Books Read in 2019

Alpine for You: A Passport to Peril Mystery by Maddy Hunter
I saw this in one of the right columns on Amazon and checked it out.  Hunter has written a series of very lightweight books about a young woman (Emily Andrew) who accompanies her grandmother on senior citizen travels around the world, 'cause Grandma won the lottery and has lots of money and wants to spend it.  This, book 1, takes them to Switzerland, where there are three murders over the course of 272 pages, bad luck following Emily around everywhere until she meets the handsome Etienne, police officer investigating the murders. But even that doesn't go right because the group all decide they want to go home NOW and, as she has been made the new tour director following the murder of the original one, there is no time to explore a relationship with Etienne further.  It's light, it's funny, it has mystery, and about a page or two of tension.  An easy read that can be done in a day.  I enjoyed it and decided to travel with the group to Ireland next.


Aunt Erma's Cope Book by Erma Bombeck
Another book found during the "book clean out," a Bombeck book I had not read.  Erma Bombeck is my hero and "Funny the World" came to be so I could figure out if I had the ability to write a daily column.  Nearly 20 years later, I've proven that I can, but I have yet to write anything that came up to the level of Erma Bombeck's daily columns.

This is one of her earlier books, in which she tackles self help books and the problems that can arise in trying to change your life according to the precepts of a book  It's very funny.  I particularly liked the chapter on "living cheap" where she suggests an at-home vacation to save money.  "Let's think f it as Disneyland...The kitchen is Adventureland, the utility room is Frontierland, the garage is Tomorrowland, the bathroom Main Street USA, and the bedroom Fantasyland."

Very funny book.  But then all of her books are.


French Lessons by Peter Mayle
I came across this book during our "book clean out."  Having read Mayle's previous books, I picked this one up at Logos when I still worked there, but had never read it.  I decided to finally read it, so I could give it away.  For this book, Mayle, an English author living in France, decided to investigate fairs and festivals connected with food and drink, the more unusual the better.  Frogs, truffles, snails, and always wine.  If he had read his maps correctly, he would also have written about a blood sausage festival.  I'm sorry to have missed that.  All of Mayle's books are so deliciously complete that you feel you were there.  You can taste 20 different wines in a night without a hangover.  He seems to have been invited to all the best events, including a French marathon (he was a spectator) where the runners take wine breaks rather than water breaks.  By the time I was halfway into this book, I had a strong desire to find a French restaurant, but being unadventurous in my food choices, I couldn't possibly have appreciated it the way Mayle does.


We are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai
The Taliban attempted to kill Malala Yousafzai when she was 15 years old, for the crime of advocating for education for girls.  She woke up 10 days later in a hospital in England.  After a lengthy recovery, she continued her fight to ensure that all girls, world wide, have the right to 12 years of free, safe, and quality education. She is currently a student at Oxford University, pursuing a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics.

She won the Nobel Peace prize in 2014 (the youngest person ever to win a Nobel).  Now she has written about what it is like to have to flee your home country and attempt to find a place where one can live in peace.  With all the talk about terrorists, murderers and rapists trying to come into the United States, the first person stories of these young women around the world offers the reader a look at the other side, those who are escaping violence and death threats, and the horrendous conditions they are willing to endure, sometimes for years, in order to find that place where they can live in peace.

I travel to many countries to meet girls fighting poverty, wars, child marriage and gender discrimination to go to school. Malala Fund is working so that their stories, like mine, can be heard around the world.

This is a moving book and will be, for many, a shocking eye-opener.


The Tour: A Feel-Good Irish Springtime Read by Jean Grainger
You know how in formal dinners they often give you something like a small taste of sherbet as a palate cleanser between two bigger courses?  That's what this book is -- a palate cleanser.  Something pleasant after that awful book I just finished and to make me long for something a bit more "meaty."  It's a nice story of a bus tour through Ireland peopled by an unlikely group of tourists:  a Wall Street banker, a man-hunting serial divorcee and her son, a bored teen aged wanna be rock musician, a love-hungry cop, a widow and her overbearing traveling companion, a workaholic and his newly pregnant wife, and an older lady with an incredible secret.  Each of them (as well as their tour guide!) will be changed in significant ways through their week-long tour. You'll cheer the bad things that happen to the bad guys and cry at the good things that happen to the good guys.  As a book about Ireland, there is history tossed in almost gratuitously and I'm still not sure where they are touring, since I was not familiar with any of the names (wonder if it was northern Ireland).  It was not a bad book and it wasn't a particularly good book, but it did make me hungry for something with a bit more substance.


A Diary on my Screwing Up my Year Abroad by Natasha Holme
This is book 3 of a series, but the first I have read.  What a monumental waste of time. As a journalist, when I heard about these books, I was intrigued because Holme is supposedly the most prolific diarist in the world, having written (by her count) more than 7,000,000 words -- more than Samuel Pepys (4,000,000 words).  I kept reading, hoping it would get better, but 290 pages of drinking, drugging, vomiting, bulimia, food binges alternating with starving,  lusting after a heterosexual girl while longing for the ex-girlfriend whom she will never see again, (no sex), friendship with crooks who over and over again take advantage of her, shoplifting for fun, etc., etc., etc. The only thing it's missing is rape, which is remarkable, considering the low lifes she meets along the way.  There wasn't a single likeable character in the book, nor a single enjoyable episode, and by the end, I hated the author as well. If there was any plus it was learning that my long-unused French is more active than I thought it was.


In Pieces by Sally Field
This was, without a doubt, the most depressing autobiography I have ever read. Field's insecurity began with her childhood, raised by an alcoholic mother and a sexually abusive stepfather, she was terrified of grammar school and had no friends in school. As she moved into film with two popular TV series (Gidget and The Flying Nun) she never felt comfortable and she hated both series, especially The Flying Nun. She was married twice and had 3 children, though her happiest relationship seems to have been with Burt Reynolds, who was sometimes abusive, controlling, and as insecure as she as. After joining The Actors Studio, she was influenced by Lee Strasberg and started feeling comfortable with her acting, but even winning two Academy Awards and other awards, she still doesn't feel comfortable in her talent or secure in her work. (Read this book and you'll understand her oft-misquoted statement at the Academy Awards, "I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me," often quoted as "you like me; you really like me.")

Though she loves her kids, she seems to have been a mostly absent parent, leaving the parenting to her mother, "Baa," who was the single most influential person in her life. In fact, by the time you get to the end, you realize that the whole book (which took her 7 years to write) was trying to solve the complicated love/hate relationship she had with her mother, who died a few years ago.

An interesting, if very sad, very raw view of what goes on in the heads of some of our most famous actors.

If you're looking for a gossipy Hollywood autobiography, this is not the book for you.


Forever Restless by Rev Joseph O'Looney, CSP
It’s an odd situation to read an autobiography by someone you have known most of your life. Rev. Martin Joseph O’Looney came into my life when I was about 8 or 9 when he was stationed at Old St. Mary’s church in San Francisco and gave my mother instructions to become a Catholic. He loved my little sister, and treated me as if I were chopped liver, so I have avoided reading this book until now.

In 1996, he published his autobiography (which my mother typed) and though he could have used an editor to prevent telling some stories more than once, I found this a riveting narrative.

His San Francisco was my San Francisco so reading about his childhood (though he was obviously much older than I) walked me down memory lane. I was at UC Berkeley when he was assigned there as campus minister and though he and I had a lot of contentious confrontations, again, it brought back memories of those days of the Free Speech movement, Mario Savio, and People’s Park (I’m even mentioned in it)

I knew he was in the Navy and found his tales of his years as chaplain on the USS Kearsarge fascinating, as I did his experiences in Latin America during the era of the Sandinistas, and later his mission to Hispanics, sorely ignored by the Catholic Church in general (he doesn't have much good to say about Pope John Paul II)

He went into detail about the party celebrating the 50th anniversary of priesthood, but neglected to mention that he spent the earlier part of that day helping to bury our son. But let it pass.

This is an exhaustive list of every person he ever met who was important to him, and everyone who ever did him wrong (the revenge of the writer!), and that does get a little wearing after awhile. But overall it’s a page turner, his personal account of his awakening to the radical meaning of justice and peace, with perhaps a bit of puffery tossed in there.

He was quite a guy. I wish we had not been oil and water all of those years since we really more in common than I realized. He died at 88 in 2006.


The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon
I have re-read Book 5 in Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" series (which I originally listened to as an audio book in 2011...this time I read the actual book).  Claire and Jamie are now in America with their daughter Brianna, her husband Roger, and their son Jemmy. In a 1400+ page book, you are going to have slow parts. I could have done with the shortening of several parts of this book, but in the end I didn't care because I just love immersing myself in the story of the time-traveling Claire and her 18th century lover. This is set in the pre-Revolutionary colonies and the build up to the actions of 1776. There's enough intrigue, history, sensuality, and medicine to go around. Amazing things happen which will change the Fraser family forever, and there is the return of characters we haven't seen in awhile. The best review I can give this book is that I was going to wait before re-reading Book 6, but couldn't.  I've already started it.


Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
I spent the entire day engrossed in Elizabeth Letts’ new book, “Finding Dorothy”. I couldn’t put it down. Excellent story. I know enough about the making of “The Wizard of Oz” that this fictionalized (tho well researched) account filled in a lot of blank spots. And any story with Judy Garland as a bit player is even better.  I knew Elizabeth when she was a midwife but she is now a full time author.  This is the third of her books I have read.  She does her homework and researches extensively, which helps make her books so interesting.  (Check out "The Eighty Dollar Champion" which I loved)

The story is told through the eyes of Maud Gage Baum, widow of L. Frank Baum, who wrote the book.  It begins with her first visit to MGM during the filming of the movie and switches back and forth tracing Maud's life as the daughter of one of the country's leading suffragettes, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and her friends (like Susan B Anthony).  Maud was to be the first woman in her family to attend college, but she left school to marry the charismatic actor, Frank Baum.  The book follows Frank's many attempts to support his family, and along the way we see the bits and pieces of his life which become incorporated as big parts of the book (Maud's fear of scarecrows, for example).

If I have any complaints about the book it's that the success of the Oz book seems precipitous, from obscurity to overwhelming success within a couple of pages, but it was probably necessary to condense the story.

Maud's friendship with the young Judy Garland is fun to read, though it's difficult to know how much is based on fact and how much is conjecture.  But who cares?  It reads well and Maud's main desire is that this young actress get the "Dorothy" that her husband created accurately.

It's a great read for a lifelong Judy Garland fan and even though Wizard of Oz was never my favorite Garland movie, it did make me want to put on my copy of the movie and watch it again


Pax by Sarah Pennypacker
This was my granddaughter's choice for our next book club discussion.  It's a young adult book, the story of a young boy (Peter) and his pet fox.  When the father (a widower) joins the military, he has to leave Peter in the care of the boy's grandfather, and the fox (Pax) can't go along, so the father leaves him somewhere in the wilderness 300 miles from the grandfather's house.  The fox, who has known only humans, spends time trying to find his boy and the boy, miserable without his pet, runs away from home to search for the fox.  It's a sweet story with lots of adventure for both.  The ending, while bittersweet, was inevitable.
 



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