For the Love of Reading

The Girl on the Train

One of the things I miss from my East Coast childhood is riding commuter trains.

There is something about the feeling of time being suspended as you lean against the window and watch the world flow past: houses, schools, playgrounds, rivers, cars and those glimpses of people passing ordinary days. After reading this British thriller, I will never look at trains the same way again.

A young woman, Rachel, just past the bloom of youth, rides trains into London every weekday: the 8:04 a.m. into town and the 5:56 p.m. return. Every evening she drinks too much—small bottles of wine or canned mixed drinks.

One particular neighborhood--where the train slows for a crossing--captures Rachel’s complete attention.  In one of the backyards she often spots a young glamorous couple, whom she doesn’t know at all, but she names them Justin and Jess. She often sees Justin coming out to the garden with a mug of coffee or tea for his wife, and they exchange endearments.

Rachel even invents careers for them, a private life. Jess works in the arts, and Justin does something with computers. Meanwhile, Rachel’s career and married life have taken a horrible slide.

Her husband, Tom, left her for another woman, Anna.  He’s not only left her but then had a child with Anna after Rachel tried and failed for years to have a family with him. To make matters even worse, Tom and Anna live in the same house, Rachel shared with Tom. Guess where it’s located?  Yes, just off the railroad tracks, a few yards down from that of the fabled couple, Justin and Jess.

Even though Rachel has no reason to ride the train every day she continues. Now she goes to the library and works on her CV. But her drinking gets worse and worse. She calls, texts, and emails her ex constantly, driving Anna crazy.  Her landlady throws her out of the apartment after she has left a major mess once too often.

Then one morning, a different man joins Jess in the garden. At first Rachel thinks: a brother, a cousin, her husband’s friend. But no, he kisses Jess tenderly as the train slows at its normal spot.

Soon someone is murdered in one of the houses just off the tracks. The problem: Rachel got off the train that night and wandered through the train tunnel.  She was soused and cannot piece together what happened.  So many details were lost to the fog of alcohol. Also, someone hurt her that night. But whom?

This riveting book will keep you turning the pages. My advice: don’t start it on a week night unless you have an open calendar the next day. The characters, the story, the unexpected twists, will keep you guessing and enthralled.

Orphan Train

I had a personal connection to this novel because my mom was raised as an orphan in Chicago. Luckily, she never had to experience adoptions or sharing foster homes with unloving parents but she did start out on her own at age sixteen working as a salesgirl in the Chicago Loop.

This touching intertwined story of two orphans: one contemporary and one from depression era days, was a quick and touching read. It begins with Goth-looking Molly, a young, half-Native America girl from Maine who just got busted for stealing a book from the public library.  Really? Well not every detail in a novel has to be 100% authentic.   

In case you’re curious, Molly took the third and the most beaten-up copy of Jane Eyre.

Once in the West

Several best poetry lists of the year include this seventh title by Christian Wiman, former editor of the well-renowned Poetry Magazine, who now teaches at Yale Divinity School.

His interest in theology and his experience as a person with a terminal disease bring a unique focus to his writing as these lines attest: “A soul / extrapolated // from the body’s / need // needs a body / of loss.”  In another poem “The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians” he shows the power of the right words to hone in, “I tell you some Sundays even the children’s sermon / --maybe especially this—sharks your gut // like a bite of tin some beer-guzzling goat / either drunkenly or mistakenly decides to sample.”  

As he did in his memoir My Bright Abyss about life after a bone marrow transplant, Wiman dives deep. There is no surface skimming for him.  Several poems celebrate his

I Was Here

ImageI Was Here is the newest book from Gayle Forman, the author of If I Stay. This story follows Cody, a recent high school graduate who is stuck in her small town, cleaning houses, and attending community college. Her life has always revolved around her best friend, Meg. Meg, who's family is Cody's family. Meg, who has moved far away for school. Meg, who has just committed suicide.

Things I Should Have Told...Memoirs and Biographies in Honor of Black History Month

Pearl CleageThings I Should Have Told My Daughter by Pearl Cleage

After rediscovering boxes full of old journals, Pearl Cleage’s daughter suggests burning them.  Instead, the poet, author and civil rights activist chose diary excerpts from 1970-1988 and combined with little context them to form Things I Should Have Told My Daughter.  This candid memoir addresses Cleage’s struggle against racism and sexism, as well as her problematic relationship with her husband Georgia politician Michael Lomax, and her role as speech writer of Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson.

Deep Down Dark

Even though I knew the ending before I opened this book, this in-depth, emotionally and factually rich story of 33 miners trapped under the earth for sixty-nine days was a real thriller.

The book opens with a photograph of the 33 men who survived two months deep underground. Thirty-two were from Chile, and there was one young miner from Bolivia who had the amazingly bad luck to be stuck in a mine collapse on his very first day of work.

In his fourth book, journalist Tobar presents not only the San Jose mine but an overview of modern Chilean life. He begins with a rich description of many of the miners and their families, some of whom travelled almost the whole length of Chile for their jobs.

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