Posts Tagged ‘1960s’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Heidi B’s Picks

December 17, 2014

I am an eclectic reader, and 2014 saw my reading choices all over the map. I love grown-up chick lit (sometimes known as the more serious Women’s Fiction, or even domestic fiction), coming of age stories, and anything related to how the human body works. Below are my five choices for books I read in 2014 that made an impact on me; most are not new, but new to me. Happy reading!

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
This is a terrific book that often is unfortunately labeled as a “teen novel.” Chboksy’s debut novel is a cult classic as well as being critically acclaimed; no easy feat. Anyone who navigated adolescence (uh, all of us) can relate to some aspect of Charlie, an awkward wallflower and high school freshman that no one seems to notice. Well-drawn characters, realistic dialogue, and a plot twist at the end all make for a classic.  See my full review.

The ShiftThe Shift by Tory Johnson
The subtitle of this book is, “How I Finally Lost Weight and Discovered a Happier Life,” but this is not a “diet” book. This is one woman’s narrative on how she shifted her entire life, her way of eating, and her place in the world, all in one year. Oh, and by the way, lost the 70 pounds that had dogged her for 40 years. Everyone I know who has read this book has read this in one sitting; a couple of people I know and love have made major changes to their health due to this book. Hat’s off to Johnson for an inspirational read.  See my full review.

Wishin' and Hopin'Wishin’ and Hopin’: A Christmas Story by Wally Lamb
Who doesn’t feel even a tiny bit nostalgic when seeing the endless running of “A Christmas Story” on cable TV? Come on, admit it: you do. Wishin’ and Hopin’ is a delightful Christmas tale by veteran storyteller Wally Lamb; a racier, edgier, more irreverent 1960’s version of the classic Red Rider BB Gun tale A Christmas Story. Set in 1960’s Connecticut and told through the eyes of 10-year-old Felix Funnicello (cousin to Annette), this is a delightful, coming of age story with a nostalgic twist.  See my full review.

The Story of the Human BodyThe Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, Disease by Daniel Lieberman
The history of our bodies, in terms of evolution, is a complex and fascinating subject. Lieberman is a Harvard professor of human evolutionary biology, as well as being a gifted writer. He tells the story of human evolution in a manner that is readable like a biography, and as compelling at times as any thriller. What made humans become bipedal? (hint: to see over tall grasses!) Why did we move from hunting and gathering our food, to farming it? What aspects of our development contributed (and continue to contribute) to diseases that plague us? Lieberman is a talented and popular science writer. What could have easily have become mired in jargon is explained for the layperson. A fascinating read.  See my full review.

The Husband's SecretThe Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
The premise in The Husband’s Secret is: what would do if your husband had a deep, dark secret that might shatter your life, and like ripples in a pool, the lives of others? This is grown up chick lit with stories of lives that intersect told in alternating chapters. A sharper reader may pick up on how these women’s lives intersect, but I never saw it coming. The ending was a blockbuster.

Wishin’ and Hopin’: a Christmas Story by Wally Lamb

November 26, 2014

Who doesn’t feel even a tiny bit nostalgic when seeing the endless running of “The Christmas Story” on cable TV? Come on, admit it: you do. Wishin’ and Hopin’ is a delightful Christmas tale by veteran storyteller Wally Lamb (and resident of my hometown in Connecticut!); a racier, edgier, more irreverent 1960’s version of the classic Red Rider BB Gun tale, The Christmas Story (which by the way was based on a book by Jean Shepherd.) Wishin’ and Hopin’ is a short novel sure to get you in the holiday spirit.

It’s 1964 in fictional Three Rivers, Connecticut, and 10-year-old Felix Funicello (yes, related to ANNETTE) is in the fifth grade at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School, in love with his teacher and the new mysterious Russian transfer student Zhenya Kabakova. Lamb describes the novel; “It’s 1964 and ten-year-old Felix is sure of a few things: the birds and the bees are puzzling, television is magical, and this is one Christmas he’ll never forget.” That about sums it up, with the addition of a Christmas pageant at school that spins off into crazy land. This is a hilarious coming of age story set at Christmas; baby boomers especially will find this a romp of a read, full of cultural references from the 60’s that are sure to strike pangs of nostalgia for an earlier time.

The movie will air on the Lifetime Network, on December 6.  It is narrated by Chevy Chase, and stars Molly Ringwald, Annabella Sciorra, Cheri Oteri, and Meat Loaf (as the Monsignor!).

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Canada by Richard Ford

September 5, 2014

Canad The beginning of this distinctly American novel is shocking and that shock started a low level of dread inside that did not leave me until days after I finished reading it. Our hero is 14 year old Dell Parsons, son of Bev and Neeva, brother of Berner. The family is living in Great Falls, a large town in 1960’s Montana as the story begins. They seem to be a happy, if slightly odd family. We know early on that major upheavals are in store for all four of them, and the subtle writing style keeps us on edge. We don’t know if it will be hilarious or crushing.

This is a large and sometimes slow story, but skipping ahead or skimming is not recommended. The beauty and complexities of the design need to be appreciated. The novel presents some large questions about family, love, and one’s relationship to the land.Terrible and unbelievable things happen to all the Parsons while in Montana, in spite of the normalcy all around them. The second half of the book is set in Saskatchewan, Canada, in a town truly out of time and place, another planet in many ways. The writing is always beautiful and stark, with a streak of dark humor.

Dell tells his tale as a flashback right up until the end of the book, so he is not quite a reliable narrator. This gives the reader plenty to think about, as Dell struggles to come of age and to regain a sense of connection with the world and grieve over the tragic dissolution of his family.

Richard Ford is the author of several other books, including The Sportswriter and the Pulitzer Prizewinning Independence Day.


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Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

April 18, 2014

Ordinary Grace by William Kent KruegerOrdinary Grace is narrated by the character of Frank Drum when he is an older man.  He reflects upon the summer of 1961, when he was 13 years old and growing up in the small Midwestern town of New Bremen, Minnesota.

Frank is the son of the town’s dutiful Methodist minister.  His mother, beautiful and talented, is still not completely resigned to having become a minister’s wife.  She had expected to be a lawyer’s wife, until Frank’s father was called to change careers. She resents the time he spends with his flock, but adapts by using her musical talents in the church and grooming Frank’s older sister for the type of musical career that she wishes she could have had.  Frank’s younger brother is wise beyond his years, but sensitive and beset by bullies because of his stutter. Frank himself is reaching towards adulthood, and realizing that some things are much different than they seem on the surface.

The idyllic setting and delicate balance of characters in Krueger’s book are pulled into crisis as several deaths occur in Bremen throughout the summer.  Some of the deaths only affect the Drum family in a distant and philosophical way, but others hit much closer to home. This is a coming of age story for Frank, who learns about caring, believing, tragedy, miracles and grace as the summer progresses.

Like most of Krueger’s other works, this is a mystery.  He is well known for his popular mystery series featuring detective Cork O’Connor.  But Ordinary Grace does not follow the traditional detective and clues format, and is a much more literary creation.

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Ticket to Ride: Inside the Beatles’ 1964 Tour that Changed the World by Larry Kane

August 28, 2013

In 1964 there were four visitors to the United States, and the music world would never be the same. Their names were Paul, John, George and Ringo, and they may well be the greatest rock group to ever inhabit this planet. Larry Kane, an American journalist out of Miami and station WFUN, was lucky enough to be part of the official press group, and this is his story of the Fab Four’s American adventure in 1964 and ’65.

Kane was a 21-year-old reporter when he was selected to become part of the official press group assigned to follow the Beatles as they performed across the country. Each stop became it’s own adventure, whether it was Chicago, Seattle, Vancouver,Detroit, Montreal,New York, Atlantic City, Philadelphia or Hollywood. Kane was the same age as the group, and maybe this enabled him to get close to them. The tour was unreal, exciting, pulsating, and dangerous! Fans, mostly young women, attempted to do anything to break through security to get close to the group. One young woman broke through the ceiling tiles at a hotel and crashed near Kane. Some women swore that they were destined to marry Paul or John. The world had never seen anything like this, and maybe never would again. Security became a real problem because local authorities had no concept of the effect that the Beatles were having on the world.

This book is the delightful tale of a ‘brave’ reporter, and his tour and rapport with John, Paul, George and Ringo. Besides the Beatles you will meet Elvis ,Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, the Beach Boys and other stars of that era. Fifty years later, I still love the Beatles! And so does Larry Kane. A bonus CD allows you to listen to some of the interviews. For a while you will be transferred to another era, a more innocent time.

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Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2012: Lynn W.’s Picks

December 31, 2012

Today’s blog talks about five audio books I’ve enjoyed during 2012. I listen to fiction and memoirs, and if read by the author, all the better. Each year, I stumble onto a children’s book title and find juvenile fiction altogether as engaging as adult fiction, so one is included here. — Lynn W.

This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection by Carol Burnett
Carol presents a series of short vignettes from her private and performing life. Some feature her grandmother, Nanny, a real character, who loved show business and the contacts she made through Carol and capitalized on them. There are funny stories, like how her adoration of Jimmy Stewart panned out the first time they met on a set when she got her foot stuck in a pail of whitewash and walked out with it still attached, too tongue-tied to say a word. The author reads this collection, adding to the emotional depth and also the comic moments.

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels – a Love Story by Ree Drummond
If ever there was a mismatch, it was Ree and Marlboro Man. Ree, a native Oklahoman, went to southern California for college and never looked back towards Tulsa except for holidays. Now in her mid-twenties, home is a pit stop on her way to the big time in Chicago. While there she hits a bar with friends and meets Marlboro Man, a tall, strong, real-life cowboy. Their story, read by the author in her authentic and charming Oklahoma voice, is a true love story. We never learn Marlboro Man’s name, but we sure feel the heat develop between them.

The Forgotten Affairs of Youth by Alexander McCall Smith
This eighth Isabel Dalhousie mystery set in Edinburgh, Scotland pleases the ear with soft Scottish accents and descriptions of the gray city and green countryside. Isabel Dalhousie, a philosopher, is approached by a visiting Australian philosopher seeking her biological father’s identity. This is the “mystery.” Isabel and her fiancé Jamie are planning their wedding, all the while watching their beautiful son grow from day to day. This series is a leisurely walk through Scotland’s capital, meeting along the way fascinating people and places and everyday concerns.

The Night Train by Clyde Edgerton
Two teenage boys in 1960s small town North Carolina form a friendship over their love of jazz, a relationship not exactly accepted in this segregated community. Dwayne absolutely loves James Brown’s Live at the Apollo album, while Larry Lime is a pianist wanting to learn Thelonious Monk’s style from a jazz musician called the Bleeder. Their story and shenanigans will entertain while showing music is truly one of the ways humans unite and move beyond their differences. This audio is well-read, giving voice to accents and origins with accuracy.

Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath
If your parents disappeared one stormy night and your fishing village neighbors were forced to take you in, how would you feel? Especially if almost everyone is sure your parents were drowned at sea and you are absolutely certain they are merely delayed returning? Primrose Squarp tells her own story; her twelve-year-old point of view of friends (does she have any left?) and neighbors (including Miss Perfidy, who is paid by the town to care for Primrose) is fresh and rings true. Over the months, Primrose rediscovers her uncle, goes into foster care, and begins work on a cookbook while she awaits her parents’ return. This is a delightful mood lifter.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2012: Pam W.’s Picks

December 17, 2012

I like to read from just about every section of the library, although I am especially partial to mysteries. I also tend to re-read books that I have enjoyed a lot. This list covers a little of everything and includes books I discovered for the first time this year as well as a few favorites I read for the second (or third) time. — Pam W.

The Last Child by John Hart
Johnny Merrimon was only 13 when his twin sister went missing. He has never given up the belief that she was alive somewhere but no one seems to be looking for her anymore, so Johnny decides to find her himself. What Johnny doesn’t know is that the officer in charge of the investigation has also never given up on Alyssa. He is keeping an eye on Johnny as well to make sure nothing happens to him. When another child disappears, Johnny and Detective Clyde Hunt find themselves mixed up with the worst elements of their town. This was an absolutely riveting book and the best one by Hart so far.

Magic Time by Doug Marlette
Marlette tells two stories in this book, one set in the racially charged days of 1964, and one set in the present day. Carter Ransom has gone back to his hometown in Mississippi after suffering a break down, only to find an event from his past has come back to haunt him. In 1964 several civil rights workers were killed in when a church was burned down. Carter’s girlfriend at the time was one of those killed. To complicate matters, Carter’s father was the presiding judge in the trial of the man accused of this crime. The trial took place in the 1980’s and the man was not convicted, but the trial is now being reexamined. Bringing up the past is painful, and possible dangerous, for everyone who was involved.

When I Married My Mother: A Daughter’s Search for What Really Matters-and How She Found It Caring for Mama Jo by Jo Maeder
Jo Maeder had lived in New York City for years when she found out that her mother was ill. The two had not been in contact for a number of years and Maeder was appalled when she found out the horrible living conditions her mother had been reduced to. Her mother was suffering from dementia and had been hoarding so much stuff you could barely walk in her house. Maeder did not know how they would get along living together, she only knew that she had to take care of her, so she left her job and moved in with her mother down south in the Bible belt. Her “marriage” to her mother truly changed her life. Maeder’s story is not new, but her story is told with humor and true compassion. I found it very compelling and not depressing at all.

Faithful Place by Tana French
French’s series about the Dublin murder squad is different than many mystery series’. Instead of following one detective through a number of different investigations, French switches focus in each book. Faithful Place, the third book in the series, is my favorite. It follows Detective Frank Mackey as he investigates a body found in an old building in the neighborhood he grew up in. When he was a young man, his girlfriend disappeared on the night they were going to run away together and Frank always thought she left without him. Now, he finds out she was murdered, and he is determined to find out who did it. This is fascinating look at family dynamics and loyalties.

An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor
Fans of All Creatures Great and Small or Maeve Binchy’s books will love this book set in Northern Ireland in the 1960’s. Barry Laverty has just finished medical school and has taken a job in the small town of Ballybucklebo, which is so small it barely shows up on the maps. He is not sure what to make of his new boss, who seems very gruff and old fashioned. He also finds the locals eccentric and difficult to understand. Gradually, Barry starts to fit in and learn how closely everyone in the town cares for one another. This is a heartwarming story told with lots of humor.

Best New Books of 2012: Janet L.’s Picks

December 10, 2012

What do a clerk in a 24-hour bookstore, a snake-handling faith healer, a man walking 500 miles to visit a sick friend, a hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail and Richard Burton have in common? (And it doesn’t involve marrying Elizabeth Taylor.) Rather, they all figure somehow in my five favorite books of 2012. My reading tastes are eclectic, but I read more literary fiction and mysteries than anything else. Language, atmosphere, setting, and believable characters are all important to me.  — Janet L.

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
Marshall, North Carolina, has a new church, the River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following. It’s led by a charismatic preacher, Carson Chambliss, a man with a talent for snake handling. Stump Hall, a young autistic boy, witnesses something at the church that leads to tragedy. Sheriff Clem Barefield is determined to find out what happened, no matter what the consequences. This is Cash’s debut novel and it’s a beauty; gorgeous writing, believable characters and gothic overtones. Recommended for readers of Ron Rash, John Hart and Tom Franklin.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Harold Fry is surprised to receive a letter from Queenie Hennessey, who is seriously ill and has written to say goodbye. They were friends once, but parted in strained circumstances. Mild mannered Harold is so shocked by this news he behaves spontaneously and begins a 500 mile journey by foot to say goodbye to Queenie, convinced she will not die as long as he is walking. Recommended for readers of Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Berg and Anna Quindlen.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
I adored this book. It has a likeable narrator, Clay Jannon, who clerks in a mysterious bookshop run by the fascinating Mr. Penumbra. The theme of Old Knowledge (books) vs. Internet knowledge allows the author to slip in scenes at Google, a museum dedicated to knitting overrun by children, arcane information about fonts, and a computer whiz who made a fortune creating realistic 3-D versions of breasts. This book is fun. It’s the kind of book that made a reader of me, the kind of book that keeps me reading, the kind of book I can’t wait to tell people about. Recommended for readers of Jasper Fforde and Terry Pratchett.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Hunched under a too heavy backpack quickly nicknamed Monster, Cheryl Strayed begins a real life journey along the Pacific Crest Trail that is spiritual as well as physical. Her plans for her hike are soon revealed as inadequate (who knew water weighed so much?) and she must improvise as she goes along—much as we all have to adjust in life when our best laid plans go awry. I found Strayed’s account of her hike riveting, profound, hilarious and suspenseful. Recommended for readers of Jeannette Walls, Jon Krakauer and Dave Eggers.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
It’s 1962 and Pasquale Tursi, owner of the Hotel Adequate View in Porto Vergogna, Italy, is immediately smitten by Dee Moray, an American starlet who arrives at his hotel fresh from the set of the movie Cleopatra. Their story (with a supporting appearance from Richard Burton) connects to present day Hollywood and the career of Claire, assistant to legendary producer Michael Deane. Walter creates a truly romantic story that underscores his theme of how life and art intersect.

Best New Books of 2012: Pam W.’s Picks

December 5, 2012

I am a big fan of mysteries, but I also like to read a little of everything else, especially if it is set in jolly old England. 2012 was a really good year for new books, I have to say.   There were so many good books that I found it hard to narrow it to a small list, but here are my five of my favorites from this year! — Pam W.

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
Caren, the caretaker of a plantation in Louisiana, is the descendant of slaves who worked on the same plantation. Her mother was also once the cook for the family who own the plantation, so the family has several generations of complicated history with the house and the owners. When Caren finds a young migrant worker on the land who was murdered, the investigation becomes entwined with the murder of a former slave who was Caren’s ancestor 100 years ago. I found the double murder plot intriguing and the setting was very unusual. Locke’s spooky setting and eerie suspense make this novel more than a traditional mystery.

Beastly Things by Donna Leon
When the body of a disfigured man is found in a canal, the police wonder how to go about investigating his death. No one has been reported missing, and they can’t post a photograph to get an identification. The autopsy shows that the man had a rare disease that caused the disfiguration. This gives the police a name and leads them to a slaughterhouse where he worked as a veterinarian. But was the murderer someone he knew professionally or personally? This 21st book in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series is typical of Leon’s fine work. There are usually two or more investigations taking place at the same time, and each case tends to raise more issues than a simply murder mystery. In addition, the reader is given a glimpse into how an average Venetian lives through the life of Brunetti and his family. Start with the first book if you can, but this one is a good read by itself.

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn
William Kuhn’s story is one I’m sure many folks have thought about in passing over the years. What is the Queen really like? Does she enjoy her life? Does she ever wish to be someone or somewhere else? In Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, the author imagines the answers to those questions. One day, the Queen finds herself outside of Buckingham Palace on her own. She begins to walk down the street and realizes she can slip away from all of her guards and staff for a while. Meanwhile, the palace staff race to find her before word leaks out that she is missing. I loved how Kuhn’s vision of the Queen makes her seem very human. I would recommend this book highly and I think fans of Downton Abbey and Upstairs/Downstairs will enjoy this modern version of what goes on behind the palace doors.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
In this updated version of Jane Eyre, Gemma Hardy is taken from Iceland to Scotland after the death of her parents to live with relatives, only to lose her beloved uncle soon after. Her aunt and cousins are not kind to Gemma, so she is happy when she finds they are sending her to boarding school. Unfortunately, she is little more than a servant in the school. Gemma is strong and resourceful, though, and survives the school long enough to get a position as a governess. The setting of Scotland in the 1950’s is interesting and Gemma is a very appealing character who I was pulling for from the beginning.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Julia is only eleven when the earth’s rotation starts slowing down. At first no one knows what will happen in the future. Will the slowing wreak havoc, or will it simply mean a change in schedule? For Julia, life is simply weirder than it was. Everything had already begun to change for her because she went from elementary school to middle school. Her old friends are no longer interested in her and she suddenly has become a loner. Her parents seem suddenly to be different and less dependable than she always thought. The boy she has a crush on is friendly on some days but on others he ignores her. How is a young girl to make sense of her own life when the whole world is going crazy? Thompson’s novel is less a post-apocalyptic novel and more a coming of age story, but a very good one. Riveting and intense, you won’t forget this book easily.

The Way the Crow Flies by Anne-Marie MacDonald

July 12, 2012

A sweet, dark, rich novel set in the Cold War era of rural Ontario, Canada and told through the eyes of Madeleine McCarthy, an eight year old To Kill a Mockingbird Scout-like character.

Madeleine is a smart, precocious child whose Royal Canadian Air Force father Jack is transferred from Germany to the barren Centralia Air Force Base, not exactly a plum posting. Jack is assigned to the base to watch a Soviet defector who is secreted into the United States to work on missiles, but Jack’s mission is undercover.

The amazing thing about this novel is that the structure is not static – it starts as a slow and innocent narrative, an almost idyllic portrayal of life in the 1960’s, as Madeleine describes rural military base life, her drop-dead gorgeous mother Mimi’s antics, and her protective older brother Mike. The plot darkens with the discovery of a child’s body in a barren field; with that, the novel becomes a becomes a twisty, labyrinth of secrets.

Madeleine hides from her parents a teacher who steals her innocence. Her father has his own secrets that threaten to destroy his family as well as national security. The ending, related through Madeleine’s adult eyes, is riveting and unexpected. Ultimately, this is a compelling novel about secrets, relationships, and coming of age violently in a topsy-turvy world.

Learn more about author Anne-Marie McDonald.

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