My Life With Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

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My Review:

I received multiple copies of My Life with Bob as a gift for my birthday; evidently several people believed I would enjoy it and of course, they were right!  As a reader, what’s not to like about a book about someone who loves books.

Author Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review kept a record of everything she read in her Book of Books (Bob) for almost 30 years.  Her memoir takes us along her life journey with the list of everything she read along the way from her teen years to adulthood.  This journal, Bob, is synonymous with her, representing a diary with hopes and dreams, the good, the bad and the ugly.  The books she read impacted her life and her life influenced the books she read.  She mentions so many, lots of titles I haven’t read and some I have never heard of, but no matter, the story of her life is intriguing and interesting and her story about Bob is inspirational and motivating.

Pamela is open and honest as she shares stories from her travels, relationship issues, family matters and personal disappointments along with joys and celebrations.  When she recounts the toast her husband, Michael, made at their wedding, mentioning books she gave him early in their relationship and quoting from Great Expectations, I admit, I shed a tear. She conveyed experiences that touched her in such a way that they touched me too;  beautifully written creating a wonderful connection between author and reader.

Pamela talks about her bookclub and everyone’s answers to the question Why Read?

“I read for sheer entertainment.”

“I read to learn.”

“I read to make sense of the world.”

“I read to find out something new.”

“I read to escape.”

“I read because it makes me happy.”

“I read for discovery.”

“For each of us, there seemed to be one core need that drove us to read on.  But it was more complicated than that, as the ensuing conversation soon revealed.  Everyone experiences most of these urges at different moments, or during certain periods of our lives, which is why most good readers read widely, even if they tend to go deep into one genre or another.”

I enjoyed thinking about the various styles of books I read, and much like how music of a certain time in your like evokes feelings and memories for so many, books can do the same and more.  Pamela travelled all over the country, got married, divorced, remarried, had children, changed jobs, yet her Book of Books remained with her to ground her, keep her accountable and motivate her to continue plowing ahead, all the while representing her journey.  Each title has significance during a time in her life and the draw to keep adding to the list is real.  I wish I kept a Bob from the beginning but more recently I began to record what I read on My Goodreads Account.

Although I haven’t read nearly as much as she has and I’m sure I retain only a small percentage of what I read compared to her, I feel a connection to Pamela and a kinship over the love of books and reading. My Life with Bob is a real treat and a lovely gift for the reader in your life!

As Seen in Goodreads:

Imagine keeping a record of every book you’ve ever read. What would this reading trajectory say about you? With passion, humor, and insight, the editor of The New York Times Book Review shares the stories that have shaped her life.

Pamela Paul has kept a single book by her side for twenty-eight years – carried throughout high school and college, hauled from Paris to London to Thailand, from job to job, safely packed away and then carefully removed from apartment to house to its current perch on a shelf over her desk – reliable if frayed, anonymous-looking yet deeply personal. This book has a name: Bob.

Bob is Paul’s Book of Books, a journal that records every book she’s ever read, from Sweet Valley High to Anna Karenina, from Catch-22 to Swimming to Cambodia, a journey in reading that reflects her inner life – her fantasies and hopes, her mistakes and missteps, her dreams and her ideas, both half-baked and wholehearted. Her life, in turn, influences the books she chooses, whether for solace or escape, information or sheer entertainment.

But My Life with Bob isn’t really about those books. It’s about the deep and powerful relationship between book and reader. It’s about the way books provide each of us the perspective, courage, companionship, and imperfect self-knowledge to forge our own path. It’s about why we read what we read and how those choices make us who we are. It’s about how we make our own stories.

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About the Author:

Pamela Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review and the author of Parenting, Inc., Pornified, and The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony. Prior to joining the Times, Paul was a contributor to Time magazine and The Economist, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Vogue. She and her family live in New York.
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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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My Review:

An unexpected treasure; this surprisingly touching story is about Eleanor Oliphant, an odd character with traits reminiscent of eccentric and lovable Don Tillman from The Rosie Project and maybe even oddball Ove from A Man Called Ove.  In Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, unknown tragic beginnings have shaped Eleanor’s life of monotony, resulting in her being an outcast.  Days have been peppered with bouts of depression and have lead to her acceptance of the most basic existence.  Socially anxious and at times delusional, Eleanor’s inner struggle shows itself on the outside with an obvious clue; she has a scar on her face…often times the elephant in the room.

Eleanor develops a casual friendship with Raymond, the slightly offensive IT guy at work, and at the same time she has her mind set on a fairy tale future with a musician she has yet to meet.  We follow Eleanor as she struggles to understand people and and common communication.  Intuition does not come naturally so she is awkward and literal.  Eleanor slowly undergoes a transformation; she improves her appearance and begins to communicate more effectively, enjoying her time with Raymond, learning how to participate in life, and ultimately realizing a relationship with the musician is a pipe dream.

Working with a therapist, Eleanor becomes more honest with herself, revealing the horrific tragedy of her youth and its impact on her current life, and opening up doors that have been nailed shut for many years.  It will be a long haul to leave all her nightmares behind, but watching Eleanor progress, from a loner living with ghosts of the past, to a participatory member of the community with friends and moments of happiness, was a wonderful and emotional journey.  I couldn’t help but love Eleanor and root for her healing and happiness.
With a disturbing past, a quirky and intriguing present, and a most hopeful future, the well written, rich story, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, is one of the literary highlights of my summer!  Don’t miss it!

As seen in Goodreads:

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

Then everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living–and it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

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About the author:

Gail Honeyman wrote her debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, while working a full-time job, and it was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress. She has also been awarded the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award 2014, was longlisted for BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines, and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She lives in Glasgow.

Refuge by Dina Nayeri

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My Review:  

In the late 1980s, Niloo, then 8 years old, left Iran with her mother and brother, thinking her dentist father would meet up with them soon after.   As it turned out, this daddy’s girl only saw her father 4 times in a span of twenty years following their exodus.  In Refuge, Author Dina Nayeri follows Niloo as a young married, Iranian woman on a journey to find herself and establish roots.  Concurrently, through her father, Bahman’s experiences, we gain an understanding of their relationship and his attachment to home.

In her early 30s, Niloo is living in Amsterdam with her French husband.  At the same time, in Iran, her father is at the courthouse filing for a divorce from his third wife. She has not seen him in many years and although she feels betrayed and disappointed by him, and has tried to erase him from her memory, Niloo thinks of her father often and recalls their few visits and the precious time they had together when she was a child.  Niloo and her husband are working on their young marriage and establish a list of rules; one of them being to have more fun.  Attending an Iranian poetry night fits the bill and she meets a traditional older Iranian man, along with a bunch of refugees who she befriends, allowing her to feel comfortably connected and bringing her thoughts back to home and her father.

Because Niloo moved away from her country at an early age and has trouble finding her place in society, she lived like a vagabond, always establishing a “perimeter”; an area in her dwelling where all her most important items are kept; a temporary home.   Growing up as a poor refuge, ties she had to her culture were suppressed and although she had the desire to settle down, she seemed to have difficulty laying new roots…constantly being embarrassed by her mother’s stories and not feeling attached to Iran, Amsterdam or anywhere else.  Niloo becomes involved in the world of refugees, spending time developing friendships that feel natural, and helping these people in need seems to feed her soul and give her some clarity and insight into who she is and how she can establish a life with solid footing.

Nayeri guides us through each family visit, Brahman’s decisions to finally leave his beloved Iran, the ups and downs of Niloo’s marriage, and her continual search for purpose, identity and home.  Refuge highlights this special father-daughter relationship with the backdrop of immigration and the feelings of loss, pressures, uncertainty and bravery of all who are forced to leave their homes and plant roots to begin again.

As someone who lives in the same place I was raised, with at least 3 generations of  family nearby for over 100 years, I never struggle with who I am, where I come from or where I belong.   I deeply admire those who have left their country and persevered to make a life for themselves somewhere else: they deserve immense respect and support.  Niloo’s and Bahman’s stories in Refuge remind me of those struggles, from finances to getting an education to being part of a community and ultimately creating a place to call home.  I highly recommend this wonderful novel.

 

As seen in Goodreads:

An Iranian girl escapes to America as a child, but her father stays behind. Over twenty years, as she transforms from confused immigrant to overachieving Westerner to sophisticated European transplant, daughter and father know each other only from their visits: four crucial visits over two decades, each in a different international city. The longer they are apart, the more their lives diverge, but also the more each comes to need the other’s wisdom and, ultimately, rescue.

Meanwhile, refugees of all nationalities are flowing into Europe under troubling conditions. Wanting to help, but also looking for a lost sense of home, our grown-up transplant finds herself quickly entranced by a world that is at once everything she has missed and nothing that she has ever known. Will her immersion in the lives of these new refugees allow her the grace to save her father?

Refuge charts the deeply moving lifetime relationship between a father and a daughter, seen through the prism of global immigration. Beautifully written, full of insight, charm, and humor, the novel subtly exposes the parts of ourselves that get left behind in the wake of diaspora and ultimately asks: Must home always be a physical place, or can we find it in another person?

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Dina Nayeri is a graduate of Princeton, Harvard Business School, and the Iowa Writers Workshop. She spends her time in New York and Iowa City.

A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass

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My Review:

In author Julia Glass’s latest, character driven novel, A House Among the Trees, Mort Lear, a famous children’s author, vaguely reminiscent of Maurice Sendak, unexpectedly falls to his death off the roof of his Connecticut home in a fluke accident.  His longtime, live-in assistant Tomasina (Tommy) is left to pick up the pieces, address his fortune, complete unfinished business and come to terms with their co-dependent relationship.  In addition, surprising details of Morty’s past surface causing Tommy to question how well she actually knew him.

When Tommy was a child she saw an eccentric man sketching pictures of her little brother as she watched over him on the playground.  She gave the man the ok to continue as long as her brother remained unaware, and years later she came across Mort Lear’s popular children’s book with those familiar illustrations from long ago.  As a favor, and to pay her back for allowing him to draw her brother, Mort gives Tommy a job working for him, and 40 years later after setting aside her personal needs and living with Morty in the country, Tommy is left alone.

Mort’s best-selling children’s book has a movie deal, and the unlikely famous, British actor, Nicholas Greene, cast to be the lead, had been in touch with Mort via email, sharing private stories and developing an unprecedented relationship.  Both had experienced loss, fame and loneliness in different ways and Nick had been looking forward to continuing to bond with Mort in person prior to his unexpected death.    As a courtesy, Tommy agrees to host Nick for a few days and help him get a feel for what Morty’s life was like.  Little did she know To her shock and surprise, Nick had learned some personal details of Morty’s past that were very different from what he had shared with her during their lifetime together.

Tommy is faced with processing upetting information about Morty’s youth while hosting Nick at the Connecticut home, giving Merry the museum curator some bad news about artwork she had been expecting to receive, and reconnecting with her estranged brother who was never publicly recognized as the model for Morty’s popular illustrations.

Julia Glass provides well written back story to enrich the detail and provide depth as she weaves her story around the characters.  She touches upon issues such as fame and loneliness, nontraditional relationships between adults and children, what we think is owed to us, family, legacy, loyalty and the individual quest for happiness.  I enjoyed A House Among the Trees and highly recommend it for book clubs.

 

 

As Seen on Goodreads:

From the beloved author of the National Book Award winning Three Junes. The unusual bond between a world-famous children’s author and his assistant sets the stage for a richly plotted novel of friendship and love, artistic ambition, and the power of an unexpected legacy.

When the revered children’s author Mort Lear dies accidentally at the Connecticut home he shares with Tomasina Daulair, his trusted assistant, she is stunned to be left the house and all its contents, as well as being named his literary executor. Though not quite his daughter or his wife, Tommy was nearly everything to the increasingly reclusive Lear, whom she knew for over forty years since meeting him as a child in a city playground where Lear was making sketches for Colorquake, a book that would become an instant classic.

Overwhelmed by the responsibility for Lear’s bequest, she must face the demands of all those affected by the sudden loss, including the lonely, outraged museum curator to whom Lear once promised his artistic estate; the beguiling British actor recently cast to play Lear in a movie; and her own estranged brother. She must also face the demons of Morty’s painful past the subject of that movie and a future that will no longer include him. A visit from the actor leads to revelations and confrontations that challenge much of what Tommy believed she knew about her boss’s life and work and, ultimately, about her own.”

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About the Author:

Julia Glass (born March 23, 1956) is an American novelist. Her debut novel, Three Junes, won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2002.[1]

Glass followed Three Junes with a second novel, The Whole World Over, in 2006, set in the same Bank Street–Greenwich Village universe, with three interwoven stories featuring several characters from Three Junes.[2] Her third novel, I See You Everywhere, was published in 2008; her fourth, The Widower’s Tale, in 2010; and her fifth, And the Dark Sacred Night, in 2014.

Glass was born in Boston, grew up in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and attended Concord Academy. She graduated from Yale in 1978. Intending to become a painter, she moved to New York City, where she lived for many years, painting in a small studio in Brooklyn and supporting herself as a free-lance editor and copy editor, including several years in the copy department of Cosmopolitan magazine. She lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts, with her partner, the photographer Dennis Cowley, and their two children, and works as a freelance journalist and editor. She is a previous winner of the William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition.

The Good Widow by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

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My Review:

Nothing wrong with a quick departure from reality as you become wholeheartedly absorbed in the suspense of The Good Widow.  Jacks answers her front door to find two police officers telling her the shocking news that her husband is dead.    She knew he was on a business trip in Kansas…or was he?  The plot thickens when they tell her he was in an accident in Maui, Hawaii.  With another woman.  And so it begins…the unravelling of the truth behind their rocky marriage, the mother in law, fertility issues and unmet expectations.  Then there’s a visit from Nick, the fiancé of the woman Jacks’ husband had been traveling with. Nick, equally distraught due to the loss of his wife to be, wants to take a trip to Maui with Jacks to retrace the couple’s steps and learn the truth.  And so they go.  They discover unexpected details about their dead partners’ secret vacation, and as the two grieving travelers spend time together things between them get complicated.   Will they be able to gain closure, forgive their loved one and move on with their lives?  What really happened in Hawaii? Are they truly who they say they are?

Fenton and Steinke do a great job building suspense, with more questions developing as each new detail rises to the surface.  The flawed, yet likable characters kept me engaged and I thought I had it all figured out a few times before I finally saw the light; an enjoyable quick read while basking in the summer sun!

As seen on Goodreads:

Elementary school teacher Jacqueline “Jacks” Morales’s marriage was far from perfect, but even in its ups and downs it was predictable, familiar. Or at least she thought it was…until two police officers showed up at her door with devastating news. Her husband of eight years, the one who should have been on a business trip to Kansas, had suffered a fatal car accident in Hawaii. And he wasn’t alone.

For Jacks, laying her husband to rest was hard. But it was even harder to think that his final moments belonged to another woman—one who had left behind her own grieving and bewildered fiancé. Nick, just as blindsided by the affair, wants answers. So he suggests that he and Jacks search for the truth together, retracing the doomed lovers’ last days in paradise.

Now, following the twisting path of that fateful road, Jacks is learning that nothing is ever as it seems. Not her marriage. Not her husband. And most certainly not his death…

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About the authors:

Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke have been best friends for 25 years and survived high school and college together. Liz lives in San Diego, CA with her husband and two children. Lisa, a former talk show producer, now lives in Chicago, IL with her husband, daughter and two bonus children.

 

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

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My Review:

I spent the entire time reading this book shaking my head. Wincing as one girl after another lost a tooth and another tooth and had jaw bones removed and suffered leg pain …limping, amputations, bedridden and then painful deaths. Radium poisoning that infiltrated the factory workers and slowly destroyed them from the inside out.  And for many years there was nobody to help them fight for their rights, nobody to stand up to big business, and weak men who hid the truth so business could prosper at the expense of The Radium Girls.  Uplifting book it is not….If only Erin Brockovich was alive in the early 1900s.

The Radium Girls were mostly teenagers and in their 20s; they were lucky enough to land well paying jobs in the factories painting numbers on watches out of radium paint.  They were told to put the brushes in their mouths to make it fine and pointy so unknowingly the girls were ingesting dangerous radium everyday.  The substance got on their clothes and made them glow; they were covered in it by days end everyday and never knew it was harmful.  The executives insisted the paint was safe and they repeatedly tested the women throughout the years to confirm they were all in good health.

Unfortunately, it was obvious their health was failing them and many of the test results did show the girls were radioactive but the businessmen covered it up and hid the reports so the lucrative watch dial business could continue.  Sadly for the girls, repercussions did not physically show up right away and many of them reported health issues years after they left the factory.

Some of the girls tried to hire lawyers and doctors to vouch for their claims that the job caused them to get sick but for a long time nobody really was able to take on the big company’s powerful legal and medical team, so one by one, girls were using all their family’s money for lawyers, healthcare and then ultimately dying, leaving their families destitute.

Author Kate Moore tells the tragic history of the Radium companies and the legal battles through stories of these important women who worked hard, cared for their families and friends, suffered the unthinkable health issues and experienced financial drain.  The Radium Girls deserve recognition for fighting the big companies who insisted Radium was safe and illegally covered up the truth as they knew it.  They fought for themselves,  and the women who would be exposed to toxic chemicals in the future.

The Radium Girls is a tribute to these hard working, strong women and the generous lawyer who fought hard for justice.  “Radium had been known to be harmful since 1901.  Every death since was unnecessary.”

I highly recommend this informative and thought provoking book.  Parallels can be drawn to current day when we look at the number of cases of cancer where we have not been able to connect them to any one instigating cause.  One big difference is our current ability to share information, research and case studies in real time via everyday technology so time is not lost.  With so many people suffering, there continues to be much to do.

As Seen in Goodreads:

The incredible true story of the young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium and their brave struggle for justice…

As World War I raged across the globe, hundreds of young women toiled away at the radium-dial factories, where they painted clock faces with a mysterious new substance called radium. Assured by their bosses that the luminous material was safe, the women themselves shone brightly in the dark, covered from head to toe with the glowing dust. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” were considered the luckiest alive—until they began to fall mysteriously ill. As the fatal poison of the radium took hold, they found themselves embroiled in one of America’s biggest scandals and a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights.

A rich, historical narrative written in a sparkling voice, The Radium Girls is the first book that fully explores the strength of extraordinary women in the face of almost impossible circumstances and the astonishing legacy they left behind.

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About the Author:

My background is in book publishing; I worked in-house as an editor for twelve years, most recently as an editorial director at Penguin Random House, before going freelance as an editor and author in 2014. I discovered the girls’ story through directing These Shining Lives by Melanie Marnich, which dramatizes the Ottawa dial-painters’ experiences. The story really resonated with me. Through my research to make my theatre production authentic, I realized no book existed that told the story from the girls’ perspective. I felt passionately about ensuring they were remembered and the individual women celebrated, which is how the book came to be.