One of the fun squares on my Summer Reading Challenge BINGO card is to create a soundtrack to my favorite book if it became a movie. For those of you who don’t know, my #1 all-time favorite book is Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk. Wouk has been writing books for decades, most notably The Caine Mutiny, which was published in 1951 and won the Pulitzer Prize, Marjorie Morningstar, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, and of course, Youngblood Hawke.
Read all about Herman Wouk in “Who’s That Author?” here. And by the way, Wouk is 102 years old and at age 100 published Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year Old Author.
So you can make sense of my soundtrack, here’s a quick summary of Youngblood Hawke:
Youngblood Hawke is the story of a young author from the coal mines of Kentucky who arrives in New York and becomes a hugely successful and prolific novelist. Publishers, agents, Broadway producers, filmmakers, real estate developers and, of course, women, all want a piece of this larger-than-life, good-natured and ambitious personality. Hawke’s goal all along is to make enough money so that he can really get down to business and write his most serious work, something he calls his American Comedy.
He has a work ethic like no other, writes all through the night, sleeps very little and spends the rest of his time trying to manage his new successful life, with many detours. Pushed to his limits, Hawke ignores recurring symptoms of a head injury from years ago. We watch and hope for the best as he works maniacally and under incredible financial pressure to complete his latest book. His dream is just ahead and we hope for the best.
Here’s my soundtrack!
Everyday I Write the Book – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Talk of the Town – The Pretenders
The Book I Read – Talking Heads
It’s Hard To Be a Saint In The City – Bruce Springsteen
Unwritten – Natasha Bedingfield
I’m So Anxious – Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes
Reelin’ in the Years – Steely Dan
Gone Hollywood – Supertramp
Life’ll Kill Ya – Warren Zevon
Note: Youngblood Hawke was actually made into a movie in 1964 and starred James Franciscus, Suzanne Pleshette and Geneviève Page. My song choices are my own. You can check out the details of the film here.
Something bad happens during Cadence Eastman’s fifteenth summer on the family’s private island off Martha’s Vineyard. Cady, her cousins Johnny and Mirren and their friend Gat were inseparable and fearless that summer and they would risk everything to break free from the oppressive, greedy and narrow minded Sinclair family pressures.
After an unexplained accident, Cady struggles to remember the events that sent her to the hospital and left her with debilitating migraines. Cady tells us what she can: “I used to be strong, but now I am weak. I used to be pretty, but now I look sick.” She wants to know, especially about Gat, but her family stays quiet and keeps her away from Beechwood Island. Everything is different when she returns for her seventeenth summer, but who will help her remember why?
Who can resist a book about three generations of a wealthy New England family, inseparable friends (nicknamed the Liars), rivalries and teenage love? E. Lockhart does a great job setting the scene: money, interesting family drama and good looking people with strong chins spending their summers on an idyllic private island. Keeping appearances and hiding weakness are Sinclair rules and the reader soon sees that this kind of lying runs in the family. That’s enough for me, but The Liars is much bigger and is full of mystery and suspense. Lockhart leads the reader through a series of jumps between present and past, filling in details, but leaving a shocking discovery to the final pages.
This is a terrific Young Adult story about how the mysterious events of one summer force an entire family through painful changes that just may bring them closer. I recommend The Liars to readers who like suspenseful family dramas.
The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors
Illustrated by Adam Rex
I don’t review a lot of children’s books, but I couldn’t resist a post about this new picture book by Drew Daywalt. It’s already a New York Times best seller. We recently purchased it at the library where I work and the children’s librarians love it. So do I!
Daywalt is an American filmmaker and writer. He began his career writing and directing short films and horror films on the YouTube channel Fewdio. He is also the author of the award-winning The Day the Crayons Quit and its sequel, The Day the Crayons Came Home.
The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors is a great story about the backyard game every kid knows, usually played to decide something important, such as who is in charge or who gets to go first.
Daywalt’s story brings the three players (Rock, Paper and Scissors) to life in the Kingdom of Backyard, the Empire of Mom’s Home Office and the Kitchen Realm. They are undisputed champions in their own domains, but winning has been too easy and each yearns for a worthy opponent. The match is on once they meet each other. It’s a good natured contest, and it ends with a feel-good message, perfect for teaching a lesson about competition and friendship.
Hilarious from start to finish with terrific illustrations by Adam Rex, this story will engage both young and older children who know all about the game and the power struggles that go on in their neighborhood backyards. Adults will also appreciate Daywalt’s clever story and subtle humor, as well as Rex’s imaginative and colorful illustrations.
I wish my kids weren’t mostly grown because they would have loved this book. But maybe I’ll check it out anyway. You never know…
Interested? Visit these links for more information.
What’s it about? A realistic look into the public and private lives of Anne Morrow and her famous aviator husband, Charles Lindbergh. Melanie Benjamin takes on a well-known subject and fills in the gaps by letting the reader imagine how Morrow felt during her early marriage and later when Charles left her and their five children alone for long stretches.
Benjamin also describes how Lindbergh’s career changes as flight technology advances and he takes on more advisory roles. His pro-Nazi comments made him a controversial figure in the late 1930s and his alliance with Henry Ford, a known anti-Semite, made him extremely unpopular during this time and ruined his long friendship with the Guggenheims.
How did you hear about it? I always have my eye out for stories about Charles Lindbergh because of the bigger story behind the glamour of his aviator feats, especially the media sensation during the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. I also read Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh years ago and liked learning about Morrow’s life and her ideas. This was before I knew about Lindbergh’s double life in Europe, in which he had long-term relationships with three women and fathered two children with one and another with a sister. I wanted to read The Aviator’s Wife to learn more about Anne Morrow.
Closing comments: So many times the people who do great things are selfishly focused, unable to see either left or right, only straight ahead. I think this must be how Charles was. Anne found her own way to shine, by being a mother, by writing and by forming her own important relationships. In the end, Benjamin gives us a realistic picture of what might have been said between Anne and Charles throughout their marriage and during Charles’ final days.
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You may have already read this classic French novel from 1857, which caused a big stir when it was first published. Labeled as obscene and immoral, many readers were scandalized by Emma Bovary’s adulterous behavior in the book. When the storm cleared, however, readers and critics agreed that Flaubert had written a fantastic story about a young, unhappy middle class woman who does everything she can to ruin her life and the lives of those who love her. With this book, Flaubert also branded a new writing style called literary realism.
I first read Madame Bovary in college. When I picked it up again, I realized that most of what I had remembered was about Emma and her unhappiness and, of course, her secret affairs. Reading it a second time, years later, I saw more and I saw Emma in a different light.
If you haven’t read the book, here’s a quick summary:
Emma Roualt is a young woman living with her father in a French provincial town. She was raised in a convent, thinking she would become a nun, but her heart wasn’t in it, and when her mother died, she returned to live with her father, with a head full of romance novels and unformed ideas about love and happiness. In comes Dr. Charles Bovary, who tends to her father’s broken leg. They’re taken with each other, but Bovary is married, so nothing happens until his wife suddenly dies. It hadn’t been a happy marriage, so before long, Emma Roualt becomes Emma Bovary.
It isn’t until Emma settles into her new married life that she regrets marrying the first man who came along. And that’s where the trouble begins, first with Leon Dupuis, a young clerk in town. They resist temptation for now, but just wait until later. Emma gives in to unbridled passion when she meets Rodolphe Boulanger, however, a womanizing landowner. During their affair, she alternates between depression and mania and when it’s over, Emma crashes. Poor Charles, who adores Emma, is left clueless.
Second reads always teach you something new. This time, I became frustrated with Emma. I was struck with how poorly she regarded Charles. Even though I knew she wouldn’t open her eyes, I wanted her to appreciate him. I also became more aware of important secondary characters and their motives. Homais the chemist and Lheureux the draper are part of a terrific side story that drives the plot in the second half of the book and I admit I enjoyed seeing Emma lose control of her folly.
For those who have not read this classic, I’ll leave out the spoilers. And I will leave the scholarly reviews to the experts. I’ll simply say that the characters, descriptions and plot in Madame Bovary place the book at the top of my list. Take a look at a great review by Kathryn Harrison of the New York Times here. Or if you prefer your drama to be onscreen, check out the 2014 film here.
Empire Falls is a great novel with many layers and characters and that’s just the kind of story I like to read. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2002 and HBO made it into a miniseries in 2005 (check it out here). I read it much later than most people, but I think the story and characters survive the time.
Its first layer is about Empire Falls, Maine, a town that is struggling to survive and is controlled by Francine Whiting, of the once-strong Whiting Industries. This backdrop introduces you to those who have chosen to stay and they make up many of Russo’s subsequent interconnecting layers. We learn about Miles Roby, his failed marriage to Janine and his own parents’ unhappy marriage. We meet Janine’s fiancé, Walt Comeau, and try to understand the new life she is about to begin. And later on we see how Miles struggles to understand his mother Grace and the choices she made as a young woman.
But this story is also about Miles and Janine’s high school daughter Tick, her friends Zack Minty, Candace and especially John Voss and these intense teenage relationships and conflicts. Russo has skillfully introduced this sleeper plot and we see how it slowly moves the story to its climax. I also like how Russo includes many other side characters, such as Jimmy Minty, Otto Meyer, Miles’ brother David, Charlene and Father Mark and develops them so we know that their lives are just as complicated, and are key parts of the story.
In addition to an excellent plot that is carefully constructed and both serious and humorous, this story is about the control of money and people, survival and the search for happiness. And on top of that, many of Russo’s characters struggle to understand the meaning of life and religion as they face both painful memories and discoveries.
There are many seemingly small pieces of conversations that, upon a second look, show how much thought went into writing Empire Falls. For example, Russo shows just how complicated father-son relationships are as he parallels Miles and Max with Jimmy Minty and his father. Both Miles and Jimmy hang onto their fathers, despite their flaws. Jimmy says, “He did slap my mom around a little…But I miss him anyway. You only get one father, is the way I look at it.” Later Miles tries to explain to David why he keeps giving their own father a second chance: “He’s pretty good at getting to me. I guess I don’t want to be sold short when I’m old.”
I think my favorite scene is when Jimmy Minty and Miles argue at the football game. Russo shows so well just how someone who is as unsophisticated as Jimmy still has excellent insight into people. Jimmy says, “You’re not the only one people like, okay? And I’ll tell you something else. What people around here like best about me? They like it that they’re more like me than they are like you. They look at me and they see the town they grew up in…You know what they see when they look at you? That they ain’t good enough. They look at you and see everything they ever done wrong in their lives.”
I also think Miles’ relationship with Cindy Whiting is very interesting and was glad to see how Cindy’s character developed from someone pathetic and needy into someone strong and independent. She’s also an example of a character we think is less significant, but who comes up with something important to say. She tells Miles, “It’s like you decided a long time ago that someone like me is incapable of joy…It doesn’t occur to you that I might be happy.”
The Whiting family dynamics and history are also very interesting and amusing and Russo has a different style of describing these people, using irony and a cold kind of humor. I liked this part just as much, particularly the story of Francine’s gazebo.
Empire Falls has a tidy and satisfying ending, with just enough open story lines to make me hopeful about the characters and their futures.
I had never read this well-known children’s book and was very happy to discover a gem of a story about a handsome well-bred horse named Black Beauty, born to a gentle keeper and broken in with expert kindness. When he is sold to Squire Gordon of Old Birtwick Park in England, Beauty’s mother tells him,
I hope you will fall into good hands, but a horse never knows who may buy him, or who may drive him; it is all a chance for us; but still I say, do your best wherever it is, and keep up your good name.
Beauty is lucky at first. His groom and stable boy are equally kind and understand that the best way to treat horses is to treat them well. But his mother was right. A horse’s future is never certain and before long, Beauty is sold to another landowner and things are not quite as nice. With this owner, and others in his future, Beauty maintains a positive attitude and always does his best, even when he must work long hours and suffer from the ignorance of his riders.
Told from Black Beauty’s point of view, Sewell portrays realistic horse characters and shows how they interact with each other and with people, especially their grooms and stable boys. Throughout the story, she shows the right way to care for horses, and points to the many cruel and foolish practices that were common during the mid- to late 1800s. She is particularly critical of the use of check-reins, which forced horses to raise their heads to unnatural angles, all for show. This practice caused great pain, led to back problems and shortened a horse’s life. Inexperienced riders, drunks, lazy grooms and poor diets and stall conditions made horses miserable, but a little kindness, a gentle stroke and an encouraging word could make all the difference.
Sewell works many important lessons into the story, including calling out others who abuse animals, upholding the Golden Rule, standing up for principles and helping others in need. When she wrote Black Beauty, she intended it to be a guide for people who worked with horses, but it became a children’s classic. She shows very clearly how horses and other creatures need to be treated humanely and allows the reader to see into the minds of Beauty and her friends.
Sewell manages to tell a nice children’s story without sugar coating the conditions of the time. I recommend Black Beauty to all readers, young and old.
Anna Sewell (1820-1878) was an English writer. Her parents were devout Quakers and her mother wrote children’s books. A childhood injury left Anna unable to walk without a crutch and she rode in many horse-drawn carriages to get around, where her love of horses began. As an adult, Sewell suffered from hepatitis and tuberculosis and wrote Black Beauty while confined to bed. It was published in 1877, just one year before her death.
Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a Russian/American writer and philosopher. You may have heard of John Galt and her most famous novels, The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), and maybe you’ve heard of her personal, and often criticized, philosophy called objectivism. She incorporated her beliefs into two terrific books and created characters who stand for these principles.
But what is objectivism and who the heck is John Galt?
Rand’s philosophy of objectivism is a bit selfish, but there’s more to it than that. The Ayn Rand website (aynrand.org) describes it this way:
Follow reason, not whims or faith.
Work hard to achieve a life of purpose and productiveness.
Earn genuine self-esteem.
Pursue your own happiness as your highest moral aim.
Prosper by treating others as individuals, trading value for value.
John Galt is a character in Atlas Shrugged. The reader doesn’t get to meet him until late in the book, but there are many references to Galt and to shrugging, building the mystery as the plot develops.
So what is The Fountainhead about?
The Fountainhead is a great story about a young architect in New York named Howard Roark who refuses to conform and collaborate on design projects because he believes that his artistic talents would be compromised. Rand’s themes focus on socialism, capitalism and the conflict between conformity and independence, with characters on both sides and some caught in the middle. Rand introduces the idea of independent thinkers and “second handers,” people who believe that the opinions of others are superior and therefore conform to those beliefs. It’s not all dry stuff, though. Get ready for intense romance, friendship and betrayal.
I think this book is terrific on every level. The characters are unique and interesting and what they stand for ties them into Rand’s personal philosophy of objectivism. And although I think Rand’s beliefs are extreme, I admire Roark’s unwillingness to compromise his designs. Rand’s ability to develop these characters, weave them into a complex and interesting story and keep the reader going through more than seven hundred pages is a genius accomplishment that stands the test of time.
And what about Atlas Shrugged?
Atlas Shrugged is about a dystopian United States and is Rand’s lesson book about objectivism. The story revolves around Dagny Taggart who runs the Taggart Transcontinental railroad, Hank Rearden, of Rearden Steel, who has developed a metal alloy that is better and stronger than anything else, and Dagny’s childhood friend, Francisco d’Anconia who comes from a wealthy copper family. One by one, the most prominent business leaders disappear and their industries fall apart. The economy tanks and the government exerts more control on the businesses that are left. It’s heavy reading, but Rand also includes a romantic triangle and interesting sub-themes, such as duty and honor. Its mystery element keeps the plot moving, despite nearly twelve hundred pages. In the end, she explains why the business leaders have disappeared, and John Galt’s identity.
It took me two months to read this book and I enjoyed every word. If you want to fully understand what everyone who mentions Atlas Shrugged is talking about, it is well worth the effort. You don’t have to agree with everything Rand says and her philosophy of objectivism to appreciate her skill in storytelling and the value of having ideals and standards.
I kept a long list of characters and companies and organizations as they were mentioned in the story and this list helped me keep track of the hundreds of references that appear. What I found most impressive about Rand was that, despite the length of the book, there are no unnecessary references. If you meet a character or read about something on page 100, you can be sure it is important and you will see the reference again, even if it is five hundred pages later.
Over the years, political figures have aligned with and distanced themselves from Rand. A quick internet search will give you everything you need to explore that angle.
And if you enjoyed The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, you may be amused to see Ayn Rand as a character in Old School by Tobias Wolf.
A story full of great characters, including Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a young blind girl in Paris, whose entire world revolves around her father. This Pulitzer Prize winning story embraces important themes, and a plot that’s a wonderful mix of reality and fairytale. Set during World War II in the walled coastal city of Saint Malo, France. Check it out – one of my all-time favorite books!
Billy Bathgate is a fifteen-year-old boy from the Bronx who becomes a protégé of the notorious Dutch Schultz, a hot-head New York mobster who made his money during the 1930s running beer and controlling the numbers racket. Published in 1989, this book won both the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The 1991 movie stars Dustin Hoffman, Nicole Kidman, Loren Dean, Bruce Willis, Steven Hill and Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire).
This novella, a little over one hundred pages, is really a character sketch of Holly Golightly and her search for a father figure. If you have only seen the movie starring Audrey Hepburn, read the book to get a better understanding of what Holly is all about. For the record, Truman Capote was not happy with the movie version. He wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly, and was dissatisfied with all aspects of the film.
A grim story about a lost friendship between Tommy Berggren and his boyhood friend Jim. It begins when, after thirty-five years, the two meet unexpectedly on a bridge near Oslo, Norway.
Petterson’s narration then jumps back to 1962 when Tommy is thirteen. His mother has abandoned them and the father regularly beats Tommy and his three younger sisters. Everything changes when Tommy takes a bat to their father. On their own, the children are sure they can manage. But the siblings are separated when town officials send them to be raised in different homes.
Historical novel about the charismatic American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, his creative style and innovative designs and his failed marriage to Catherine Tobin, whom he deserted (along with six children) to continue an affair with Mameh Cheney, the wife of a client. He created many amazing houses, but his personal life was a mess.
Everything changes the year Andy Rusch turns twelve. Until then, being a kid was easy in the 1950s. And in the small New Jersey town of Serenity, baseball, friends, school and helping out in his dad’s hardware store fill Andy’s days. Then one day, he befriends the town’s hermit, Onion John.
Mr. Rusch has big plans for Andy, including college at MIT and he doesn’t approve of the friendship. He wants Andy to get out of Serenity and be the first man on the moon. Andy wants to please his father, but whose dream is it?
There is no stronger father figure than Atticus Finch. Set in 1935, in the fictional town of Macomb, Alabama, Harper Lee writes of people and family, of prejudice against blacks, of judgment and justice, of lost innocence, and of heroes.
Young Scout Finch gives an insider’s view into the complicated relationships that exist between blacks and whites, between the poor and the poorer, and between the educated, the illiterate and the ignorant. Forget how Atticus is portrayed in Go Set a Watchman. That book should never have been published. It’s obvious to me that Harper Lee was trying out, and revising characterizations in what is clearly a rough draft for To Kill a Mockingbird. Read my full opinion of Watchmanhere.
Is there a god in a world that is nearly destroyed and left covered in gray ash, dotted with wanderers and hunted by people who stop at nothing to survive? How does a father keep hope alive in his young son, except to say that they are the “good guys”, the ones who carry the fire? “This is what the good guys do,” he tells him. “They keep trying. They don’t give up.”
A great short story about an adult son who visits his dying father in the hospital. Lenny, now middle-aged, forces himself to tell his father not to worry, that he loves him and that his father did all right by him. These words are met with the type of shut-down that plagued his small family during his childhood: “Don’t talk about things you know nothing about.”
Nathan and Flora McCann have no children. That was their arrangement. But when Nathan goes duck hunting and finds an abandoned baby boy in the woods, his life changes in unimaginable ways. “I want to adopt that boy,” says Nathan, but his wife does not want a child…
I enjoyed this book very much, which takes many unpredictable turns. The author does a great job highlighting the contrast between bad choices and the need to be loved.
Mickey Haller has a big problem. As a criminal defense attorney, he works the system to get his clients the best deals, no matter the offense. He doesn’t ask if they did their crimes because it doesn’t matter. Admit to this, get a lesser sentence. Say you did this and avoid the death penalty. That’s his job and it pays the bills, usually. But deep down, he wonders if he could tell if one of them was truly innocent. The words of his famous lawyer father, a man who died before he could know him, echo in his brain, “There is no client as scary as an innocent man.” Haller is about to find out.
Haller’s office is the back of a Lincoln, driven by Earl Briggs, a former client who is paying off his legal fees. Briggs drives his boss from LA courthouses to area prisons and everywhere in between, meeting with biker gang leaders, drug dealers, and prostitutes. His two ex-wives still like to help him: his case manager, Lorna Taylor and prosecuting attorney Maggie McPherson, mother of their young daughter, Hayley.
Everything changes when Haller picks up a new client, Louis Ross Roulet. Roulet is the son of the rich and powerful real estate mogul Mary Alice Windsor and he is sitting in a holding cell, arrested for assault against a woman he picked up at a bar. This case could solve many of his financial troubles.
The injuries to Reggie Campo and the evidence point to Roulet, but he claims innocence. Was it a set-up? Something from an older case nags Haller. His private investigator, Raul Levin begins to uncover the evil truth which will put Haller and those around him in great danger. Haller will have to use all his tricks, in and out of the courtroom, to keep his family safe.
The Lincoln Lawyer is a swift-moving and entertaining legal crime story, full of personality and fun details. Fans of Michael Connelly books will enjoy the brotherly connection between Haller and Harry Bosch, who share the same father. While they don’t meet up in this book, the relationship adds to Haller’s back-story.
While I liked the story and the characters, I was disappointed with a few plot twists that remain tangled and unexplained, and I wondered why Connelly introduced them. Connelly is a talented story-teller, however, and I look forward to reading more of both the Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch books. I recommend The Lincoln Lawyer to readers who like entertaining legal stories – a definite vacation read! I’m also looking forward to watching the movie starring Matthew McConaughey soon.