My Bookshelf …
I like to read. Of course, I also like to write, but my first love is reading — for fun mostly and that means picking a good book. I realize there are a ton of famous folks out there…okay maybe not a ton… but at least a few such as Oprah, Jenna, and Reese that provide recommendations for reading fodder. And I take their recommendations seriously.
However, not all good reading material gets from the shelves to their hands and then passed on to you-the reader. Or from the publisher to the NYT’s Best-Selling List. From my own experience, there are quite a number of really great authors whose books go unread because — well just because. Or they were on the best-selling list, but after a while got lost in the piles of other books sitting on shelves.
So, I decided to start my own book review page on which I post brief reviews of the books I have read or am currently reading: good, bad, and/or indifferent. Just for fun, I have created my own rating scale based on the name of my publishing company: Two Olives Publications. I call it …
The Olive Scale!
Each book is rated from 1 through 5 olives, meaning:
1 Olive would be a blah-not-so-good … up to …
5 Olives being “You gotta read this one!”
And so, without further ado,
Here goes …
‘The Whistling Season’
Published in 2006, this delightful story is set in rural Montana during the early years of the Twentieth Century. Having lost their mother less than a year earlier, three boys and their father work tirelessly to handle the non-stop labor that go into farming and keeping up a household. And they do a fairly good job of it all, except the cooking part which mostly centered around all types of corn meal mush. The cleaning part also needed help, but the main issue was food preparation. It was an ad in the Westwater Gazette that changed their lives: “CAN’T COOK BUT DOESN’T BITE.”
From that sentence onward, I was hooked. Through the voice of a precocious boy, Author Ivan Doig describes the everyday struggles needed to live in the rural west and the struggle to keep open the one-room schoolhouse in such a way that made me laugh, as well as shed a few tears. The characters are unique, delightful, funny, cantankerous, and sometimes downright mean, but so relatable to those I remember while growing up.
This book was entertaining, yet filled with such historical information that I gained a new perspective about a life long-since gone. It is storytelling at its best.
Find your copy at Amazon, HERE
A historical fiction novel about love, friendship, loyalty, family, and forgiveness set in Rome during the turmoil of fascism prior to and during WWII. The story revolves around three young people, completely different from each other, yet bound by a friendship that transpires prejudices, time, and even death.
Elisabetta, a beautiful yet shy teenager, is the main character and the center of the love triangle between her, Marco, and Sandro. Friends since childhood, neither recognized the growing love developing until both boys vie for her love.
Marco, an assistant to the head of the local Fascist Party, wants to prove he is the perfect party member but also wants to maintain his friendship with Sandro, who is Jewish.
But war is coming to Italy and soon the world that they know, and all their beliefs are shattered as Fascism declares Jews to be non-Italian and eventually rip them from their homes.
I enjoyed this novel and learned much that I did not know about Italy and Fascism leading up to WWII. The author describes Rome and those living there in such a way that brings the characters to life. I felt the internal struggles of not-only Elisabetta, Marco, and Sandro, but of their families in facing a reality that no one believed could ever happen.
At 463 pages, a few might consider this read a little long, but I believe it is well worth giving it a try.
Find your copy at Amazon, HERE
A story about an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. Sounds dull, except it isn’t. Author McDermott’s portrayal of Marie Commeford’s life, as an Irish-American, living in the Irish-American community of Brooklyn during the twentieth century is so relatable that at times it hurt to read. I felt a kinship with Marie: from thick glasses, clumsiness, poor self-esteem, looking in the mirror and seeing ugly, to all the other emotions felt by girls since creation.
Marie is no heroine in the traditional sense, yet she marches through her life—never giving up on herself or anyone else. She is vulnerable, yet tenacious in her approach to loss and life in general.
Alice McDermott has a knack for drawing the reader into the story; her descriptions allow us to mentally see each character as their lives twine in and around Marie’s.
My only issue with the novel is that it jumps around a bit. I don’t mind flashbacks, but at times I had to retrace my reading to figure out if the particular passage was past, future, or what.
Therefore, I give Someone, A Novel …
Find your copy at Amazon, HERE
‘Fire Over Water’
The first volume in the Lady Babalon Series. Typically, I would not pick a romance novel to read, especially if the cover features a sultry female dressed to the fives. However, the author, an acquaintance of mine, gave me her proof copy to read. I did and boy, was I surprised.
As in most books of this genre, the end is almost predictable. Yet, the story line is filled with enough twists and turns that I wasn’t quite sure. What fascinated me most was the in-depth information about the world of Tarot that Ms. Penrose included in her novel. Her ability to intertwine this information while keeping to the basics of the story was remarkable. I found myself drawn to this fascinating practice. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Fire over Water and therefore award it …
‘Once Upon a Wardrobe’
After reading this book, I see why Ms. Callahan is an award-winning novelist. It is storytelling at its best. Once I began reading, I was drawn into the lives of George, a young boy with a dying heart, and his older sister, Megs, a university student who would do anything to keep her brother happy for whatever time he has remaining. But wait…it’s not a sad story, but a story filled with beauty, love, and most of all hope.
It is December 1950 and young George, who must spend most of his days in his bed, has just finished reading the recently published The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. And he is enthralled—completely captivated by the four children and the wardrobe they escape through to find Narnia.
George becomes nearly obsessed by the story and on the days when he can walk a few steps, he goes to the wardrobe in his room and creates his own Narnia by curling up, closing his eyes, and envisioning the adventures found in that enchanted land. But he wants more. He wants to know how Narnia came into existence and so he asks his sister to seek out Mr. Lewis and ask him.
Megs reluctantly seeks out the famous author and what happens after they meet is magic at its best.
This book will not disappoint and in many ways, I feel blest to have found it on the library shelf. My goal now is to reread The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because like Megs, I realize this fairy-tale is not only for kids.
I award Once Upon a Wardrobe …
Find your copy at Amazon, HERE
The Hardest Year’
Carole & William Wagener
Military stories, especially memoirs, are normally written about the experiences of the people directly involved in a war, with little consideration for the family left behind.
The Hardest Year, however, is written from the perspective of a newlywed young woman, Carole, who remains ‘to keep the home fires burning’ while her husband, Bill, is deployed to Vietnam only a few days after their wedding.
It is the fall of 1968. Unrest concerning the War in Vietnam and impingement of civil rights runs rampant across the United States. The picture is bleak, as the nightly news reports the burning of city after city followed by the daily casualty report from Southeast Asia.
Although Carole and Bill are not oblivious to the chaos around them, they are in love. Unfortunately, Bill, who just finished Army training, has orders for Vietnam and wants to get married before he leaves. Carole, on the other hand, wants to wait until his tour of duty is over and have the wedding she always dreamed of. That was not to be because a missed menstrual cycle led the two to think she was pregnant and with that a hurried wedding took place in his folks living room and within a few days, Bill left…
…and so the story begins.
As Bill and Carole part at the airport, they promise to write to each other daily and it is these letters, which both kept, that form the core of The Hardest Year. Poignant and often brutally honest, Carole and Bill share with their readers. the emotional rollercoaster ride of love, trying to survive separation by war.
To me, The Hardest Year is essentially a love story, a coming-of-age story, and a loss of innocence story blended into a read that is both revealing and healing.
I highly recommend reading their story and award it …