The Fellowship of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien

The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings by [Tolkien, J.R.R.]

This is one of my favorite books, the other two being The Two Towers and Return of the King. I know I have read it at least 10 times since the first time in college some 50 years ago. Strangely I have never cared for The Hobbit.

It never loses it freshness, and there is always something new to notice. This time it is Aragorn’s grief at leaving Arwyn at the start of the adventure. They are preparing to leave the House of Elrond, and they are gathered on the steps, waiting for Gandalf:

Aragorn sat with his head bowed to his knees; only Elrond knew fully what this hour meant to him.

He and Gandalf are the only ones who know the challenge facing them and the odds against their survival. He may have seen Arwyn for this last time in this world. And yet he finds the strength and courage to go on. Somehow over the years and many readings, I had missed this little insight into Aragorn’s sacrifice.

This time through, I’m not skipping anything. I’m in no hurry to finish the books. Instead I savor every description that I used to skim through, anxious to get to the next action bit. Who knows what other gems I have overlooked?

 

 

Death in a Strange Country

Donna Leon

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I love Donna Leon and love Det. Brunetti. He is so human, and the glimpses we get of his family life serve to make him a well-rounded character. These glimpses grow as the series continues. If I were rich, I’d buy all the books at the $9.99 price the publishers charge. As it is, I have to wait for a copy to show up for $1.99 and snap it up. As a result I’ve read the books wildly out of order, but that has done nothing to lessen my enjoyment. Reading the earlier books serves to make clear how much the character has grown over time. What has not lessened is my love of  Venice and the views of it I have through these books. They just get better and better with time.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

Hannah Tinti

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Samuel Hawley is on the run, and he has his daughter Loo with him. His daughter Loo, and his arsenal of guns and rifles, which he teaches her to clean and fire. They move around a lot, then finally stop moving when he returns to the town where he met Loo’s mother Lily and where her mother still lives.

Gradually we learn the story of Samuel and Lily, their love, and what happened to Lily. The framing device is the twelve gunshot wounds on his body. We learn how he received each wound, and in the telling, we learn his backstory. We learn just how much he loved Lily and loves Loo, to the point of being willing to sacrifice everything for her.

This is one of those books that I slowed down as I read it, sometimes only reading a paragraph before I moved on. If I read it slowly, it would last longer. Unfortunately, it came to an end, and I wanted to grab the author and shake a few more chapters out of her. I hope it doesn’t take so long for the next book.

Reader, I Married Him

Tracy Chevalier

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I’ve been reading and re-reading Jane Eyre since high school, 50+ years ago, so my eye was caught by the title of this book. In it are 21 short stories by women inspired by Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel. Sometimes the connection is very tenuous, almost indecipherable, sometimes overt, as in the short story Grace Pool Her Testimony. My favorite was The Self-Seeding Sycamore by Lionel Shriver. It doesn’t have a close connection to Jane Eyre, but Shriver’s writing is so delicious. it enjoyable on its own. It’s the only story I flipped back to find out who had written it, and I was please to find the name of one of my favorite authors.

 

Tender at the Bone

Ruth Reichl

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This account of Reichl’s early years is a compelling story of an unusual childhood. Her experiences include a stint in a Canadian boarding school where she learned French, to time in a commune in San Francisco. Always food is at the center of her life, whether preparing it or eating it with friends. I think having read her tribute to her mother colored my reading of this book. Her mother suffered from mental illness, and Reichl’s understanding of her mother’s state after her death, gave a light-hearted and amusing slant that she portrays differently in her later account.

The book is interspersed with fascinating and delicious recipes for dishes that I will never cook but enjoy reading about.

 

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders

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I confess before this book came along, I had never heard of Saunders. I don’t particularly like to read short stories, so our paths had never crosses. All of a sudden his name is all over the book podcasts I listen to, so I decided to give it a try. At first I looked at the Kindle version, but the publishers put such an obscenely high price on it, I put my name on the  reserve list at the library.

The book was well worth the wait. It is so original I had trouble at first getting into it. It is unlike any other (but one) book I have ever read. Inspired by a story of a visit by Lincoln to his son Willies grave site, Saunders has woven a tale of grief, self-doubt, and redemption using the voices of the ghosts who inhabit the cemetery.

Prevented by their own fears, desires, and reluctance to let go, they remain in the cemetary, observing the people, living and dead who come to the cemetery. The title comes from an Egyptian term for the undecided state of the dead, between life that was and life to come. It’s meant as a temporary holding place for the spirits of the recently deceased, but some of the entities there, against nature, have been there for years.

The one book this reminds me of is C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. He uses the same device, although not to the same extent, to tell the story of people who are reluctant to face their own death and who are so wrapped up in themselves they are unwilling or unable to help anyone else.

This book lives up to all its hype. It’s hard to read at first, and the reader has to pay attention. The story is not all neatly and nicely laid out, but instead, the reader has to do some work of filling in the blanks. It is worth the work and very rewarding. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Time for the Stars

Robert A. Heinlein

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Before the genre of Young Adult existed we had juveniles. Heinlein’s juveniles are an a class by themselves. Designed for younger readers, they feature teens who are faced with problems they have to solve for themselves. That doesn’t mean they can’t be read and enjoyed by adults, too.

I first started reading Heinlein as an adolescent, and I still enjoy reading him. He never talked down to his readers and the problems they faced are a challenge to adults, too.

This story has a little too much hard science in it to be one of my favorites. How a torch ship is powered, how faster-than-light travel works, for example, arnn’t deeply interesting to me. More interesting is the situation of one twin who is cheated out of an opportunity to travel to the stars by his manipulative twin. When his twin Pat is injured in a skiing accident, Tom suddenly has the chance of a lifetime.

This book lacks the humor of Star Beast and the social commentary of Citizen of the Galaxy, but it’s still a good read.

I’ll Take You There

Wally Lamb

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I like Wally Lamb, but this book was a little disappointing. What there is of it is good, but it’s so short. At 272 pages, Lamb is just starting to warm up to his characters. I turned the page expecting so much more, and it was the end!

This is the story of Felix Funicello and the three women who shaped his life: his sister Frances, her mother Verna, and his daughter Aliza. Through the medium of film, he relives his childhood relationship with Frances and learns Verna’s story. His daughter Aliza is a writer and an independent career women in New York.

As much of there is of it, is good. I wanted more.

 

 

The Heiress Effect

Courtney Milan

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‘They put up with me for one reason, and one reason only. I call it the heiress effect.’

Jane Fairfield is no dummy. Her poisonous color combinations, loud laughter, and blunt speech are designed with one purpose in mind: repel suitors. You see, her younger sister lack only four hundred and eighty days until she attains her majority and can leave their guardian. Until that day, Jane refuses to leave her sister alone and helpless in his care. He isn’t a bad man, only a insensitive one. He truly thinks the medical experimentation he subjects her to may help heal her of her fits, and the pain and the scars he inflicts on her are not enough to stop him. Jane wants to free her sister while she’s still alive, and for that, she does everything she can to make men forget her enormous fortune.

Then she meets Oliver Marshall, a man perceptive enough to see the women beneath the dress. He likes what he sees, but he is blind in his own way. The bastard son of a duke, he wants revenge on a society that rejected him because of his birth. Politics is the chosen path to attaining this purpose, and the last thing he needs is a relationship with a woman who talks too loudly, who dresses the way Jane does, and who doesn’t keep her self or her opinions in the background.

The working out of this dilemma is classic Courtney Milan. After reading this book, I bought the boxed set.

 

On This Day in Tudor History

Claire Ridgway

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If you are a fan of history, especially Tudor history, as I am, you will enjoy this day book filled with events and personages connected with the Tudors. Each day has its collection of people and events with connections to that day. My mind reels with the amount of research Ridgway has done to assemble this information.

If there is anyone, from the most obscure to the most prominent, with any connection to the tudors, they are included. Here you will find the stories of what happened on a particular day to the Tudor court.

For example, on my birthday, Prince Arthur was born to Queen Elizabeth of York and Henry VII. The day also marks the death of Sir William Paston, who served Henry VIII as a sheriff and commissioner.

This book is the most complete collection of Tudor history as it happened, day by day, that I know of.