Calico Joe by John Grisham

calico joe
John Grisham is known for his legal thrillers, and he’s written a great many of them, but he has occasionally hopped off the legal train and delved into other subjects. I’ve read and enjoyed a handful of his thrillers and almost all of his non-legal books. (Playing for Pizza would be my least favorite, but still not too bad.) I recently finished Calico Joe, a book written for the love of baseball, and I reeeaaallllyy loved it.  I’m feeling quite lazy in thinking of how to craft words to tell you about this story so instead I’m posting the blurb from goodreads in which some professional writer recounts and teases us beautifully.

   It began quietly enough with a pulled hamstring. The first baseman for the Cubs AAA affiliate in Wichita went down as he rounded third and headed for home. The next day, Jim Hickman, the first baseman for the Cubs, injured his back. The team suddenly needed someone to play first, so they reached down to their AA club in Midland, Texas, and called up a twenty-one-year-old named Joe Castle. He was the hottest player in AA and creating a buzz.

In the summer of 1973 Joe Castle was the boy wonder of baseball, the greatest rookie anyone had ever seen.  The kid from Calico Rock, Arkansas dazzled Cub fans as he hit home run after home run, politely tipping his hat to the crowd as he shattered all rookie records.
Calico Joe quickly became the idol of every baseball fan in America, including Paul Tracey, the young son of a hard-partying and hard-throwing Mets pitcher. On the day that Warren Tracey finally faced Calico Joe, Paul was in the stands, rooting for his idol but also for his Dad. Then Warren threw a fastball that would change their lives forever…
In John Grisham’s new novel the baseball is thrilling, but it’s what happens off the field that makes CALICO JOE a classic.

There is a whole lotta baseball speak in this one and a lot of  lingo that any baseball lover will follow, but fear not, if you are not attuned to the ins and outs of baseball you don’t have to be. This is, at it’s heart, a story of forgiveness. And I’m not gonna lie, I cried.

Everything I Never Told You


Everything I never told you

Everything I Never Told You tells the story of young Lydia, the favorite child of James and Marilyn, and the impossible weight she carried living a life of unprecedented pressure. Pressure from her Caucasian mother determined not to allow her daughter to make the same life decisions she had made, of not finishing college and becoming a housewife, and from her Chinese-American father who faced prejudice all his life and his all-consuming need for his child to be accepted by her peers.

It’s no spoiler to let you know that in the opening lines, fifteen year old Lydia is dead. The trajectory of this book is the explanation and exploration of the life Lydia was living and her desperate struggle to please the two people whose job it was to nurture and protect and set free their precious little bird. Instead, their little bird was trapped, smothered and starved of the security she ached and longed for. Her only comfort came from Nath, her compassionate brother, but even his capacity for strength and comfort could not accomodate the two of them and eventually Lydia was left to survive on her own. Naturally, her death creates havoc in the family, testing the strength and resolve of marriage and siblings.

I’m giving this one four stars because this was beautifully done, so well written and so intricate in details of the heart and mind. But this book is sad. Sad and heavy. It makes you long for resolution. And you get it in some ways, thankfully, but in keeping with reality, in some ways you don’t.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

It’s so like me to be behind on the times.  I rarely indulge in new releases or anticipate upcoming titles. I’m just drawn to books that have already made their impact on society. Occasionally, I’ll pick up a new release from an author I have enjoyed, but normally I read books that most book lovers have “been there – done that” a long time ago. It’s just how I roll. My fashion is old, my music is old, my books are old, and my EYES are old. That’s why I am loving my kindle more and more. And the last book I read on my kindle is the beloved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer.

The story takes place immediately post World War II. Author Juliet Ashton receives a letter from someone on the island of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of France, that was occupied by Nazi’s for five years. Her name and address were discovered inside a book written by Charles Lamb and the reader/writer of the letter is hoping she can assist him in finding additional books by Lamb. He doesn’t know that she herself, is an author. They strike up a friendship in their correspondence which leads to Juliet traveling to Guernsey to get to know his friends, the members of the Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and to begin her next writing project.

This book is compiled solely of letters. I thought that this might eventually annoy me but it didn’t and the story unfolded beautifully. The characters were superb and their personalities were fun, smart, quirky and most of all compassionate. I enjoyed this book wholeheartedly and it still managed to teach me some hard things I didn’t know about occupied life.

If I have only one criticism it would be that I never got much of an English vibe from Juliet. Nor did she seem to me like a woman living in the 1940’s. I don’t know what a feminine voice from that time and place should sound like but she seemed incredibly modern, confident and free from the typical reserve we’ve come to expect from the English. I guess it shouldn’t seem strange to me since I’ve been watching The Crown. Those are some strong women!

I read this one as part of two reading challenges.
I. Roof Beam Reader’s 2018 TBR Challenge
2. Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2018 Reading Challenge for the “Recommended by Someone with Good Taste” category. My book club friend, Marcy, who is working her way through the entire Newberry Award list as we speak, recommended this jewel to me. It is my favorite read of the year so far. 

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet, and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.”    ….things I wish I wrote…

I recently finished reading Moby Dick. It was completely voluntary and I didn’t hate it. Sure, there were parts that made my eyes gloss over, or my ears tune out, depending on if I was reading or listening on Audible at the time, but I stuck it out and I took it in. Now I am ready to give you my assessment.

First of all, no one ever told me this book had humor. There were a couple of parts early on that brought a smile or caused me to giggle, but there is a scene in the middle of the book that caused me to pure belly laugh.

In the beginning, Queequeg the cannibal is endearing and affectionate in ways that are inappropriate and uncomfortable, which is hilarious at times. But he wraps you up in his friendly warmth in no time flat.  Queequeg is my favorite character and I kept wanting to check in on what he was up to much later in the book when I was reading the less lovely chapters on whaling.

And the cook! The cook was an older negro man they called Old Fleece.  He was commanded to lean over the side of the boat and tell the sharks that were feasting on whale carcass to make less racket while they ate. Now, this was insulting to him of course, and I was insulted for him, but he had no choice. So he goes to the sharks three times to instruct, beg and eventually preach to these ravenous creatures persuading them to stop being so greedy and unmannerly and to scurry on. It was hysterical. And I am so glad I was listening when I got to that part because the brilliant narrator, Frank Muller, brought it all home.
(Do yourself a favor and search Frank Muller on Audible and just download any of it.)

Glory, glory!! The book is long but the chapters are short! There are 135 of them and you never have to feel like you’ve left a task unfinished by not getting through a whole chapter. There are two, maybe three, longer chapters in the whole book. The language is not at all too frilly or lofty. This is a doable read for anyone who has the desire, with the greatest challenge being the tedious writings on the different aspects of whaling. These are parts I would say most people would not love. There are chapters on all the different species of whales, how they travel, the differences in their anatomy, the differences in how the water shoots out of their blow holes and how you can identify the sperm whale by observing just this. (I actually was fascinated by that). You even get a chapter on the types of rope that are used for particular types of whale capture. I mean, this book is the definition of thorough when it comes to explaining the ins and outs of whaling. But did you also know, that the different chapters in this book also represent different genres of literature? Don’t take it from me, I didn’t even pick up on all that, my friend told me. Then I fact checked it on the internet and it was confirmed.

The novel is an encyclopedia of forms, a narrative chowder that combines dictionary, whaling manual, comedy, tragedy, epic, prophecy, sermon, soliloquy, drama, bawdy humor, and tales within tales. … Melville looks at the whale, with relish, from an exuberant assortment of literary angles, encompassing them all into one mighty compendium and in so doing breaking the boundaries of what it means to be a book. —Elizabeth Renker, Introduction to Moby-Dick

Did you see that first sentence there? A narrative chowder? This reminds me that chapter 15 is entitled Chowder.  After a day of being on the water in a smallish boat, Ishmael and Queequeg are hungry. Queequeg doesn’t eat his friends, so they search for some dinner. They enter a restaurant/Inn recommended to them as having the best chowder around.

“But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazelnuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt……..the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we dispatched it with great expedition: 

After reading that scene, (and it stretches on with more soupy details), I decided that one of the rewards I would give myself for having read this book is… to search for the best Clam Chowder in eastern North Carolina, and go there and eat it. I’ve never had Clam Chowder and I’ve never wanted it, until I read this chapter. Now, I must have it. What I would really love is for that Moby Dick-themed restaurant that was featured in The Storied Life of AJ Fikry to really exist. Then I would go there and they would surely have the best chowder.

The next reward I shall have are these!

As a reader, I am most interested in the story. And I’ll be honest with you, you don’t get a whole lot of it in Moby Dick. It simmers throughout the length of the novel but it’s really only spoken of here and there. Instead, Melville is treating us to other brilliant aspects of his writing; treasures hidden underneath the surface that seekers of deeper things have the insight to uncover. But the layman reader like myself, who is taking special notation of the plot, has to wait til the end of the book to get the confrontation she was waiting for.  By the time I made it to the end, I knew either Captain Ahab or Moby Dick had to die, and I no longer cared which one it would be. I just needed it to go down. Those who read more deeply understand just exactly which of the two should, and does, die.

There are hundreds of thoughtful insights in the book, far more than I have the energy or intelligence to look into. Thoughts such as the great white whale being the symbol for God, and the way Melville intentionally creates a multi-cultural/multi-racial crew of men upon the Pequod, and the ways they all needed one another to be successful in their mission. There is so much to explore here and the only way I would ever dive that deeply into it would be for me to take a class or something. I am not likely to do that level of research on my on. Heck, I’m 49 years old and I read the book just because I wanted to. What else do you want from me???

Lastly, there is a quote about the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, whom I had never heard of until I watched LOST. Yes, I’m going there again. Haven’t you people watched this show yet?? Anyway, a different Jeremy Bentham is murdered and hung on a chandelier on LOST. Now check out this quote from Moby Dick. Coincidence?? I think not.

Though Jeremy Bentham’s skeleton, which hangs for candelabra in the library of one of his executors, correctly conveys the idea of a burly-browed utilitarian old gentleman, with all Jeremy’s other leading personal characteristics; yet nothing of this kind could be inferred from any leviathan’s articulated bones.”

I have conquered the great leviathan, Moby Dick. What about you? Was it forced labor? Did you decide for yourself? And what did you think about it? I’m dying to know!

The copy of Moby Dick that I have was given to me as a congratulatory gift for completing the LOST Book Club reading challenge. My friend Justin hails this as his favorite book and I probably never would have read it if he hadn’t given it to me.



A Brief History of Time by Stephen W. Hawking

Reposting this from 2013, in memory of Stephen Hawking.

Lost in Literature

Time Keeps on Slippin, Slippin, Slippin…..Into the Future….

Yes, it does. And until I read this book, I didn’t realize there are people out there that think that time can move the other way.  There actually is a sentence in this book that says something like, “If we can remember the past, then why can’t we remember the future?” That was one of the easier things I read in this book.

Let’s me start with this. A Brief History of Time is straight up Science. Not boring like a text-book but strictly science all the same. My impressions of Stephen Hawking and this book before I read it was that he was going to be dogmatic  about how right he is about his science, the way he believes the universe began, and how stupid Christians are about believing their simple, little, science-free, evidence-free, view of a literal seven day creation…

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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Wow, there is so much love for this book out in the world and I can understand why – if only on one level. I’m no literary critic nor any kind of expert but I do appreciate lovely writing and this woman could turn a phrase easier than I can turn some warm buttery hotcakes in my morning skillet. (Hehe, see there. I’m no writer either, when comparing myself to Zora Neale Hurston.)

Eyes was published in 1937 and tells the story of Janie Starks, an African American woman living in Florida, making her way and creating a life of her own choosing in a time when black women had very little say in the course of their lives. Janie longs for love and independence and refuses to give up on these ideals throughout the story.

There is a section at the back of my book that recalls how the book was out of print for 30 or more years and there was a great effort by professors and other writers and publishers and such who worked to have the book brought back into print. Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple says, “There is no book more important to me than this one.”

It’s a period piece and a cultural piece so parts were hard for me to understand. But overall I could follow Janie’s journey. Her words and thoughts, so many times in this story, were just pure honey to my reading eyes. Here are some favorite quotes:

“Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.”   – This is on page one. I admit that I didn’t really get the last part of this until I finished the book, and then reread some of these quotes.

“Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches.

Look lak she been livin’ through uh hundred years in January without one day of spring.”

“There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought. Nanny entered this infinity of conscious pain again on her old knees. Towards morning she muttered, “Lawd, you know mah heart. Ah done de best Ah could do. De rest is left to you.”

“She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her. Then she went inside there to see what it was. It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered.”

“She got so she received all things with the stolidness of the earth which soaks up urine and perfume with the same indifference.” – Dang.

“He kin take most any lil thing and make summertime out of it when times is dull.”

I read Their Eyes Were Watching God as part of  Roof Beam Reader’s 2018 TBR Pile Challenge. This book has been on my shelf a for few years and I believe I bought it at a library sale. It’s a keeper, for sure.










2018 TBR Challenge

Alright, it’s time to wake this blog up, and there’s no better way to do it than to commit myself to reading a particular list of books, and then tell you what I think of them, right here.

I’ve taken a couple of years off from “challenge reading” and it has been nice, but it’s time to get back in the saddle. And no better book to challenge myself with than MOBY DICK. Am I right??

Ok, here’s the deal. If you’re not into reading or the book blogging community, let me explain what I’m talking about. Reading challenges abound in the INTERNET-O-SPHERE and I’ve chosen one that I think is the smartest and most practical, as it requires me to spend no money.  Adam at Roof Beam Reader has issued his annual challenge to read 12 books that you already own and haven’t read or have been on your TBR, (To Be Read) list for over a year. You have 12 months to read the 12 books and record your thoughts on your blog.

Here is the list of what I plan to read from my TBR this year. Some of these books are on my shelf and some are on my Kindle.

1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
2. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
3. Sycamore Row by John Grisham
4. Calico Joe by John Grisham
5. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
6. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
7. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
8. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
9. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
10.  They Shall See God by Athol Dickson
11. Home Of Our Hearts by Robin Jones Gunn
12. SEAL of God by Chad Williams

This is How I’d Love You by Hazel Woods
One More Wish by Robin Jones Gunn