The Prodigal Son

The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler is another Top 150 novel. Published posthumously in 1903, this autobiographical story takes place in the Victorian 1800’s. It is the story of a man named Ernest who lives in England and is the son of Theobald, a clergyman. The story’s narrator is Edward, Ernest’s guardian who is well aquatinted with the Pontifex family history.

Theobald is the bane of his children’s existence. He is controlling and judgmental; not exactly a man who practices what he preaches. Ernest, being the good firstborn son, acquiesces to his father’s commands, becomes a clergyman, and it is then that his reformational ideas cause an estrangement between himself and his family.

Ernest spends the remainder of his early adulthood trying to figure out his true calling. This leads him on a wild goose chase because he was raised to believe his father knew best what was good for his children and Ernest deferred to his father’s wishes in all things.

This is a long, wordy novel which I struggled to read because the narrator goes on many pontificating tangents which bored me. However, I am grateful I didn’t give up on it! It illuminates many universal truths about parenting worth pondering. If you have a great deal of patience, I recommend this novel because it has its good points.

I particularly like this quote:

“There are two classes of people in this world, those who sin, and those who are sinned against; if a man must belong to either, he had better belong to the first than to the second.”

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Under New Management

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry is an enjoyable novel about a young woman named Emilia Nightingale who inherits her father’s bookshop in a quaint English village upon his death. Emilia’s enthusiasm for keeping the store open wains after she discovers it’s precarious financial status. With the aid of a dedicated staff and loyal customers, she forges ahead with plans to revitalize the musty shop.

Unbeknownst to Emilia, there’s a plot afoot hatched by a greedy local real estate developer who wishes to own the car park adjacent to the bookshop also owned by Emilia.

As stated in the novel’s title, there’s a love story and this is a feel good read for book enthusiasts. Its happy ending came as a welcome respite after all the heavy reading I’ve been doing recently. Recommended.

 

Please note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Storms

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron is a well-known Top 150 Novel of the last century. Styron wrote two novels on the list and I’ve come to love his work.

After reading about Styron’s life, I realize he used much of his personal experience in this story which tells of a World War Two veteran nicknamed Strigo, who moves from his home in Virginia to New York. Using inherited money, he plans to write his first novel.

Soon after moving into a boarding house, he befriends neighbors Sophie, a Polish Christian survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp, and her psychotic on again, off again boyfriend Nathan. Strigo is immediately smitten with Sophie and their private conversations reveal many horrors of war and its long- lasting effects on Sophie. The story is told through the eyes of Strigo who knows very little about life which makes it all the more compelling.

This is a story I doubt I will ever forget. I say this as someone who has read many books based on war. Sophie’s Choice is outstanding. Please be advised it contains graphic sex which led to its being banned years ago. That aside, Styron’s portrays his characters in ways which tear your heart out.

Although the subject matter makes for emotionally difficult reading, it’s an incredible novel which I highly recommend.

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It’s Academic

Possession by A.S. Byatt is one of the Top 150 novels of the last century. The story is about a scholar named Roland who, while researching the life of a Victorian poet named Ash, discovers drafts of two letters written in the dead poet’s hand which lead him on a search for what may become a literary bombshell. The draft letters prompt Roland to believe Ash had an affair with a well-known female poet named Lamotte who everyone thought had lived a solitary life.

This is a love story within a story because Roland secretly shares his suspicions with Maude, another academic who has studied Lamotte and her work. The two modern day scholars pool their resources and together, search to uncover the truth behind the draft letters Roland discovered.

There’s much more to the story and a fair amount of intrigue because, if the relationship between the Victorian poets can be verified, others could stand to gain considerably.

I skipped quite a bit of this book which won the Man Booker Award because there are fairy tales and poems interspersed within the text and rather than interesting me, they often made me lose interest. Overall, I enjoyed the then and now plots. I think poets, academic researchers, and writers will especially enjoy this novel. I recommend it.

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When You’re a Jet

Grateful American: A Journey From Self to Service by Gary Sinise is an eye-opening look into the life and mission of the well- known actor. Until reading this book, I never realized the author’s many connections to the Chicago area. This discovery, along with sharing the same year of birth and faith, made his story relatable to me personally.

I had no idea Gary is one of the founding members of the Steppenwolf theater in Chicago. I know many people who frequented the plays there… small world!

What I found most fascinating is the trajectory of Gary’s life. Here’s a pot smoking kid who was seemingly without direction until a drama teacher suggested he audition for a high school play. He’s accepted as a chorus member in West Side Story and he’s hooked! As is often said, the rest is history. It’s not without it’s ups and downs, but Gary’s passion for acting led him to great heights. It also led him to his wife of many years. He writes about his wife’s battle with alcohol and how tough that was.

Most importantly, this book is about Gary’s journey and mission to provide aid to our country’s heroes and their families. His firsthand accounts are gut-wrenching, but the stories are true and it’s clear that so much more needs to be done for our veterans and first responders in need.

I came away from this book with grateful for Gary’s commitment of service and for his willingness to share his story, time, money, and talents in service to others. I definitely recommend this book!

https://www.garysinisefoundation.org/

 

 

 

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So It Is Written

In My Father’s Court and More Stories From My Father’s Court by Isaac Bashevis Singer are autobiographies written by the Pulitzer Prize winning author about his years in Warsaw as the son of a pious rabbi in the early 1900’s.

Told in the first-person child’s voice, the short stories are enlightening by way of recounting very specific interactions which took place between his father, the rabbi, and Jewish neighbors who came to his home to seek counsel. Based on his vast knowledge of Jewish law, the rabbi performed divorces and settled a wide variety to disputes.

What fascinated me was learning that it was common practice for the wife of a rabbi to work and support the family in order to allow her husband to devote himself to studying the Torah. Singer’s family relied on the community for their support and oftentimes, there was no money coming in because his mother did not work. They lived through winters without heat and fasted often because there was no money for food. I found this appalling.

The books contain humorous stories as well as sad ones. Overall, they taught me much about the beliefs and lives of Jewish people living in Poland in the early 1900’s. I enjoyed the well-written books and recommend both.

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Wailing Saxophone

Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub is a book I never would have read had it not been among the discarded pile at our library. As a lover of jazz, the title and book jacket intrigued me, so I brought it home.

This novel is classified as “horror”. However, I wouldn’t choose that word to describe it. Although it has contains a grown musician’s recollections of a frightening experience he had at the age of eleven, it’s much more than that story alone. It says much about being a musician and jazz. It also speaks to the ways in which a childhood fright can influence the remainder of someone’s life.

What it is, is a story about a student studying for his Masters degree who loves jazz and interviews an African-American saxophone player whose playing he greatly admires. During the course of the late night interview on Halloween night, the musician, Hat, shares a creepy story from his youth which he has never told another soul.

After hearing of the musician’s untimely death, the student eventually organizes and publishes his interview, leaving the Halloween part out. As an older man he reflects on the musician and speculates on whether Hat’s revelation was truth or fiction.

This quick read kept me riveted to my chair not because of its suspenseful nature, but rather the quality of the writing. I think it’s a well-written novel! Highly recommended!

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