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Top Ten Tuesday: First Ten Books I Reviewed

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Back in the mists of time

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Back in the summer of 1980, between high school and college, I read this book in a magazine, reviewed it and submitted it to Seventeen magazine. To my surprise, they wrote that they were considering it. While I eventually got a rejection I also got nice comments on my writing and to keep trying.

Murder in the White House by Margaret Truman.

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Buoyed by a response that wasn’t outright rejection, I tried Seventeen again, wanting to introduce the Roger Moore generation to the REAL James Bond of Ian Fleming’s books. I reviewed Casino Royale and got another polite critique of my writing. College got in the way and with it one grad student who put me off writing largely because there was no one to tell a very introverted student that those words were the opinion of just one person! (A lesson I’ve made sure my kids know!) I quit writing.

Fast Forward to the Blogging Era

 

I would imagine the contents of my first Bloglines blog are still out there in cyberland somewhere, but I’m not going to search them out. Here then are the first reviews from my second blog–on blogger. It is still up, though I removed the superfluous content.

I’ve been reading more classics since receiving a Kindle as a gift. One book that I really, really enjoyed was The Hoosier Schoolmaster by Edward Eggleston. Sadly, yes, there are places where the dialect depicted in the story can still be heard constantly in the great Hoosier state! Poor Ralph Hartstook finds himself at the head of a struggling, rural school. He boards “out” with various families, encounters all manner of problems and has unbelievably astute (and still accurate more than 100 years later) views on Churches and religion. This one is not to be missed!

I was disappointed in this one early on. Ms Nicolson, whose real-world “Abdication” credentials are excellent, choose to put in an unnecessarily lewd scene drawing on the most salacious (and probably made-up) details of Wallis Simpson’s supposed life in Shanghai and other points East during and after her stint as a U.S. Navy officer’s wife. I am heartily sick of this trend–put in some hopelessly awful sex “event” just to supposedly help “sell” the book. Ditto too the overuse of childhood sexual abuse. It’s a tragedy that we don’t need to become immune to reading about, but we do when forced to read it in so many novels. The sex thing is very junior high, the abuse thing irresponsible on the part of authors and publishers alike. But wait! There’s more! Later we are treated to a brief glimpse of masturbation and female to female sex!

I did not throw this one back due to Ms. Nicolson’s personal connection with the Abdication. I harbored the hope that she would draw on some previously undisclosed family diaries or letters. It appears she did not. I’ve read nearly everything ever published on this topic, so t did finish it and in spite of paragraph one of this review it was not a terrible read.

The story, omitting what I’ve “spoiled” above, was decent and the blurb is right–it could be a BBC miniseries. But it does read like she’s watching “Edward and Mrs. Simpson” (the good version with Edward Fox from the late 70s) and just finished reading about the Mitford sisters and their brother, Tom and Mrs. Churchill’s nephew, Esmond Romilly. Happily she avoids the trap many such novels fall into of having characters spout boring, stilted “conversation” that tells who everyone is and why they matter. She has decided if you are interested in a novel of the Abdication you must already know who everyone is or don’t care, apparently.That’s how it should be. If you want to know who is who, get a reference book or read a nonfiction book on the subject.

Abdication by Juliet Nicolson

Too many kids are born simply because their parents couldn’t think of another way to cure boredom. Sebastian was one such child. Born to a selfish mother who did not want him and dumped repeatedly on his grandparents he knew the score. But at age 12 he did not expect to be put alone on a bus in Stockton, California and be forced to make his own way back to Grandma’s in Pennsylvania. This book is a fabulous addition to Young Adult coming of age literature. The themes can be scary (pedophiles) or all-too-common (uncaring parent) but mostly it’s about an unwanted child’s quest to find adults he can trust. Sebastian is lucky–he finds one.  Greayhound by Stefan Piper is another one not to be missed.

I also read The Hours by Michael Cunningham which I found to be “so-so” and am still puzzled over how it won a Pulitzer. I did not finish Paul Theroux’s Lower River–it depressed me to much for I knew in my heart it was truth, not fiction. Theroux is the poster-child of Peace Corps/Malawi and his book is the story of a guy his age returning to his Peace Corps location and trying to process all that has transpired. Well, in Malawi that would be AIDS, too many AIDS-orphans, regime change and, with a national life expectancy of less than age 50, no one who remembers Independence any more. I threw back Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James. I have two others I’ll finish this week, but will review next month.

Now This Blog

Looking over my reading journal I see I finished a lot of books this month!! A few had been hanging around a while and just needed to be finished though. I do get a lot of audiobooks in during my 80+ mile commute (each way) and I tend to pick audiobooks that are about a “week long.” Starting the week fresh with a new book is always nice. Now, where to begin to tell about all these interesting books!

Both Anita Diamant’s writing and Linda Lavin’s reading made the audio version of this book wonderful! Historical fiction today suffers badly from having current-day PC attitudes put into characters, so it was with trepidation
that I started in on this book. I shouldn’t have worried–after all I loved her book the Red Tent. Boston Girl features nothing overtly too modern or too pc. The characters were real and believable. And added bonus is that no one gets raped, molested, murdered, etc, but it is not “sickeningly sweet.” It’s believable. Highly recommended. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant.

I fell in love with Anne Tyler’s writing way back. I’ve slowly but surely been getting thru all of her wonderful books. Like all of her books, A Spool of Blue Thread has “real” people for characters–flesh and blood folks you can reach out and touch, people who make you cringe, people you want to marry and people who make you say “Well bless their heart.” There are so many juicy layers and nearly hidden secrets that this is truly nonlinear storytelling at its best. My only tiny, tiny regrets in this book were that there was no year given on any of the chapters so starting out it was confusing. And, though I’ve come to accept that Baltimore, like Charleston, is a place with odd first names, the whole “Stem” thing got old. This was more than counteracted though by, for once, a story in which a character left their birth family behind without a regret and with becoming a serial killer or being crippled by guilt or bitterness or whatever. She just got on with life and made the life she needed and wanted. That was fabulous. I also liked the grit and determination shown in the early Depression era chapters–something young adults today could seriously learn from if they’d allow themselves to take it seriously. Highly recommended. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler.

 



Shut. The. Front. Door. Yes, I’ve included a CHRISTIAN novel in my “best of” for this month. I don’t often find Christian fiction that is written in a manner that I find engaging enough to continue past the first few pages. Lynn Austin is a GREAT exception to that rule and now I’m happy to find that Jody Hedlund is as well. This book was a bargain for Kindle and would be well worth it at the full price. This book, which draws on the life and later marriage of Pilgrim’s Progress author John Bunyan tells of a fascinating time in struggle THE struggle of Puritan Christians to maintain their freedom of worship after the end of Cromwell’s rule. I read over a hundred pages in one sitting–it drew me in that quickly and kept me raptly focused. I was only disappointed to learn that the series in which this book is published is not a second book on this couple. That’s a shame. Their story was engrossing. I thought the title could have been better as well–too ‘cheap’ for such an excellent story. The Preacher’s Bride by Jody Hedlund.

I do wish the idea of “Young Adult” fiction would go away. Fiction is fiction and a well written book is something to be savored regardless of labels. I enjoyed the book and, surprisingly, also the movie of Green’s The Fault in Our Stars so much I knew I’d read the rest of his books in time. This one was also on sale for Kindle so I grabbed it. Boarding School has always fascinated me, but this one really hit home. The characters were the quirky academic and artistic kids I hung out with in high school so I could fully relate to this story. The dialogue is believable, the actions and thought processes were true to the character’s ages and personality types. There was so much here that rang true for me that I’m very sure I will reread it annually for a long time to come. Looking for Alaska by John Green.

Get out of here! Yes, you are seeing things correctly! I’m highly recommending BOTH a Christian novel AND a book of short stories! But wait, THERE’S MORE! It’s an Oprah-recommended book, too! Those are usually too depressing for me. But, back to the point– I never read short stories–they’re either too long or not long enough. I’m doing one of those popular “Reading Challenges” this year and one item was something from a genre I don’t usually read. Well, I took on two such this month. This collection is a collection of stories about unusual women–to say more would spoil the joy of reading the stories for yourself. All are excellent, though some of the stories may be offensive to more conservative readers. I read them in one day, they were that compelling. “The Siege of Whale Cay,” was my favorite for all of its quirks. Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl--here’s a link to the rules. Why not join in the fun next week?

 

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8 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: First Ten Books I Reviewed

  1. Gratuitous sex is as much a turn off for me as gratuitous violence both in films and books. Nothing to do with prudery- I just find the former dead boring. And usually badly rendered. I have a copy of Almost Famous Women – not absolutely sure whether it’s fiction? Or fact based but told in a literary/creative style?

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  2. Really enjoyed this! I love that you submitted a review way back years ago to Seventeen. Wonder if they still have book reviews? Somehow I doubt it, but I hope so. I love your voracious reading, and you were one of my main inspirations to ramp up my own reading a few years back. Lots of these sound good. I need to look up the Hoosier Schoolmaster one.

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  3. Oh I remember Seventeen magazine. It’s a lot different now – looks more like Cosmopolitan! I enjoyed this list of early reviews. I liked A Spool of Blue Thread. Glad you liked the audio of Boston Girl – I read it and thought it was okay – not nearly as good as The Red Tent. I’ve read a couple Christian Fiction books because I saw an article in the paper about “bonnet rippers” and was intrigued. I thought they were very well done, but it’s not a genre I would read a lot of.

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    1. I pretty much skip Christian fiction, but ccx when I find one I like I review it. Lynn Austin is often worth it. Over a i don’t seek them out. I believe Christian publishing killed the “big book” for series fiction. LEFT BEHIND esp

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