The Wright Brothers

wrightThe Wright Brothers
by David McCullough
2015 / pages
rating: 8

This is a really enjoyable book, well researched and nicely written. The subject matter is of relatively narrow scope so McCullough’s focus is primarily on the characters, personalities and relationships of his major subjects. Wilber the elder and Orville the younger, are totally fascinating in their dedication to honesty, integrity, their dream and their family. But the story is also that of their younger sister Katharine and their widowed father, Bishop Milton Wright.  >>>>MORE>>>>

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The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

vanishingThe Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
by Maggie O’Farrell
2007 / 277 pages
rating – 7.5 / contemp fiction

I’m not fond of books without chapter divisions – what is it the reader is supposed to do, read it in one sitting? Are we supposed to think the author just sat down and wrote this out in one sitting? I understand the work is meant to be seen as “seamless,” or of a piece – well, okay, but I don’t eat dinner that way and it’s certainly “of a piece.”

Whatever – I enjoyed but wasn’t really impressed with the story of Iris Lockhart, a present-day Scottish woman, who finds she has a great aunt being released from a mental hospital. It seems that Esme Lennox has been stashed away for deuces there and it’s now closing. The main plot thread follows >>>>MORE>>>>

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by Marilynne Robinson
1980 /219 pages
rating: 9 / 20th century fiction

I’ve read all of Marilynne Robinson’s novels but this one, Gilead (2004), Home (2008), and Lila (2014) – all terrific. So I was interested in reading this book even prior to a reading group.

Housekeeping is about a lot of things, including housekeeping. Mostly it’s about “transience” as so many reviewers say, the impermanence of things, people, families. And although it’s written in beautiful, lyrical, Biblical, transcendent prose it’s an all-American novel.  >>>>MORE>>>>

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Far From the Maddening Crowd

far fromFar From the Maddening Crowd
by Thomas Hardy
1874/ 500 or so pages
rating: 10 / classic – 19th century England

Far From the Maddening Crowd
by Thomas Hardy
1874/ 500 or so pages
rating: 10 / classic – 19th century England

I’ve read several of Hardy’s novels and enjoy them quite a lot. This is his best according to many I only finally got  to it.  The first e-book edition I got was pathetic, no paragraph breaks except at the chapters and many typos. I got it because it was supposed to be annotated but it’s not. I returned it,  got a better (still cheap) version and was quite happy.  I tell you this only as a precaution – all formats are not created equal.

Anyway, a young but promising sheep farmer named Gabriel Oak – I suppose he’s an earthly angel – falls in love with Bathsheba Everdene, a beautiful young neighbor who is the niece of a very large farmer >>>>MORE>>>>

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The Beginning of Spring

beginningThe Beginning of Spring
by Penelope Fitzgerald
1998/ 272 pages
Rating: 9 / historical fiction

I love the works of Penelope Fitzgerald and have read a good many them.  This one came as a surprise to me though, when it was selected as a Booker nominee – I don’t know why I hadn’t read it before.

I suspect this historical fiction set in March, 1913 Moscow and environs was painstakingly researched, but Fitzgerald always keeps it natural focusing on the plot and character development first snd foremost. That said, the setting, both time and place, is an integral part of the story, affecting the characters profoundly. I think it could happen nowhere else.

Moscow at this time was a place of serious unrest, student protests and labor strikes abounded, but things had quieted down some from the rebellion of 1905 and World War I had not yet started. It was hoped that a revolution could be avoided.  >>>>MORE>>>> 

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On the Move: A Life

onthemoveOn the Move: A Life
by Oliver Sacks
2015/ 416 pages
Rating 8.5 – memoir

Fun book, for the most part, quirky and slightly irreverent but mostly . Oliver Sacks is now 80 years old and had had a truly amazing life, making the most of amazing times as a neurosurgeon, amateur chemist and author. He is best known for his books detailing the case studies of his patients in books like “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” and “Awakenings.”

Born into a well-to-do family of doctors, mother, father, brothers, Oliver tried to avoid the field, but that’s where his talents and interests lie anyway. Still, literature and writing beckoned and it shows. This is an example of excellent creative-style, or literary (used loosely) memoir. The facts and information are likely as accurate as any memoir, but the structure and style are less formal with maintaining interest being a primary goal.  >>>>MORE>>>>

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The Feast of the Goat

feastThe Feast of the Goat
by Mario Vargas Llosa
2000/405 pages
rating: 9- contemp fiction

I read this back in 2004 or so, I think, and enjoyed it, certainly remembered it, but one reading left me rather confused as to the structure and characters. Anther reading group chose it for June of this year and I decided to revisit. ai’m quite pleased I did. Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2010 and although he has quite an oeuvre, The Feast of the Goat is probably the work he’s best known for.
Because this was first published in 2000 about events which occurred less than forty years prior, it’s not quite historical fiction, but rather very well researched and carefully considered fiction about a time the author lived through, followed, took note of, and surely considered carefully at the time.  >>>>MORE>>>>

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