2018

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.

2017

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.

     
     

2014

The Housekeeper
and the Professor 

Yoko Ogawa 

3.5

 

The Housekeeper is sent by her agency to work for the Professor, a brilliant mathematician. The only problem is that due to a traumatic accident, the Professor's memory only lasts for 80 minutes. Hecan remember everything before the accident, but not after. When the Housekeeper arrives each day, it is as if she is meeting the Professor for the first time. He asks what her shoe size is and her birth date. Every number has a purpose and connection in life and he likes to find out what it is. The Housekeeper is intrigued with his formulas and calculations which sparks her own interest in Math. When the Professor realizes that the Housekeeper has a ten year old son at home, he insists that she brings him to work with her or after he gets out of school. When the Professor meets him, he calls the son, Root. he says the top of Root's head is flat like that of the math sign for root.The Professor and Root share a passion for baseball. Root also has math homework which he has to do while waiting for his mother to get done with work. It is through this connection of math and baseball between the two, that a wonderful friendship begins. But remember, the Professor starts over every 80 minutes.

The Housekeeper and Root value their friendship and relationship with the Professor. The begin to care deeply for the man. When a new 80 minute session starts, they can pick up the conversation where it left off by re-introducing the subject. They become their own family.

For some, time continues minute by minute. But for the Professor, it is suspended into 80 minutes. This is a beautiful story of a relationship where love grows for the ones moving on and the one suspended in time.

 

The Interestings Meg Wolitzer 

2.75

 

When Jules Jacobson crawled into the tepee with five other campers at a summer art camp, a friendship formed. They would call their group, "The Interestings". They were an eclectic group, ranging from acting, directing, animator, dancer, musician, and possible architect. The summer camp allowed each teen to find themselves and become there own person. At the end of the summer, Jules went home and suddenly felt out of place. She had found a new part of herself at camp and was most comfortable when she was with her new friends.

The group remained friends, but through their own separate lives and also together, their relationships change through success, tragedy, and hard times. What happens when some are rich and successful and some are not? When envy and jealousy hurt those closest to you? When tragedy, lies, and secrets ruin entire families?

This book covers decades of these six friends. But, not all friendships can last the test of time.

 

The Aviator's Wife Melanie
Benjamin
 

3.5

 

When Anne Morrow was a senior at Smith College, Charles Lindbergh celebrated his solo flight across the Atlantic. Anne and her classmates were all enamored with this new hero. At Christmas, Anne joined her family in Mexico City where her father, the US Ambassador to Mexico, was residing at the time. Little did Anne know that also spending the holidays with her family, was Charles Lindbergh himself. Her parents assumed that Charles would be interested in their older daughter, Elizabeth, who was always the center of attention. But Charles preferred Anne. She was quiet. an adventurer, and didn't want to be the center of attention as was Charles.

 

Charles saw Anne as one of his crew. He taught her how to fly, to read the stars to navigate, and how to read and send Morse Code. She was the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States. She was also mother to his six children. When their first born, Charles Jr., was kidnapped, Charles removed all existence of him from their lives and did not want Anne to mourn him any longer. The couple traveled the world together and then Charles traveled alone, leaving Anne to raise the children by herself. His return trips home, which didn't last very long, were long enough to disrupt their lives. When Charles vocalized and wrote about his agreements with Hitler and that of the German race, Anne stood by him, even though she didn't agree.


Anne had studied writing and literature in college. Charles encouraged her to write again, yet whenever she sat down to write for herself, he would ask her to write about him or rewrite what he had written. He won a Pulitzer in 1954, never giving Anne credit for her writing or of her contributions to his book.
 
In later years, Anne discovered that all the years he was in Germany alone, he had three mistresses and had fathered seven other children

Although this book is historical fiction, it is based on facts, letters, diaries, and other resources.  It gives us a look at a Charles Lindbergh many of us did not know and also of his wife, Anne. The book truly did what it was meant to do. It made us want to learn more about Anne and of Charles life outside of his as an aviator.
 
The Dovekeepers Alice Hoffman

3.5


Four women with very different past lives, find themselves working together as dovekeepers at the old fortress built by King Harrod and now occupied by their fellow Jews. They are there in the fortress on top of the mountain in Masada, part of the Judean desert.

The time period is 70 C.E. and the Romans have stormed the Temples and have driven the Jews from their Holy Land. The Roman armies destroy, steal, and rape, and kill everything in sight. The Jews flee in different directions hoping to find safety, while others stay and band forces, determined to fight back.

Yael is a young woman who's mother died in childbirth. Her father blamed Yael for the death of his wife so ignored his daughter and treated her like a servant. Her father was a trained assassin and her brother Amram became one as soon as he was old enough. He later joined the army and left home. When they were forced to leave their home, Yael was to accompany another family, the husband being an associate of Yael's father, across the desert for safety. Eventually, Yael arrives at the fortress.

Revka, the butcher's wife, is left after the murder of her husband and daughter, to take herself and two grandsons, now mute from the horror of the witnessing the murder and rape of their mother, to find safety. The boys father, Yoav, is stricken with grief and he is so filled with hate for the Romans that he leaves to fight with the army. Revka and the grandsons arrive at the fortress.

Asiza is a warrior's daughter. Her step-father allows her to ride and hunt alongside him behaving like a boy. After he leaves the family, her mother, Shirah, upon a message from a dove, travels with Asiza, and Asiza's sister, Nahara, and her brother, Adir. They arrive at the fortress.

Shirah, born in Alexandria, learns from her mother the ways of natural medicine, potions, and spells. When she is twelve, she is sent away to Jerusalem, where she meets her older cousin Eleazar ben Ya'ir. He was nineteen and already had a wife. Soon after, Eleazar's mother sees the bond between the two and sends Shirah away.
Years later, Shirah and her three children arrive at the fortress.

This book is based from the writings of Josephus. It tells of the actual siege on the fortress by the Romans, as told by the five survivors. It is a story not many of us have heard before. A great history lesson.

 

The Language of Flowers Vanessa Diffenbaugh

3.5


Victoria Jones has been in the foster care system since birth. In and out of different foster homes and group homes, she is now eighteen, emancipated from the system, and must find employment and housing on her own. During her three months in transitional housing, Victoria starts plants from seedlings that she has grown in her room. She transplants them in a pubic park which has become her new home.

 

When Victoria was ten, she was placed with Elizabeth who owned a vineyard. Victoria resisted Elizabeth from the beginning but Elizabeth, who saw herself in Victoria, was determined to make it work. Elizabeth taught Victoria everything she knew about plants, the grapes, the flowers in her garden, and the meaning of the flowers. The Victorian Language of Flowers was used to convey romantic expressions. Each flower had a meaning, whether it was love, anger, grief, or passion, the flower and the meaning conveyed to the receiver the intent from the giver.


Victoria finds a floral shop near the park and proves herself to the owner, Renata, that she has knowledge and a gift with floral arrangements. She is hired for weekend work, helping with purchases of the flowers at the market early in the morning, arrangements, and running the shop when left alone. When a customer comes into the shop asking for an arrangement, Victoria asks what purpose or message is the client wanting to convey. Through this first purchase, Victoria becomes popular with the clients and has many requests for arrangements.

While at the market one morning, Victoria comes face to face with a person from the past. This ignites Victoria to face her past, her present, and her future.

The book is written in chapters alternating with Victoria's present, then her past. Besides the wonderful definitions of the flowers, we also get a look into the foster care system and of those who are sent out on their own at the age of eighteen when the State "frees" them into society. Many of these young adults are not ready financially, emotionally, and socially, or have the education needed to be to be on their own.

 

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat Edward Kelsey Moore

2.7

 

Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean, have been friends since high school. They were dubbed 'The Supremes' and sat at the same booth everyday after school at Earl's All-You--Eat-Diner. Decades later they remain friends and meet every Sunday after their three separate churches let out. They now bring their husbands and still sit in the same booth.

Odette, now married with grown children, wakes up early one morning with hot flashes. She goes to the kitchen where her mother comes in and starts visiting with her. She tells her she needs to get her hormones check and to see a doctor. She also tells her that she was just having a conversation with Big Earl and his wife Thelma. When Odette hears that, she knows that Big Earl must have died because her mom has been dead for six years and visits with Odette often. When Odette's mother Dora was alive, she also talked to ghosts. Now Odette had the same gift or curse.
 
Clarice grew up destined to be a classical pianist. She had offers to go away to perform and record. But when she met the football star, Richmond, she put all her dreams aside to be his wife. Now after all these years, she continues to live with his infidelity and her loneliness.
 
Barbara Jean grew up with an alcoholic mother. When her mother passed away while Barbara was in high school, Dora sent Odette and Clarice to her house with a roasted chicken. When Odette saw Barbara's situation with her mother's drunken boyfriend coming on to Barbara, Odette stepped in and rescued Barbara. After being rescued, Barbara moved into the diner under Big Earl's care. Big Earl was a father figure to a few in need of his help, including Odette's husband when he was in school. Big Earl also took in a white boy, Chick, to work in the diner. He lived in the storage area to escape the beatings of his brutal, racist brother. Since this was the 1960's, interracial dating was still frowned upon and it was very difficult to be a couple without discrimination. When Lester, an older, and prominent man came to town, he courted Barbara. Barbara chose him to marry. Barbara is now drinking to erase the memories of a tragedy her and Lester endured year ago.
 
The story goes back and forth as it unfolds each woman life's separately and together through the years. Through sickness, heartache, even the effects of their separate circumstantial births, the bond of their friendship never waver.
 

Their is a cast of characters and a few laugh out loud scenes. There are two voices in the book, Odette's and the narrator. This was confusing to some in our group. Some weren't thrilled with the ghosts but  I personally loved the ghosts, especially Mrs. Roosevelt. This is the author's first novel. He grew up listening to his mother's, aunts, cousins, and their friends conversations. This explains why he did an amazing job capturing the voices of these female women. The book has won awards and has been translated in other languages. A movie deal is in the making which doesn't surprise me in the least.

 

The Luminaries Eleanor Catton

2.5

 

The year is 1866 and the place is a small mining town in Hokitika, New Zealand. Gold has been discovered in the past years and many miners have flocked to the area to try their luck. Walter Moody is one of those men. A former lawyer, he has left the British Isles to change his career and life. Upon arriving, he enters a smoking room at The Crown Hotel, to relax and have a drink after a harrowing trip across the water. Upon entering the room, he notices 12 men of different backgrounds, quiet and tense. As he sits down to relax, he is approached by one of the men, Tom Balfour, who is in the shipping business. Mr. Balfour questions him as the others listen in though they appear to be occupied. He relates to Mr. Moody the story of what has brought all the men to gather in this place. Those not in attendance are: Crosby Wells who was found dead in his cabin,  Anna Wetherell, the local prostitute, who it appears stepped out into the road perhaps to kill herself, and Emery Staines, who disappeared the same night that Anna went into the road and Crosby died.

The first 240 pages introduces each character, their past and present history, and how they are all connected to each other in a variety of ways. From there on, they try to figure out who is responsible and what happened. It is a very complex murder mystery with many twists and turns that links the various characters through time and travel.

The structure, title, chapters, and character chart of the book is based on astrology and mathematical equations which was lost on me. The first chapter of the book is the longest and each chapter gets shorter and shorter. As the book progresses, the characters become more familiar, the pace and plot lines seem to move faster,(perhaps the shorter chapters help with this), and every characters individual story from the beginning is explained and resolved.

 

The Lost Prince Selden Edwards

3


It is 1918, and Weezie Putnam has just returned from her trip in Vienna. She brings with her: a manuscript which she wrote while there, a royal piece of jewelry, and a journal written and given to her by her then lover and future grandson. The journal is a detailed guide for her to follow to make sure her life, and the lives of others, play out exactly as they must in order for the future to happen as was described in the past. Time travel is always very complicated.

Now that Weezie has returned, she starts going by her actual name of Eleanor. She will resume her relationship with Frank Burden, who she was just with in Vienna, until the tragic event. She knows she will marry him, have children, and will find a way to carry through with each task as stated in the journal. She pursues business as a woman in a man's world, she meets with men such as JP Morgan, Freud whom she met in Vienna, and begins a new friendship with Freud's fellow contemporary, Carl Jung. She knows of events in the future such as the Titanic, but does not allow herself to warn anyone, with the exception of JP Morgan. Her dear friend Arnauld Esterhazy, is presumed dead in battle during WWI but she cannot believe it is true since she knows he has a future. In order for the future to happen, she must make sure no stone is left unturned until she finds him.

In the first book, we learn of a vibrant and rich Vienna before the start of WWI. Freud is a prominent doctor and his teachings and beliefs are new and exciting in the world of Psychology. In this book, WWI has begun and men have enlisted from different  countries. When Arnauld goes to war for Austria, he keeps a journal so we read in his words, the horror of war and what life was like for these men and boys. Influenza has infected many in the United States and as the men have gone overseas to war, they have taken the illness with them. There is now an influenza epidemic in the other countries as well. The horrors of war are evident as the injured men will be left not only with physical scars, but emotional scars as well. Although the term was not known at the time, but many suffered from PTSD and retreated into themselves, some not surfacing again. Carl Jung will be treating many of these men.

I would recommend reading "The Little Book" first, although, "The Lost Prince" can stand on its own. It will just make more sense if you read them in order. The review can be found in the year 2010.

 

The Lowland Jhumpa Lahiri

2.75

 

The lowland was an area between two ponds in the neighborhood of brothers Subhash and Udayan. When the rains came, it would flood and become one. When it dried, the brothers would use this area as a shortcut to a field they played in. In later years, it would become a place of tragedy and mourning.

Subhash is the older brother by 15 months. Quiet, cautious, and ever pleasing, he is the dutiful son. Udayan is the opposite; darer, impetuous, always looking for adventure. When it is time for Subhash to go to school, Udayan puts up such a fuss, that he is allowed to go to school with Subhash. They stay in the same grade throughout school. Both are very smart and creative. Subhash studies Chemistry and Udayan studies Physics.  While in college, Subhash decides he wants to continue his education and earn his PHD in America. Udayan, however, becomes involved in the uprising of the Naxalite/MAO movement, a movement who's purpose is to eradicate poverty in India. Udayan met his friend's sister, Gauri, and they marry without the consent of his parents. Once wed, the couple lives in Udayan's parents home. Word arrives to Subhash, that his brother has been killed in the movement and he must come home. Once there, he finds that Gauri is pregnant. He decides to do the honorable thing, to marry his brother's wife, and take her back to the States.

Gauri gives birth to a daughter, Bela. They decide not to tell her about Udayan being her natural father until later. But, Gauri is not a natural mother. She is consumed with herself and her own studies. She still lives with her memories of Udayan and what they did together for the movement. She at first tries to be a wife to Subhash but that doesn't last long. In the meantime, Subhash becomes a professor and researcher at the University. He becomes the sole parent in a house where there are two.

Life goes on and the years continue. We found the characters did not emotionally connect nor were there depth to the characters. We did not know if this was the author's neglect in her characters, or if in the Indian culture, there is a disconnect or emotional distance between one another.

 

The Bluest Eyes Tony Morrison

3.75

 

Sisters Claudia and Freida were two little black girls living in a small Ohio town in the Fall of 1941. Pecola Breedlove was a little black girl who was always being told that she was ugly. What she wanted most in the world was to have blue eyes. She felt if she had blue eyes, she would be beautiful and people would look at her differently. After her father burned down her house, she was sent to live with the sisters and their parents for awhile. When Claudia heard that Pecola wanted to have blue eyes, it made her very angry. She would tear off the heads of her dolls just because they had blue eyes and blonde hair. She did not want to play with a pretty white baby. She wanted a black doll like herself. How could Pecola want to have blue eyes?

 
Pecola's father, Cholly was an angry drunk who had been abandoned by his own father. Her mother, Pauline, did not show her affection yet showed affection to the daughter of the white family she worked for. She felt abandoned and unloved by her family. She thought if she was pretty like the white girls, she could be someone to love. The only attention she received from her father, was the times he raped her, he reliving his past when he was first with his wife. Consequently, she became pregnant.

The book is written in chapters according to the season and the lines from the Dick and Jane Readers. Morrison tells the story of the hardships and history of each character. When you read this book, make sure you get the edition with the Afterward.
 
My Beloved World Sonia Sotomayor Sonia Sotomayor is the first Hispanic and third woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court. This is her memoir of growing up from the projects in the Bronx, to becoming a judge in the Federal District Court, all before the age of forty.
     

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.

2015

Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner that Shocked a Nation

Deborah Davis

3.5


Unknown by many, this is the story of the dinner between President Theodore Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington at the White House. The year was 1901 and until then, no black person had sat down and dined in the White House with the President. This was unheard of. The premise was that once you allowed a black man to dine at the table of a white man, least of all a President, the next thing you know the black man will be marrying a white girl. Although segregation was no longer legal in the country, the Black Race knew its place and what was acceptable. After the infamous dinner, the division between the races became more apparent once again, and segregation was legal to the States that chose to segregate.

The book parallels the lives of these two men. It begins with Booker T. growing up in slavery, and Teddy growing up in a wealthy family in NYC. As they get older, it tells of their lives in school, college, then into adulthood.

Booker T. became very successful building a college in Tuskegee. He started out in an abandoned church and through the hard work of his students and himself, built the University brick by brick. Booker T. wrote an autobiography titled, "Up From Slavery", which attracted the attention of donors. One was Andrew Carnegie who donated a library to the college. To attract other donors, Booker T. asked the then Vice President, T.R., to come to the South to meet various people. T.R. thought it was a good idea to establish a political toehold in the South. He also wanted to visit there since his mother was born on a plantation right outside of Montgomery.

Before he was able to go,  President McKinley was shot and later died. T.R. was now the President of the United States. Since he had already established a relationship with Booker T., their friendship, respect, and support continued. Booker T. advised T.R. as to which black politicians and men would make good judges and hold seats in Congress. He told T.R. of the social unjust and lynchings in the South. Together the two men fought to change the practices of the South and to fight for equality. After the dinner, when  T.R. found a very qualified black man for an appointment, Senator Tillman, a white supremest, fought for 3 years against the nomination. 

T.R. was President for two terms. William Taft won the 1908 Presidency backed by T.R.. He was not happy with Taft as he felt Taft was making the party too conservative. T.R. ran again and when he lost the Republican nomination, he ran as a candidate in the National Progressive Party, a party he had founded. Because the two parties separated the vote amongst the Republicans, this allowed Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, to secure the 1912 presidency. Wilson believed that segregation was the solution to the race problems. Applicants were now required to submit photographs for federal jobs. He felt it was for the blacks own good to have separate dining areas, restrooms, and work places. Years of progress were destroyed.

This is another one of those books that we read which we agreed that this is the way to learn history. It is filled with historical facts such as: Scott Joplin and his music, the origin of Jim Crow, naming the White House, the Press Corp Room, the first White House Social Secretary to the First Lady, the disrepair of the White House when T.R. moved in,  the building of the West Wing, the second floor dining room, the term, "keeping up with the Jones", Hail to the Chief as the President enters the room, and then the expression, "Good to the last drop."

A wonderful read.

The Goldfinch Donna Tartt

2.75

 

Theo Decker, 13, and his mother, were on their way to a meeting with Theo's Principal.  Since they had a little extra time, his mother decided to go into the NYC museum to check out an exhibit. While viewing the painting, 'The Goldfinch', Theo becomes enamored with a little girl with red hair. As his mother moves on, he stays behind to be near the girl. In a flash, there is an explosion. Theo awakens to see the destruction and smoke around him. He eyes the elderly man who was holding the red hair girl's hand and goes over to him. The man, Welty, is severely injured. He hands Theo his ring, points out the Goldfinch, and gives him the name to take his belongings. Theo grabs the painting and is able to get out of the building but cannot locate his mother. He heads home amid chaos on the street, but continues in hope that his mother will be home when he gets there. She doesn't arrive after several hours, so he calls a number to report her missing. He soon is informed that she died in the explosion and must now live with his father, grandparents, or a friend. Since his father cannot be located and his grandparents, whom he hardly knows, cannot take him, he moves in with his school friend Andy.  Andy's wealthy family lives on Park Avenue.

Theo remembers later what Welty had told him. It was the name of a business. He looks up the name and finds an address. He sets out to return the ring. He hangs onto the painting as it is now the one thing that connects him to his mother when she was last alive. When Theo arrives at the door, it is an old building downtown with an antique shop attached. Hobie, friend and business partner of Welty's, opens the door. Theo returns the ring and is surprised to discover that Pippa, the girl with the red hair,  is there recuperating from her many surgeries since the accident. Theo returns many times and finds comfort spending time helping Hobie refurbish the antique furniture that comes into his shop.

As summer approaches, Theo's father appears with his girlfriend Xandra, and is told he will be moving to Las Vegas with them. His dad goes into the apartment they once shared and sells, donates, and takes whatever he wants out of the apartment. Theo grabs some clothes and the painting.

While in Vegas, Theo becomes friends with Boris. Boris has lived all around the world traveling with his father. Boris is a mix of Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish descent. He is able to speak in many languages but mostly Ukraine. Boris is left on his own as his father takes off for days at a time for work. When not working, he drinks as does Boris. Boris started drinking when he was ten.Theo's dad also is an alcoholic and an absentee father. He gambles to make his money. Boris influence on Theo is self destructive. Both boys are now drunk or doing other drugs all the time.

After an event,Theo finds his way back to New York City, painting in hand. He begins to settle into a routine with Hobie until Boris shows up with news that shocks Theo. This sends the two of them on a dangerous course leading them across the ocean.

This book won Tartt the Pulitzer in 2013. There has been much controversy as to whether this book should have won.  The one big question our club had, along with many others, was, "Where was the editor?" Tartt gets really bogged down with details. She spends way too much time on an occurrence that lasts pages and only takes place in an evening or a couple of days. This 771 page book could have been cut down by at least 150 pages or so.

Empty Mansions

The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune

Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, JR.

3.5

This is the story of Huguette Clark, an heiress to a mass fortune, who spent the last twenty years of her life in a hospital room.

Huguette was the daughter of William Andrews Clark. W.A. grew up in a log cabin. When he was in his early twenties, he moved west to Colorado to mine for gold, then onto Montana. He struck it rich in the copper mining industry. He married his first wife and had six children. After her death, he went to France where he met Anna LaChapelle. W.A. was sixty-two and Anna was twenty-three. Records do not prove if they actually were legally married. Anna bore him two daughters, Louise Amelia Andree and Huguette Marcelle.

W.A. returned to the States and had a short stint as U. S. Senator. He moved to New York City and built a mansion that had 121 rooms including five galleries for works of art. He bought walls of gold and had them shipped from France. He filled his galleries with priceless art work. His house on 5th Avenue was among those such as the Rockefeller's and the Vanderbilt's. He also bought a house for his wife Anna and Huguette located in Santa Barbara named Bellesguardo.

After his death, the house on 5th Avenue could not be sold because there wasn't anyone who could afford to buy it. It was eventually torn down. Anna and her daughter moved down the road to 907 5th Avenue and bought the entire floor of an apartment building. The apartment was filled with expensive art and furniture. Huguette had collected dolls and their furniture since she was a small child and continued in her acquisitions. She loved to paint and took lessons from Tade Styka at his studio.

After the death of her mother, Huguette stopped going out. She thought outsiders and even relatives were after her money. She became a recluse and never stepped out to visit. She limited her visitors to just a few close friends. She continued to purchase art, dolls, and had expensive doll houses made to the specs of individual dolls. She gave generously to her friends and their children. Huguette purchase a large home in Connecticut. She never lived there but continued to pay for the upkeep and taxes for over fifty-one years.

It is safe to say that Huguette did not like change. She did not move on in her life. She kept all her properties at a stand still. It was as if time stood still for her. On March 26, 1991, a doctor was called in to see her. She was nearly eighty-five years old. She was suffering from multiple cancers, basil cell carcinomas. She had deep cavities in her face, was missing the lower left part of her lip, and deep ulcers around her right eye. She weighed only seventy-five pounds. She was taken to the Doctors Hospital which was near to a close friend of her's. She had no insurance and paid cash for everything. After she recovered, she insisted on staying in the hospital where she remained for the next twenty years. She was allowed to stay by the hospital because of her money and they hoped in the future she would pay for needs the hospital had. While there, Huguette became very close with one private nurse, Hadassah Peri. Hadassah would be Huguette's nurse for over twenty years and would be at Huguette's beck and call twenty-four-seven. Huguette rewarded Hadassah very generously and Hadassah's family. She paid her millions and bought cars and homes for Hadassah.

When Huguette passed away at the age of one hundred and four, she left an estate worth millions. She not only owed back taxes, but she was still paying all of her employees to keep her houses kept in good condition. There was a huge fight over her estate by her lawyers, Hadassah, and relatives who did not even know her. Not all of her relatives joined the suit but many did.

This is a fascinating and sad story of Huguette Clark and her family. It is also a great book to read of the history of the copper mining era, discovery of what we now call Las Vegas, and other historical discoveries mentioned in the book. 

The Shoemaker's Wife

Adriana Trigiani

3


It is the early 1900's in the Italian Alps, that Catarina Lazzari finds herself with two sons that she can no longer care for. She has no money and is suffering from severe depression from losing her husband in the mines, back in America. She takes the boys to a nearby convent and leaves her sons for the nuns to raise. Eduardo is the eldest and falls in to step with the Catholic Church and his devotions. Ciro on the other hand does not have much use for religion, but takes pride in his work to clean and help at the church. The nuns are quite taken with the boys, especially Sister Teresa, who in her heart becomes a mother to Ciro. A few years pass. When Ciro discovers that Don Gregario is having inappropriate contact with a young female parishioner, Ciro's girl crush, Don Gregario bans him from the convent. He wants to send him to the work farm, but the nuns make arrangements for him to go Stateside to live with Sister Teresa's uncle in Little Italy, New York City. He will help the uncle in his shoemaker shop. Eduardo leaves with him and travels to Southern Italy to join the priesthood.

Just above the village where the convent is, resides the Ravanelli family. Marco, the father has a horse and carriage business. It is he who transports the Lazzari's to the convent. His eldest daughter, Enza, helps her mother with the house and the care of her brothers and sisters. When death falls to a younger sister, it is Ciro who has to go to their village to help the church dig the grave. This is where he meets Enza for the first time. The Ravenelli's have been renting a house for years hoping to buy it in the future. When the landlord goes back on his word, they are forced to move. Marco and Enza decide to go to the States to earn enough money to send back to Italy so that the family can build their own house. Enza goes to Hoboken, New Jersey and Marco travels to California. Enza is an excellent seamstress and secures a job at a local garment factory. This is where she meets her best friend, Laura. Laura saves Enza from an assault by the boss, so the two decide to head to New York City. It is there that they are hired to work for the Metropolitan Opera House.

Ciro is busy working as a shoemaker. When Luigi, a fellow he met on the boat, returns to Ciro's place of employment, Ciro secures a job for him. The two become quite successful shoemakers.

Enza and Ciro, star-crossed lovers since they were teens, always running into each other, misunderstandings, bad timing, until one day fate happens. This is their love story.

The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kidd

3.6

 

Sarah Grimke was fifth in line of a family of ten children in the year 1803. She was the daughter of a wealthy father who was a judge on the South Carolina Chief Court. He was the owner of a southern plantation with seventeen slaves. Sarah mother's family was sent to Charleston from England to establish the city. She came from the elite of Charleston's families.

When Sarah was four, she witnessed a slave being severely whipped and witnessed the cuts and blood from the lashes. Sarah was horrified and from that moment on was against slavery and the inhumane treatment of the slaves. After this horror, Sarah developed a stutter. This stutter would remain with her off and on throughout her life. It would be exacerbated by stressful situations. On Sarah's eleventh birthday, she was presented with a ten year old slave girl named Hetty Hetty was known as Handful by her mother and other slaves. Upon receiving Hetty as a gift, Sarah immediately rejected her. She didn't believe in slavery and that one person could be given another person. Her mother was embarrassed and beside herself. Sarah was told she need to accept Hetty-Handful as her slave. Sarah didn't require much from Handful. Sarah herself was very independent and strong willed. She loved to read and learn. She loved to sneak into her father's library and to read his law books. Had she been a boy, she would have been allowed to read all of them  and to become a lawyer. But that was not the case for the time. She was expected to learn and become a woman, wife, and socialite.

Sarah taught Handful to read which was against the law. When writing was discovered outside in the mud after a storm, Handful had written her name and erasing it in the mud didn't work, Handful was whipped. Sarah had all her books and library privileges taken away.

Five years later, Sarah's sister, Angelina was born. Sarah begged her mother to let her be Nina's godmother. The mother agreed and Sarah and Nina became very close. Nina called Sarah 'Mother' at times which really angered the real mother when she heard it.

Charlotte, Handful's mother, was an excellent seamstress. She made a particular quilt illustrating her life history from her mother's origins in Africa, to Charlotte's present time on the plantation. Charlotte was very stubborn and took risks just because she wanted to oppose her owners. This led to whippings and other forms of punishments.
Charlotte taught Handful to sew. They both became very valuable to the Missus and Little Missus at the plantation house. Charlotte began sneaking out at night to go into town to sell things that she had made. She was saving her own money for the future. While out, she met a man named Denmark Vesey. Denmark was a free slave and instrumental in planning a revolt in Charleston.

Sarah fled to Pennsylvania to join the Quakers since they also did not believe in slavery. Sarah became very vocal against slavery and also for the equal rights of all women. She wrote pamphlets which were distributed throughout the country. Harriet Beecher Stowe was inspired by these writings when she wrote, "Uncle Tom's Cabin".

Nina later joined Sarah and the two became well known in history for their fight against slavery and women equality

The book is written in sections of different spans of time. Each chapter in the time span is written alternatively between Handful and Sarah. The author came across the names Sarah and Angelina Grimke while reading a list of 999 names of women who had made important contributions to history. When she discovered that these two sisters came from the same city she lived in at the time, she began to discover their history. Her thorough and extensive research created this amazing, historical fiction novel. Based on facts of the sisters, her family, and others, along with creative writing of dialogue, Sue Monk Kidd wrote an exceptional novel depicting the lives of slaves at the time and the two women who fought to change it. This is another piece of history many of us do not know.

Someone Knows My Name

Lawrence Hill

4

 


It is London, 1802, and Meena, now an old woman, was brought here by a group of abolitionists to tell her story which was why the trade in human beings must be stopped. She is also told to write her story to document her life. She begins to tell her story to a classroom of children. Aminata Diallo was a young girl of ten, when she was captured by slave traders and witnessed her parents murder.

Aminata was born in the village of Bayo, three months by foot from the Grain Coast in West Africa. She spoke two languages, Fula and Bamana, each from the tribes of her parents. The day she was captured, she had been coming home with her mother after delivering a baby in another village. Her mother was a baby catcher and Aminata had always gone with her mother. She could now catch a baby on her own. Aminata was yoked and bound to other slaves as they made their trek through numerous villages and picked up more slaves as they went. She could not understand why, as she walked through these villages, no one would help save her. Another young African boy, Chekura, was freely walking beside them. He was actually working for the slave traders. He looked after Aminata on the trek but told her if he didn't work for them, he would become a slave. This was the only way he could secure his freedom.

The slaves were boarded onto a large slave ship. Many slaves had been waiting on the boat for some time. Aminata knew the minute she was near the boat, that the smell was of death and decay. She saw slaves being murdered and those sickly and dead, were all thrown overboard.The slaves were held in the belly of the ship. At night they would yell their names and the villages where they came from. It was their only way to establish that they were still their own property. When they reached America, they were separated into groups to be auctioned off. Aminata was surprised that she saw slaves that were walking around freely through this town of Charles Town. She was later shocked when she saw her new friend, Chekura, bound and now a slave himself. He had been tricked by the traders.

Aminata was sold to Master Appleby. The slave, Georgia, took Aminata under her care. Time moves on and things happen. Aminata is sold to Solomon Lindo, an indigo inspector for the entire Province of South Carolina. She is taken to New York City to live with him and his wife. This is the beginning of her story where she will find her freedom, work for the British Army during the American Revolution,(by recording the names of the blacks who also worked for the British Army), and to move them forward to freedom. Once recorded and approved, they will board a boat to Nova Scotia where they are promised free land, work, and freedom. She records their information in a book called, "The Book of Negroes". Her travels take her from New York City, to Canada, Sierra Leone, and then to England. Aminata's one goal from the start was to one day return to her native land.

Lawrence Hill has written an amazing novel. He captures the voice of Aminata. All senses are awakened with his descriptions from the beginning in Africa, the trek to the boat, the horrid conditions on the boat, life on the plantation, and then her continued journeys. The fictional book is based on the real Book of Negroes. The story may be fictional but through his research, you will feel the reality of the lives of the slaves. It was quite a coincidence that our book club read, "The Invention of Wings" the month before. And, after that book, the shooting in Charleston happened.
Cannery Row John Steinbeck

3

 

In Monterey, California, there is a street lined with canneries. These are used for the sardines brought in by the fishermen. This became known as Cannery Row.

Cannery Row is home to the many people who live and work for the canneries. It is also home to the many businesses that support these people.

This story revolves around the main goal of throwing Doc a thank you party for everything he has done to help the residents of the Row. Doc is a marine biologist who collects sea creatures along the coast then sells them to labs, scientists, and museums. He also becomes known as the smartest man on the Row and listens to whomever needs to talk.

The novel is made of vignettes of each character or groups of characters, and how they all blend in together. You have: Doc the scientist, Mack and the boys who for all their good intentions seem to mess everything up, Dora Flood who is the owner of the Bear Restaurant and Whorehouse and is a savvy businesswomen, Lee Chong who is the owner and operator of the local grocery store, and numerous other characters who weave their way in and out of each others story lines.

Steinbeck based this novel on the actual canneries in Monterey.

"In Monterey, Ed Ricketts' laboratory survives (though it is not yet open to the public) and at the corner which Steinbeck describes in Cannery Row, also the store which once belonged to Lee Chong, and the adjacent vacant lot frequented by the hobos of Cannery Row. The site of the Hovden Sardine Cannery next to Doc's laboratory is now occupied by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. However, the street that Steinbeck described as "Cannery Row" in the novel, once named Ocean View Avenue, was renamed Cannery Row in honor of the novel, in 1958. The town of Monterey has commemorated Steinbeck's work with an avenue of flags depicting characters from Cannery Row, historical plaques, and sculptured busts depicting Steinbeck and Ricketts.[18]".

Steinbeck later wrote the novel, "Sweet Tuesday", which continues with the characters of Cannery Row years later.

Go Set A Watchman Harper Lee

3

 

Jean Louise Finch, twenty five, has been living in New York City. She returns home to Maycomb Junction, Alabama, to visit her father, Atticus Finch, who is now elderly and suffering from arthritis. He is having a hard time getting around and doing things for himself. He moved in with his sister Alexander who still lives in the house that she and Atticus grew up in. Atticus has his own law firm and has always been known as a very fair lawyer. Jean Louise, known as Scout to her family and childhood friends, is being persuaded by her Aunt to return to Maycomb permanently to help and continue her life there. Her childhood friend and now boyfriend, Henry, lives in Maycomb as well. He is a lawyer in Atticus's law firm.

Within just a few days, Jean Louise notices nothing ever changes in Maycomb. She goes on a date with Henry and they are spotted swimming in the river together. The next day at church, the gossip is already spreading that they were skinning dipping and the disgrace she must be to the family, especially Alexander.

Aunt Alexander hosts a tea for the women in town to say hello to Jean Louise. Jean Louise realizes from the conversations between the women, that all they have to talk about is themselves, their family, gossip, and the black race. Jean Louise having lived in New York for five years, is now used to seeing black people everywhere and treated more or less as equals. But the South is still the South, and the Negro race is still considered to be less equal to the White race in every way possible.

In the Finch house, they had a black maid and workers.They were never treated badly, unfairly, or disrespectful. Jean Louise's mother died when she was two so she never knew her. She and her brother Jem, who passed away when he was in his twenties,(it is never explained how he died), were raised by their father and their maid, Calpurnia. Calpurnia was the closest thing to a mother Jean Louise knew.

After the tea, Jean Louise was to visit her Uncle but heard of meeting at the Court House that both her father and Henry were attending. She slips into the Court House and up to the balcony where she use to go to watch her father argue his cases. She is shocked to hear a visiting speaker talk about the Negro Race as being one of less than human and how they needed to make sure they were kept separate from the Whites no matter what the law said. The fact that Atticus and Henry were there as part of the group horrified her. She then lost all respect she ever had for both of them.

Scout grew up with a father who could do no wrong. He always treated her, along with the people in town, fairly and just. Seeing another side of her father, one she did not know, threw her whole present and past in a tail spin. She didn't know which father was the real one, so to speak. It was time for her to grow up and figure out how to put the father of her past memory into the father that she sees before her now.

Harper Lee wrote this book in the 1950's. On the advice of her editor, this was not the time to publish this book. It was too relevant for the time period and could cause a backlash resulting in low sales and ratings. She suggested that Harper Lee write a book with her characters being younger. Hence, we have, "To Kill A Mockingbird". We all agreed it was the best advice she could get and indeed take.

All the Light We Cannot See Anthony Doerr

4

 

A gemstone has come from Japan to be displayed in The Museum of Natural History in Paris. It is named the Sea of Flames. Rumor has it that whoever possesses it, cannot die yet those around them, will die within a month. The stone brings sorrow to anyone who carries it. Now the museum is trying to decide whether to display it or not.

It is 1934 and Marie-Laure LeBlanc is four years old. She first hears this story from a guard at the museum where her father works. He is the locksmith of the museum and holds every key and knows where each key goes. One month after hearing this story, Marie-Laure is blind. They say it is due to congenital cataracts.

Werner Pfennig, seven, and his sister Jutta, six, are being raised at Children's House, an orphanage in Zollverein, Germany, It is three hundred miles northeast of Paris. Their mother died in childbirth and their father died in the coal mines. Werner is a very inquisitive boy. When he turns eight, he finds a wire-wrapped cylinder in the refuse. Three frayed electrical leads sprout from the top and one has a small earphone dangling from the end. He realizes it is a radio. He takes it back to his room in the attic and fixes it. He hooks it up to discover a station with music. He then hears a man speaking in French, talking about science and how light affects different things. "How does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?". This begins Werner's love of radios. He will become the one requested to fix everyone"s radio in the town, eventually keeping him out of the mines and into the Hitler Youth Camp.There he will learn how to not only fix radios, but listen and track other radio transmitters.

A few years later, when the war heads towards Paris, the museum packs and sends away its prize possessions. Marie-Laure and her father leave town to stay at a friend's relative only to find they have abandoned their home. They then decide to go to Saint-Milo to the home of his Uncle Etienne. His uncle lives in the family home where he grew up with Marie-Laure's grandfather. They were brothers. Marie-Laure's father builds her a mini city of the little wooden house to teach Marie-Laure how to get around the city by herself. He takes her out into the street with her cane to teach her by counting, smells, and sounds from the street to get her bearings and memorize where she is. Along with the construction of the city, her father also builds her little boxes that will contain gifts when it is her birthday. The box is a puzzle, which she has to learn how to open in order to get to her gift.

As both children grow older, they are about four years apart, their lives are each affected by the war in their own countries. There will come a day when they lives will converge.

The story begins on August 7, 1944. The chapters take turn with Marie-Laure's life and Werner's. It then goes back to 1934, and proceeds from there and at times jumps back to 1944. It can be confusing at times if you are not noting the time period at the beginning of each new section.

There are many stories woven throughout the book about the war. The use of radios, other than by the German Army, was forbidden. But those who had them, used them to send coded messages to others to pass around. The plight of the German and French citizens were dangerous for both. Then there is the story of the Sea of Flames and how that fit in throughout the entire story. There are different characters in each story line, Werner and Marie-Laure's, that have an affect on each.

The book is beautifully written. The theme of light is carried through the story in various ways. All the Light We Cannot See won the 2015Pulitzer Prize.

The Girls of Atomic City
The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II
Denise Kiernan

3.25


In 1934, a brilliant German geochemist named Ida Noddack, read and disagreed with Italian physicist Enrico Fermi's paper on elements of an atomic number higher than 92. It was later referred to as "Tubealloy" by the Project. Ida had devised her own periodic table in 1925 and discovered element 75, rhenium, named after her homeland, the Rhine Valley. She felt that Fermi's results were inconclusive and came up with her own theory and published her own paper.  She was dismissed by all. Later, Lise Meitner, an Austrian physicist who escaped Nazi Germany, was part of a team that discovered fission.

In 1942. the Corp of Engineers, went into Tennessee near the Black Oak Ridge and acquired, evicted, many farms as a declaration of War. The land was to be used as a site for "The Project". This would be a top secret city which would house the factories and the employees along with their families to create the atomic bomb. Their sister city would be located in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

The city would house the army, scientists, and the many workers needed to work in the plants. Free bus service was provided for those who lived off site.The city was named Oak Ridge.

Women were recruited right out of high school and college. The pay was better than other jobs available and housing was affordable at low rents. The recruiters looked for rural women and those right out of high school because they felt these women would do their jobs without questions and they would not be curious. There was a shortage of labor as many men were fighting the war and women were eager to work and look for a new adventure away from their own hometown. The only thing the women knew was that they were not allowed to tell their family what they were doing. Secrecy was number one, even among each other. No worker could tell another worker what they were working on. In fact, they only knew how to do their job but not what it was for. If word got out that someone talked about what they were doing or asked questions, they were immediately dismissed.

The jobs ranged from sitting for hours watching gauges, looking for leaks along pipes, secretaries, switchboard operators, and teachers.The women lived in dorms and apartments. Families lived in small trailers and houses.

This is the South and it is life in the 1940's. Blacks were treated very differently there. They were not allowed to bring their children and husband and wives could not live together. They lived in huts because "that was what they were use to".

Oak Ridge was just like any other city. It had stores, dance halls, tennis and basketball courts, churches, and movie theaters. However, Blacks were segregated form these facilities.They had their own Negro Village.

 
At times, workers were exposed with radiation and had to be hosed down and kept overnight. When the men had to stay overnight, their wives did not know why or even what they did.

As it came closer to the dropping of the bomb, the scientists warned the government of the danger this would cause to the people being bombed. They voiced their concerns to Washington, but they were never delivered. In August of  1945, the bomb was dropped. The workers were now told what they had been working on. They were told that it was because of their hard work and sacrifice, the war had been won.

The author interviewed a few of the remaining women alive for this book. It is through their stories and in depth research by the author that this story is being told. Although the title refers to the girls of Atomic City, it is a science lesson in the creation of uranium for the bomb and all those involved in "The Project". An interesting note at the end of the book is that in early 1946, Lise Meitner was honored as The Woman of the Year and met President Truman. It is reported that he said to her, "So you're the little lady who got us into this:". However, on December 10, 1946, the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physics would go to Wolfgang Pauli and that Otto Hahn had been awarded the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of fission. Many were shocked that Lise was excluded and she was listed as Hahn's junior associate.

Learning to Swim Sara J. Henry 2.30

Troy Chance is heading in one direction on a ferry across Lake Champlain. She sees a child falling overboard on the ferry across from her going in the opposite direction. She dives in after him and discovers that the arms of his sweater are tied around him so he can not get it off. She grabs him and swims miles to shore. After she pulls him out of the water, she discovers that he only speaks French. Worried that something or someone has deliberately thrown him over, she takes him home. She does not go to the police station as she has worked in the foster care program before. She worries that if this is a parental issue, the boy could be returned to the parent and in danger again.

Troy takes him to her house where she rents rooms to a couple of young guys. She takes the boy upstairs to her room, bathes and feeds him, and lets him sleep in her bed. The boy tells her in french that he had been kidnapped, his mother had been shot, and his father didn't want him. He tells Troy his name is Paul Dumond. Troy searches on the internet and finds that his father is a business owner. She pays the father a visit to see how he will react when she reveals that his son is still alive. He's devastated and goes to Troy's home to see for herself. He tells the story of the kidnapping to Troy and then they contact the police.

From there, the story unfolds as Troy and and Paul return with Mr. Phillipe Dumond to his new house. Troy takes it upon herself to investigate Paul's mother and to find the kidnappers herself. The police are questioning her involvement in the kidnapping and everyone is suspect including her and Phillipe. 

Saying much more would give the story away. Troy's actions are questionable at times. It is a typical mystery of a whodunit and in the end the killer and kidnappers are discovered. It is an easy, simplistic read. It is not a thriller, sit on the edge of your seat, and keeping you up late murder mystery. However, if you want a quick lite mystery book, this works. This is Sara J. Henry's first novel. She has now written another based on Troy Chance.

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