Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road by William Least Heat-Moon
(Little, Brown and Company, 2013, 416 pages)
Here, There, Elsewhere is a collection of travel stories by William Least Heat-Moon. The stories take the reader to England, Japan, Mexico, Kansas, Oregon, and many other locations. Not only does the author discuss these locations and the scenery, but also the food, customs, and people of the areas that he visited. The stories were written from 1983-2011. At the beginning of each story, there is a short update on changes since the story was written. For example, Heat-Moon describes a trip on the steamboat, Delta Queen. In his preface to the story, Heat-Moon mentions that the Delta Queen is now a permanently anchored hotel on the Tennessee River at Chattanooga.
William Least Heat-Moon is the pen name of William Trogdon. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri. He now resides near Columbia, Missouri where he lives on an old tobacco farm that he’s returning to forest. Heat-Moon is the author of Blue Highways, PrairyErth, River-Horse, and Roads to Quoz.
I enjoyed reading Here, There, Elsewhere as a change of pace from my usual mysteries or biographies. It was an easy book to pick up and put down as each story was usually less than 20 pages long. Heat-Moon has a way of describing things that make you feel that you are right there with him. If you are interested in travel, you might way to give Here, There, Elsewhere a try.
Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck
(Moyer Bell, 1995, 316 pages)
This book starts out with Madame Wu preparing for her 40th birthday celebration. She is a beautiful, elegant Chinese woman who is proud of her marriage and children. She has status as the Madame of a great house and will celebrate with all the flourishes. She decides to find her husband a second wife and although the custom of concubines has been outlawed she proceeds to find the ideal mate for her husband. By her birthday she brings the second wife into the house and moves into secondary quarters under the same roof. While this stirs the entire household up including the servants, Madame Wu pulls off this coup successfully. I finished this book just prior to visiting several Asia countries and found it inspiring.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
(Washington Square Press, 2004, 357 pages)
We often can reflect on our lives by looking back over the years and remembering the good as well as the bad times, but I was not fully aware of life in China before the revolution in 1911 until I read The Good Earth. Buck tells a riveting story about a peasant, Wang Lung, who suffers during famines, works long hours to save up silver, and one day is able to purchase a piece of land for his own. To Wang land was wealth and he toils long and hard to make a life for himself and his family. One day, Wang revisits the rich and decadent town lord, Hwang who initially sold him. Now he purchases one of the slaves, O-Lan, for his wife. O-Lan is a dutiful wife who works alongside Wang to farm the land and only stops to give birth. She is grateful to Wang and seldom asks him for anything. When the famine comes she packs up the children and joins Wang to travel south where they become beggars when the money completely runs out. Wang is determined to return to his land to regain respect and prosper. When he does return, he resumes working his land, acquires more land, and eventually prospers. Years pass, more land is purchased and he fathers more children, but Wang never pays much attention to his wife who has stood by him through many years of difficulty. She lives to please him and accepts Wang’s moving his tea house woman into the house.
Not only were there differing privileges between the rich and poor, but the treatment and consideration of women was drastically different. Wang doesn’t realize how much O-Lan contributed until her death, which leaves Wang’s household in disarray. The profits of the land bring Wang many riches and he too becomes powerful and decadent. The ways of Hwang now come back to haunt him. When Wang nears death he realizes that the land he loved so dearly will be sold off by his two eldest sons. I completed the reading of this book after vising Vietnam and learned more about Viennese and Chinese culture. I am now more enlightened about the struggles of women in this area.
Wedding of the Season by Laura Lee Guhrke
(Avon, 2010, 384 pages)
Days before Will and Trix are set to be married, Will gets the chance of a lifetime to travel to Egypt and help discover King Tut’s tomb. When Trix refuses to move to Egypt, they call off the wedding and Trix is left behind in England to deal with the scandal. Now it’s six years later and Will is returning to England for the first time since he left and finds Trix engaged to another man. As much as Will tries to deny his feelings for Trix, he knows that she truly is the only woman for him. Now he has a few short weeks to convince Trix to marry him instead and to take an adventure to Egypt with him.
Now this is a Historical Romance that I enjoyed. The writing was light, I was invested in the characters from the very beginning, and, best of all, the hero didn’t abuse the heroine. I thought Guhrke really developed the characters well and provided enough back story throughout the book for the reader to realize how involved and complicated the relationship between Trix and Will really was. I truly enjoyed this story and Guhrke’s writing made it a fast read.
Island Flame by Karen Robards
(Random House, 1998, 384 pages)
The last thing Lady Cathy expected when she was sailing to London was for the ship she was aboard to be attacked by pirates. But once pirate Captain Jonathan Hale laid eyes on her, he knew he wanted Cathy for himself. When Cathy is aboard Jon’s pirate ship, she is abused and taken advantage of and all she wants is to escape and see Jon pay for all the pain that he has caused her. But now that Jon is captured and about to pay with his life, Cathy doesn’t understand the panic she has to save him. Could she have really fallen for this pirate who is anything but a gentlemen?
This is a read where I appreciated the story, but I just truly disliked the characters. Jon took advantage of Cathy while also verbally and physically abusing her throughout the story and never showed remorse for his actions. And then watching Cathy making horrible decisions and ignoring Jon’s faults was just too much. Although this story wasn’t for me, I would try to read a different Robards novel.
The Best Day of Someone Else’s Life by Kerry Reichs
(William Morrow Paperbacks, 2008, 430 pages)
Vi (whose real name is Kevin because her parents thought she was going to be a boy and decided to name her Kevin anyway) Connelly is a twenty-something woman living in Washington, D.C. who has been asked to be the maid of honor in three different weddings in her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. Not only is she the maid of honor, but all the weddings occur within the same month, same year, and have the same color scheme. Readers are introduced to Vi as a young girl who is the flower girl in her aunt’s wedding. Of course, when she is young, she romanticizes everything about weddings, which has stayed with her into her adulthood. One of these notions is that your wedding day is supposed to be the best day of your life (BDOYL), which has made it hard for her to accept her friends’ choices in life partners because she is still pining for her on-again, off-again high school boyfriend. With that in the mix, it is interesting to watch Vi realize her adult life and friends are more important to her than her childhood friends. Readers go through this realization with Vi as she attends a year’s worth of weddings, some memorable, some not so much. I found this book to be fun, with some cliché, but appropriate one-liners, that made me laugh out loud. Enjoy!
Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories by Sherman Alexie
(Grove Press, 2012, 465 pages)
Sherman Alexie is a Native American writer. I’ve read a few books of his and liked them. I’m glad I read this one. It was provocative, thoughtful and funny. Blasphemy consists of 31 short stories, some old and some new. Alexie’s characters are Spokane Indians who are male, female, young, old, educated or illiterate in Washington State. Alexie is a great story teller with a terrific sense of timing. His observations are meticulous, humorous and brutally honest. His stories deal with subjects that many of us are not comfortable with: poverty, sex, racism, addiction, alcoholism, domestic abuse and homelessness. A few stories are disturbing and sad and left me heartbroken. However, I enjoyed all of the new stories as well as a few old favorites. You’ll enjoy it if you are a Sherman Alexie fan or if you just want to have a peek at modern day Native American experiences.
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
(Bloomsbury, 2011, 261 pages)
I read this book since I’ll be participating in the SCC Book Club, “Between the Covers.” It won the National Book Award in 2011 and I’ve heard so many good things about it. Salvage the Bones takes place over 12 days that lead up to, cover, and follow Hurricane Katrina. The central figure in the story is Esch, a 15 year old who is coming to grips with the realization that she is pregnant. She lives with her three brothers (Randall, Skeetah, and Junior) and her father on the outskirts of the town, Bois Sauvage. Esch’s father is a drunk, but he’s working to prepare the house and the family for the potential hurricane. His children are keen to dismiss it, but it soon becomes a reality they can’t help but confront.
Another large part of the story revolves around Skeetah and his dog, China. This was a storyline I had a hard time with since there is dog fighting that goes on in the book. The relationship between Skeetah and China was incredibly moving, as was the relationship you see between the siblings. Salvage the Bones was a great read, but it was very depressing. There were a number of times where I found myself crying, but that wasn’t until later. I definitely recommend reading this book – especially for those who are thinking about participating in the book club. It gives you a lot to think about, plus Ward is an amazing writer and she did a great job conveying the stress and breathlessness that comes from thinking about what it must have been like to exist in the midst of Hurricane Katrina.
*I’ll have more to say at the 2/27 “Between the Covers” book discussion! 12 p.m. in the Private Dining Room of the Student Center. Plus, I’m curious to hear other people’s reactions! 🙂
Remembering Whitney: My Story of Love, Loss, and the Night the Music Stopped
by Cissy Houston
(HarperCollins, 2013, 297 pages)
Honest and heartbreaking, a mother’s story of tears, joy, and her greatest love of all—her daughter, Whitney. On the eve of the 2012 Grammy Awards, the world learned of a stunning tragedy: Whitney Houston, unquestionably one of the most remarkable and powerful voices in all of music, had been silenced forever. Over the weeks and months that followed, family, friends, and fans alike tried to understand how such a magnificent talent and beautiful soul could have been taken so early and so unexpectedly. Glamorous and approachable, captivating and sweet, Whitney had long ago won the hearts of America, but in recent years her tumultuous personal life had grabbed as many headlines as her soaring vocal talents. Her sudden death left behind not only a legacy of brilliance, but also painful questions with no easy answers.
I was and still am a big fan of Whitney Houston, so I was really looking forward to reading her mother’s book and learning more about Whitney (Nippy) the person more so than Whitney the entertainer. Her mother wrote a very insightful book. I truly enjoyed it. She didn’t make Whitney out to be the perfect daughter. In fact, she stated Nippy could really be something to deal with. But, she also pointed out that Whitney had a heart of gold and would help out anyone in need and gave generously of her time, talent, and money to different organizations around the world. She pointed out that her and Whitney didn’t always have the best of relationships but that the love they had for each other was always there. It was a very candid, poignant read! It made me laugh, it made me cry and, most of all, it made me appreciate ‘Nippy’.
Remembering Whitney is a heartwarming story written with love and honesty. Cissy Houston told her story from the heart of a mother. She kept it real telling the good times and the hard times. I understood Whitney more as a person after reading this book. I also felt for Cissy because you do the best you can for your kids and the world can still get a hold of them. At the end of the day whatever the world thinks about Whitney, after reading this book, I sure know one thing, that Whitney loved the Lord. A must read for all Whitney fans. Much respect to Ms. Cissy Houston.
The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
(Avon, 1972, 512 pages)
Heather longed for adventure in her life while she was slaving away at her aunt’s mercy after her father died. But she might learn to regret it. After she is whisked off to London by William Court, she quickly learns that he does not have good intentions. When fighting off his advances late one night, William falls on a knife and Heather, sure that she would be hanged for murder, runs off and is captured by Brandon’s men. Brandon has his way with Heather and when she ends up pregnant, they are forced to marry. Now Heather must learn to be the wife of someone she despises and fight the urge to fall for Brandon.
I have to admit, the first chapter of this book is rough to read and I don’t know if I would have continued reading if it wasn’t for class. I know this book was the first of its kind when it was published in the 70’s and meant a lot to women, especially with the fight for women’s rights happening at the time. But I just really wish the first chapter hadn’t happened. Overall I enjoyed the story (minus the first chapter) and I was thoroughly invested in Heather and Brandon’s relationship midway through the novel.