Review: News of the World
And here he was in his mild and mindless way still roaming, still reading out the news of the world in the hope that it would do some good, but in the end he must carry a weapon in his belt and he had a child to protect and no printed story or tale would alter that.
I have a confession to make. Even though I am from Texas and have always lived here (except for a semester in college when I lived in Washington, D.C.), I don’t read a lot of Texas books. I don’t really seek out Texas authors, and I tend to shy away from books about Texas. Why that is I’m not sure, except that I have my own opinions about Texas, and perhaps I don’t want them messed with. But when several people, including my mom and Anne Bogel, recommended News of the World by Paulette Jiles, I decided to make it my Bucket List Book Club pick for August and “force” myself to read it. Guys, this is a book about Texas written by a transplant Texan who lives about an hour away from me. And y’all, I’m so glad I did.
News of the World takes place just after the Civil War, when there was still a ton of unrest in Texas, no one trusted each other, and the relationship between Texans and Indian tribes was contentious at best. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a military veteran, travels around Texas reading news stories from international newspapers to crowds of people, who all pay to listen. They lose themselves in the news and tragedies of far away countries that don’t quite seem real in order to forget their own problems for a little while. At one of his stops, he is offered $50 to return a girl, Johanna, who was kidnapped by the Kiowa tribe to her remaining family in San Antonio. For four years she has been living with the Kiowas, and she no longer seems to remember her family, how to speak English, or where she came from. The bulk of the book is about their journey together and how they each grow and change.
First of all, I just want to say that you MUST read this book, if only to read it before the Tom Hanks movie version comes out. It is so well written and well researched. It takes place during a very interesting and confusing time in Texas history, but I think a lot of parallels can be drawn to today’s history as well. (People losing themselves in news from other countries to escape thinking about our own news? Yup.) The book strikes a nice balance between a quiet story and intrigue. Yes, it’s a quiet book, but I absolutely wanted to know what happened after every chapter. Along those lines, I think this book would be best read in one or two sittings. I took too many breaks, and I wish I had just sat down and read it straight through. It’s a long journey, but a short book, and really lends itself to a lazy day spent in a comfy chair.
News of the World is such a good story and such a quick read, I really think everyone should give it a try. It’s amazing to see Captain Kidd’s journey from not wanting to take Johanna at all to becoming attached to her and fully invested in her happiness and wellbeing. Johanna’s story is heartbreaking (read the author’s note at the end), but is tempered by the story of a tough old Texan soldier turning into a softie. Sort of. It also has one of the best, most beautiful final chapters of a book I’ve ever read.
There are no quotation marks used in this book! The absence of quotes was a little jarring at first, but I ended up really appreciating it. Whenever I see quotes on a page, my eye is automatically and involuntarily drawn to them, and I often have to go back and re-read what came first. Without quotes, I really paid attention to each sentence as it came, instead of looking ahead to the dialogue.
Review: Crazy Rich Asians
. . . finish everything on your plate, girls! Don’t you know there are children starving in America?
If you haven’t heard of Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan yet, you will soon. It’s being released in theaters soon, and the movie adaptation looks like a splashy, spectacularly fun time. It’s based on the book by the same name, and while people either seem to love it or hate it, I fall into the love category. This is a book about . . . crazy rich Asians in Singapore. It’s fun, wild, crazy, unbelievable, and laugh out loud funny in parts. While some of it is too over the top for its own good, and every character comes a little too close to being a caricature of themselves, I think it’s a fun book to read, and surprisingly quick given that it’s just over 500 pages.
Rachel Chu lives with her boyfriend, Nick Young, in New York City. She agrees to spend the summer with him in Singapore, even though she’s never met his family, and really knows nothing about them. When she arrives, Rachel discovers that Nick isn’t just the underpaid college professor he is in NYC. His family is extremely, crazy rich. A home that looks more like a palace, private jets, designer clothes, and family members who definitely think Rachel isn’t good enough to be a part of the family. She has to learn to navigate a family with a legitimate dynasty and decide whether or not this family, and lifestyle, is really for her.
My sister in law read this at the same time I did, and she said it reminded her of Gossip Girl, and she is right on. It definitely has a Gossip Girl vibe, but with a million times the money, glamour and drama. The story is fun, and it feels like you’re peeking behind the scenes of a family that really doesn’t want you to know what’s going on. Some of the writing did bother me a little bit. There were places where it just felt like a dude writing about idiot dudes. Which is fine, it’s a personal preference for me that I didn’t enjoy that. The characters are written SO stereotypically, but that’s sort of the point of the book-over the top, wild, with a lot of truth in all of it. Kwan grew up in Singapore, so I don’t doubt the validity of the characters and their situations.
Crazy Rich Asians is a fun read, and the movie looks amazing. (And while I did love the book, I think this MIGHT be a case where the movie is even better than the book.) Let me know if you’ve read and if you plan to see the movie!
There is a scene that really, really bothered me, and I had a hint that it was coming, so I was able to skim over it. It’s a dogfighting scene, and it’s horrible but brief. It only takes up about a page and a half, and it adds nothing to the story (other than to reiterate what we already know-some of these guys are awful people), so just skip it and move on.[Top]
It’s only a game. It only resolved tiny, insignificant things. Such as who gets validation. Who gets listened to. It allocates power and draws boundaries and turns some people into stars and others into spectators. That’s all.
Unless you count The Mighty Ducks and my pre-teen crush on Joshua Jackson in the 1990s (and then again on Dawson’s Creek-don’t even try to convince me that Dawson was better than Pacey, because he wasn’t), I am really not a hockey fan. Beartown by Fredrik Backman changed that. Sort of. This book is about hockey, but it’s really about the culture around sports, teams, and the lengths people are willing to go to so they have something to root for. I cared about hockey in this book, I cared about the players, and I really cared about how they reacted as a community to a horrible event. This isn’t like A Man Called Ove at all, but it is powerful, and has Backman’s trademark way of just nailing humanity. Young, old, and in between, he calls it like he sees it, and it’s so honest.
Beartown is a tiny community in the middle of a forest. City access isn’t nearby. The only thing the town has going for it is its junior hockey league. The team is getting ready to compete in a huge tournament, and if they win, there’s a huge chance a big practice rink will be built in their town, bringing in much-needed revenue. When a young girl is the victim of a violent act, it affects the entire town and puts the hockey team in a shaky position. The town has to come together to move forward, but a clear line is drawn when not everyone is willing to support the young girl. Will the team come first, or will the town realize that sometimes an individual needs to win?
I have never seen the culture of sports, from best to worst, good and terrible, handled so elegantly. Backman is one of the best writers, maybe ever, and he gets sports in a small town exactly right. It doesn’t matter if it’s hockey, football, or baseball, or what country that small town is in: sports can be everything, and people will give up quite a bit, even their integrity, to support their team. Beartown also ties in and addresses the biggest fear every parent has: Can we ever really protect out children? The answer is a resounding no, but it’s not black and white. If we can’t protect our children, then what should our reaction be when they are hurt? What should other people’s reactions be? How much should we expect of our children? Sports culture, community, and family are wound together in this story, and Backman shows how they are and always will be linked together.
Beartown is not always easy to read, and in the hands of a lesser author I would have skipped over several scenes. But Backman’s writing and storytelling is so compelling that I couldn’t put it down. I had to keep reading, and he handled the most difficult scenes with grace. There’s nothing clumsy (or accidental) about Backman’s writing, and he does this story justice. Please, please read this book. I promise you won’t be disappointed, and you will walk away with your heart on the floor and a lot of think about.
One particular incident in this book is a potential trigger. (There is a rape.) This is normally a trigger for me, as I really dislike when authors use rape as a form of entertainment. However, the way Backman wrote it wasn’t over the top or sensationalized. It was real and didn’t drag on for many pages as a form of entertainment. Just be aware that it is there, but it’s written very sensitively.[Top]
Review: Before We Were Yours
I hold Huckleberry Finn real tight against my chest and start across the yard. Now we can leave this place behind anytime we want. All we gotta do is join up with Huckleberry Finn. There’s room on his raft for all five of us, I’ll bet. Maybe we’ll find the Arcadia out there somewhere.
I sat for a good 20 minutes trying to figure out what to say to convince you all to read Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, and there just aren’t enough words for it. If you haven’t read it yet, please, please read it! This is historical fiction based on the true story of Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society that operated in the early half of the twentieth century. It is shocking, heartbreaking, important, and, at its heart, hopeful. This was our Bucket List Book Club selection for May, and I am so, so glad that I read it.
The story is told in alternating chapters. It begins in Memphis in 1939 with Rill Foss and her 4 brothers and sisters. They live on a boat in the Mississippi River with their parents, but when their mom must be rushed to the hospital during a difficult birth, the 5 remaining children are taken to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in order to be placed (sold) with other (wealthy) families who are looking to adopt. In present day Aiken, South Carolina, Avery Stafford is busy building her career as a lawyer, taking care of her ailing politician father, and figuring out if she really wants to be with her fiancé. When a chance encounter with an elderly woman in a nursing home, she begins to look into her family’s past and discovers some secrets she’s not sure if she’s ready to find out. The two stories weave themselves together and illustrate the truth behind the Children’s Home: families were torn apart, siblings were separated, and it was by pure luck if they were able to find each other again later in life.
There is a mystery in the novel, namely the journey the Foss kids went through, how they were separated, and where they all ended up. While this particular story is made up, it is heavily rooted in truth. Children were taken from their families (always poor families who were unable to fight and get their kids back) and sold to wealthy families who wanted to adopt. My heart broke for the children in this novel (who represent real people). They had no one to advocate for them, and were expected to trust the adults in the orphanage and do what they said, even though all of the adults involved continued to let them down. The amount of strength they showed, particularly Rill, was incredible. Avery’s storyline in the present was just as compelling, in a different way. She was so busy with everything going on in her life, and finally slowed down to investigate her family’s past. She managed to make time for that, showing that we all have time for things we think are important. (And how telling it is what we choose to make time for.)
Before We Were Yours is an amazing book. So well written, so well researched, and so important. Before this book, I was unaware of this part of American history, and I can’t believe I didn’t know the story. This storyline is sad and heartbreaking, but also interesting from a historical standpoint, and the ending is uplifting. The alternating chapters do a nice job of breaking up the sadness of the past story, and it will make you want to read more about Georgia Tann. (She was really unbelievable.) Let me know if you’ve read this book and what you thought!!
Bucket List Book Club: Before We Were Yours
Our Bucket List Book Club pick for May is Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate! This is a fictionalized telling of the real life Georgia Tann and her Tennessee “adoption” agency. (Hint: she didn’t exactly have legal adoptions going on.)
Description from the publisher:
“Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge–until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents–but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.
Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.
Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals–in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country–Lisa Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.”
I am so, so excited for this one. I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about both the story and the writing.
If you want to join in, we’ll be reading it throughout the month of May, with a discussion on June 3 at 2PM CST on my Instagram page!
You can also follow the hashtag #bucketlistbookclub on Instagram to see other people’s posts as we read Before We Were Yours.
I’ll post my review here when I’m finished, and you can also use the comments section on that post, and this one, to discuss it.