May Reading Round Up

My May reading list erred on the side of “things you shouldn’t read during a pandemic or other depressing time in your life.” One selection was so troubling that I didn’t even want to read anymore but I’m glad I trudged through and finished it.

Here’s the rundown:

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purcell was time consuming. I was excited to start it but lost my zeal to read about halfway through. This is nonfiction about an American socialite turned spy during World War II. She was a hero of the French Resistance who spent years evading and sabotaging the Nazis.

The author did a good job drawing the reader into this confusing and terrifying world.

The Nazis were notoriously cruel but especially ruthless toward women so capture was unthinkable. Sadly, the story became almost too much to absorb. However, she was an incredible woman and I’m glad I know about her. I’m equally glad to be done with it.

Tony’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani was another good story in a long line of books by an author that I adore. This one is set during the Big Band era and World War II. There are a few flaws to the story including the mention of transistor radios years before they existed but the plot is fun and I enjoyed the break after the horrors of the French Resistance.

No Dream Is Too High by Buzz Aldrin tells an important tale from American and space history. He seems like a likable guy but I didn’t especially enjoy the book. Don’t ask because I don’t know why. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for it but it seemed to me like there were too many technical details to speak to a general audience but probably not enough for the space fans in the audience. However, it is inspiring to think about all he accomplished and I’m glad this American hero chose to record his own account of his life.

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens is a page turning thriller and an all around good ride. It’s a timely reminder that where humans are concerned there often is more. than meets the eye. This novel tells the story of a college student who investigates a decades old murder, uncovering the truth about a man wrongly convicted of that murder. I know how it ends but would read it again.

Infamy by Richard Reeves is the one that really made me hate reading, if only for just a little while. However, I’m glad I read the book despite the mental anguish inflicted by this meticulously researched and presented book.

This is the most emotionally exhausting book I’ve read in a while. It details how over 120,000 Japanese Americans and aliens were legally and forcefully removed from their homes and relocated to American government run internment camps.

It also talks about the honorable service to the American military given by young Japanese Americans. Many died in the war, others came home with a chest full of medals only to be refused services, threatened, and run out of their own homes.

It’s a timely, disturbing reminder of what happens when we allow mass hysteria and racism to be disguised as patriotism.

Dimestore by Lee Smith was the best thing I read all month. You may be familiar with southerner Lee Smith’s fiction writing but this is a collection of essays that tell the story of her upbringing in rural Virginia. Her dad owned the dimestore in town and her perspective as a child in this hamlet reminds me a lot of the character Scout in Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

She also gives some insight into the world of writing, making me want to sit down and start writing a book.

However, I fear whatever I might write will appear in a callous blogger’s round up of books someday so I may just stick to the reading side of things!

What books are you reading?

Brandi’s Life Of Quarantine Book Club

As you can see from the stack, I’m still at home and still reading. These are the selections from Brandi’s Life of Quarantine Book Club in April. Membership consists of just me and there’s no rhyme or reason to the selections.

This was a good news/bad news kind of month. The good news is that I finally finished the Richard Paul Evans Road trilogy. I’m not a huge fan but he is typically feel good and uplifting. Something that I find necessary right now.

The bad news is that I discovered the annoying world of self published books on Amazon. Some are great. Some aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. This particular book was about the Zoot Suit Riots but was basically just a patchwork of quotes from news articles.

There were some standouts too.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a beautiful book. This bestseller has received a lot of hype, causing me to put off reading it because the hyped-up books often don’t appeal to me.

The author is actually a zoologist by trade and this was her first novel so I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect the reclusive main character to be so real and relatable. Known to the community as Marsh Girl, she lives apart from society, her life shaped by her childhood and her future determined by a community that judged her from afar.

It reminds me of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, my favorite book of all time.

Quiet by Susan Cain was a real treat. It’s well researched and smartly written, providing insight into the differences between introverts and extroverts. It thoroughly explains why introverts are so easily dismissed.

Between a third and half of the workforce is introverted so I believe this should be required reading for anyone who manages people or plans work spaces. Many famous introverts changed the world including Rosa Parks and Steve Wozniak. There would be no Alice in Wonderland if not for an introvert.

It turns a bit dry at times but is still an excellent use of your time. There’s even advice for parents of introverted children and teachers who need to find a way to work with different learning styles.

The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon is a page turner. She has mastered the art of suspense and the craft of intertwining multiple stories into one. While one story begins during the golden age of travel at a roadside motel, another picks up the story years later when the interstate system has left the hotel rundown and closed. But there’s a secret, monsters and lots of intrigue. Well worth your time.

Yankee Doodle Gals: Women Pilots of World War II was written for a younger audience but is an excellent read for anyone – especially those interested in World War II history, aviation and women’s rights.

It uses a lot of great photos and thoughtful text to tell the story of how women flew 77 kinds of military aircraft during the war, doing work with planes that some male pilots were afraid to fly. They trained as Army but, despite promises they would soon be part of the Army, it never happened and they were dismissed with just a letter of thanks. It took decades for them to be recognized for the heroic work they did for the American war effort. You can get a gently used copy from a small bookseller on Alibris.com for under $3 plus $3.99 shipping and it is worth your money to do so. Also, it’s not just for girls! Have your boys read it too!

Honorable Mention goes to Jeffrey Archer’s Only Time Will Tell. I truly enjoyed this story. It’s the first in a series and I have ordered the next two books from small booksellers on Alibris. We will see if Archer maintains my attention!

What have you been reading?

Doing My Part One Book At A Time

The nice thing about being a reader is that this simple act allows you to move freely through time and space without leaving your chair.

The nice thing about the internet is that you can shop for books without leaving your house.

I’ve been doing my part to stimulate the economy and to support small businesses by buying books from the website Alibris.com. It’s sort of like Amazon for books only it’s mostly small booksellers. You can buy new or used and so far, I’ve found fair prices on everything I have wanted to buy.

In fact, every title I have purchased so far has cost between .99 and $2.99 for both hardbacks and softcovers. New and newer books obviously cost more. You do pay to ship but it’s typically $3 or $4 and some retailers will reduce your shipping costs if you buy more than one item from them.

You can search by title, author or ISBN. You can also browse by topic or store. The books are listed by the store and include full descriptions including condition and edition. This is helpful because you may want the newer reprint of an older book.

So far, I have no complaints about condition or quality. If you’re accustomed to free and quick shipping from Barnes and Noble or Amazon, this can take a little longer but not by much.

I try to buy from small Ohio booksellers although the only chain stores I have seen listed are Half Price Books.

There are few bookstores in my area and they’re all closed right now. Plus, I like supporting the mom and pop stores. Even though my orders are never for a lot of money, I hope that it all adds up!

Meanwhile, my reading stack is piling up again and I look forward to opening my mailbox every day. And I always say that having something to look forward to is a key to happiness!

Plus, instead of adding them to my bookshelves, the new titles are stacked together in my laundry room and when I’m ready for a new book I go “shop” the new stack!

March Reading Roundup

Books have been my lifeline these last few months. I set a goal for myself to read a hundred books this year and I’m already on my fortieth. Granted some have been short and some have been books about photographers which usually are very picture heavy.

The photo above shows the pile of March books – it’s a mix of photography, history and novels of all kinds. My favorite among these was The Jerrie Mock Story which I wrote about last month. Please go read her story if you haven’t already. She deserves to be remembered.

Here are a few other notables:

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson A fictional account inspired by fact, this book is a real gem in my estimation. It’s a good story but there are two things at play that really captured my imagination. The main character is a woman named Bluet who worked as a traveling librarian in Kentucky during the Depression. This government program brought reading materials to the hills and hollers of an area where life was grueling and entertainment scarce. Many patrons were illiterate and relied on a family member or neighbor to read to them. The librarians traveled this rugged countryside by horse with materials packed in saddle bags.

The other piece of the story is that Bluet is believed to be the last Blue Fugate of Kentucky. This family had a rare genetic disorder that caused their skin to be blue. If you do nothing else, Google the Blue Fugates of Kentucky but I recommend reading the novel as well.

Helmets and Lipstick by Ruth G. Haskell This is the first hand account of an Army nurse serving in North Africa during Operation Torch. It starts with her deployment and journey to North Africa via Scotland. Parts are witty and light while others are dark and frightening.

Published in 1944, it was part memoir and part call to action as the Army badly needed combat nurses during the war. It offers insight into the war from a female perspective and a more human narrative than you’ll find in any history book.

Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani I’m still working my way through the Adriana Trigiani catalog and have found that you can’t go wrong with her writing. This particular book cost $2 at Dollar General, proof that you should never judge a book by its placement in the bargain bin.

This one tells the story of a young woman in nineteen fifties New York and offers insight into a slice of life I didn’t quite realize existed.

Vivian Meier Street Photographer Edited by Joan Maloof Vivian Meier was a prolific street photographer of the mid 20th century. She worked as a nanny, spending her free time quietly slipping through the world and documenting anything that caught her eye. She mostly did this unnoticed and she died without ever publishing a single photo.

No one knew her name until a box of her negatives was found at an auction. Her photographs are insightful and moving, sometimes humorous, and always a delight to study.

** What are you reading right now? **

The Jerrie Mock Story

On this day in 1964 an Ohio woman set out to make history. Her name was Jerrie Mock and her goal was to be the first woman to fly solo around the world.

You likely think this record was set by Amelia Earhart but you would be wrong. It was an Ohioan, a housewife who wanted to do something important who set this record.

She departed Columbus in a single engine Cessna 180 that she christened the “Spirit of Columbus.” It took 29 days to cover the nearly than 23,000 miles, besting a California woman who was simultaneously attempting the same feat.

I had heard Jerrie’s story before but recently read a book about her. In fact, it’s the only book about her in print today. The only other book I know of is something Jerrie wrote about the journey that has been out of print for decades.

This particular book is a biography for young readers and it’s well done but it’s a biography for young readers, for crying out loud.

There have been shelves of books written about male aviators. The only female aviator to get much attention at all is Amelia Earhart and most of what is written is centered on her disappearance and the conspiracy theories surrounding what happens.

Even Bessie Coleman who I told you about earlier this year has just a few volumes despite her trailblazing life and career.

Some documentaries about the women’s air races of the twenties and work done about the WASPs of World War II have shown a fresh light on womens’ contributions to aviation but it seems like we can do better.

Jerrie Mock sounds like a real character and like my kind of gal. She struggled mentally to keep her schedule because she wanted to sightsee in the exotic places where she stopped!

I would be the same way, likely deciding halfway through to sacrifice the record for cultural enrichment and photo ops.

She set several records during her aviation career and received countless honors but her accomplishments have very much been lost to time. Instead of being a household name like Amelia Earhart or Charles Lindbergh, she’s a novelty. A trivia question.

And that’s a darn shame.

If you’re interested, her plane is on display in the National Air and Space Museum in Virginia. If you can’t make it there, I hope you’ll at least read the book and tell her story to others as a way to honor this woman.

February Reading

The last couple of months have been an extremely productive reading time for me. Adventure season will be underway soon and reading time will be more scarce but for now I’m focusing on a few simple rules – always carry a book, turn off the tv, and choose reading over mindless activities.

It’s worked well so far although many were quite easy this month as my brain has been on overload. Here’s the February pile.

You don’t want to read a review of them all but I will point out a few even though I loved every single one.

Dear Photograph by Taylor Jones

This is a delightful book based around a simple concept. Hold up a photo from the past in the place where it was originally taken. Then write a sentence about what that photo means to you. It’s an easy read but thought provoking at times. It’s also fun to pull off the shelf when you just need something a little different.

Hannah’s Suitcase by Karen Levine

This title was written for a young audience so it was an easy read but one of the most moving books I’ve read in a long time. It tells the story of how the director of a Holocaust museum in Japan tracked down the fate of a little girl who was sent to Auschwitz. The museum had received the girl’s suitcase which had her name printed on the side. That’s all the director had to work with – the girl’s name – to unravel the story of what happened to her and her family.

This is difficult subject matter but the story is told respectfully and I am grateful that I stumbled into this book.

Survivor’s Club by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

CBS This Morning featured a moving segment about the Holocaust last month. It talked about how this horrific event is being forgotten by younger generations and about the increase in people who believe that it didn’t happen at all.

They interviewed MichaeL Bornstein whose photograph was taken in 1945 when he was carried out of Auschwitz in his grandmother’s arms. He was just four that day and had known only loss and misery in his short life. The fact he survived the camp is nothing short of a miracle as the Nazis killed most children on the day they arrived.

The reason he told his story is that he saw his likeness – the picture he uses on the book cover – on a website that denies the Holocaust. He knew then that it was time to educate people and to combat the deniers.

This is a family memoir and incredibly personal but it is exceptionally told. It is heartbreaking and uplifting. Read it.

The Melody Lingers On by Mary Higgins Clark

This author recently died after a prolific decades long career which resulted in dozens of books I’ve never read. When a suspense addicted friend learned of this oversight I was strongly encouraged to put my nose in one of her books immediately, if not sooner. This book is fast paced with a great story line and a twist. I enjoyed it and would certainly read more of her work.

A Fools’s Errand by Lonnie Bunch III

Lonnie Bunch is the Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I read this memoir after seeing some interviews with him when the museum opened. He is a fascinating man and an engaging conversationalist (at least in interviews) and I would love to have a museum tour with him. The book tells a fascinating story but it was written by an academic and can be dry at times. Hang in there though.

There are some beautiful stories within these chapters – humorous, sad and enraging at times. He began this museum with nothing. No staff, no money, not even a desk to call his own or a phone extension to reach him. He persevered, engaging celebrities, politicians and common people to find the money, artifacts and willpower to keep going.

The museum isn’t meant to attract just African Americans. It tells the story of America and the important place of African Americans within that story. One of my favorite stories was of the shoe shine man who refused payment because he wanted Lonnie to put the $8 toward the museum. When Lonnie insisted on paying, the elderly African American man said “Don’t be rude. I am not sure what is in a museum, but it may be the only place where my grandchildren will learn what life did to me, and what I did with my life.”

I’m officially dying to go explore.

* * *

I started reading David McCullough’s “The Pioneers” but set it aside for a while. I will be captivated by this book someday but my head wasn’t in the game and needed something a little easier!

What’s the best book you’ve read lately?