”

The feel of the book reminds me of Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” with an air of unreality even while keeping the reader engaged and wondering how any decision Eldon makes  will not bring disaster somewhere. I would have been happy if they had followed the advice of Penelope, one of the characters, and stayed with cleaner language but the book raises questions worth considering.

Early in 2017, I reviewed Chelsea Sedoti’s book The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett. The only connection I make between the two books is Chelsea’s grasp of the workings of young minds and emotions. Both books in different ways lend themselves to thought-provoking discussion of issues that don’t always have clear-cut answers.

Since I could not keep from considering what I would have wished for when I was turning eighteen, I will follow up with a blog about those thoughts on Friday.