2016

 God Help the Child Toni Morrison  2.33

When Sweetness,a light skinned African American woman gives birth to her daughter, Lulu Ann, she is shocked. Lula Ann is as black as ebony, almost a blue/black. Her husband was out of town working as a porter for the railroad and when he comes home, he does not want anything to do with Lula Ann. They fight and eventually split up. Sweetness does not let Lula Ann call her momma or mom. She has her call her Sweetness. She doesn't take her out in public because of what people will say. She decides that she has to treat Lula hard in order for Lula to survive in a prejudice society. Or, so she thinks. She never gives Lula Ann affection or love. It is only until Lula Ann testifies against a teacher for child molestation, that Sweetness tells her how proud she is of Lula and begins to show her affection.

Years later, Lula Ann changes her name to Bride, short for her last name of Bridewell. She starts working for a cosmetic company, moves up in the company to became a regional manager, and then again to become head of her own line of cosmetics. She meets a man named, Booker, who give her the love, affection, and attention she craves. When one day he tells her, "You not the woman I want", Bride falls apart. Her rejection begins once again.

She tries to reach out to the woman that she testified against, upon the woman's release from prison. She becomes so obsessed with the thought of Booker being gone, that she  decides to hunt down Booker to find out exactly why she isn't the woman he wants.She ignores her work, her friend Brooklyn, and all her responsibilities in order to track him down.

Of course, things happen along the way and she will find the truth.
This is a small book which may account for the underdeveloped characters. It was a disappointment from what we have read in the past from Ms. Morrison.
The Secrets of Mary Bowser Lois Leveen 3.5

The story opens with Mary and her mama walking across the yard to the kitchen playing the game, I Spy. How little Mary knew at the time how true that game would unfold in her future.

Mary and her mama were slaves in Richmond Virginia.They were owned by the Van Lew family. Her father was also a slave but he was owned by a blacksmith. They were able to be together as a family on the weekends. When the Van Lew's daughter, Bet, was given possession of the slaves, she set them free. Mama went to live with her husband. Bet made arrangements for Mary to go to Philadelphia for an education. Pennsylvania was a free state for slaves. While in Pennsylvania, Mary became involved in the abolition movement where she befriended a Quaker woman and others in support of the cause. Hattie was her best friend that she met in school. Hattie's father was the town's undertaker. Mary soon learned that he also was part of the underground railroad, transporting slaves via caskets. Once Hattie married, Mary moved into her father's house and began to help him with transports. Bet continued to stay in contact with Mary, offering her financial assistance. Bet was also very much involved in the abolition movement and was helping those in Richmond to become free.

Mary wanted to do more for the movement and she missed her family. She returned to Richmond, risking her freedom. She continued working for the underground railroad with her acquaintances from Pennsylvania, who often came to Richmond, along with Bet. By now the Civil war had started and Mary knew she had to not only help free the slaves secretly, but work for the freedom of all slaves. She went undercover as a slave for the family of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. As slaves were considered uneducated, illiterate, and unable to learn anything, no one would suspect Mary of anything. Mary also had a photographic memory so that when she went into President Davis's office, she could read his letters and maps. She would then report back to her sources to relay the information. Mary continued to spy, no matter what happened to those around her, until the war finally ended. Mary Bowser was instrumental in helping the North win the war against the South.

There are many other characters and incidents throughout the book.This novel is fiction yet based on the true fact that Mary Bowser was a spy. Little is known about her, but she is mentioned in key letters from Bet and Thomas McNiven. An explanation of historic notes can be found at the back of the book
The Painted Drum Louise Erdrich

3.5

Faye Travers lives with her mother, Elsie, in a small New Hampshire town. The two have an estate business. When a local client calls Faye to handle the estate of her Uncle, Faye finds that the deceased Uncle had acquired quite a large collection of Native American artifacts.When he was a younger man, he was an Indian agent who worked on the North Dakota Ojibwe Reservation. Elsie's mother, Faye's grandmother, came from that very tribe. Many children from reservations were sent east to be educated and Americanized. While in the attic, Faye discovers a painted drum. She had never seen anything like it before and was strangely drawn to it. She covered it up so that her client did not notice it. She would later return to steal the drum and to take it back to her house for safe keeping. She does know the traditions of an Indian drum and how to take care and respect it. After her mother finds out she has the drum, she decides to find out who the original and now rightful owner was so that it can be returned.

They return to the reservation and it is there that they meet Bernard Shaawano. They now learn that he is a relative and how the drum belongs to their family. He begins the story with how his grandmother, Anaquot, and her two daughters, left his grandfather and his father, to be with another man, Simon Jack Pillager, the baby's father. From there, the story unfolds with the history of the Pillagers, and the history of the Shaawano's.

The story jumps back to the present at times. Faye is involved with a sculptor, Kurt Krahe who suffered a loss. When Kurt decides to resurrect Faye's family's orchard, Faye's story of loss is revealed.

Grief, loss, and how people deal with tragedy is a reoccurring theme throughout the book.

Erdrich writes a three generational story of Native Americans, on and off of the Reservation. We learn of customs, clothing, nature, spirits, and mysticism. It is a story that by the end comes full circle and brings closure for the families, all because of a painted drum.

The Dead Beat Marilyn Johnson

2.7

 

Once a year, a small group of obituary writers, approximately 50 or so, get together for a weekend conference. Marilyn Johnson, an avid obituary reader and writer, attends the conference to interview the writers for this book. As it happens, that very weekend, Ronald Reagan passes away and she observes the frantic buzz as these writers rush to call their offices to get the story out. Magazines and newspapers around the world employ obituary writers. These writers keep research files on various famous people for that very day when they get the news that someone has died.

Other towns and cities will employ an obituary writer to interview the survivors of local deaths. Some write a straight forward obit while others may write a more humorous. Either way, an obituary is an opportunity to learn more about a person and the life they led.

The author traveled the globe to interview authors and to visit obit chat rooms,(who knew?), to enlighten us into the world of obituary writers. An interesting read.
The Rosie Project graeme simsion

4

 

Don Tillman, a Professor of Genetics, was asked by his friend Gene, also a Professor of Genetics and now the head of the Psychology Department, to give a lecture on Asperger's Syndrome. Gene was unable to give the lecture as he had made a date with a Chilean woman and didn't want to break it.  Gene was married to Claudia, a psychologist, but they had an open marriage. At least, Gene thought they did. It was Gene's goal to have sex with a woman from as many countries as he could. Don, who on meeting a person noted their BMI, was the perfect person to give the lecture. Although he did not diagnose himself as having Asperger's, he did meet the criteria.

When his dating women failed after the first date due to the woman not meeting his exact specifications, he decided to create a sixteen page, double sided questionnaire. This would eliminate quickly any woman he would not be compatible with. This would be known as The Wife Project.

In the meantime, Gene sent one of his student's, Rosie, to Don's office. Upon arrival, Don instantly assumed that Rosie was there on account of the questionnaire and made a date with her at a restaurant. She accepted, slightly confused. When they arrive at the restaurant, Don is not dressed appropriately for the restaurant and an incident ensues. When Rosie and Don leave the restaurant, they go to Don's for dinner. Through conversation, Don learns that Rosie's mom died when she was young and that Rosie doesn't know the real identity of her father. This is the beginning of the Rosie Project. They are going to find her father using DNA. Rosie knows that she was conceived the night of her mother's college graduation. It is just a matter of finding which man from the men her mother talked about from school,could be her father.  She doesn't believe her step-father, Phil, is the father because her mother and Phil did not think it was possible because of the color of their eyes and Rosie's.
 
Rosie is everything that Don is not looking for in a wife, they are total opposites. But throughout the night, Rosie has set Don off balance. Everything is off schedule. The next day he confronts Gene as to why he sent him Rosie. It is then that he finds out that Rosie was not part of the questionnaire. Gene asks him if he had fun anyway. It was something to think about.

Rosie and Don set off to find who Rosie's biological father is through various adventures and testing. Is it true that opposites do attract? We all loved this book. It's a romantic comedy and at the same time, a look into a person's world of being on the autism spectrum.
Orphan Train Christina Baker Kline

3.5

 

Between 1854 and 1929, orphan trains ran from the East Coast to the Midwest. Orphaned children from newly immigrants, to homeless children living on the streets, were taken in by the Children's Aid Society. They were then placed on trains to travel to different stops along a route where they would be adopted by families. If they were not adopted by a family at one stop, they would board back onto the rain and travel to the next city. Advertisements were placed before the train was to arrive so that families would be ready to adopt. The babies and toddlers were easily placed. The older children were placed in homes where the families either wanted a farm hand or a maid, babysitter, etc. In the latter homes, they were actually indentured servants. They were often not treated well. The family was to make sure the child was schooled, led a Christian life, and be housed and fed. This was not often the case.

In "The Orphan Train", Vivian Daly is now 91. She lives in Spruce Harbor, Maine, in the year 2011. Born Niamh, her name was later changed when she was adopted out. She came to the United States as a child from Ireland. Once in NYC, she lost her family due to a fire and was placed in the care of The Children's Society. She was placed on an orphan train and traveled west where she was placed in three different homes. The third home is where she actually found a home.

Molly Ayers is seventeen years old and is in foster care. At the age of eighteen, she will be out of the foster care program and left to her own accord. After numerous foster homes, she now lives with her foster parents, Larry and Dina. Larry was in the big brother program and he wants to help Molly. On the other hand, Dina is not happy with Molly in her home. When Molly is caught stealing a book from the library, she is sentenced to fifty hours of community service. Her boyfriend, Jack, suggest that she helps his mother's employer, Vivian, clean out her attic.

Molly and Vivian head to the attic to organize and clear the attic. But as Vivian opens each box and trunk, memories come flooding out and she shares her history with Molly. Molly eventually shares her history with Vivian, and the two realize that they have lived parallel lives in many ways.

The two heal each other and doors are open. Both will find closure,

We loved this book. The author did a wonderful job researching the topic. It was an enjoyable read and gave us a look into a part of history we did not know about. Well done

The Known World

Edward P. Jones

3

 

Henry Townsend was born a slave. At the time of his death, age thirty-one, he owned thirty-three slaves.

When Henry was a boy, his father, Augustus, was able to earn enough money on his own to buy his freedom. He later was able to buy his wife's freedom. Henry remained a slave under his master William Robbins. He made himself invaluable and loyal to Robbins. When Augustus was able to buy Henry's freedom from Robbins, Henry continued to work for Robbins and Robbins took Henry under his wing. Henry was able to purchase land from Robbins and he then bought slaves himself to work the land and build a house for himself and future wife Caldonia. His first slave was Moses. When Robbins saw that Henry was treating Moses as more of a friend than slave, Robbins had a talk with Henry about the separation of slave and owner. Henry now became a true slave owner.

Henry's parents were appalled that their own son who was once a slave, was now a slave owner. However, Caldonia's family wanted to make sure that after Henry"s death, she remained being the owner and not the friend to her slaves. Moses took it upon himself to keep Caldonia informed of what was going on among the slaves and to manage them for her.

The lives of different slaves on the property and how they interact with each other, is carried throughout the story line. When patrols are sent out by the sheriff's office to watch over the roads for runaways and criminals, no one is safe, even if you are a freed slave with the proper papers.

There are many individual stories throughout this book. The fact that freed slaves and Native American Indians would be slave owners, was thought provoking.

In the Garden of Beasts

Erik Larson

3.5

 


William E. Dodd was a Professor of History in Chicago. He was nearing retirement age, and wanted to spend time writing. He had become unhappy with his position as chair. He was working on writing a series of books called, "The Rise and Fall of the Old South". He had become interested in becoming an Ambassador of the United States as it would give him time to travel and work on his book. The only Ambassadorship available was in Berlin, Germany. No one else wanted to accept the position at the time so he was their only choice. In his younger years, he studied in Germany at the University of Leipzig. Having fond memories of his time there, he accepted the position.

He packed up his wife, Martha, known as Mattie, his daughter, Martha, 24, and his son William Jr, Bill, 28. He knew that this would be the last time to be together as a family, since his children were now at an age to leave home.

The Dodd family was a simple family, careful with money and not spending it carelessly. Upon arrival, he learned that Ambassadors were expected to entertain other dignitaries and society with their own money in a dignified manner. Dodd was not comfortable with this and continued to spend carefully and at his own expense. He even complained to the Presidency about the waste of money in the offices of the embassy. He soon realized with all of appointments and social occasions, he was not going to have the time to write his book.

Dodd became very busy with his duties as Ambassador. His main duty was to convince Hitler and Germany to pay back the money that they owed the United States. He was not to upset Hitler or his people since that would jeopardize the return of the money. After spending time there and meeting with people, he soon found that fellow Americans and associates were being harassed and victimized by Hitler's army. He witnessed the persecution of Jews. When he tried to notify the United States about this, he was reminded to collect the debt.

Dodd's children Martha and Bill, set out to explore Germany and their way of life. Martha became enamored with the New Germany and the men in uniform. She attended social clubs and parties. She became romantically with several men, including a chief of the Gestapo and a Russian agent. Martha was a writer. She attended meetings with her peers where they read their writings and talked about social issues.

As the Hitler's Army descended on the extermination of the Jews in Germany and Europe, the war was hitting Berlin. This was not what Dodd wanted to be apart of, he was seeing his acquaintances die. Dodd returned to the States for R&R and then met with Roosevelt. The President wanted him to stay in Germany longer. Dodd was eager to return home to the USA and to his farm. He was finally relieved and returned to America on December 29, 1937.

Dodd and Mattie returned to the farm. Bill accepted a teaching job. Martha met another man and married. After Mattie's death, Dodd traveled giving lectures and warnings of Hitler's tirade and intention to kill all the Jews. Martha eventually became a communist and a spy for the KGB. She later wrote a memoir of her time in Germany. Bill and Martha edited a book based on her father's diaries.