This Is War

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover is an emotional story based on the author’s life in Idaho where she was raised by Mormon survivalists in an isolated environment. Westover’s early life and the experiences of her immediate family were often so horrific and unbelievable that I shuddered. Her father was an undiagnosed bipolar who lived in expectation of the end of the world and her mother, clearly a battered woman, concocted herbal remedies and was an uneducated midwife.

Tara worked with her family in her father’s scrapyard and was “homeschooled “. This term is used loosely; her parents put little to no effort into educating her or her six siblings because they chose to live off the grid. Several of the children in the family were never issued birth certificates because they were born at home and their parents never registered their existence. Crazy stuff! That’s just the tip of this iceberg!

Tara eventually leaves the family to pursue an education where, amazingly, she excelled beyond belief. Her studies change her thinking and world concepts which in turn alienated her from her parents.

This is an excellent memoir which I found difficult to read because so much mental and physical pain is contained within. I thought there were some gaps in the story, but they are inconsequential. I do however, recommend this memoir. It is an inspiring tale of the power of education and survival.

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The Father Timothy Mitford Series by Jan Karon came to my attention through my Goodreads friend Carol. Not realizing this was a series of novels, in my typical fashion, I began with the second novel. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the second book immensely and hightailed over to the library to hoard a number more!

These fictional stories center on an Episcopal priest in the small North Carolina town named Mitford and its inhabitants. The characters are human and many of their situations, foibles, and failings humorous.

The Bible quotes as well as other literary ones are inspirational. After reading the first and second books, I am delighted with Father Tim, the town of Mitford and grateful to have been led to it! Ironically, the first novel in the series takes place around the Fourth of July!

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Second Best

Varina by Charles Frazier is a story about the second wife of Jefferson Davis. Even though I have lived in the South not far from Jefferson’s last home on the Gulf Coast, I have never had much interest in him or his family. Well, Frazier did and here you will find his view of the woman beside the man who led the Confederacy.

Varina was essentially forced to marry Davis; a man old enough to be her father and then some. In those days, it was a common occurrence. It seems he was still in love with his late first wife and that didn’t make the situation any bed of roses for Varina whose life held one tragedy after another. She outlived her children, suffered greatly after the war between the states ended in the defeat of the South, was separated from her children, put in prison, and repeatedly lost almost everything she owned.

This isn’t a happy tale. In many ways, it reminded me of Gone With the Wind. One major difference was that Varina was no Scarlet. In fact, she didn’t appear to be prejudiced against the slaves. The story incorporates a boy of African-American descent she rescued and raised along with her children for a period of years before and during the war.

Even though I didn’t appreciate the way in which Varina’s life story was told in this particular novel, I think she was a woman before her time and that was of interest to me.

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Just the Facts

Chicago by David Mamet attracted my attention at the library because I grew-up just blocks from the northern border of “my kind of town”. It also interested me because of Mamet’s well-known plays.

Surprisingly, I almost quit reading the book very near the beginning because I had a difficult time getting the rhythm of the dialogue. How pleased I am to have stuck with it because I ended-up really liking this novel about an investigative reporter named Mike Hodge employed by the Chicago Tribune in the 1920’s.

A World War One veteran, Hodge is familiar with death which is a good thing because, thanks to numerous mob factions, there are plenty of violent crimes in Chicago. What hits Mike broadside is a murder way too close to home – in fact, in his home.

This is a noir who done it filled with familiar Chicago landmarks, hard-hitting reporters, stereotypical mobsters, policemen, and prostitutes. Until the end, it kept me guessing. The language is rough and expletives plentiful.

As a noir fan, I highly recommend this novel! I would love to see it adapted for the big screen.

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Till Death Do Us Part

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella is a light summer read about a married couple who are informed by a doctor that in addition to the ten years they have already been together, they can expect another 68! That prompts them to implement a plan which they hope will add spice to their happy marriage. As in many well intended plans, things go awry.

I have read another novel by Kinsella and this was enjoyable as well. It has a good balance of humor and its characters are human and act in believable ways. If you’re looking for a quick, light read, I imagine you will enjoy this one.

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Fighting for Life

Native Son by Richard Wright is a Top 150 novel published in 1940. It is one of the most powerful novels I have ever read.

This story about a 20-year-old African-American man named Bigger Thomas living in the slums on Chicago’s South Side who murders the wealthy white daughter of his employer and his African-American lover in a span of 24 hours is one I wish had been on the required reading list in high school many years ago. Back then, To Kill a Mockingbird was popular. I wonder now why this was not because it takes the issue of racial prejudice to another strata. I admit however, I probably would not have grasped this powerful novel back then.

One thing which struck me while reading was that I cannot think of reading a story ever where I actually felt sorry for the murderer in addition to the victim. This story is told in such a way that I kept reminding myself Bigger was a man who murdered two innocent women.

During the trial, the defense attorney’s lengthy plea for leniency is incredibly written. The prosecution’s closing argument is beyond belief as well. Considering the length of time since this novel was published, and the occurrences since, I question if much of anything has really changed when it comes to racism in this country.

Outstanding novel!

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I Want My Mommy

Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence is another novel on the Top 150 list. Published over a hundred years ago, it’s central theme is Oedipal complexes.

The main characters are two sons being raised in their parents’ meager homes in coal mining towns in England. Their father loves his liquor and their dissatisfied mother lavishes her love on her sons.

Yes, this story contained a bit too much in the sexual realm for its day and approximately ten percent of the original story was poorly cut before it went to press. It wasn’t well received by the public either. Although I did not enjoy the autobiographical story, it does have its merit. I say this because Lawrence clearly understood and was able to convey the emotional struggles faced by two brothers whose relationships with their mother adversely affected nearly every aspect of their relationships with other women and the world in general. I imagine Freud would have loved it!

I do not recommend it because I failed to appreciate it on any level than that of a tedious study in psychology.

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