Book – Seventeen-year-old Meridian Wallace is a bright, energetic woman and the only child of doting parents. Her parents encourage her curiosity and academic pursuits. She starts college at the University of Chicago in 1941 to pursue her degree in ornithology, the study of birds. She falls in love with a brilliant physics professor, Alden Whetstone. He’s more than twenty years her senior, and she is attracted to his intelligence and their stimulating scientific conversations. When he is tapped to work at Los Alamos on a top secret project, Meridian follows him and postpones her acceptance to grad school for a year. She marries Alden and begins an independent study of crows. As the years go by, Meridian continues to submerge her own desires and dreams to accommodate Alden’s career. She finds companionship in some of the other women and then, in the 1970’s meets Clay, who introduces her to new experiences and encourages her independence. This book fascinated me with its depictions of the changing times and society’s expectations, particularly toward women. I sometimes hoped that Meridian would make different choices, but thought that her struggles and decisions were realistic. This book is an engaging, thought-provoking read.
Book – Simple Matters is about making a home. “The simple decisions and practices and objects and habits that make up the backdrop of our tumultuous lives….based on the premise that a simple home is filled with hardworking things.” It’s divided into nine chapters, including Decluttering, Bath & Beauty, Cooking & Entertaining and Cleaning. Boyle is a blogger and photographer who has moved with her husband and child into five apartments in the last ten years. The process of moving helped her prioritize her possessions and streamline her processes. I like her approach to a simpler, more thoughtful, more engaged lifestyle. She gives practical suggestions and creative solutions that are economical and simple. The format and illustrations of the book were appealing. I feel inspired to reexamine my possessions and habits toward achieving a simpler, more fulfilling life.
Book – Franny Keating falls in love with a well-known older author, Leo Posen, in her twenties. She shares the story of her turbulent childhood with him, which he publishes into a bestselling book. It stirs up the past and Franny, her siblings and stepsisters must finally face the events that led to a family tragedy many years ago. The chain of events began when Franny’s mother fell in love with a guest, Bert Cousins, who showed up with a bottle of gin at Franny’s christening. She eventually divorced Franny’s father to marry Bert, a father of four. Franny, her sister and their step-siblings were often left to their own devices over Summer vacations and holidays. Cal, the oldest of the bunch, led them on adventures and the six forged a strong bond, which endures even after the tragedy. The book traces the relationships and lives of the families over forty years and their different memories of the past. I thought this book was honest in its examination of families, their struggles and the love that prevails throughout.
Book – Lo Blacklock, a journalist, lands a plum assignment to travel and report on the maiden voyage of the boutique, luxury cruise liner, the Aurora. Two days before her scheduled departure for the trip around the Norwegian fjords, Lo’s apartment is robbed while she is home asleep after an evening of drinking. The event triggers her anxiety and panic attacks, for which she has been formerly diagnosed and treated. Nonetheless, she is determined to take advantage of the opportunity the cruise offers in the hopes of getting a promotion. When Lo boards the boat, she discovers their are 10 cabins and a crew devoted to the passengers’ comfort. However, as she soon finds out, the guests may not be who them seem to be and it’s hard to get help when you are out at sea. One night, after dinner and drinks, she returns to her cabin and thinks she hears a body fall into the water. She reports the incident, but no one believes her and everyone seems to be accounted for. Lo’s panic, drinking and confusion kept me guessing about the outcome of this suspenseful tale. I’m certainly not in any hurry to take a cruise on a small ship after reading this book! Ware also wrote In a Dark, Dark Wood.
Book – About Joy Bergman: “Oh, they broke the mold when they made that one. People who loved her said it, people who did not love her said it, too, for the same reason.” I fall into the former category. Joy is in her eighties and caring for her beloved husband Aaron, who has dementia along with other serious health issues. They are New Yorkers and Joy misses their daughter, Molly, who is living in California with her wife. Their son, Daniel, still lives close by, with his wife and their two young daughters. This story is about family and the ties that bind us during good times and bad. It highlights the issues we are forced to confront as we age, both from the perspective of the parents and their children. Schine, who also wrote The Three Weissmanns of Westport, explores these themes as she relates and finds humor in the most ordinary conundrums and routines. Joy laments about her physical deterioration, defends her take-out order meals and is determined to remain independent and upbeat. Molly feels guilty about living far away and she and Daniel search for ways (with sometimes hilarious results) to reassure Joy about her importance in their lives. Joy enjoys a special bond with her grandchildren and acknowledges that although she loves being in the midst of her family, she also finds them exhausting. This book reminded me that despite the differences in our individual circumstances, there is a shared commonality in our experiences as we face life’s transitions.
Book – Tig is a stand-up comedian. She experienced a streak of devastating personal tragedies in 2012, including C-Diff, the death of her mother, the break-up of girlfriend and a stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis. She turned to comedy to channel her grief. The result was a set that went viral and was released as the album “Live,” which was nominated for a Grammy. In her book, Tig recounts her journey. The first chapter depicts her early life and unconventional upbringing and was my favorite chapter of the book. However, after a promising beginning, the book went flat for me. Tig states her feelings, then gives examples, rather than illuminating truths through the story. Other memoirs I have read have been better at conveying difficult character traits of people in their lives, while also managing to express their redeeming qualities. Although I didn’t particularly enjoy this book, I admire Tig for overcoming the adversity she was confronted with and for sharing her personal story through stand-up comedy.
Book – Britt-Marie is in her 60’s, socially awkward and incapable of tolerating a mess. She has just left her husband, Kent, and is looking for a job. After haranguing the young unemployment officer, she lands a temporary position in the tiny, down-on-its-luck town of Borg as a caretaker of the recreation center. As she arrives into town, she is surprised to discover that the residents, particularly the children, are fixated on soccer. The children practice without a coach and proper playing field. Britt-Marie compulsively cleans their uniforms, as well as the recreation center and adjoining shop. Despite her very definite views on proper conduct (and correcting everyone’s lack of it), Britt-Marie finds that she is accepted and understood for the first time in her life. The story unfolds with hilarious antics and heart-rending moments. I loved these characters and their town. As stated in the book, “At a certain age almost all the questions a person asks him or herself are really just about one thing: how should you live your life?” Britt-Marie is finally able to figure out the answer for herself, as she learns to live life on her own terms.
Book – Arthur lost his wife, Miriam, a year ago and copes with his grief by clinging to his old routines. He takes tea at the same time every day, wears the same stiff collared shirts and uncomfortable pants and waters his fern, Frederica. He hides from the food-laden visits of his neighbor, Bernadette, and has infrequent contact with his two adult children, Lucy and Dan. But, when Arthur decides to clean out Miriam’s closet, he finds a charm bracelet that he’s never seen before. As he examines it, he impulsively dials a phone number engraved on one of the charms and is launched on a journey to learn the truth about his wife. Along the way, he learns truths about himself and his relationships. He discovers new friends and learns about their hardships and joys. This book is a cozy tale about life’s surprising twists and savoring what is in the present.
Book – Leo Plumb and his siblings – Beatrice, Jack and Melody – are due to receive a family inheritance when the youngest (Melody) turns 40. Their father had intended the inheritance as a modest supplement to their income. But, the value has soared and now the Plumbs are relying on the “Nest” to help them though various financial predicaments. Then, a few months before they are due to receive their windfalls, Leo is in an accident that upends all of their plans. As the siblings try to recoup their losses, they reconnect and rediscover the ties and secrets that bind them.
I enjoyed meeting this family. Bea is an aspiring novelist, despite a decades-long writer’s block, and mourns the loss of her former lover. Jack hides a huge betrayal from his partner. Melody anxiously tries to keep track of her teenage twin daughters and hold onto her expensive lifestyle. And then there’s Leo. Charming, smart and witty, he also has no scruples about pursuing his own wants and needs. This book captures family dynamics and how loss, need, love and support thread through our lives and relationships.
Book – Circling the Sun is based on the true life story of Beryl Markham. In the early 1900’s, Beryl, her parents and brother arrive from England to farm 1500 acres of untouched bush in Kenya. Two years later, when Beryl turns five, her mother and brother return to England, unable to handle the primitive conditions. Beryl remains on the farm with her father, running wild in the stable and with the nearby Kipsigis children, particulary her best friend Ruta. As Beryl grows up, she resists conventions and finds herself most comfortable training horses. After a disastrous marriage, she builds a life for herself among the decadent expats living in Kenya. Her circle of friends includes Karen Blixen and Karen’s lover, Denys Finch Hatton. (Blixen wrote her memoir Out of Africa under the pen name Isak Dinesen). Beryl also discovers the joy of flying, becoming a bush pilot and record-setting aviator. I was inspired by Beryl’s determination to follow her own path, despite many roadblocks and much hardship. Paula McClain also wrote a novel based on Hemingway’s early married life titled The Paris Wife.