Leslie's Bookcase

celebrating and recommending unforgettable books

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

I was personally drawn to Kristin Hannah’s new book The Great Alone because it is set in the most beautiful place I have ever seen, Alaska. It is a novel of beauty and fear, love and heartbreak. The beautiful setting is also the source of some of the fear but not the worst of it.

Leni Albright is 13 when her dad decides to move their family to Alaska in 1974. He is a VietNam vet and POW and feels he needs the space and a new start. The family dynamic – they have moved around a lot inspired by the father’s big plans – reminded me some of the one portrayed in The Glass Castle.

Two kinds of folks move to Alaska, the book suggests, “People running to something and people running away from something.” This place can be  “a Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next” to quote a character called Large Marge. But the epigraph (I love a good epigraph!) foreshadows there are more challenges to come for the Albrights beyond the long winters and hungry bears:

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Rules of Civility

I finally picked up Rules of Civility, which has been sitting in my bookcase since last year after I read (and loved!!!) the author’s newer work A Gentleman in Moscow. This older book was published in 2011 as the debut work of Amor Towles.

I found this book to be a  really good read and a really smart read. As the strong woman character (Kate Kontent) – climbs the social and professional ladders, we get a thorough picture of New York (Manhattan) in the 1940s which is fascinating. This is post-depression but pre-war so although people are happy and doing well (especially the upper echelons Kate works to put herself among) I couldn’t help but think about what was to come.

Also I took notice of the many literary references in this book.

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“This is Us” & “Poem Counterpoem”

In the super popular, critically acclaimed, and award-winning NBC series “This is Us” Randall aka “Number 3” of the triplets is named after a poet.

We learned this namesake in Season 1, Episode 3: “Kyle” when we see William give Rebecca a copy of Poem Counterpoem by Dudley Randall. William says that Kyle/Randall’s birth mother read this poetry to him while in the womb. Rebecca then takes William’s suggestion to “give him his own name” and changes Number 3’s name from Kyle to Randall. “Maybe you’ll see fit to give it to him someday,” William says, and in fact later we see this book on Randall’s shelf.

I don’t watch a lot of TV because I am usually reading, so a show has to REALLY be worth my time. Obviously this show is. In fact, “This is Us” may be my favorite show ever…

And when I see a “literary cameo” in a show, I like to dig a little deeper to pay tribute to it – both the cameo and the show – and learn more myself.

So I decided to investigate Dudley Randall, Poem Counterpoem, and the lines of his poetry quoted in Episode 7 “Best Washing Machine in the World” when Beth (Randall’s wife) and William (Randall’s birth father) gaze up at the stars after eating pot brownies (did I mention I love this show??).


What I found out about this “literary cameo” surprised me!

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Tribute to The Goldfinch

I asked for The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) for Christmas (and received it –  thanks mom & dad) and settled into reading it nearly every evening since then (it is 771 pages long). Now I find myself missing this book every evening. I had settled into a routine of stressing about Theo and his issues. This won the Pulitzer in 2013 so I am late in my praise, but having loved it as much as I did, I still want to write a short tribute to this book.

Books like this are why I love to read.  (Though to be fair – a book like this comes along for me – if I’m lucky – maybe/hopefully once a year.) There is so much to love about this novel, but when I break down why I love how Donna Tartt told this story it comes down to People, Places, & Things.

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What I read this weekend Part I – Fire and Fury

I was set to finish The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) this weekend, and I will write a post on that later because it more than met my expectations.

However, just as I was looking forward to my weekend of reveling in the greatness of this book – and wow I already miss reading it – something else suddenly came up:

The publication of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House was moved up a few days due to the White House trying to stop the publication of this book. Of course this book was already on my radar, but would I have dropped everything to read it without this new drama surrounding it??  Maybe not….

But I did drop everything and read it (along with half the country). I don’t consider this a political blog, though it’s not difficult to infer where my allegiances lie with my occasional mention of environmental and social justice issues, but please know I tried my best to read and review this book objectively.

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Favorite books of 2017

I read 44 books this year! Not nearly as many as I would have liked to read, but it’s more than I read last year, so I consider that a successful year of reading.

Like last year I’m going to wrap up the year by picking my favorite…but unlike last year I do not want to shout from the rooftops about the best book of the year (according to me:) Perhaps that book (for me) is still out there somewhere, and I just didn’t come across it yet.

My technique for picking favorites is imagining I can only keep 5 of the books I read in my bookcases –  because a true test of the books I love is that I want to keep them in my collection.

So with the disclaimer that I did not read even close to ALL the books (who can??) here are my favorite books that were published in 2017 :

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The Prague Sonata – a musical journey

Culturally and emotionally fulfilling, The Prague Sonata: A Novel is a quest set around music and war.

A young musicologist receives a gift of a hauntingly beautiful 18th century sonata manuscript, with the request she locate the other two movements to the sonata and put it into the hands original owner who separated it during WWII to protect it from the Nazis. The work is clearly the composition of a master composer but who?? And because the manuscript obviously has value she isn’t the only one trying to locate it.

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Books people bring to jury duty – from my day as “book detective”

Jury duty…one of the few places in today’s world you will see ALMOST EVERYONE carrying a book. Why? Because electronic devices (even e-readers) are not allowed in the courtroom and potential jurists know they may have LOTS of downtime. Therefore, even people who haven’t picked a book up years may be reading.

I actually like jury duty and not just for the chance to read – ha! However, this time around I reported on Monday for a very short time and was never called back during the week (darn it!!).

During the half hour or so I was in the jury room on Monday, I was playing “book detective” trying to see what books people brought. Would it have been creepy to obviously look at the books and jot down titles? I thought so. So my list below only includes the books I could reasonably and non obviously look at and also remember until I was released and had time to make notes (this was difficult!!) Oh how I wish I could have continued this “study” throughout the day and week!

Is this a recommended reading list? NO. Although I did find a couple I may buy for myself or others.

As you probably know, in the courtroom, jurors are anonymous and only identified by a number. Therefore, the potential jurists reading these books will also remain anonymous and are only identified as Jurors 1-6. Also I need to remember to use “carrying” not “reading” as I have no evidence they were actually reading the book (as we never got to the “downtime) please let the record show these books were only carried in by the person 😉

Here are the books I spotted at jury duty:

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Manhattan Beach – loved it!

If you read the goodreads reviews on Manhattan Beach you will see varied and strong opinions. Many people who loved Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Visit from the Goon Squad, did not like this one. But you can count me in the group who loved this newer book, only the second I’ve read off my fall/winter reading list.  In fact I was excited to also add it to my WWII reading list.

“With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Jennifer Egan’s first historical novel is a world of gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men.”

As the above note from the publisher implies, a lot is going on in this book. There is a family story, a strong woman helping the war effort story (the main character is the first female Naval diver), a love story about the sea, and a gangster plot that is integrated into all these other stories. It is sometimes a light read and sometimes not. Parts of it reminded me of several different books, but taken all together I have not read anything like it ( a good thing!).

For me it all worked, and in fact it is one of my favorite books of the year though I still feel my favorite is out there somewhere waiting for me to read it…

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Jamie Ford books. First up: Love and Other Consolation Prizes

I finished reading Love and Other Consolation Prizes: A Novel by Jamie Ford just in time to meet him at my local library. And I just bought his other two books, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (a bestseller), and Songs of Willow Frost so I  could get them signed by him before reading them too.

RELATED POST: Meeting the Pulitzer  Prize winning author of The Sympathizer

The themes of his books appear to revolve around Asian immigrants in Seattle and the stories are on the “sentimental” side, maybe a bit too much for me. But I did still really enjoy this book, which is about a young boy, Ernest, who is auctioned off at the 1902 Worlds Fair to a lady who runs a brothel. The boy ends up loving his new and glamorous life as a houseboy and later a driver for this brothel.

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