The Color of Lightning

coloroflightningAt the center of this beautiful novel is Britt Johnson, a newly freed slave in West Texas, just as the Civil War is ending. He’s moved there with his wife and children to begin a new life, only to have them ripped away from him in an Indian raid. So he’s forced to find a way to get them back. This is also at the time that the US government is trying to “civilize” the Indians, and they’ve sent a peace-loving Quaker to talk them into settling down, giving up their way of life, and become farmers. What’s really wonderful about this novel is that it honors all their perspectives: the husband, the broken wife, the children, the black man, the Indian. The only one who seems clueless is the white man.

Paulette Jiles writes such amazing descriptions that you feel you are there, on the plains, in the tepees, in the brush overlooking the camps. It was a book I could not put down and was very sad to leave.  Britt Johnson was a real person and the story of rescuing his wife and children from the Kiowa is part of Texas lore, though Jiles had very little detail of the story to work with and so fictionalized most of the narrative through intensive research.

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The Sound of Things Falling

soud ofThe author of this captivating novel is Juan Gabriel Vásquez, not to be confused with his fellow Colombian Gabriel García Márquez.  The Sound of Things Falling is the story of Antonio, a young law professor in Bogota who befriends an older man named Laverde in a pool hall, only to see him shot dead in the street as they leave, leaving him wounded both physically and emotionally. But when Laverde’s daughter Maya who barely knew her father contacts him, he heads out to the countryside to find out who Laverde was. The story flashes back to Laverde’s earlier life when he was flying pot to the US and falling in love with a Peace Corps volunteer, Maya’s mom.
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The Chalk Artist

the-chalk-artistAt the center of this novel is a love story between a rich young teacher and a super talented chalk artist. Nina is an idealistic young teacher with TeacherCorps. She naively believes that her love of literature will allow her to get through to a bunch of pretty difficult kids. She spends time after work at a cafe where she meets Collin, an amazingly talented and struggling artist. Their developing relationship is just one of the through lines.
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Educated by Tara Westover

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Not that this book needs any more press as there is no shortage of great reviews and summaries of this memoir, but it is was another one that could not be put down. It’s pretty awesome (literal use of the word intended) to be drawn into the author’s fundamentalist/survivalist Mormon upbringing and go with her as she slowly, painfully, breaks from the mental bonds of her family, religion and ignorance (never went to school until 17, but now with a doctorate from Cambridge!) that seemed even more challenging than the grueling physical demands put on her by her family.

Calypso by David Sedaris

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Lately I’m a greedy and terribly lazy reader, and due to time constraints of life I only want to read easy engaging things that I can’t put down such as this by David Sedaris, one of my all time favorite writers. Calypso is my current favorite of all of his books and I read it in two afternoons knowing I should slow down to savor it a bit more, but I couldn’t help myself. It may be true that I love all most all his personal essays that involve his life and family, but this collection seems to dig a little deeper than being just bitingly funny as he shows us more about his mother and sister Tiffany who committed suicide.

The Vegetarian

 

VEGETARIAN_COVER-670x1024The central character in this story is Yeong-hye, a very ordinary South Korean housewife who awakens from a violent nightmare and declares herself a vegetarian, and it ultimately tears her entire family apart. The novella is told in three parts — one from her self-centered husband, one from her artist brother-in-law, and the last from her protective older sister. Yeong-hye’s transformation only begins with her vegetarianism. She eventually believes she can become one with the natural world, needing only air and water to survive.
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The Island of Second Sight

the_island_of_second_sight-thelen_albert_vigoleis-22977734-3537755930-frntlI don’t believe I’ve ever taken as long to read a book! Sure, it’s over 700 pages, but that wasn’t what took me so long.  I’d simply ingested enough story after just a few pages to be satisfied with the experience. The book is a fictionalized (or is it?)  memoir by German writer Albert Vigoleis Thelen of the years he and his wife Beatrice spent on the island of Majorca. Initially landing there under the false impression that her brother Zwingli is dying, the couple ends up spending five years in various parts of the small island during the run-up to World War II.
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