Tuesday Top Ten

gateway

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers create their own lists based on the chosen topics and post links to our lists. It’s a way of all sharing our thoughts and our love of books.  And who doesn’t love lists??

So this week’s challenge was to list the top ten books and/or authors that were gateways in my reading journey, ones that introduced me to a new genre, reinvigorated my interest in reading, somehow changed or affected my reading journey.

  1. Dystopian Books – The Giver by Lois Lowry – My first foray into dystopian novels, The Giver will always be my first and my favorite!
  2. Young Adult – Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – It wasn’t my first YA book, but the first one that dealt so directly with difficult issues that matter to young adults, the first time I realized what great literature exists for teens.
  3. Stories told in a series of books – Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling –  They’re everywhere!  Prior to this series, I don’t ever remember reading books where you needed to wait until the series was complete to be able to finish the story! I do love many of these series, I just have taken a vow not to start one until all of the books are released so I don’t have to wait so long between pieces of the story!
  4. Historical Non-Fiction – Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham – Historical non-fiction has never really been my thing – I don’t want to read the equivalent of a high school social studies textbook – but this book proved that there was historical fiction out there that would tell me a story while teaching me about the past.
  5. Current Non-Fiction – Born to Run by Christopher McDougall – Too much of current non-fiction is just someone trying to turn their opinions into fact or someone trying to catch the wave of popularity associated with the issue or personality of the day.  But this story grabbed my interest and held it, teaching me about the past and the present.
  6. Mysteries – Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene – Giving credit where credit is due, Nancy and the gang were my first introduction to the mystery genre, one that I still love today.
  7. Cozy Mysteries – Kinsey Milhone series by Sue Grafton – My first cozy mystery series, there are still a number that I regularly read and enjoy – they are always a fun, quick escape!
  8. Detective Stories – Moe Prager series by Reed Farrel Coleman – Another part of the progression, the jump to grittier detective stories, this series continues to be a favorite.  It will be bittersweet when the last book comes out next month.
  9. Historical Fiction – A Good American by Alex George – I had not read historical fiction in a long time, didn’t really consider it a genre that I liked that well, until I read this and now I find myself reading all kinds of historical fiction!
  10. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – The book the reinvigorated and affirmed my love for the written word.  The funny thing?  I walked by it in the bookstore for months, picked it up and put it back down, before I finally decided to give it a try – and it is my favorite book.
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The Son

sonThe Son is a sweeping multi-generational saga tracing the McColloughs through history as they create a Texan ranch and oil dynasty, accumulating massive wealth and power.  Spanning the history of Texas from 1836 until 2012, the story is told by rotating through three different characters, each with a unique voice and a striking story.

The story of Eli McCoullough (The Colonel), the patriarch of the McCoullough dynasty, is told in the first person.  As a thirteen year old boy, Eli is kidnapped by the Comanches after watching them slaughter his family.  Eventually he becomes a member of the tribe and embraces their lifestyle, only leaving them after a smallpox epidemic decimates the tribe.  From there he will move through life – a Confederate soldier, a Texas Ranger, the husband of a judge’s daughter, a rancher, and an oil baron.  He is also merciless – a thief, a philanderer, and a murderer.  The Colonel is a rough character, firm in his beliefs and willing to do whatever he deems necessary.  Ruthless, he was still my favorite voice, brutal and honest and interesting.

“It had become clear to me that the lives of the rich and famous were not so differ from the lies of the Comanches: you did what you pleased and answered to no one.” 

The story of Peter McCoullough, the Colonel’s son, is told through his diaries.  Peter has a conscience and a sense of morality that his father lacks, and feels burdened by the choices his father has made in pursuit of power.  Unfortunately, Peter is too weak to really do anything about it.  Caught in the crossfire in a volatile time between Texans and Mexicans, Peter wants to do the right thing but seems incapable.  Stuck with an overbearing and disappointed father, a disconnected and unsupportive society wife and children who do not care, Peter tries to make peace with his situation.  Honestly, Peter was my least favorite voice – too whiny and depressed and annoying with too little strength and action.

That leaves the final story – that of Jeannie McCollough, Peter’s granddaughter, as told in the third person as she lies on the floor, dying at an old age, and reflecting on the pivotal moments of her life and her struggles.  Jeannie has spent much of her life struggling to be independent and succeed in the man’s world of cattle and oil while trying to also be loved – a woman, a wife, and a mother.

 ”Of course you wanted your children to have it better than you had. But at what point was it not better at all? People needed something to worry about or they would destroy themselves, and she thought of her grandchildren and all the grandchildren yet to come.”

As a warning, this book is not for the faint of heart or the squeamish.  If you are bothered by graphic violence, sex, foul language, murder and mayhem – you should probably read something else.  My favorite pieces of the book were the stories from Eli about the time spent with the Comanches. But I found the entire book to be fascinating, in the development of the characters and their stories, in the history, and in the intertwining of the lives and fates of the Native Americans, the McCoulloughs, and the Mexicans.

“No land was ever acquired honestly in the history of the earth.” 

Title: The Son
Author: Phillip Meyer
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 576
Publication: Ecco, May 2013

Life After Life

lifeafterlifeUrsula Todd is born on a snowy night in England 1910.  Strangled by the umbilical cord she does not survive.  Until she is born again, and dies again, and is born again…  Through each of her lives she is born into the same family, and meets many of the same people, but her life is different each time.  Plagued by ominous feelings, nightmares, and a sense of déjà vu, Ursula manages to live on a bit longer each time by changing situations and making different choices.  You see her as a mother, a friend to Eva Braun, a battered wife, an alcoholic, a warden during the London Blitz, a rape victim, a lover, a friend, a sister, a daughter.

This book reminded me a lot of a choose-your-own-adventure.  Remember those from when we were kids?  Where every time you made a poor decision and your character died you went back to the decision point and chose differently?  While it sounds like it could get monotonous, somehow it did not, instead offering insight into the various aspects of life in England during both world wars, and highlighting the impact that small decisions have on our lives, and on our deaths.  In spite of all that Ursula suffers there is also hope, the hope that she will have yet another chance and things will turn out differently.  Who among us hasn’t occasionally wished for a chance to foresee the consequences of our actions, to somehow know the wrong path, and to have the chance to go back in time and make it right again?

“No point in thinking, you just have to get on with life.  We only have one after all; we should try and do our best.  We can never get it right, but we must try.”

“What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

“I think it would be exhausting.”

Title:  Life After Life
Author: Kate Atkinson
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 544
Publication: Reagan Arthur Books, April 2013

Out of the Easy

I’m a grown-up, solidly in middle-age, no longer a teenager.  But I have to admit that some of my favorite books of all time (The Book Thief, The Giver, Between Shades of Gray, The Running Dream, The Fault in our Stars, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, etc) are those that have been categorized as “young adult” books.  There has been an explosion of publishing in this area lately, and while there is plenty of garbage available, there are also many wonderful stories, deep and meaningful, suspenseful, romantic, funny.  Whatever type of book you like to read, there are excellent young adult titles that you will love.  Don’t let the young adult categorization fool you, all it means is that it is a book that is being marketed to teens, most often the protagonist in the story is a “young adult”, or someone between the ages of 14 and 21.  It does NOT mean that the book is silly or juvenile or poorly written (although it could be – plenty of adult books are too!) or that it won’t appeal to an adult.  Actually, today the majority of young adult titles are purchased by adults.  So, all you other “grown-ups” out there – don’t be afraid to browse around in the young adult section of your local library or bookstore, you may be surprised at what great things you can find!

ImageI had read Ruta Sepetys’s previous book, Between Shades of Gray (NO, not 50 Shades!), and absolutely loved it.  It was a little odd how much I liked it.  Historical fiction is not generally my favorite genre.  It has to be really well written for me to become absorbed in another time.  Her story of a Lithuanian family torn apart and sent to prison camps during World War II was gripping and heart-wrenching.

Out of the Easy was just as wonderful and engrossing.  In the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950, Josie is looking for a way to escape poverty, her prostitute mother, and a life full of filth and crime.  Surrounded by a memorable cast of characters that support and hinder Josie along the way, she will have to struggle to make her way, especially when she is caught in the middle of an investigation into a suspicious death.  Faced with a number of difficult situations and complex relationships, the decisions that Josie makes will ultimately determine her fate.

I really LOVED Josie, trying so hard to be different from her mother and trying to build a different kind of life for herself, so mature and self-sufficient, yet also a sad little girl who sometimes still longs for a father and a loving mother.  There are moments of wry humor – “Patrick explained that your father is absent.  What about your mother, dear?”  Mother?   Oh, she’s in a dusty motel in California right now, cooling herself with a cold Schlitz in her cleavage.” and moments of clarity of purpose – “I wasn’t certain of anything anymore, except that New Orleans was a faithless friend and I wanted to leave her.”

The supporting cast of characters, including prostitutes, gangsters, authors, booksellers, and “uptown” folk keep the story moving swiftly, adding heart, humor, and horror.  Among my favorites are Willie, the tough-as-nails madam who loves Josie more than her own mother does, and Cokie, the mulatto driver for Willie’s “establishment”.   Cokie sees the world as it truly is, but remains hopeful and positive, providing true friendship and support to Josie, encouraging her to move on in her life – “Sometimes we set off down a road thinkin’ we’re goin’ one place and we end up another. But that’s okay. The important thing is to start.”  Cokie and Willie, along with several other key characters, provide Josie with a family of sorts, the kind that is made instead of born, and which turns out to be truer anyway.

   Title: Out of the Easy
   Author: Ruta Sepetys
   Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
   Pages: 346
   Publication: Philomel, February 2013