“Institutional” Life: Eight Books


Say books about life in an institution and for many, Jane Eyre, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and, “Please Sir, I want some more-“ Oliver Twist, come straight to mind. I’ve read Jane Eyre--it was one of my first classics conquered and enjoyed. In addition to these fabled classics, there are many more such books out there. I’ve read a fairly good variety of them–both novels and nonfiction.

The Ones I’ve Read




This book is huge in more ways than just size. The characters. The alliances. The oddness of the place–huge. It was worth it though. I found my friend Silva Cachia has archived the discussion posts for Gray House from 2017–I found this a valuable resource when reading the book. Here is my full review of Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan.




A boarding school for “Indians” [Native Americans] in Minnesota during the Great Depression was not a fabulous place to be. For two brothers who were not “Indians” but who were dumped there supposedly due to no room in the local orphanages, it was even worse.  You can read more about the story–and my full review here. This is a contender for my favorite book of 2020. This Tender Land: A Novel by William Kent Krueger.



Florida’s Nickel Academy is a reform school to which young offenders are sent. Elwood Curtis makes a bad choice pursing a good plan and lands there during the Civil Rights-era. This story is told as only Colson Whitehead can tell a story–Wow! was my main reaction when finishing it. You can read more about the story–and my full review here. Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead



If you are my age (58) you likely remember who you watched the finale of the long-running television show, M*A*S*H* with, and maybe even taped it on a now museum-worthy video cassette recorder (VCR) a then new-fangled gadget. The original story, a novel by Joseph Hooker, was a best-seller in the late 60s and early 70s. The movie, far better than the series, touched the right nerve in Vietnam-weary Americans. The only flaw I recall in the movie was the use of 1970s football helmets in the game scene. The film’s success all but guaranteed the success of the television show.

Although set in Korea, MASH: The Story of Three Doctors by Joseph Hooker, told a story all too familiar to Vietnam-era vets. The screw-ups, the ridiculous regulations, the outrageous lies of the government, etc. This book belongs in this list three times: It tells the story of life in an institution (a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) within an institution (the U.S. Army Medical Corps) within an institution (the U.S. Army) and possibly a fourth time, too for a war zone is very nearly a country-wide institution. MASH: The Story of Three Doctors by Joseph Hooker.




Old age pretty much sucks. And, being stuck in a nursing home in Amsterdam isn’t much of a life–unless you are Hendrick Groen. This is a funny spoof-diary reminiscent of some of the attitudes expressed in the old British TV Show Waiting For God. I haven’t reviewed this book because I ran out of time the library copy I borrowed. I do hope to get it again and finish it–it was fun. The title itself is a wonderful homage to Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4.   The Secret Diary of Henrick Groen Aged 83 1/2 years.



A Christian Turn-Straight Program. Oh, the horror. A Church with the initials G.O.P. Cue the maniacal giggling of a morning drive-time on-air personality’s side-kick. This book is much more than the sniggering suggests. It is much better than the in-jokes as well. You can read my full review here. Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth.



When the Nazis take over Czechoslovakia children are rounded up and examined by Nazi doctors looking for “Aryan” children. Milada is one deemed acceptable. She is taken off to be re-educated in the Lebensborn program where she is Germanized or Nazified and given the new name of Eva. You can read more about Lebensborn and read my full review of the book here. Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf





This look at New York’s famed Bellevue Hospital was my favorite nonfiction book read in 2019. The stories of each of the patients each reveal new facets of life in the sprawling hospital complex. The hospital’s head is the author so we have privy to the top level of information as well. My review of  Twelve Patients: Life and Death in Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer.

One Other Book


In case you missed it, yesterday’s post was a review of the Japanese novel, Sweet Bean Paste, which has a storyline telling of life in “leper colony”–a Hansen’s Disease [then known as Leprosy] Sanatorium in Japan. You can read it here.




Do you have other titles that should be on this list? Link to your review or simply leave me a comment–I love learning of new, or new-to-me, books on any topic.

“Thursday” books



The Classic: The One I Have Read and Enjoyed



In a park in London, secret policeman Gabriel Syme strikes up a conversation with an anarchist. Sworn to do his duty, Syme uses his new acquaintance to go undercover in Europe’s Central Anarchist Council and infiltrate their deadly mission, even managing to have himself voted to the position of ‘Thursday’. When Syme discovers another undercover policeman on the Council, however, he starts to question his role in their operations. And as a desperate chase across Europe begins, his confusion grows, as well as his confidence in his ability to outwit his enemies. But he has still to face the greatest terror that the Council has: a man named Sunday, whose true nature is worse than Syme could ever have imagined…  source

My Thoughts:

I found this book thrilling and fascinating but also found that it took a real mental effort to keep up with it. My brain has become ‘flabby’. This is the sort of book to read in a college course or seminar where there are lively discussions. I enjoyed the effort it took to read it almost as much as I enjoyed the story.

The Other Classic: The One I Haven’t Read


In Monterey, on the California coast, Sweet Thursday is what they call the day after Lousy Wednesday, which is one of those days that are just naturally bad. Returning to the scene of Cannery Row—the weedy lots and junk heaps and flophouses of Monterey, John Steinbeck once more brings to life the denizens of a netherworld of laughter and tears—from Doc, based on Steinbeck’s lifelong friend Ed Ricketts, to Fauna, new headmistress of the local brothel, to Hazel, a bum whose mother must have wanted a daughter.  Amazon

More Thursday Books

Thursday’s Children: A Frieda Klein Mystery by Nicci French

Thursday’s At Eight by Debbie Macomber

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde

Thursdays in the Park by Hilary Boyd



Do you have a favorite day of the week book? Leave me a comment.


What the Class of 2021 Had to Read This Summer


Each year I try to look and see what various Universities and Colleges assign as summer reading to the incoming Freshman class. In my day at least, my University did not even try to do this! Too big of a school–even with the various colleges within it, it was still too big. Today it’s a “thing” at many colleges. But the trend toward this assignment may be waning. Purdue apparently axed their summer read to save around $75,000. That’s a big chunk to give everyone one book that many will fake having read.

This year I found a few journalists had beat me to this assignment, so I’m linking here to those. There is occasional overlap, but I’ll let you read their lists to see what Stanford or other well-known colleges assigned this year. I’ve looked for some different schools, different books than the published news articles featured. National Public Radio (NPR), regarded by most as Liberal,  found still other titles. The National Review, a very Conservative publication for those who don’t know it by name, added its piece on summer reading to the mix as well. Here are the links to those articles:

Quartz: What Top College Students in the U.S. Are Reading This Summer

New York Times: Summer Reading Books; The Ties That Bind Colleges

NPR: Summer Reading For the College Bound


I’ve only read ONE book on this list–Hillbilly Elergy and I recommend it very highly. Here is my review and thoughts on the book.

My List of What the Class of 2021 Had To Read


Freshman Summer Reading  Class of 2021
Title  Author University
Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka Lev Golinkin Boston College
Between The World And Me Ta-Nehisi Coates Wagner College
Between The World And Me Ta-Nehisi Coates Tulane
Between The World And Me Ta-Nehisi Coates Muhlenberg College
Book of Unknown Americans Cristina Henríquez Smith
Book That Changed America: How Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Ignited America Randall Fuller Skidmore
Citizen: An American Lyric Claudia Rankine Bard
Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio Amara Lakhous Rutgers (Honors College)
Deadly Wandering Matt Richtel Vermont
Distress: A Doctor’s Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine Rachel Pearson College of New Jersey
Few Good Men [play] Aaron Sorkin The Citadel
Freedom Summer Bruce Watson Lehigh
Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein Gris Grimly Siena College
Hillbilly Elergy J.D. Vance Wisconsin
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits Laila Lalami Lafayette
Illegal Lawrence Hill Georgetown
Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything James Martin Fordham
Just Mercy Bryan Stevenson Bucknell
Just Mercy Bryan Stevenson Bates
Laughing Without an Accent: Adventures of a Global Citizen Firoozeh Dumas Texas Christian (TCU)
Life’s Golden Ticket Brendan Burchard Western New England U
Make Your Home Among Strangers Jenine Capo Crucet Whitman College
Make Your Home Among Strangers Jenine Capo Crucet Holy Cross
Outrage Industry Jeffrey M. Berry and Sarah Sobieraj Tufts
People of the Book Geraldine Brooks Westminster College
Prince of Los Cucyos Richard Blanco Duke
Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation Jonathan Lear Bard
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed Jon Ronson Ramapo College of NJ
Strong Inside Andrew Maraniss Vanderbilt
True American: Murder and Mystery in Texas Anand Giridharadas Lehigh
What Is Populism? Jan-Werner Mueller Princeton


Here is the link for last year’s post, What the Class of 2020 is Reading This Summer

Have you read any of these? Did you review them? Leave me a link to your review in the comments. Or, if you have a college-bound Freshman with a summer book that is not on this list, leave me the title and the name of the College or University and I’ll add it to the list.

Favorite School Novels: The Next Four


A few of the kiddos in my extended family are already back in school this week. I have hopes of one or both of my own returning to college, but we’ll see. Previously I published another post listing four favorite school novels here. And, for a Top Ten Tuesday post, I published this list of 10 more school books and movies  here. So, if any of your favorites, or ones you expected me to list, are not in today’s post, have a look at the past posts by clicking on their links above.


The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark



Harry Potter fans will love knowing that Professor McGonagall herself (aka Maggie Smith) played the title role of Miss Brodie in the 1969 film. I loved that version, but love the book even more. Poor Miss Brodie. So much to admire in El Duce indeed! The girls of Edinburgh’s posh Marcia Blaine School had no idea what they would learn, but it was a memorable experience to be educated by Miss Brodie.  The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. [Note, I have chosen an older cover. If you click on the link her to see the book on Amazon it will have a different cover. I make no money off your clicks.]

Here’s a peak at Maggie in the title role:





Village School by Miss Read




How wonderful to go to a small school with a caring teacher and have no standardized tests looming! Back when the posh children where going off to schools in Britain like The Marcia Blaine School for Girls, children in country villages went to schools supposedly like the one in Fairacre with teachers like Miss Read. (I suspect the reality was a bit different, but never mind). A delightful story of a time now long gone. Village School by Miss Read.




A Separate Peace by John Knowles



One of the classics of the school novel genre has to be A Separate Peace . Set in an Eastern prep school at the start of World War II the story focuses on the coming-of-age of two boys,  Phineas and Gene. Even 40 years or so on from reading it, I easily recalled their names, the setting and so much of the story. But mostly I remember the emotions it presented. To say the book had a lasting effect on me would be an understatement. It’s one of the few novels that I ever thought I’d want to teach if forced to teach high school.   A Separate Peace by John Knowles.


[Note, I have chosen an older cover. If you click on the link her to see the book on Amazon it will have a different cover. I make no money off your clicks.]



The Dark Ferret Society by Emily Humphreys



When I read this book a year or so ago, I said “this is high school for the rest of us.” This is not the story of jocks and cheerleaders or preppies and goths, but of the ones who are able to be themselves, obey most rules, respect their parents enough and have a plan for their lives that doesn’t necessarily include how much money they will make. The 20-something author of the book has told a tale from the heart. Happily, there is a sequel that I’m hoping to get to by the end of the year. The Dark Ferret Society by Emily Humphreys. You read my full review here.  Visit the author’s web site here.



Do you enjoy school novels or movies? Leave me a comment with your favorites.

Top 5 Books I Will Never Read


These are five I’m not likely to read, but never say never is a good motto.


The Top Five



Unless Jeremy Irons shows up to read it aloud to me personally, I’m not reading it. Lolita.








I really don’t think I’ll be reading this. I endured the Foundation Trilogy (Isaac Asimov) in a political theory course–that’s enough  for me. Dune.









I’m so not into vampires, zombies and all that. There is a copy around the house from when someone else in the family attempted it. No thanks. Twilight. Frankly, I think you can toss Divergent and Hunger Games on here, too. Not my thing. The very word “dystopian” makes my eyes glaze over. Fantasy and Science Fiction do so as well, but much slower.






Anyone else recall the Yuppie Handbook of the 80’s saying when someone asks your favorite book just name this one? Yeah. Cause no one really reads it. One Hundred Years of Solitude. I’m open to other titles by this author.







Sounds like Outlander, the 21st Century version, sans time travel. No thanks, even though a friend I trust read it and said it wasn’t bad. Just no. Fifty Shades of Grey.







Two Bonus Series




How many rapes were in that five minutes I endured of the t.v. show? Not even Iain Glen himself could make me enjoy this series. It’s just not my thing. Even my son said it was weird and he likes stuff like this.  Game of Thrones.






Nor will I be returning to more of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I nearly wrecked the car listening to the Outlander [book one] when forced oral sex (something like that) was on the audio before I was properly caffeinated. No thanks. I admit, it wasn’t ALL, like that–but too much for me. If they come out with an abridged edition that tones the sex way down then I could, possibly, reconsider.

I will keep trying with the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I might also try a few of Stephen King’s books–I read and enjoyed The March, but he wrote it under another name. And while I’m not a big fan of horror I did read and appreciated (not sure that I “enjoyed” it) Dracula so I have Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyl and Mr Hyde still on my to-read list.

What books would go on your list? Leave me a comment or link to your own Top 5 post.

You can join in on Top 5 Wednesday at Goodreads.com


Top 5 Books I Want to Read By Year End


 Top Five Wednesday can be found in the Groups on Goodreads.com

 Top of My List


Pre-ordered and can’t wait! YEARS in the writing, so I will read it instantly. Blanch Wiesen Cook’s 3rd volume of her Eleanor Roosevelt biography.

  The Rest of the List

I set myself a reading challenge from the Ambleside Online Curriculum and need to catch-up, so the first books are from this post: “Assign Yourself….”



I, Claudius by Robert Graves



Either East of Eden or finish Madame Bovary



Downton Abbey creator, Julian Fellow’s novel, Belgravia


What are you Top 5 Books to read by year’s end? Leave me a comment.

Top 10 Tuesday: 10 books on my shelves since before I was blogging that I still haven’t read



Questions? Before I was blogging…..which time? First time was way, way back in 2005? 2006? And, do unread Kindle books count? I’ll just try to pick some from both pre-blogging, and stopped blogging, time period. There are too many unread Kindle books to list–anyone else have that problem? Thank you Book Bub.


  1. Blitz Cat  by Robert Westall
  2. The Florist’s Daughter by Patricia Hampf
  3. Must You Go?  by Antonia Fraser
  4. Forsyte Saga by John Gallsworthy
  5. Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway
  6. The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin
  7. Well-Read Lives by Barbara Sicherman
  8. Miner’s Daughter by Gretchen Moran Laskas
  9. Thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena di Blasi
  10. The Button Box by Ruth Ellen Patton Totten


Don’t miss yesterday’s posts–just click the link to read:

The Atomic Weight of Love: Cross-Generational Love in Fiction

Reflections on the Perks of Being a Wallflower or Finding Myself at 54 Thanks to a YA Book


What have you bought and not read yet? Leave me a link to your post or a comment with book titles. Or why not join the fun at The Broke and the Bookish.

Top 5 Wednesday: Favorite First Sentences


First lines from two all-time favorite books




“Well, we never thought it could happen, but here we are living with Gran in East Haddock (Mass.).

The Joyous Season by Patrick Dennis. This book is an annual re-read for me at Christmas time. I’ve posted on it before in my occasional series on Fictional Characters I Wish Were Real #1.





“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized that when caught by her charms as the Tarleton twins were. In here face were too sharply blended the features of her mother, a Coast aristocrat of French descent and the heavy ones of her florid Irish father….”

Ok, that’s the first TWO, but from memory.  Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.



The Opening Lines of Two Books I’m Currently Reading





“In early January of 2011, forty-five  hundred red-winged black-birds fell dead from the Arkansas skies.”

The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church






“A surging, seething, murmuring crowd of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and hate.”

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy





Opening Line of the Last Book I Finished



“Lars Thorvald loved two women.” 

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal






Do you enjoy fun lists like this? Then join the Goodreads.com group Top 5 Wednesday and be part of the weekly meet-up.






Top Ten Books With the Civil War as the Setting


 Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored,
He has loosed the fateful lightening of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on….

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps
l can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps
His day is marching on…..

The First Ten

Before I begin the list, I must tell you I’m a lifelong Civil War fanatic. I wrote earlier this year about a Civil War themed book that validated much of my childhood as a geek more interested in the Civil War than in David Cassidy or Donny Osmond. You can read that post here if you like. Lest there be any doubt, yes, I’ve read them all. Some (not only GWTW) more than once.

Note: I have not included actual histories of the war, but I urge you, if that is your interest, to read the classic books by Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote.

THE Civil War novel–at least of the South’s war.



Rhett Butler–the ultimate Bad Boy. Scarlett O’Hara–a Southern Belle Badass. Melanie Wilkes, a Steel Magnolia of the most refined sort. Ashley Wilkes, spineless dreamer. Sigh….now I’ll be forced to go home and re-read my favorite parts for the 400th or so time.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.



 One story–from two sides: Little Women and March.

Little Women  by Louisa May Alcott is the home front story of the devoted wife and daughters, waiting for Father to return.

March by Geraldine Brooks is Father’s story.

Note: There are other editions of Little Women–I just happen to love this new annotated version. If cost is an issue, just pick up any version for the story. Remember, I do not make money if you click on a link.

 A Fabulous Series


The three  books by Jeff and Michael Shaara are very, very readable. The epic movie Gettysburg is based on The Killer Angel

Gods and Generals, The Killer Angels and The Last Full Measure by Shara. These books are also available individually.

The Believable Ones With Women Disguised as Men


I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe was the first ever women-as-a-man book that I finished and believed could have been true.

Like a River by Kath Cannon Wiechman is the second such book. It is a Young Person’s book but is a marvelous read. I featured it in my post If You Love Mercy Street

The War in the White House From Both Sides



Lincoln by Gore Vidal

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini


Bonus Titles

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnish`d rows of steel,
“As ye deal with my contemners, So with you my grace shall deal;”
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel
Since God is marching on….

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on….

Two What If’s


If The South Had Won the War by MacKinlay Kantor This book practically invented the “what if” genre. An excellent, fast, read.

CSA: Confederate States of America by Howard Means  What if…in a current-day setting.

A Superb Christian Series


I’m not big on Christian publishing, but I anxiously await Lynn Austin’s books. Of the three books in this series, I enjoyed the middle one most–so much so that I asked her to write a sequel. Since I’m not her agent I won’t hold my breath, but I do wish she’d consider it.

Refiner’s Fire: Candle in the Darkness, Fire by Night and A Light To My Path by Lynn Austin–also available separately.




The Pacifist View



Southern Indiana Quaker’s, across the river from Kentucky, must rely on their faith in times of tria.

The Friendly Persuasion by Jessamyn West





The Real Life View From Richmond and Points South



Mary Chestnut’s Diary


Mary Chestnut’s very observant eye helped her Confederate Cabinet Member husband, James, during the war. Her diary is a gold-mine of home front information, Cabinet gossip and war-weariness. One of my all-time favorite Civil War books.



Two Classics Often Read in School



If you missed these in school, read them now. You’ll love them even more.

Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, is the story of a young soldier’s fear in battle.

Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt, I read this on a band trip in 1976. It’s still excellent.


In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on.


Join the fun on Top Ten Tuesday at the Broke




My 20 Books of Summer


I did not do a challenge for this–its simply what I read or listened to. The majority are audios since I get 2.5 hours per work day in the car–sometimes more if I drive anywhere on the weekends.

Top Three



The Full List


The Hired Girl
Brat Farrar
Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday
Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters
The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory
Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes
The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House Between the Wars
The Nightingale
Every Frenchman Has One
Vinegar Girl
The Sky Beneath My Feet
Saving Charlotte: Fumbling Across America with a Reluctant VW Bus
The Diving Pool: Three Novellas
Originals: How Nonconformists Move the World
Summer House with Swimming Pool
The Bridge Ladies
H is for Hawk
The Headmaster’s Wager
Barefoot At The Lake: A Boyhood Summer in Cottage Country

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑