Books Read in 2020

Frontier Follies: Adventures in Marriage and Motherhood in the Middle of Nowhere by Ree Drummond
After reading Ree's firsts book, about her romance with her "Marlboro Man," I was curious what her next book would be like, many years and four children later.  Would she still spend the whole book talking about what a good kisser Ladd (who now has a name) is?  Well, no.  This is a fun book for anybody who has followed Drummond from her blog to her TV show but it reads like a blog, not a "book."  Still I enjoyed it, learning some of the behind the scenes things about the TV show, how (and why!) one home schools kids, how a city girl learns to get up at 3:30 every morning to go work cattle, etc. Lots of fun stuff (most fun was the story of the two fans who came to tour the building where she films the show and accidentally found her house instead...while Ree was in the bathtub.

BETWEEN THE STOPS: The View of My Life from the Top of the Number 12 Bus by Sandi Toksvig
Toksvig was one of the hosts of Great British Baking Company and I was curious about her when she left the show, so I checked her out.  I learned she is a
writer, comedian, broadcaster, actor, and producer on British radio, stage, and television. She is also a political activist, having co-founded the Women's Equality Party in 2015 and was chancellor of the University of Portsmoth for five years. She left Great British Baking Company because she was offered another BBC show, which she is hosting (QI).  In my searching, I found several of her books, this one of which I was able to get free for my Kindle.  What a fabulous book!

She has said she thinks autobiographies are boring so this is not an autobiography, and yet it kind of is.  She talks about all the things she sees while riding the Number 12 bus in London 7 miles from her work to her home.  She is a fountain of information on British history (and I didn't even mind that I knew almost none of the names or events).  She also talks about her personal history in many of the sites she describes (like  the boarding school she attended, which sounds like it was right out of Dickens). 

Some of the things I learned reading this book: "Mike the Headless chicken Day," the location of Napoleon's penis (and why it's there), Gummikylling is Danish for "rubber chicken," why the Earl of Harrington invented the sidewalk in the 1760s, that poet Thomas Hardy's heart was eaten by his cat, and the definition of the "Devil's Doorbell."  Among lots and lots of other things.

This is a fabulous book.

THE PIONEER WOMAN: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond
I have been a fan of the Pioneer Woman since she was just a blogger and have enjoyed her TV show.  This is her first book, detailing the story of her courtship and marriage to her husband, who in this book is never referred to by name, but only as "Marlboro Man."  Drummond is a good writer, but my god, I would have deleted at least three chapters.  We got fairly on that Marlboro Man was a good kisser, but she goes on and on and on and ON about how wonderful his kisses are and how they make her feel.  Both are religious, so no sex is involved, but lots of snuggling on a couch watching TV and...kissing.  It's like reading something out of a teen magazine.

She's also an amazingly particular person about how things look to other people.  A city girl used to San Francisco and Chicago, this is her first experience with a ranch. When Marlboro Man asks her to come and help with the cattle, she asks what she should wear. 

When she realizes she is in labor, she takes a shower, shaves her legs up to her groin, and puts on her make-up before waking her husband to let him know it's time to go to the hospital (an hour away).  When the nurse asked her, following the birth of their child, if she had "passed gas" yet, she was so embarrassed at having to admit that she ever farted while her husband was sitting there, that she hid under the blankets and wouldn't speak.  I did love how her future brother-in-law introduces her to ranch life.

I will read her next book, which will be released soon.  Two of her four kids are now in college and another is about to graduate from high school and presumably she allows the Marlboro man know that she occasionally passes gas.  I think it will be an interesting comparison.

But I strongly suspect this is someone with whom I would never become friends.

WATCHING FROM THE WINGS: Fifty Years of Working With The Stars by Jim Brochu
If I look like a zombie it's because I picked up Jim's book and couldn't put it down. It was 6 a.m. when I finally finished. If you love stories about celebrities -- and Jim has known most of them -- this is the book for you. Starting selling orange juice in a Broadway theater as a kid, Jim went on to become an award winning actor, singer, writer, director. Jim has been in movies, on television and on the stage, both off-Broadway and on Broadway and he now gives lectures on cruise ships. He is a great story teller.

His inspiration was Ethel Merman, whose father was Jim's father's best friend and who became his good friend. Joan Crawford, who had a long-term relationship with his father, was his friend until her death. All the big names -- Zero Mostel, Carol Channing, David Burns, Lucille Ball, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and many more, as well as names you probably have not heard of but who are extraordinarily interesting are lovingly covered in this book, as well as Jim's own history of life in theater, his partnership with singer/songwriter Steve Schalchlin and their two award-winning musicals. Page after page there is something fascinating to keep you reading.

My only complaint about this is that I read it on my Kindle and the photos (there are lots of wonderful photos) and photo captions are terrible. Not all photos have captions, some captions are printed two pages after the original photo, some captions are only partly printed, some photos should have printed with a different text, etc. I think this is the fault of whoever put the kindle version together, but it was annoying.

But if you like show biz chatter, you must get this book.

The Answer is... by Alex Trebek
One of my favorite things to do is to sit in a room and listen to two friends of mine, both show biz guys, both very intelligent, just chat with each other about life and theater.  That's how I felt reading Trebek's book.  It is not a normal autobiography and does not go in chronological order through his life, but is a lot of interesting memories, and a lot about Jeopardy.  He has been married twice, for example, but the only time his first wife is mentioned (twice) is when saying that something happened after their divorce.  We don't know how they met, when they married, how long they were married, etc. Just her name and that they divorced.  He talks a lot about his cancer and how he is handling treatment (it will make you amazed as you watch him hosting Jeopardy each night) and the end of the book is almost like a good bye, though he is obviously still working through the cancer. 

It was not the book I expected, but I found it wonderful reading and finished it in one day.

An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
I finished rereading this book, but actually originally read it five years ago and never posted my review in this list, so I'll just copy it from Good Reads here, though it is not entirely accurate to 2020...

I am bereft. I have now finished the 7th book of Gabaldon's "Outlander" series...and the 8th book is not due out until Fall 2013. This book has Bree and Roger in the 20th century while Claire and Jaime remain in the 18th century, partly in "the colonies" and partly in Scotland, where Jaimie goes to retrieve his printing press. There is war (the Revolutionary War battles following the Declaration of Independence), love affairs, murder, intrigue, and all the stuff you expect from Gabaldon. This book brings Lord John and his stepson (Jamie's real son) into the story and the plot lines bring them closer and closer and closer until the final confrontation. Claire and John become much better acquainted. Bree's son Jem has the key to a treasure that everyone wants, and enough plot lines resolve and are left dangling that I will, with the rest of Gabaldon's other fans, be panting for the next book to be released..and I sincerely hope that the book and the audiobook will be released simultaneously!

(Since I wrote this, I have also read book 8 and am now rereading IT while waiting for release of book 9)

Call of the Wild by Jack London
I read this book many, many years ago, as a child, but seeing the movie that is about to be released, I wanted to re-read it and re-familiarize myself with the story.

Buck is a pampered dog who is stolen by his owner's employee, a brutal man who beats and whips Buck daily as he takes him to the Yukon in the hope of finding gold.  Through several owners, Buck experiences every kind of animal abuse, including near starvation -- that part is not easy to read!  In the process he learns how to become a mail delivery sled dog and travels thousands of miles until he is near death and rescued by John Thornton, who helps him heal and feeds him regularly.  Buck feels he loves someone for the first time.  But in traveling with Thornton, Buck also hears "the call of the wild," the howls of his ancestors and, after Thornton and his crew are killed by natives, Buck joins a pack of wolves and becomes legendary.

I wasn't sure if I want to see the movie, after re-reading the book, not wanting to see all the abuse, but I am fascinated to learn that the dog in the movie is animation and I'm curious to see what that looks like.

Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew
Ned and Marta gave me this book for my birthday.  I started reading it that night and couldn't put it down.  I didn't finish the first night, but finished the next day.  Unlike a lot of "star" autobiographies, this one has no co-author.  Mulgrew's writing style is what drew me in.  She's eloquent. irreverent, funny and thoroughly entertaining.  Born into a typical Irish Catholic family, who knew "how to drink, how to dance, how to talk, and how to stir up the devil."  She was one of many children by a mother who was more interested in being an artist than caring for her large brood.  At 18 she fled to New York, where she studied with the legendary Stella Adler.

At 22, just as her career was taking off, she found herself pregnant, and unable to consider abortion, she gave the baby away for adoption, something that haunted her the rest of her life, though as it was a closed adoption, she was unable to find out anything about her daughter.

Mulgrew traces her illustrious history, through Star Trek: Voyager but sadly it ends before she was cast in Orange is the New Black, which she covers in her next book, apparently.  She also manages to meet her daughter, finally, toward the end of the book.  I now have to read the next book, which apparently also covers her mother's Alzheimers, which always intrigues me.

In the Hell of Auschwitz: The Wartime Memoirs of Judith Sternberg Newman by Judith Sternberg Newman
When I was reading "Rena's Promise," an offer came for this book for only $1.99, so I got it.  Newman, also, was in Auschwitz at the same time as Rena Gelissen, and many of her experiences are the same as Rena's, though as Newman was a nurse, she was able to work in the hospital, so her experiences were not quite as terrible as Rena's ("not quite as terrible" being a relatiave term!).  She is the sole survivor of her family, having lost her mother, two sisters, three brothers, a brother-in-law, a niece, an aunt, an uncle and her fianc to the gas chamber at Auschwitz.  It was her experience as a nurse which saved her.  There had been 10,000 Jews in the city of Breslau when the Nazis came to power ; at the end of the war, only 38 survived.  Half of the book deals with her experience in the concentration camp until her escape on a march out of Auschwitz.  The other half deals with her return to her old life and the difficulties of being completely alone.  She married another concentration camp survivor and the two of them moved to America, where they raised three children.

Rena's Promise: a story of sisters in Auschwitz By Rena Kornreich Gelissen with Heather Dune Macadam
I didn't realize it was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz when I started this riveting book.  As the Nazis were coming to power, 20 year old Rena Kornreich decided that if she volunteered at a German "work camp" she could protect her family.  Instead, she and sister Danka, were among the first to be sent to Auschwitz, where they lived for three years.  Rena's promise to her mother that she would "take care of her sister" was the thing that kept the two of them alive. 

(Rena on the left in this photo and sister Danka on the right)

I have read several books about the Holocaust, but this one is different because it is the story, told in Rena's words, of what it was like, day by day, living in the concentration camp. 

Many people were shocked when Elie Wiesel's book ("Night") was published because many people began to learn about the atrocities for the first time.  However, Rena's account is so much more shocking because we see what the day to day life was like, sleeping on bare shelves with as many as 8 other women, being awakened at 4, breakfast of a small piece of bread and half a cup of weak tea, working until dark, almost no lunch, then back to the shelves for another night, all year long, summer or winter.  What happens when women get their period when there is no paper and no cloth and almost no washing facilities?  ...and when you are condemned to death if you are caught menstruating.

The murders are particularly horrible.  I am still haunted by one where one of the female commandos tossed her hat into the forbidden area where prisoners are not allowed to go, ordered one of the young women to fetch it for her, and when the woman got to the hat, ordered her dog to attack, while the others watched the dog tear the woman to pieces, afraid to show emotion for fear they would be next.

I cried a lot reading this  book and coincidentally came across a YouTube video about a woman who gave birth at Auschwitz right before the camp was liberated, so she and her daughter lived...her account of her treatment was very reminiscent of Rena's.

As older people die, more people find it difficult to believe there even was a holocaust.  The video says that the number of holocaust deniers doubled in the last couple of years, from 7% to 14%.  Books like this are important to let people know that this actually happened.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
This was an enthusiastic choice of Jenna Bush Hager for her Book Club and I was so taken in I ordered it immediately and read it in two days.  She assured people that though there was a sad bit about it, it ended happily.  Well, the "sad part" was about 3/4 of the book, but she's right--the ending made it worthwhile (and was quite unexpected). 

Eddie is a 10 year old child, the only survivor of a plane crash that killed 191 people, including his parents and older brother.  He is taken in by his aunt and uncle, whom he barely knows.  Someone refers to him as "Edward" and the name sticks because he feels "Eddie" died with his family.  Jodi Picoult says this is "that rare book that breaks your heart and stitches it back together again.  Don't miss this one."

The book follows Edward's pain at his loss, his disconnect from others around him, his friendship with next door neighbor Shay and how, over several years, he manages to find meaning in his life again.  The book shifts back and forth from what is going on in the plane before its crash, and what is going on in Edward's life as he remembers bits and pieces of that horrible event.

Napolitano creates a variety of unforgettable characters, from the people on the plane to the people Edward encounters.  His friendship with Shay gives him the only stability he allows himself and thanks to her, he finds the reason for why he has survived and how to make his life meaningful.  A beautiful solution.

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