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From "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi:

"A good novel is one that shows the complexity of individuals, and creates enough space for all these characters to have a voice..."

"A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and individuals..."

The Given Day Dennis Lehane 3.75

 

The story opens with Babe Ruth heading to Chicago by train to play the second half of the world Series in 1918. Babe Ruth plays for the Red Sox.The players are learning that there is a discussion going on about the baseball teams going on strike because the Commission is now starting to take a larger percentage from the teams due to lower attendance due to the war. At a long stopover in Ohio, Babe Ruth hears a crack coming from over a field. Ruth checks it out to find  “colored men” playing a game of baseball. They play for a professional colored teams. Ruth watches as they continue to play. He had his eye on a particular player, Luther Laurance. Ruth then walks towards them and ask if he could play. While Ruth is playing with them, the other players from Ruth’s team join in. It was Ruth’s team against Luther’s team. When Luther’s team was ahead, one of Ruth’s player’s is called out by the other team.Ruth’s team insists he is safe. At that moment, Ruth knows who would win the argument. He also knows he has to agree with his team. This was the beginning of the connection between Ruth and Luther.


Luther is in a relationship with a woman named Lila. When Luther is let go from the munitions factory. He is told that the boys would be coming home from the war soon and would need their jobs.Lila also finds out that she is pregnant. Lila suggests that they move to Greenwood, the north section of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma where her aunt lives. When they arrive there, Luther sees that the black section of Greenwood are very prosperous. They have their own businesses, cars, nice homes, and there is plenty of jobs. Aunt Marta and Uncle James are church going people and they insist that Luther and Lila marry. She does not want them sinning under her roof. Her aunt also realizes that Lila is pregnant which she notices when Lila has morning sickness. Luther is barely awake when he gets called upstairs out from the basement,where he had to sleep the night before. He goes upstairs and finds Uncle James, an ordained minister, ready to marry them. Shortly after, Luther finds a job as a bellhop in a black owned hotel.There he befriends Jessie a fellow bellhop. Jessie has a way to make more money on the side making illegal deliveries and collections. He convinces Luther to join him. It all goes wrong from there and Luther finds himself needing to get out of town quickly. Lila refuses to go with him. Luther is now heading to Boston on the suggestion of his Uncle Hollis. When he gets to Boston, he finds a job working for the Coughlin family. It is there that Luther and Danny’s connection begins.


Danny Coughlin is a Boston police officer. His father,Thomas Coughlin, is a Captain in the department. His godfather, Eddie McKenna, is a Lieutenant in the department. Danny’s partner is Steve O’Meara. Steve is trying to convince Danny into attending meetings with other policemen to join a Union or go on strike. They make less money than other city occupations. Yet do not get paid for overtime, have long hours, and no sick pay. When the Spanish American flu outbreak of 1918 comes to Boston, it is Danny and Steve who are sent out to the docks to go onto ships where there are sick sailors. Danny and Steve have to decide which ones should not be allowed to come off the boat. The two of them are also sent into homes where people are sick. When Steve contracts the flu and is disabled from his sickness, he is told that he will not receive disability benefits since he didn’t become disabled while in the line of duty. He could have contracted it anywhere. Steve is no longer able to do his job and has to leave the force with no future income. Steve becomes even more active in the meetings for forming a Union and tries to get Danny to join him. Danny ‘s father Captain Coughlin and godfather, Lt. McKenna, encourage Danny to go undercover to spy on his fellow policemen. He is to bring back names of those in attendance. In exchange for his undercover work,he will be given a promotion to Detective. The beginning of unions are starting up all over the country. Enters the Federal Government  and a young Department of Justice lawyer named John Hoover, travels to Boston to engage Danny along with Danny’s father and godfather, to spy on the policemen.


These three main characters each have their own story lines and at times they intertwine. Luther is boarding in a home whose family is involved with NAACP. Luther becomes involved with them to fix a place for the their meetings. It is through his involvement with the NAACP, he will become involved with Lt.McKenna. Luther realizes he just wants to get back to Lila, no matter what happens to him once he gets there. Babe Ruth’s story line of games, money/promotions/payouts, possible strikes,and the threat of players being traded. Danny finds himself searching for terrorists that have already bombed one police station and are going to bomb again. He is looking for anarchists and revolutionaries that are coming into the States from Russia and other countries.The talks of the Boston Police Department joining the Union is threatening to the BPD higher ups. When negotiations falter, the infamous Boston Police Department strike on September 9,1919.


There are so many other characters involved in each person’s story line that are important to their story. Dennis Lehane research for this book was very thorough. He writes of important events that happened in Boston at the time including the Molasses Flood on January 15,1919 which killed 21 people. Lehane has continued his story of the Calhoun family with two more books. This book is highly recommended. The way he told the story of his individual three characters, the way they all came in and out of each others lives, and the factual events that happened at the time in Boston all read with such clarity that you could easily picture what you were reading.  I would love to see this as a series or made for tv movie with many episodes. I think there is so much in the book that a movie would not do it justice.

Girl in Reverse Barbara Stuber

3.2

 

Lily was three years old when she was taken to the Catholic orphanage. Her mother had taken her there and then disappeared, never to be seen again. When her mother dropped her off, her mother was wearing a pink sweater and had long black hair. A couple of years later, a woman came to the orphanage to adopt a child. When Lily saw this woman with the pink sweater and long black hair, she ran up to her, hugged her, and called her momma. She now has a new mother, father, a younger brother, Ralph or Ralphie, and a new home.

 

Lily Firestone is now seventeen and in high school. The year is 1951. The United States has sent many Americans overseas to help fight in the Korean War. In History class, the students are giving their oral reports on current events. It is Neil Bradford’s turn. He displays a cartoon with a big tank filled with Chinese soldiers shooting many children in front of the tank. When he is done, there are coughs, sneezes, saying words such as commies and chinks. People look at Lily when this happens and when a paper is passed around, it is Lily’s turn to take it. As she reaches for the paper, it is dropped. She is so upset by these comments as she has heard them all her life, she runs out of the classroom. The teacher pays no attention to the report by Neil or the comments. As Lily runs out of the classroom, she is given a salute by the janitor, Mr. Howard. Lily walks over to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City and sits outside in front of the sculpture, The Thinker.

 

When she arrives home, she finds that the school has called her mother, but through Ralph’s intervention, he takes the all pretending to be Lily’s mother. Lily tells Ralph what happened and he invites her to his room which also is how you get to the attic. He is a boy scout and is always searching and collecting items. He shows Lily a box he has found in the attic. The box has items that were sent home with Lily when she was adopted. They had been hiding in the attic ever since she came to live with the Firestone's. She is confused by the box and the items in the box. Some of the items stir up memories of her other life before the Firestone's. Thus begins her search for her “Gone Mom”,(the name she gave to her biological mother), and to find out why she was given away.

 

In the meantime, Lily is back in school and is called to the office for leaving school. She will have to stay after school in detention. Her detention is to clean the art room. This is where she meets the art student Elliot, and begins a friendship with not only him, but also Mr. Howard, the school janitor and the only black person in the school. At home, Ralph and Lily continue their search which will lead them back to the museum. It is there at the museum where the staff is preparing a new Chinese exhibit, when Lily sees a couple of things in the room that she knows she has seen before,. Not only that, but Lily knows she has been in that room before with her Gone Mom. Lily returns to the orphanage for information and with the help of Sister Evangeline, finds more about her background and why her mother had to give her away. The sister has also been hiding a box in the garden shed, waiting for the day for Lily to return, if she ever does. One night, Ralph brings the box from the attic to the dinner table. Lily’s mom, horrified, questions Lily’s dad because she thought he had gotten rid of “that trash”. She asks Lily why she wants to live in reverse since you can’t change the past. But, it is Lily’s past.

In the quest to find the truth, Lily finds herself meeting the Chows who have just opened a Chinese Restaurant. Between the Chows, Elliot, Mr. Howard, Sister Evangeline, and her brother Ralph, Lily will get the answers she has been looking for.


Barbara Stuber writes young adult fiction. She has won numerous awards for this book and her book, “Crossing the Tracks”. She has been a docent at the Nelson Museum for over twenty years. She uses the museum as her ‘muse’. You can visit her site at https://barbarastuber.com/novel-art-tour/ for more information and to hear her speak about the book.

Educated A Memoir Tara Westover

3.8

 

Tara Westover was the youngest of seven children. She was born and raised in Clifton, Idaho, in a strict Mormon family. Her parents believed and practiced a survivalist lifestyle. They did not believe in doctors, hospitals, schools, and were distrustful of the government. Tara was born at home and did not have a birth certificate.

 

Tara’s mother, LaRhee was a midwife’s assistant. Later she was forced out of need, to become the only midwife in the area. Tara would go with her mother to assist her. Her mother believed in holistic medicine. She created her own salves and tinctures from plants. No matter how injured or sick she or any of her other family members were, they refused to go the hospital. Tara’s father, Val, owned a salvage yard and was a builder. He made his children work for him in the yard. There were many accidents in the yard, some very serious, yet he refused to take anyone to the hospital. Instead, LaRhee would bring them into the house and treat them herself. Even when she was seriously injured in a car accident, she demanded to go home where she laid in a dark room for months with excruciating headaches, most likely from brain trauma. That accident was one of two where the family had been in Arizona in the winter visiting grandparents. Val, known as Gene in the book, decided very late at night that it was time to go home even though there was a blizzard outside. His rash behavior was a common theme throughout Tara’s life growing up. Tara later recognized his behavior as manic/bipolar behavior. He was not alone with this disorder. Tara’s brother Shawn, also had this disease although it was not acknowledged by anyone in the family. Shawn terrorized Tara, physically and verbally. He not only terrorized Tara, but that of his girlfriends and later his wife. When Tara went to her parents about his abuse, they did not believe her. Even her other sister told them what Shawn did to her but later recanting, for peace in the family.

 

Tara knew she needed to get out of Clifton. Her older brothers had gone off to college. She asked one for help with her schooling. He gave her books, she went to the library, and found old books to read. Going against her parents, she took the ACT, applied to and was accepted into Brigham Young University. With the help of a Bishop from the University, she was accepted into a program abroad to study in Cambridge. On holidays and breaks, Tara would always return home. Nothing  changed once she got there. When she would see Shawn, things would be fine, she trusted him when he suggested they go in the car somewhere, only to find herself once again being hurt and terrorized.

On a visit home, Tara saw that her mother's business had become very successful. There were more employees there working on filling orders from the now online business and even her father was working for the business. He built rooms onto the house  to accommodate the growing and successful business.

 

Tara continued her education eventually earning a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, a MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge, and was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She received a PhD in history in 2014 at Cambridge.

 

A memoir is a person’s personal memory of events that they lived and remembered. Other family members have come out saying that things Tara has written aren’t true or not the way they remember them. What is true is that there is documentation and people to prove that what she believes happened.

 

You can read what her brother Tyler wrote about her book at https://www.goodreads.com/questions/1337824-i-saw-mentioned-that-tyler-westover-ha

An American Marriage Tayari Jones

3

 

Celestial and Roy have been married over a year. They are in Louisiana to visit Roy’s parents. On their way home, they stay in a motel for the night. When Roy goes to the ice machine, a woman asks him to help her with the ice and carry it to her room. Later that evening, there is a knock on the door. It is the police. The woman who he had just helped a few hours earlier, is now accusing him of rape. The police arrest him. It doesn’t matter that Celestial testifies that Roy had been with her all night, the woman identifies that it is Roy that raped her. Roy is found guilty and is sent to prison to serve a twelve year sentence. Celestial’s father has the means to hire a lawyer for Roy. Although Roy is found guilty, his lawyer continues to find evidence to appeal the sentence. Once Roy is in prison, Celestial starts to make the long trip to see him. They also communicate with letters.

 

After some time passes, Celestial is very busy at home with her own career. She makes dolls that are very life like. Their faces are based on Roy’s face. She has now opened a shop in Atlanta, her hometown and where she and Roy live. She has the support of her family and her childhood friend, Andre. It was Andre who introduced Roy to Celestial.The more time Celestial spends with Andre, the visits to see Roy become less and less. They communicate with letters but they too become less frequent from Celestial. Back in prison, Roy’s cellmate advises him. He discovers after awhile exactly who his cellmate is. After five years, Roy’s lawyer finds what he needs to free Roy. The rest of the story continues with Roy returning home to find just how much things have changed while he was gone.

 

The author uses chapters to tell the story by each individual character, Roy, Celestial, and Andre.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

Karen Abbott

4

 

During the Civil War, there were many women who helped spy on the enemy and there were women who joined in the fight by dressing like men. This is a book about four notable women who did just that. 



Belle Boyd was just seventeen years old when she shot a Union soldier who entered her home in Virginia. This rebel became known as the spy who used her flirtatious ways as a means to gain information from the Federal soldiers and guards, even when she was in prison. It didn’t matter what type of danger she was putting herself in, she found a way to make sure the information was taken to the appropriate higher ups. She traveled through the south and even to Europe for the cause. In the end, she found that she could never go home to see her family again, as her home was now part of West Virginia which had become a free State and was now part of the Northern States.



Emma Edmonds father promised her hand in marriage to an elderly man. The only way Emma found that she could avoid this was to dress like a man and leave her homeland of Canada. She went South to the United States. While there, she joined the Union Army. Her name was now Frank Thompson. As Frank Thompson, she fought on the front, went behind enemy lines disguising herself as a slave to gain information, and for a time was the postmaster which also gave her cover to roam back and forth. She became very close to two fellow soldiers. The first, Jerome Robbins, was a soldier she fought next to and shared sleeping quarters. They had the same belief system and prayed and talked of God often. He was engaged to a woman back home. Frank/ Emma was having feelings for him and revealed her true identity. He felt betrayed and later distant. Emma was transferred and shared a tent with James Reid, a married Scotsman. She told him the truth and the two of them became intimately involved. He later went back to Scotland.



Rose O’Neal Greenhow, was a wealthy widow who lived in Washington, D.C. She had many affairs with Northern politicians. She used these affairs to gain information to relay to the proper southern generals. She had a young daughter, Little Rose, who Rose used to help her get information to the South. Rose had devised a secret code to send messages to the south. She hid the responses and code keys throughout the house. Allan Pinkerton was a detective who had worked previously for President Lincoln as security. He contacted the President personally  and offered his services to obtain information on traitors and spies. He was then under contract with the government. He hired a staff of men and women to observe and find rebel spies. One of his first assignments was to conduct surveillance on Rose. Rose found herself and her daughter arrested. When she was released, she traveled to Europe taking Little Rose with her. Rose was hoping to gain support and money for the Confederacy.



Elizabeth Van Lew came from a wealthy family in Richmond,Virginia. Her father, John, made his money as a  proprietor of a hardware store. His clients included Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia. He built a three story mansion in the affluent neighborhood of Church Hill. It was there that he hosted parties where politicians, actors, and other famous people came to mingle. The Van Lew's were known abolitionists. After John’s death, Eliza, Elizabeth’s mother, Elizabeth and her brother, John, remained living there at the house. Her sister Anna had moved north to live in Philadelphia. They allowed their slaves, which they considered servants, to work outside of the house and keep their money so that they could buy their freedom. The servants once freed decided to remain and work for the family.  Elizabeth began to spend her inheritance buying slaves and then freeing them. Her house was now part of the underground railroad. She would find people at her back door in the middle of the night and hide them in her house until it was safe to get them connected to the right people to take them north. Elizabeth’s had sent her slave, Mary Bowser, north to stay with the Quakers and be educated. She returned to Elizabeth’s later. When Elizabeth knew she needed someone in President’s Jefferson Davis house to spy, Mary was the perfect choice. No one would suspect that a negro slave could read or write. Mary and Elizabeth came up with a plan for Mary to sneak messages and plans from what she copied off Davis’s desk and through overheard discussions. This information gave the Union a heads up on moves the confederates were about to make. Elizabeth was shunned by her neighbors as they watched who was coming and going out of her house. Her activities were reported to the proper authorities. Elizabeth was subjected to many unannounced inspections of her house. Thankfully, no one noticed the hidden door behind a dresser where she was hiding those awaiting their escape to the north.



Karen Abbott’s Index at the end of the book is forty-eight pages, listing all the sources from letters, journals, books written about the women, and the books written by Belle, Emma, and Rose. Elizabeth was the only one not to write a book. In the epilogue, Abbott brings closure to the women with what happened after the war was over. The book is written with each chapter representing one woman. The women’s chapters follow the same timeline of the war. The inside flap of the book is a great tool to remind you of which woman you are reading about. It can be confusing at first until you get to know them better. This is another well written, nonfiction, part of history many of us knew nothing about.

Lilac Girls

 

Martha Hall Kelly

3.6

 

This is a fictional novel based on the lives of three women from 1939 to 1959. 

 

It begins in September 1939, and socialite Caroline Ferriday is about to attend her first gala as a representative of the French Consulate. She is raising funds to purchase and collect much needed items to send overseas to a French Orphanage. Her mother grew up in France and still has a shop and apartment there. It is at the gala that news comes that Hitler has invaded Poland.

 

Kasia Kusmerik lives in Lublin, Poland with her sister Suzanna, (who is doing her pediatric residency at the local hospital), her mother, who she calls Matka, and her Papa. Her papa is the Director at the Postal Center Communications office. Kasia is with her best friends Nadia Watroba and Pietrik Bakoski when German planes start flying overhead and dropping bombs. They all run home. Later Kasia’s papa tells the family to grab all of their valuables. He digs a hole in the backyard to hide them but Matka refuses to give her his ring. It is September 17 when Matka hears on the radio that Russia has also invaded Poland on the east side. The Germans march down Kasia’s street. There is a pounding at the door. Two German soldiers ask for Papa and take him away. The other soldiers raid through the house taking all of their food. They go out back to see the shovel and freshly covered hole. They demand them to dig it up. Later, Kasia learns that her friend Nadia and Nadia’s family, who are Jewish, have been arrested. Pietrik tells Kasia that he is helping to get messages to the underground. Kasia volunteers to help him. This eventually leads to Kasia, her mother, and her sister, Suzanna, being arrested and taken to the Ravensbruck camp.

 

Herta Oberhauser is a physician in Dusseldorf, Germany. She can only find work in a small clinic as a skin specialist because she is female. What she really wants is to be a surgeon. One day while at the clinic, she opens The Journal of Medicine and reads a classified ad for a needed doctor for a reeducation camp for women. The camp is Ravensbruck. She had heard of it before and her former medical classmate, Fritz Fischer, works there. She decides to go.

 

While in Ravensbruck, Kasia, her sister, and other prisoners undergo experimental surgery performed by Dr. Oberhauser. These women become known as The Rabbits. Matka who is a nurse, is taken under Dr. Oberhauser’s care to help the patients/prisoners and other hospital duties. 

 

Over the next twenty years, the book follows the lives of these three women during and after WWII. The author through extensive research, writes of the very real Caroline Ferriday and Herta Oberhauser. Kasia and Suzanna’s story is loosely based on Nina Iwanska and her physician sister Krystyna, both operated on at the camp. There is a storyline of a relationship between Caroline and a french actor named Paul, but that is pure fiction. 

 

 

 

 

Rules of Civility

Amor Towles

3.1

 

On October 4, 1966, Katey Kontent, maiden name, is now married to Val.They are attending the opening at the Museum of Modern Art of an exhibit of portraits taken in the late 1930's. The photos are of the riders on the New York City subways taken with the photographer's hidden camera. As Katey and Val peruse the exhibit, Katey is stunned when she recognizes a man from her past, Tinker Grey. He is ill shaven,dressed in a threadbare coat, and dirty. Val recognizes him too as someone who use to hang out with his brother at one time. As they had to the door to leave, Val sees Tinker in another photo. In this one, he is dressed in his cashmere coat, shaven, and looking healthy. Val assumes in this photo, Tinker had gotten back on his feet, as he was known to have been a successful banker. Katey responds with a no, that was an earlier picture. The first one was a year later, 1939, the last one was in in 1938.

Katey was employed in a secretary pool. There she met and became roommates in a boarding house with her friend Evelyn. On New Years Eve,1937, the two visit a jazz club. It is there that they meet Tinker Grey, well dressed, banker, upper class. They become friends and begin traveling in his circle of rich friends, going out to various clubs and parties. While dining out one day, they meet Tinker's godmother, Anne, a rich widow. Later, she will become an important influence on Katey's life, without Katey's knowledge. On the return of one of their times out where they had been drinking, they are in a terrible accident. Evelyn is critically injured. Tinker, as the driver, feels responsible and takes Evelyn in to help her to recover. Their relationship evolves from there. There are many twists and turns for the remainder of the book.

There are so many characters in this book from the upper class to the lower class, including Tinker's brother. Sometimes it is confusing to remember who is who. This is the author's first book and he does an amazing job writing in a women's voice and describing New York City in the late 1930's.

A Gentleman in Moscow

Amor Towles

4

 

In 1922, thirty year old Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is to spend a lifetime sentence under house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Before he appeared in court for sentencing, the Count had lived in a suite with what family belongings he was allowed to bring. Upon returning to the hotel, he went to his suite where he was met by personnel who had been instructed to move him and what belongings he chose, to the attic. He was to have one small room to reside in. Some of his belongings had to go in a spare room down the hall and others went to the basement. He brought his family's desk, where inside the hollow legs, he stored gold coins which he would use through the years to pay for his weekly hair trim, his food and wine, and whatever else he wished to purchase.

Arriving at the barber for his weekly trim, another customer was there waiting, but since the Count had a standing appointment, he got in the chair. The customer who had been waiting was so upset, he walked up to the barber, grabbed his scissors, and snipped one side of the Count's handlebar mustache off, forcing the Count to now shave an area he hadn't for years.

There were two dining areas in the Metropol. One was like a Parisian Cafe called the Piazza. The other was on the second floor named the Boyarsky. It was in the Piazza while dining, that a nine year old girl dressed in yellow came up to him. She wanted to know where they went. When he asked what she meant, she asked about the mustache. Her name was Nina Kulikova, a daughter of a widowed Ukrainian bureaucrat. She inquired if he was really a Count and if he new princesses? The Count invited her to sit with him.That was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. Nina showed the Count all the good hiding places and secret doors. She had a master key and could get into any room at the hotel. She took the Count on many adventures. One Christmas as she left to spend time with her father, she gave the Count her master key as a present. He would use that key for the rest of his time there.

Through the years, Nina would come and go. The last time he saw her, she arrived with a child of her own Sophia. Nina needed to go away for awhile and left Sophia with the Count to watch over her. Thus, another friendship, which turned into more that, began.

The Count had many friendships and jobs in the hotel. He had relationships with the chef, Maitre D, concierge, seamstress, bartender and wait staff. He met a beautiful actress named Anna Urbanova. His old dear college friend, Mishka would come and go throughout his time there.

Throughout this story, there are many characters the Count meets that are important in his life and to his future. As this all unfolds, outside of the hotel the landscape is changing, the political rule is changing, and wars have come and gone.

This novel is a wonderful charming story.

Digging To America

Anne Tyler

2.83

 

At the Baltimore Airport late one night, two families anxiously awaited the arrival of a plane. On board were two Korean babies, both having been recently adopted by the families waiting. One family, the Donaldson's, had many family member's there, holding cameras, signs, and videotaping the entire event. Their baby girl came off the plane first. Her name was Jin-Ho. The other family, the Yazdan's, adopted the second baby girl who's name was Sooki. When Brad Donaldson realized another family was there picking up a Korean baby girl, he introduced himself to Sami Yazdan. Brad pointed out his wife, Bitsy, and Sami introduced his wife, Ziba and his mother, Maryam.

From the meeting, a new friendship/family were formed. Every year on the arrival date of the two girls, the two families would take turns hosting a big family get together. The video would always be played and the song, "Coming around the Mountain" would be sung. Jin-Ho would be dressed in a Korean dress, and Susan, Sooki, would be dressed in regular clothes. Bitsy decided from the beginning to have Jin-Ho remain Korean. She felt it was important for the girls to maintain their cultural heritage. She kept Jin-Ho hair with the same hairstyle she arrived in, a bowl cut, and her Korean name. Ziba on the other hand, changed Sooki's name immediately to Americanize her name to Susan. Sami and Ziba's parents were immigrants to this country, both being Iranian. They felt that it was important to blend in and become Americans. Bitsy and Ziba were very different. Ziba was a professional working woman. Susan was in daycare, except for days when Maryam could watch her. Ziba would later send her to preschool and public school. Bitsy did not agree with her choices and let Ziba know. She used cloth diapers and was a stay at home mom.

There were other times of the year when the families would get together for gatherings. When it was the Yazdan family's turn, they would prepare huge Iranian meals. When it was Iranian New Year's, the Donaldson's would be included in the celebration.

Shortly after the families met, Bitsy's mother passed away from cancer. Bitsy's father, Dave, found it easy to talk to Maryam and as time passed on, he started to court her. Maryam had been a widow for a very long time and kept things to herself, especially her thoughts and her feelings .This was also part of her culture. Although she enjoyed Dave's company, he was soon taking up too much of her time and space and she wasn't sure that was something wanted.

The book is meant to be about different cultures, melding into an American way of life while keeping traditions. As the two girls get older, we never learn what they are thinking and feeling, until Jin-Ho gets her chapter towards the end. They are minor characters in this book, but the book is centered around the event that brought both families together. It's an easy read

Killers of the Flower Moon
The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
David Grann

3.5

 

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson purchased Louisiana from the French. The land was occupied by the Osage Indian Tribe. Although Jefferson promised them they would be fine. Four years later, he went back on his word. Over the next two decades they were forced to cede their land and move to a small parcel of land in Southern Kansas. When settlers began to move onto their land, they chose an area further south that was the larger than size of Delaware. It was a land that was rocky, broken, and unfit for cultivation. They knew the whites would not want to settle there. Had they picked a prairie type land, the whites would eventually encroach upon them. They sold their Kansas land and purchased this new land cheaper.

 
By the early twentieth century, the government planned on breaking up the Indian Territory and make it part of a new state called "Oklahoma" which means "red people". Different tribes were allotted parcels of land. The Osage were the last and having learned from the other tribes, the Osage made sure the land was divided solely among members of the tribe giving a much larger allotment per person. In the agreement, the Osage put in there a provision that the oil, gas, coal, or any other minerals covered by the lands, are reserved to the Osage Indian Tribe. They knew there was oil under the land  An Osage Indian saw a rainbow sheen in the water and showed it to a white trading post owner. He thought it smelled like grease, With the confirmation of the oil, Florer, the post owner, contacted a wealthy banker friend and the two obtained a lease to begin a drilling operation. Now that Osage retained the rights to the oil, each family now owned the headrights to all the oil under their land and it could only be inherited, not sold. More land was now being leased to other oil companies.
 
The Osage were now a very wealthy tribe, and yes, individually. This made the women very attractive to white men. Once married to an Osage, they could now inherit the land rights. The government did not think that the Osage had the intelligence to spend their money so it was up to a guardian, a white businessman, to keep track of their finances and to approve of their purchases.
 
By the late 1910's and early 1920"s, Osage Indians were being murdered. This affected one family the most. Mollie Burkhart's family were being shot and poisoned.The sheriff and federal lawmen were investigating the murders. Those who were investigating or had information would later be found dead. The death toll was now more than twenty-four. The FBI took over and the new director, J. Edgar Hoover, sent out a new FBI agent, Tom White, a former Texas Ranger, to find those responsible for the killings.
 
This is a real murder mystery book. Unfortunately, it is all true and happened to the Osage Indian Tribe.This is a piece of history that many do not know about. It also gives insight into the beginning of the FBI and the power Hoover held over the department. David Green did an amazing job researching and interviewing members of the Osage Tribe to write this book. It also has many photos. A must read.
 

Sadly, to this day, land is still being encroached and taken from the Native American Indians

Enchanted Islands

Allison Amend 

2.6

 

The story begins in a private retirement home where Rosalie and Fanny reside.
 
In Duluth Minnesota, Frances Frankowski was born in 1882 to Jewish Polish immigrants. Fanny met Rosalie Mendel, also of Jewish descent, in grade school and they became best friends. They grew up in very different households.  Fanny had been pulled out of school by her parents and sent to secretarial school to learn a trade. Rosalie remained in school to be educated. When Fanny discovered Rosalie's secret, Rosalie, now age fifteen, convinced Fanny to run away with her to start a new life in Chicago. Fanny found work in an office and supported both Rosalie and herself. Rosalie was suppose to be looking for work but was hoping to become an actress. When Rosalie betrayed Fanny, Fanny took off and moved to Nebraska where she worked and lived on a farm. She finished her education and became an English teacher. She moved to San Fransisco where she taught different grades for thirty years. While Fanny was watching a movie one afternoon, she hears someone talking behind her and when the lights go up, the voice belongs to Rosalie. She is now married, has children, and is married to a wealthy business man. Fanny and Rosalie renew their friendship.
 
Bored and wanting a change at fifty years of age, Fanny applied and was hired by the Twelfth District Office of Naval Intelligence. It was there that she met Ainslie Conway, an intelligence operator eleven years younger than herself. A secret mission comes up where Ainslie needs to move to the Galapagos Islands. He needs to take a wife as part of his cover story. There is intelligence that there may be German spies living on Floreana Island. Ainslie and Fanny marry and move to the island to live as a married couple, looking for a new way of life, while at the same time finding Intel on the couples that live there to see if they are indeed spies.
 
The rest of the story continues on the island with their way of life including: building a shelter, planting a garden, hunting, fishing, befriending the other people and locals, and for Ainslie and Fanny, to learn how to live together. While on the island Fanny keeps a journal of her everyday life. It is from this journal, that the author, Allison Amend, bases her fictional story. Through research, Ainslie and Fanny did go to the island on the pretense stated above. The journal was dedicated to Rosalie. Fanny was never allowed to tell anyone of the truth of their relationship or why they were on the island, even Rosalie did not know.

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Sanders 

3.1

 

Bardo:  (in Tibetan Buddhism) a state of existence between death and rebirth, varying in length according to a person's conduct in life and manner of, or age at, death.  Oxford Dictionary.

 

On a cold February night, Willie Lincoln lay in his bed, dying from typhoid fever. President Lincoln and his wife, Mary, are hosting an elaborate dinner party for many politicians and dignitaries. They thought of cancelling the party but the doctor has assured them that Willie will recover. During the party, both father and mother, continue to check on their son.

 

Willie Lincoln passed away on February 20, 1862. He was embalmed and placed in a temporary family crypt lent to the Lincoln's by William Carroll, in Oak Hill Cemetery. His body would be moved to Lincoln's hometown in Illinois when the weather changed.

 

Mary Lincoln was devastated and did not attend the funeral. Lincoln was so grief stricken,  that he visited the crypt in the cemetery. Sources suggest that he went into the crypt and would take Willie out of his coffin and hold him. That is the premise of this novel.

 

The book consists of interspersed chapters of factual quotations from various sources. They referred to what people observed and thought of the events and how they affected President Lincoln.

The other chapters take place in the Bardo. This is where many of the souls, beings, spirits, who have not transitioned, come out after sunset to peruse the cemetery. The first night that Willie is in the Bardo, the others are not sure why he is still there. Young children generally do not stay in the Bardo for long. Willie tells them that he is waiting for his father to come back for him. There are a few major characters in the Bardo, but at times, many come out, especially to see Willie and President Lincoln when he visits. The three major characters try to get Willie to move on and realize that the only way this will happen is if Lincoln himself can let the boy know it is okay. The spirits enter Lincoln’s body and are able to feel and learn not only about the man, but also of each other, as they inhabit him together. Through their effort to help Willie move on, others are able to also.

 

This book is a challenge to the reader. The section that takes in place in the Bardo, is written more like a play. In order to know who is talking, you need to look at the end of their script for their name. In the end, if you are in the Bardo, once you can feel complete and at peace with your life, you can move on.

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead

3.5

 

Cora was born a slave on the Randall cotton plantation in Georgia. Having been abandoned by her mother, Mabel,(who fled in the night for freedom), Cora was left on her own. One day at a birthday party on the plantation, another slave, Caesar, approaches her. Caesar had recently arrived from Virginia, and he has knowledge and connections to the Underground Railroad. He convinces Cora to leave with him. Once discovered that they have escaped, a slave catcher named Ridgeway is employed to bring them back to the plantation.

 

Caesar and Cora meet up with different people who eventually get them to the Underground Railroad to begin their journey north. Their first stop is in South Carolina where they find employment. Caesar begins working in a factory and Cora, who is now known as Bessie, works for a family. She lives in a dorm with other runaways and slaves. She is in a class that is teaching her how to read and write. The woman in charge of the dorm and the jobs, suggests that Bessie would be better at a new job in a museum. She will be part of a display that represents the life of a slave on a plantation. Cora/Bessie is  told of a new procedure that the doctors are performing on slaves to prevent them from procreating under the guise of it being a health issue. Cora knows that in her future she will want to be able to have children someday. When Cora and Caesar meet up, they discuss moving on to the next phase of their trip to move north. Caesar has wanted to move on, but Cora has felt that they were fine where they were. They makes plans to meet up but Caesar does not show up. She is forced to go on her own as Ridgeway is now in town searching for both of them

 

Cora finds herself in South Carolina. Martin Wells discovers her in the railroad, which has been closed, and hides her in his wagon. His father had been a part of the U.R. Cora was lucky that Martin just happened to find her. Martin takes her to his house and hides her in his attack. Martin and his wife, Ethel, are in serious danger by harboring her. Anyone caught harboring a slave will be put to death along with the slave. Along the roads, slaves are seen hung and tortured. After months of having to hide in the attic, Cora is discovered and captured. She finds herself once again, locked in chains, to be returned to her owner. One night during their travels, after an evening of events, she once again escapes.

 

Cora now finds herself living and working on the Valentine farm in Indiana. John Valentine, a free black man, owns the farm. John is lighter, passable for white, due to his biracial parents. She is enjoying the work and freedom she has on the farm until events happen that she is now on the run again.

The Underground Railroad depicted in the book, is an actual railroad underground below farms and houses. Through Cora’s travels, the book depicts the horrors of slaves escaping and their capture along with those who harbor and try to save them. Cora looks for her mother, Mabel, wherever she goes, in hope one day to find her and reunite with her. Her determination carries her miles over State lines in search for the day she will be free and no longer on the run.

Sisters First

Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life

Jenna Bush Hager
and Barbara Pierce Bush

2.6

 

 

In this memoir, the Bush fraternal twins, write of their memories from the earliest of their memories with one another, to their current lives.
They reminisce of their times with each set of grandparents and the different places they lived.
They write of growing up under the watchful eyes of the Secret Service from the time of their being young when their grandfather, George H. Bush, was President, and then again when their father, George W. Bush, was President. It was insightful as to the role that the Secret Service had on their lives.
They spent their summers with the extended Bush family at their grandfather's summer compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. They share their fond memories of times spent with their grandfather, grandmother, and cousins.
They write of what it was like on September 11, 2001 and how their lives were affected once their father, President George W. declared war on Iraq.
Now adults and private citizens, each sister has chosen their own career path but remain extremely close living only minutes from each other.
 

The memoir is just that. Their memories that they shared together and apart as they lived a very public life. The closeness of their family and their personal lives with their parents separate from what we know of the public Bush family.

Miller's Valley
Anna Quindlen

3

 

This story is told by Mimi Miller. It is her recollection of how her family farm, which had been in their family for generations, would eventually became a lake, park, strip mall, all 6400 acres, underwater.

 
The government sent a man by the name of Winston Bally to approach the owners of Miller's Valley. He was there to convince them to sell their land to the government since it would one day be worthless. There would be a day when the valley, the lowest part of the area in the township, would flood over.
 
Mimi's family consisted of her mother, Miriam, her father, Buddy, and her two brothers, Eddie and Tommy. Eddie did well in school and later moved away to marry and have a couple of children. Tommy was always getting into trouble. He drank, fooled around, was lazy, and then decided to join the service to prove himself to his father. The Vietnam war was hard on Tommy. He came back a changed man. He couldn't cope after the war which led him to drink and do other drugs. He would disappear for months at a time. Her Aunt Ruth, her mother's sister, also lived on the farm in a small house up the hill. Her aunt had not been able to step outside of the house in many years and depended on Mimi and her family to bring her meals, food, and anything else she needed.
 
Mimi had two childhood friends. Donald would come for the summer to stay with his grandparents until he had to go back to live with his mom, who wasn't a stable mother. La
Rhonda's was her friend through her school years. Her parents owned a diner where both girls worked.
 
In high school, Mimi chose to write a paper for her class about they river, the dam, and how hard rains were affecting the river and valley was built. Through her research, she found out that the government had been slowly releasing water from the dam into the valley that would enhance the flooding. During a huge storm, people in the lower part of the valley, including Mimi's family, were told to evacuate. Her parents and Aunt stayed. However, the next big storm people was worse. In the end, it was time to face the facts that the flooding of Miller's Valley was inevitable and it was time to move on.
 

Mimi's life from childhood into adulthood is well chronicled. The author tells a wonderful story of relationships within a family and with friends, hanging on to the past and moving on into the future

The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss
Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt
3
 
Over the course of a year, the two exchange emails detailing their lives, feelings, memories, and how events affected each of them.  In Anderson Cooper fashion, he interviews his mother and asks the questions he had never thought to ask her before. It is through her answers and narrative, that he reveals how he feels and what she may not have known about him.
 
Gloria begins with her loving father passing away while she was still only a young child. She tells him how: her mother neglected her and wanted to spend the Vanderbilt fortune, how her Grandmother fought for her custody, the very public court custody battle, living with her Aunt until she was a teenager then reconnecting with her mother, having relationships with older men, modeling and being an actress, marrying one older man, having two children with him, leaving him, falling in love and marrying Anderson and his brother's father, only to lose him due to a heart attack, and then years later the loss of her son by suicide. She made her money as an artist and designer of clothes and home furnishings. She was self sufficient.
 
Anderson replied to her stories and asked questions. He revealed his memories of being a child, how he was affected by the loss of his father, his brother.
 
Not only do we learn the history of Gloria Vanderbilt to present day, but we also learn about Anderson and how he became the man he is today. What a wonderful opportunity for the both of them to become even more closer and to really know things they hadn't known before. For some of us it is too late to know or document the stories we have herd growing up and even those we haven't heard yet. If either of your parents are still alive, this is a great example of what to do while there still is time.
The Woman in White
Wilkie Collins
3.6
 

It’s 1850 in Victorian England. Walter Hartwright is walking home from his mother’s cottage on a beautiful moonlit night in summer when he is startled by a strange apparition – a woman all in white suddenly appears, needing his help and protection. Walter helps her escape into the city, thinking he will never see her again. . . .  

So begins Wilkie Collins’ novel, The Woman in White, “. . . a story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and what a Man’s resolution can achieve.” Continually in print since it was first published in 1860, The Woman in White is one of the earliest “detective” novels. Told by multiple narrators, it takes readers on a wild ride as current as the morning news: a husband marries for his wife’s fortune, a selfish uncle fails to protect his niece, a mother commits her daughter to an insane asylum, and a charming villain masterminds a stolen identity. Based on the use of premonitions, coincidences and dreams, the plot could be considered a bit over the top. But it is also the story of how individuals create their own families through love, loyalty, and determination.

Another pleasure of this novel is its plethora of interesting characters, particularly in the wonderful protagonist, Marian Holcomb. Unconventional, daring, and smart, Marian is able to match wits with another fantastic character, the enigmatic and charismatic Count Fosco. Minor characters are also unique and entertaining, many who serve as a critique of Victorian society.

Friend and collaborator of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins is less known to modern readers, but because of his ability to create memorable characters and explore themes that are still current today, particularly the those of marriage and the role of women in society, The Woman in White remains a highly engaging read.

The Summer Before the War

Helen Simonson

3

In the summer of 1914, in the small town of Rye, England, Beatrice Nash arrives to start teaching Latin in the Fall. A woman has never taught Latin before, but she is sponsored by a woman of good standing, Agatha Kent. Agatha is married to John who works in the Foreign office in London. Agatha has two grown nephews, Hugh and Daniel, who have grown up spending their vacations and holidays with Agatha. They are very different but are more like brothers. Daniel is a writer of poetry. Hugh is studying and training to be a surgical doctor. Beatrice arrives at the station and is picked up by Hugh. She is taken to Agatha's for the night and a friendship begins among Beatrice, Daniel, and Hugh.

After the passing of Beatrice's father, Beatrice was left with no money of her own as it has been left in a trust for her Aunt to dole out to her as needed. Beatrice took the opportunity of teaching in Rye as a way out of her Aunt's care and to have her own independence. She also writes and wants time to write a book featuring a collection of her father's letters and their adventures. Not only does the time period dislike women in teaching roles such as Latin, women aren't realized as valid writers either. Beatrice sees an opportunity of perhaps publishing her book when she meets famed poet and author Mr. Tillingham.

During the summer, Beatrice tutors three boys in Latin before the school year begins. One boy, Snout, a gypsy boy, has taken a keen interest in Latin and its novels. Beatrice will also attend picnics and parties where she will meet other important members of the school board and residents of Rye. As the summer winds down and school begins, it becomes more evident that England with be joining the war. Many men, including Hugh, Daniel, and Snout, will join the fight.

There are many other story lines and characters in the novel. The story concludes with a battle in France, where most of the characters that went to war are all together. After the battle, those that are able, return home.

Beautiful Ruins

Jess Walter

3.5

 

It is April, 1962, and Pasquale Tursi is out in the water of the Ligurian Sea on the Italian Coastline. The sea and beach fronts his small inn which he inherited from his father. His mother and aunt still reside there. As a boat approaches the inn, Pasquale sees a vision of beauty on the boat. A young, blonde, slight of build, American actress is coming to stay at his inn. Her name is Dee Moray. He finds out that she is sick and dying. She had been in Rome filming Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton when she became ill. The film producer, Michael Deane, sends Dee to this small and remote hotel for privacy. The films doctor has told her she has cancer. During her stay there, Pasquale and Dee become friends. They take walks around the village and discover up on a hill, a small cave used during the war as a look out post for soldiers. The view is beautiful and the inside walls have various pictures painted by one of the soldiers.

During a bout of sickness, Pasquale calls a local doctor to examine Dee Moray. When he tells Pasquale the true diagnosis of her illness, Pasquale goes to Rome to tell Micheal Deane about this. A few things happen between then and later, but Pasquale is given Micheal's card and told if he ever needs anything, to contact Micheal.

Jump ahead to 2008. Micheal Deane's assistant, Claire Silver, is reading scripts and hearing pitches for possible new shows for Micheal to produce. People will randomly come in with a card that Micheal had handed them, hoping this will open the door for an opportunity. One day, a very elderly Pasquale walks in the door with his card. He has come from Italy. He wants to see Michael. He wants to find Dee Moray.

The rest of the book is filled with characters and happenings that take place in 1962 Italy. It then jumps to 2008 America where we now catch up on Dee and her life. A character from the past had gone to America and been a part of her life there until his pasting.

The book concludes with the author neatly wrapping up every story line.

Being Mortal
Medicine and What Matters in the End
Atul Gawande
 

3.75

 

This book addresses the issues we must all face at the end of one's life, Whether it is from an illness or old age, the body declines and adjustments to oneself, way of life, home care, and family dependency become apparent.

Years ago, people didn't generally live to be over age forty-five. People died from disease, accidents, and natural causes. The discovery of medicines and knowledge in the health industry, people started to live longer.

There are different options the elderly now have. Many remain healthy and are able to live independently on their own. It is not until an illness, dementia/alzheimers, or falls start, that it is no longer safe for a person to stay home on their own. Sometimes family members will take in a parent or loved one, but for some, that is not an option. For those who need some assistance, self assisted living apartments are available. For others, the only options for the care they need is a nursing home.

Dr. Gawande writes of the many interviews he conducted with elderly patients and the various nursing homes and self assisted living complexes that have sprung up across the country. He writes of the importance of keeping a person physically and mentally alert through various stimuli. The elderly need a reason to get up in the morning and to feel like they have a purpose in life.

Then there are those who are able to stay in their home. They will remain and eventually die at home with the help of family and hospice to provide "comfort care".
 
It is not only the elderly who must face the end of life decisions, it is the terminally ill. Dr. Gawande interviewed patients who were facing cancer and the treatments they had to have in order to survive. There comes a time though when a treatment no longer works, and the hard decision is when to stop treatment. It becomes a matter of quality or quantity of time.

Dr. Gawande discusses the difference between doctors. One doctor may be all facts, cut to the chase, this is what it is, and this is what must be done. Some people may like that. But, for the most part, patients want to know their options. They want to be apart of making the decisions. The ideal doctor, and isn't that what we all want, will explain everything and ask us about ourselves. What do we want? How much pain and suffering can we go through before we say, "Enough"?

This book opens the door for conversations with your spouse or elderly parents as unfortunately, that time will someday come.
The Dressmaker's War
Mary Chamberlain

3.2

 

Ada Vaughan is eighteen years old and lives in London. She is an extremely talented seamstress and designer who hopes to open her own fashion house someday. She is hired to be a mannequin in an upscale fashion house working for Mrs. B. One night as she steps out into the rain, a handsome gentleman appears with an umbrella. He offers to accompany her home, but as she is embarrassed for him to see where she lives, she declines. He offers to take her to Tea at the Ritz. That is the beginning of their relationship.

His name is Stanislaus von Lieben. He is from Hungary and he tells her he is a Count. He sweeps her off her feet, taking her to nice restaurants and nightclubs. She sews her own dresses and appears very glamorous. This is all very new to naive Ada. He promises her a trip to Paris and to help support her in having her own fashion house. As the war is about to break out, he asks her to go to Paris. Although everyone warns her that the war is coming, she ignores them and travels to Paris with Stanislaus. He does not have his passport on him. She is his means to get into the other country.

Upon arrival in France, the war breaks out. Ada is trapped there totally dependent on Stanislaus. She soon finds out he isn't who he said he is.
They need to escape France and head to Belgium. Once there, there is a turn of events which leaves Ada alone and broke. She finds herself at a convent which soon becomes occupied by the Nazi's. She is now a prisoner of war. Because of her ability to sew, she is transferred to Berlin where she is held prisoner for seven years.

After the end of the war, she is able to return to London. She tries to get back on her feet, but her hope to open her own fashion house, the desire to be fashionable and wanted, leads Ada down the same path that she was on when she eighteen.

Some lessons are never learned.

The Nightingale
Kristin Hannah

4+

 


It is April 9, 1995 on the Oregon Coast. The narrator of the story is an elderly woman who is packing up her home to move to a retirement center. She is going through her belongings when her son sees a name on a piece of paper and asks, "Who is Juliette Gervaise?". The memories unfold.

Vianne was fourteen and Isabelle four, when their Maman died. Two weeks later, their Papa dropped them off at the summer house in Carriveau, unable to deal with his grief along with the fact that he was never the same after he came home from the war. He limped, drank, argued with his wife, and became distant. He was void of having any feelings for his daughters. He left them with a stranger to care for him. Vianne was dealing with her own grief and Isabelle was inconsolable. Vianne met a young neighbor boy, Antoine, and became pregnant when she was just sixteen. Isabelle was shipped to numerous schools, always running away from each one, only to be rejected by her Papa once more, to be sent to another.

It is now August 1939 in France. Vianne and Antoine have a daughter Sophie who is ten. Antoine is mobilized, along with most of the men in town, and now is a soldier for the French. They hear of a war coming but do not believe it will infiltrate France. Sadly, soon it does.

Isabelle returns to stay with Vianne as her Papa rejects her once again. Isabelle is strong minded and wants to fight against the war in someway. The Germans soon take over France. When a German soldier, Beck, billets their home, Isabelle is very angry and Vianne worries that Isabelle will put her family at risk. Soon, Isabelle finds some local resisters and she begins to deliver pamphlets in the middle of the night to local citizens. It is a very dangerous job but Isabelle is determined to do something. Isabelle leaves to go to Paris to help more with the resistance. This relieves the tension in the house.

Vianne has her own heartache to go through. She stands in long lines hoping to use her ration cards to find some sort of food for Sophie and herself. Her best friend Rachel, who is Jewish, is sent away leaving her son with Vianne to care for.

As the story goes on, we read of the bombings throughout France and Germany. The rounding up of all the Jewish families and their treks to various camps.
Isabelle becomes a hero, saving 117 airmen form various countries, by crossing them over the Pyrenees into Spain. Vianne becomes a hero as well saving nineteen Jewish children from going to the camps. There are many other characters in this story. With the men off to fight the war, the women are left to take care of the home, find food for the family, work at jobs, and when the men do come home, go back to their previous life as if nothing had happened or their own sacrifices acknowledged.

Kristin Hannah, while researching for another book she was writing, came across the story of Andree de Jongh, A Belgium woman who saved 118 airmen during the war. She based this novel on that premise. It is a very well written book.

Tarzan of the Apes
Edgar Rice Burroughs

3

 

Lord Clayton Greystoke was commissioned to set sail for the British West African Colony to investigate the fighting and slavery that was happening in the colony. He took with him him his new bride, Lady Alice Greystoke. There was a mutiny on the ship and the couple were left to fend for themselves on a beach. They only had a few supplies that were left for them. In order to survive, Clayton had to provide shelter for himself and Alice against not only the elements of the weather, but the beasts of the jungle. He built a strong cabin with a door that locked. Within the first year, Alice gave birth to a son.There was a strong ape tribe living in the area and it wasn't long before the apes descended on the cabin. As Clayton was being attacked by a giant ape, Alice shot the beast. The ape came after her but died by he time he got there. Alice was never the same after that, and soon died. Shortly thereafter, the ape came back for Clayton, leaving the baby alone without parents.

At the same time, Kerchak, the head of the ape tribe, was on a rage. He spotted Kala, carrying her babe, and went after her. As she swung through the trees to get away from him, the babe slipped from her arms and died. She continued to carry the dead babe and joined the tribe on its way to the cabin. She heard a baby crying and when she went into the cabin, she picked up the crying baby from the crib and placed her dead baby ape in the crib. She held the baby close and as nature takes over, the baby began to nurse from Kala. This baby was to be Tarzan of the Apes, and Kala was his mother. He learned everything from her; hunting, swinging, communicating, and living the life as an ape. He knew no difference.

As Tarzan grew up, he became a fierce fighter among the other apes when he or others were threatened. He learned how to kill other beasts that were after the apes.

Years later, another ship showed up on the beach and again, left the party aboard to fend for themselves. They found the cabin on the beach that Tarzan's father had built. In the cabin, remained the skeletons of Alice, Clayton, and the baby ape.  Tarzan had been going back to the cabin throughout the years and inside found books with pictures and letters. From these, he learned how to read, but he did not know how to communicate verbally other than in ape gestures and sounds.
Tarzan kept an eye on the new white, hairless people. He was very curious about the white woman, Jane. Jane was accompanied by her father, a professor, looking for a lost treasure chest. He was also accompanied by a companion and a young man, Clayton Greystoke, Tarzan's cousin. As the party ventured into the jungle, Tarzan needed to rescue them may times from danger.

As everyone knows by now, Tarzan is in love with Jane, learns to communicate, and becomes domesticated, so to speak. Burroughs wrote twenty-three Tarzan books and this is the first one. It is a classic and has been made into many alternative books, comics, movies, and cartoons.

The Good Lieutenant
Whitney Terrell

2.75

 

The book begins with Lieutenant Emma Fowler leading her platoon into a field to search and recover the body of a fellow soldier, Carl Beale. They were in the Iraqi back country, west of Baghdad. Beside her was a fellow soldier, and who at one time she had had a romantic relationship, Lieutenant Pulowski. As they drove through the field, an IUD exploded, knocking the Humvee over. Pulowski was injured as were others. Fowler caught site of a young Iraqi waving a gun so she shot him.

 
From there, the story reverses itself in time until you get to the end to learn how their relationship began back in Fort Riley, Kansas. And, how they found their way to that field of explosion.
 

Whitney Terrell went to Iraq many times as a reporter. Therefore, in this book, he was able to draw on his experiences. This book needs to be read twice since the book is written backwards, it was confusing to many in our club. But, it is worth the second read. He did an excellent job describing the war and the behind the scenes crap that happens in a platoon with a female in a lead position of men. This book was listed as a must read in many newspapers and literary posts.

Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King
Audrey Truschke

3.85

 

Audrey is the daughter of one of our book club members. This is her 2 nd
published book. She studied Sanskrit and Persian and majored in Religious
Studies at the University of Chicago, before earning a PhD at the Department of
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. Her
research focuses on early modern India, especially the Mughal period and cross-
cultural interactions therein. She is an Assistant Professor of South Asian History
at Rutger’s University.
Summary of the book in Audrey’s words:
“In 1700, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb was arguably the richest, most
powerful man in the world. He ruled for nearly 50 years, from 1658 until 1707,
over a vast empire in South Asia that boasted a population exceeding the entirety
of contemporary Europe. Today, he has been forgotten in the West.
In modern-day India, however, Aurangzeb is alive in public debates, national
politics, and people’s imaginations. From Mumbai to Delhi to Hyderabad, Indians
debate his legacy and, overwhelmingly, condemn him as the cruelest king in Indian
history. The list of charges against Aurangzeb is severe and, if they were all true,
shocking. Aurangzeb, a Muslim, is widely thought to have destroyed thousands of
Hindu temples, forced millions of Indians to convert to Islam, and enacted a
genocide of Hindus. As I am reminded daily on Twitter, many Indians sincerely
believe that Aurangzeb was Hitler and ISIS rolled into one with a single objective:
to eradicate Hindus and Hinduism.
Aurangzeb is controversial not so much because of India’s past but rather
because of India’s present. Twenty-first- century India is plagued by religious-
based conflict, especially between Hindus and Muslims, India’s religious majority
and its largest religious minority, respectively. As the minority, Indian Muslim
communities are in the weaker position. They are often demonized as anti-national,
less Indian than Hindus, and tend to bear the brunt of religious-based clashes in
terms of the loss of human life and livelihood. “ (end of quote)
We found Audrey’s book very “readable” and we learned a lot about a
time/place that few of us had previously known, i.e. Indian culture and history.
We felt Audrey made a good case for a reconsideration of Aurangzeb’s legacy as a
man of his times and one who should not be judged by the standards of our own.

Because of India’s current political climate, Audrey’s book has generated much
discussion and passion there; her book is a bestseller on AmazonIndia! She has
become somewhat of a hate figure for India’s Hindutva wing on social media and
Twitter, where she patiently rebuts the trolls. If you Google her book, 3 pages of
reviews are listed, from the India Times to the Wall Street Journal.
To close in Audrey’s words: "The past is rarely, if ever, only about the past. But when we allow modern interests to constrain and dictate our view of the past, then we are engaging in mythology that, however powerful, is not history."

Pretend I'm Not Here
Barbara Feinman Todd

2.33

 

In 1982, Feinman went to work as a copy editor for the Washington Post. She became a research assistant for Bob Woodward and later become his personal researcher for his book. She later moved on to aid Carl Bernstein with his book. From there she was asked to assist the editor of the Washington Post, Ben Bradlee.
 
When First Lady Hillary Clinton needed an assistant to help her write the book, "It Takes a Village", Feinman was hired. She spent many days, even overnights, at the White House. She sat in on important meetings. In her contract, it was written the Feinman would be acknowledged in the credits. When the book was published, there was no mention of Feinman anywhere in the book. This fact was widely publicized. Clinton had to prove that she wrote the book herself with little help from Feinman. It would take Feinman twenty years to finally read Clinton's book, (really?), to compare her manuscript to what was written in Clinton's book. Seventy-five percent of the book was in Feinman's manuscript. While Feinman was working on the Clinton book, Ben Bradlee was working on his own book. While conversing with Feinman, he used his interview skills to get Feinman to divulge personal matters about Clinton. Bradlee included this information in his book. Feinman was shocked that he would do this and although he implied that the information came from other sources, everyone knew that it was Feinman who told him.
 

The book was informative as to what a ghost writer does and what type of recognition one gets. It was interesting reading about the politics of D.C., going back to John F. Kennedy and his affair with a mistress of a mafia boss while he was in the White House.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid 
A Memoir
Bill Bryson

3.5

 

 

Bill Bryson is a master storyteller. He grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. He was born in 1951. It was a time when manufacturing was booming. The automobile industry, appliances, the invention of the tv dinners along with the tv tray tables, all of these things that made life easier and better for the all American family. After the war when men returned home to their jobs, many women wanted to stay in the workplace. Now that there were two income families, more money was being made which meant more money was being spent. This was great for the economy.

 
Bill Bryson's parents worked. His father was a sports writer for the local paper and his mother was the editor of the home furnishing section of the same paper. Bill would travel with his dad out of town to attend baseball games that his father would be reporting. His mother, according to Bill's memories, was not a very good cook and was very forgetful, as was Bill. Bill had a variety of friends, all very different. He writes about his experiences with all of them, sometimes getting into trouble.
 
Woven into his memories, he writes of the climate of our country. It was a time of the threat of nuclear war. In school, there were fire drills and there were also drills in case of war. An alarm would go off and children would have to duck under their desks. Of course, Bill didn't do this. He figured if everyone else was under their desk, he didn't need to and no one would notice. That is, until he got caught and was sent to the office. Nuclear tests were going on all over the world. The fallout of radiation was never considered. One test caused death within hours on a small island. When they moved the testing to Nevada, people would go to watch the explosions until it was found they had radiation in their bodies. After that, people were no longer allowed to observe. DDT was considered safe and so was smoking. It was the time of the McCarthy hearings which was a witch hunt against communists. Whether a person was one or not, proof did not matter and many people had their careers ruined.
 

Bill Bryson's memories and observations growing up in the Midwest, during the fifties, gives us a look back in time in an informative and delightful view.

Last Days of Night
Graham Moore

3.6

 

The year is 1888. Paul Cravath has just passed the bar and is a graduate of Columbia Law School. He is hired by the law firm of Carter and Hughes. Carter is the senior lawyer and Hughes is Carter's son-in-law. George Westinghouse has hired the firm to represent him in several lawsuits filed by Thomas Edison. The main suit is whether or not Edison did indeed invent the light bulb and does that include every type of light bulb after that. Cravath is sent to meet Westinghouse in Pennsylvania at Westinghouse's home. After the meeting, Westinghouse hires Cravath to be his lawyer. Having never tried a case before, Cravath sets out to prove that there are different types of light bulbs and that Edison's patent, was not the light bulb that he first described to the world.

 
Nikola Tesla, a Serbian immigrant, is a brilliant scientist and inventor. He sees visions of what he wants to invent. He worked for Edison until a big row sent him fleeing. Cravath was informed by Fessenden, a former Edison employee now working for Westinghouse. He tells Cravath that if he wants some dirt on Edison, that Tesla might be the man. As it turns out, Tesla has quirks, which today would be diagnosed as autism, manic-bipolar, and/or schizophrenia. Tesla is working on his own invention to prove that AC/DC current is safer and travels farther than DC current which is what Edison is trying to prove.
 
During his long hardworking hours, a new client walks into Cravath's office. It is Agnes Huntington, a famous and beautiful opera singer. She wants Cravath to represent her in a contract dispute with an employer.
 
Tesla is working on his own project in a private lab when Cravath finds him. As Tesla is showing him his new invention, the building is set on fire and the roof collapses on Tesla and Cravath. Cravath is pulled to safety but Tesla's body is nowhere to be found. Cravath has injuries that puts him in the hospital for some time. Once recovered, he is determined to find out what happened to Tesla, continue the lawsuit for Westinghouse, and renew his acquaintance with Agnes.
 

What comes next and in between all of the above, brings all the people in the novel together in the end. The cast of characters also includes Alexandrian Graham Bell, J.P. Morgan, and  Charles Coffin. This book is historical fiction based on true events. In the back of the book, Moore lists the true facts and how he combined events, timeline, and changed facts, in order to write the novel. While reading, it's hard to discern which is true and what is not. It is very well written and there is much to learn about the Edison/Westinghouse feud.

     
     

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