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Escape into a Good Book

When all else fails, I need a book. But I need a good book.  I have no patience with a contrived story. I do not like books with no real meaning. I do not like a book with too much conversation. Just tell the story. Make me part of it. I need a book that I don’t want to end. This month I found five really good ones. One or two will likely be in my top books of this year.

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When All is Said by Anne Griffin

This is the story of Maurice Hannigan. One day in late June of his 84th year he enters a hotel bar and begins to drink. With each of his five different drinks, he relates the story of the five people in his life that were of importance to him. He begins with his older brother, Tony. Growing up very poor and sharing a room with Tony and his sisters, Maurice worshipped his brother.

In fact, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Maurice replied, “Tony.” His closest friend and hero was this brother. There are parts of this message about Tony that are moving and brought me to tears as I read.

The second person Maurice tells about is Molly. Molly was a daughter born to Maurice and his wife. Her story is poignant and moving and brought me to tears again. Mixed in with Molly’s story are glimpses into how the neighbors fared over the years. Maurice and his mother had both worked for the wealthy Dollards. Hugh Dollard was a mean man that abused everyone and occasionally took his wrath out on Maurice, as did one of his sons named Thomas. Now, years later, Maurice learns more about what eventually happened to Thomas and the rest of the Dollard family. Thomas’ fate has something to do with an act that Maurice committed as a young boy- something he had no idea would happen.

There are three more people that Maurice tells about, all equally mesmerizing. He drinks to Noreen, his wife’s handicapped sister. Parts of her story are funny, but other parts are sad. Then Maurice tells about his son, Kevin, who moved to America and became a renowned journalist. Finally, Maurice ends this evening mission by talking about his wife, Sadie. This quote will give you a glimpse into Maurice,

“The deep-down kind of love that holds on to your bones and digs itself right in under your fingernails, as hard to budge as the years of compacted earth. And when it’s gone… it’s as if it’s been ripped from you. Raw and exposed…”

This book started a little slow for me, but quickly became one I will not forget. It’s poignant and sweet and incredibly moving. There is a sadness about it, but it’s really a love story. Love for this man and his family and perhaps his life. Definitely five stars for this one! It’s a Must-Read!

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Reid Jenkins

Evelyn Hugo is an actress with quite a story to tell. In her seventies now, she has endured seven husbands and her life as an actress with many scandals. She chooses Monique, a young journalist working for a magazine, to write her story. The chapters alternate with the present-day Monique who is listening to Evelyn tell her story and with the past, beginning in the 1950s when Evelyn first started acting.

The story Monique hears will not be the one the public knows since Evelyn has carefully crafted her persona through the years. Evelyn wants to tell the real story. Some of her marriages were true and she loved the men. Some were contrived to avoid the public’s perception of her and some were to further her career. Evelyn is a Cuban born woman with a strong personality and a plan for her life that causes her to risk everything occasionally. However, she does have someone she loved enough to give it all up. The cover-ups and marriages are the results of all her efforts to remain in the public eye and keep her secrets.

“You have to be willing to deny your heritage, to commodify your body, to lie to good people, to sacrifice who you love in the name of what people will think, and to choose the false version of yourself time and time again, until you forget who you started out as or why you started doing it to begin with.”

This is a fabulous book, beautifully written, and completely mesmerizing! The details of Evelyn’s life, the men she married, the love of her life, and the backstories about being an actress are so good. I can highly recommend it! 5 Stars!

If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss

This is the story of a tiny mountain community in a poor county in the heart of Appalachia, where children have no shoes or shoes lined with layers of cardboard, where men make corn ‘likker’ in stills and sell it for profit, where diggers search for ginseng to sell, and where secrets among the families are kept. The local men work in mining. Sadie Blue, a plain girl who lives with her grandmother, is the first you will meet as the book begins.

 She has just gotten a beating from her new husband, Roy. Sadie is pregnant, living in a trailer, and seems resigned to her fate. Down the road lives her grandmother Gladys and her Aunt Marris, both of whom tried to talk Sadie out of marrying Roy. Then there is Eli, the local pastor who never married and lives with his viciously mean sister, Prudence.

A new arrival in town is Kate, a 50-year-old school teacher that will take over the one-room schoolhouse. Kate readily admits that she was fired from her last teaching position for doing something unspeakable. Then there is Birdie Rocas, an elderly woman that learned from a Native American how to heal with herbs and plants and now performs mysterious cures for all sorts of ailments. And she just happens to have a crow that will sit on her head.

Each chapter of this book is told from the point of view of a different person. The time frame meanders back and forth a little as each part of the story is told and somehow they are all connected at the same time. The dialect of the mountain people is a big part of the story, as is the extreme poverty of the people. The people of this community are there for one another and help one another as much as they are able.

One event that happened that involved everyone was the day a message was sent around for everyone to meet in the town at the general store. As they all congregate it is told that a mine has collapsed and one of the young men from the town is trapped. The entire town is there for this news and offers encouragement to the Dillard family, whose son, Buck, is possibly dead. When the store phone rings Mr. Dillard answers it to find out the fate of his child. Aunt Marris says,

“It don’t seem right that beat-down folks gotta get their hearts bruised, too… They need help from folks so they can float awhile.”

And float awhile they do. The story of the main characters all comes together when a girl disappears,  another girl is desperate for a way out of trouble, and maybe Sadie Blue decides to help herself. I loved this book! I loved the people and the way the story is told. It’s a sad book, with a few uplifting moments, but when it ended I wanted more! Most definitely 5 stars!

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Charlie is a mentally disabled young man who has always wanted to be like everyone else- within his imaginings of what that might be. As a young boy, he was bullied and made fun of in school or at play and rarely understood he was the butt of the pranks and jokes. He was moved to a facility for mentally challenged people when his parents could no longer cope with his problems.

Now, as an adult, Charlie has a janitorial job at a local bakery and lives in a rooming house. He still deals with being made fun of with his workmates, but also considers them to be his friends. Then he finds out about an experimental surgery that could “make him smart.” He volunteers for the surgery.

Algernon is a lab mouse that has already had the surgery and Charlie is amazed that the mouse can beat him at puzzles and mazes. The reason for the title of the book will be revealed near the end. So, how does Charlie cope with the new problems that arise as he grows in intelligence? How does he relate to his workmates and a teacher?  Is this surgery really successful?

I can’t tell you much more about the book without ruining it, but I will say this is a must-read. It’s an amazing story, written in the form of Charlie’s journals that explain his progress after the surgery. There are sad moments and a few that were gritty and real. Along with the newness of his transformation, Charlie begins to have memories and dreams and realizes that people that he believed to be friends had actually been cruel to him. You have to hope that the treatment Charlie received from his peers is a thing of the past- but is it?

One thought that was brought out in this book several times is that Charlie was treated as if he were a lab mouse just like Algernon. He reminded people often that he was, after all, human.  5 Stars!

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

To be honest, when I first saw this book I thought it was a typical chick-lit book. That genre is not always my favorite, although I do read books by a few specific authors (Elin Hilderbrand, JoJo Moyes, and Colleen Hoover come to mind). I resisted this book.  Then I found it at a sale table and thought, ok, why not? I am glad I decided to read it!

It is not a chick-lit book AT ALL! Here’s the background. A very wealthy family, Nina and Kirk Browning, and son Finch find themselves in a dilemma. Finch has attended a party (he’s a senior in high school) and taken a photo of a young girl (Lyla). The photo shows her partially nude body in a compromising position and Finch proceeds to send the image to some friends.

It doesn’t take long for this to be a somewhat viral incident. Finch and Lyla attend an upscale private school and he must face the school’s administrator over the issue of violating their honor code. How will his parents react? How does Lyla’s father react? What is set in motion to change Finch’s future?

There are so many undercurrents going through this book and it is quite perplexing- eventually, you will wonder who to believe! So, what did I think? It was definitely a page-turner and I would recommend that you read it. But, there were moments that I was a little less than happy with certain characters and their responses to what was happening. It just seemed a little contrived. I would give it 4.5 stars because it was fascinating and I finished it quickly.

Another great month of books to recommend! Which one are you trying first?