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Home for Erring and Outcast Girls
Julie Kibler

3.33

 

This story is told by three different narrators and covers three decades.

 

Present day Cate is a university librarian where she is handed some information about Beracha, a home for unwed mothers. She begins her research on the home, the founders, and many of the women and children who lived there. The home was founded in the early 1900's by Reverend J.T. Upchurch and his wife Maggie Mary. It was founded for the protection and redemption of 'erring' girls and life circumstances. These circumstances included prostitution, rape, poverty, addiction, abuse, and pregnancy. Although there were many homes for these type of needs, this home was a faith based haven for the outcast women. This is where the women did not have to give up their babies.They received training and skills to prepare them for the outside world.

 

Mattie Corder and her son, Cap, arrive at the home in 1904. Lizzie comes with her daughter, Docie. Both women  have a common back story, similar to the other women who find themselves at Beracha. They have all suffered from heartache and loss. They have had to make difficult choices in their past. They were out of options. Mattie and Lizzie become friends. They help each other to adjust with this new life in a home which is very different from the ones they left behind.

 

As the story continues, time moves on. Both women will make different choices as to how they will live their life. Lizzie will find that she has grown and changed, unlike the family that she had left behind. Mattie will use her education and life experience to make a new life for herself.

 

The Beracha home existed for thirty years. The home held yearly reunions for the women who had once lived there. Lizzie would attend as she had stayed there for many years. However, Mattie never did.

 

Ask Again, Yes

Mary Beth Keane

3.5

 

The year is 1973. Francis Gleeson, immigrated from Ireland, and Brian Stanhope, saying he is Irish also but back a few generations, have graduated from the police academy and are now partners in the Bronx. When Brian recommends that the two of them stop off at a bar for a drink, Francis reminds Brian that they are on duty. Brian goes in anyway for a quick drink. Francis tells Brian of his future wife Lena, who is of Polish-Italian descent, and Brian talks of his future Irish bride Anna.

 

Disturbed by what Francis sees on the street every day, he purchases a home outside the city in the town of Gillam. He and his now wife, Lena, move into their home and begin a family. They have one daughter, Natalie, and Lena is pregnant again. The house next to them sells and when the new owners move in, Francis recognizes Brian from when they were partners. Lena is excited to have a new neighbor and quickly tries to be Anna’s friend. Anna wants nothing to do with her. When Lena becomes pregnant again with Kate, Anna is also pregnant. Anna gives birth to a baby boy named Peter. Peter and Kate become close friends. They do everything together. Anna however, is not happy with their relationship. Kate’s family learn early on the Anna has a temperament and is unrealistic. Brian ignores his own household. He comes home every night, grabs a drink, sits in front of the television, and continues to drink. When Anna goes to the grocery store one day, an incident occurs and Francis helps Anna. Anna has forbid Peter from seeing Kate. They are now fourteen and Anna does not trust Kate with her son. She has forbade Peter to see Kate. Peter and Kate make a plan to meet outside at midnight. This act leads to a series of events that are devastating to both families.

 

The novel continues with the Gleason story, the Stanhope story, until the two stories merge once again.

 

The Great Alone

Kristin Hannah

3

 

Ernt Allbright was twenty-five when he met and fell in love with Cora. Cora, sixteen was still in high school but she fell hard for Ernt. She came from a very well off family. When Cora became pregnant with Lenora/Leni, Cora and Ernt ran away and eloped, leaving Cora’s family behind. They were very happy until Ernt went to Vietnam where Ernt’s chopper went down. He and his fellow soldier, Bo Harlan, were captured and became prisoners of war, POW. They were tortured and Ernt was forced to watch his friend, Bo, die. When Ernt returned home after the war, he was a different man. He had scars over his arms and back from being tortured. Gone was the loving and fun husband and father. He now suffered from nightmares, mood swings, paranoia, and was distant. When the weather was cold, dark, and gloomy, so was Ernt. He drank to escape and became violent when provoked or jealous against Cora. He took his anger out on Cora physically. Leni heard him beating her and would see the results the next day. Cora always excused his behavior on the war and that is not how he use to act. She loved him no matter what he did to her and he was always sorry after. He could not hold a job so they moved around from one place to another, one town to another. Leni was not able to make friends in school since her parents kept moving. The day that Ernt was once again fired from a job, he received a letter from Earl Harlan, Bo’s father. Bo had left instructions with his father that if anything happened to Bo, he wanted Ernt to have his forty acres and cabin in Alaska. Ernt saw this as a perfect opportunity for his family to have their own house and to live off the land. They would live a more “simpler life away from all the bullshit down here. We could be free”.

 

Once they arrived in Alaska, they headed to the small town of Kaneq. It was located at the very end of the Kenai Peninsula. You could only get there by plane or by boat. There was only one store in town and was owned by Large Marge. Large Marge helped them by picking out the supplies and food that they would need to get started. She was a transplant to the island herself as were many others who lived there. She explained how many people would come to escape the chaos of their lives in the lower States but many did not stay. It was a hard life to live there and they had to be willing to work long and hard to survive the long dark winter. She also told them that residents would barter for goods. Ernt was glad to hear this. He was very good at construction and mechanics. Large Marge gave them directions to the cabin. As they dove closer to the cabin, the roads became worse and over grown. When they reached the entrance to the cabin, they were unable to drive any further. They trudged up to the cabin taking only what they needed for the time being. When they reached the cabin, they were shocked. The cabin was broken down, small, and filthy. Ernt was still excited to make this place his own but Cora and Leni were not. They cleaned what they could for the day and Ernt had to chop wood before he could heat the house. The next day, Large Marge and another woman, Geneva, arrived and helped them clean and fix up what they could in the cabin. They told the family what they needed to do right away in order to be able to survive once fall and winter came. Leni learned that there was a school and she could start right away. Leni was excited. On her first day of school, she learned that it was a one-room schoolhouse with one teacher. The only other student that was her age was Matthew Walker and she was to sit next to him. The Walker family had been on the island for generations and settled the land. They owned businesses, property, and a plane to go back and forth to other towns and conduct business.

 

Ernt wanted to meet Earl Harlan, known as Mad Earl, and pay his respects and give thanks for the property. The three of them went and Ernt took a half gallon of whiskey with him. Mad Earl was a survivalist and was ready for the next war. He had guns, gas masks, arrows, and ammunition. He was ready for war. He was convinced that the Commies were everywhere, that the immigrants and Negroes were taking over the States. Ernt became excited. This is exactly how he felt. The more Ernt and Mad Earl talks, the more they drink. Cora knows this is not going to end well.

 

Ernt, Cora, and Leni work non-stop. Alaska is mostly daylight during the late spring and summer months. This means that there are more hours to work non-stop. It also means that they are not sleeping well. Ernt does not sleep well as it is because of his nightmares. As time goes on, Ernt spends more time with Mad Earl; the more he drinks, and becomes a survivalist like Earl. He will then come back and take out his anger and frustration out on Cora. As winter approaches, so does the darkness during the day.  Ernt does not fare well in dark, gloomy, bad weather. He drinks more and takes his moodiness out on Cora.

 

The rest of the story centers on: the relationship between Leni and Matthew, Ernt’s drinking and violence against Cora, the resentment and jealousy Ernt has against Tom Walker, the relationship between Cora and Leni, and the choices each make and how it effects other people’s lives.

 

My Dear Hamilton

A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton

Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

3.5

 

Elizabeth Schuyler, aka Betsy as a child and then Eliza as an adult, was the daughter of General Philip Schuyler. General Schuyler was a Senator in the New York State Congress then later in the United States Congress. He lived in Albany with his wife, Catherine Van Rensselaer. Both Catherine and Philip came from very prominent families. They had fifteen children, eight survived. They built a family mansion in Albany and a county house.  Betsy often traveled with her father as he visited other districts in the area. He had a relationship with the Iroquois Indians and he could speak Mohawk. Betsy learned as well. The Iroquois adopted Betsy as a member of their tribe. This relationship becomes very important later on when she assists General Washington during the American Revolution.

 

The General was host to many British Generals, Majors, soldiers, and politicians. Betsy knew them all. As the men came in and out of the house, they noticed Betsy and she became friends with a few. In 1780, Betsy went to stay with her aunt in Morristown, New Jersey. Nearby was General Washington’s camp. Betsy attended a dance and it was there that she met Alexander Hamilton, and aide-de-camp to the General. They became engaged in April 1870 and married in December 1870 at the Schuyler mansion. Betsy left home to travel with her husband from camp to camp. She assisted him with his writings and tended to injured soldiers. She became a close friend to the General’s wife, Martha Washington.

 

As time goes on, the roles that Eliza and Alexander play to the founding of this country is vital. Washington, Adams, Monroe, Madison, and Jefferson, their actions politically and through their friendships created the basis of what started this country and the two party system. “He’d fought and won a war and built a federal government. He’d created a coast guard, a national bank, and invented a scheme of taxation that held the states together. He’d founded a political party, smashed a rebellion, and put in motion a financial system that was providing prosperity for nearly everyone.” Unfortunately, some of the very people he helped would also be the ones to betray him.

 

Eliza and Alexander were parents to eight children. As Alexander was often away, the running of the household and the children were Eliza’s responsibility with the help of their slave, Jenny. Slavery was another issue brought up in this book.  It became public knowledge that Alexander had had an affair. There were also accusations that Alexander had taken money from the treasury, which was false. Eliza and Alexander loss their oldest son, Philip, to a duel. Three years later Alexander would suffer the same fate. After his death, Eliza learned of Alexander’s debt. Many of their belongings, including their home were to be sold.

 

Eliza lived another fifty years after Alexander’s death. Eliza had the gift for charity. She founded a society to care for widows, an orphanage to shelter children, and a school to provide guidance and learning. She was intimately acquainted with the management of all her endeavors. At the same time, she had to endure the bad press and false allegations from the very people she had once had in her home. It took her several years of inquiries and meetings with these very people, Presidents, during their terms, requesting Alexander’s pension from the time he was in the military service.

 

Eliza left no correspondence behind. However, Hamilton made copies of every letter he sent. There was a vast amount of information in the archives as well as from others during that time. There were also many other storylines that were part of this story but too numerous to include. Such as, her relationships with her sisters, brothers, parents, friends, her own children, betrayals, even the origination of the word gerrymandering. Politics and elections from the very beginning are still the same as they were then. History really does repeat itself.

 

The Given Day Dennis Lehane 3.75

 

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


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


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


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


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

Girl in Reverse Barbara Stuber

3.2

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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


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

Educated A Memoir Tara Westover

3.8

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

An American Marriage Tayari Jones

3

 

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

 

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

 

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

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

Karen Abbott

4

 

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



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



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



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



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



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

Lilac Girls

 

Martha Hall Kelly

3.6

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

The Last Castle

The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the  Nation’s Largest Home

Denise  Kiernan

2.9

 

George W. Vanderbilt was the grandson of Cornelius, also known as the Commodore, Vanderbilt. When the Commander died, he left the bulk of his estate to his son, William Henry Vanderbilt He was George's father. George had no interest in the family’s business. Instead, he enjoyed staying at home, reading and studying. George was the youngest sibling and when his father died, he was the only unwed sibling and remained in the family home with his mother. By the age of twenty-three, his total sum of money was estimated to be about $12-13 million with an annual income of about $520,000. Tired of the cold winters in the North, George and his mother traveled south by train to Battery Park Hotel. High above the town of Ashville, North Carolina, located in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, George decided that this would be where he would build a house for himself and his mother. It would be their country home.The fresh air and peaceful area was just what his mother needed for her health. This was the beginning of George’s plans to build the largest house in the United States. He traveled to Europe and saw different castles. He decides that a castle is what he wanted to build in Asheville. George began by buying several plots of land. His house would be called Biltmore, the Bilt part coming from the first ancestor to come to this country from the Netherlands, Jan Aartsen van der Bilt. The more is derived from the word moor, referring to the large open expanse. As the house needed more and more workers, the town of Ashville grew. George hired Frederick Olmstead who had designed Central Park, to design his vast land holdings. He hired Richard Morris Hunt as his architect.

 

George would go to Europe several times to buy tapestries, carpets, art, furniture, and other items needed to furnish the house. Through his travels and connections with friends, George was introduced to Edith Dresser. Edith lost both her parents, her mother first then her father, due to illness. She was fifteen years old when she and her siblings went to live with her grandmother. Edith also came from an affluent family. Edith and George were married. With the castle still being under construction, the two of them would frequently travel to Europe to visit friends and acquire more furnishings for Biltmore. Edith’s grandmother raised the family to give back to those in need and to help others whether it be using money or by working for social causes.  Edith continued this when she lived in Biltmore. She started a boys and girls club. She established the Biltmore School of Domestic Science for Colored Girls. The classes would include food preparation, housework, laundering techniques and other housekeeping skills. This would allow them to find employment in better homes. She also started another business for women to sell handmade items.

 

Edith and George had one daughter, Cornelia. Cornelia was raised with the same values as Edith and accompanied Edith when she would help those in need. After George’s unexpected death, Edith was left with the finances of the estate and the care of her daughter. 

 

In the end, the house would have 175,000 square feet on 125,000 acres of rugged wilderness. Biltmore House contains 250 rooms in all including: 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 3 kitchens, 2 bowling alleys, an indoor pool, and a library with 65 fireplaces to supplement the complicated heating system necessary to keep the house warm in the winter. The music room was finally finished in 1976.

 

This book required and enormous amount of research. Edith and George did not keep any personal letters or correspondence. Edith’s grandmother had told Edith and her siblings to burn all her personal papers when she was gone. Edith did the same with her own papers. The house is still owned by the family and has been a tourist destination for many years now.

 

As in many nonfiction books about our country, we learn a few interesting facts. 

The first federal income tax started in 1861 and the Bureau of Internal Revenue was created in 1862. In 1872, taxes were repealed. In 1913 federal income taxes became law and took effect in 1914. 

In the 1920 election, women voted for the first time.

Elbridge Gerry was the fifth vice president of the United States under President James Madison, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Due to Gerry’s fiddling with the voter districts in Massachusetts to shape them in his favor, Eldridge Gerry infamously inspired the term “Gerrymandering”.

Unsheltered Barbara Kingsolver

3.6

 

Willa inherited a house from her aunt a year ago. Her husband, Iano, is a college professor and has been offered a teaching position at a college thirty minutes away from the house. Willa is self employed as a magazine writer so she is able to move with no issue. Iano’s job contract is only for one year. They decide to move into the house, fix it up, sell it in a year, and move back to Philadelphia. Their daughter, Tig, moves with them. Willa hires a contractor, Pete Petrofaccio, to give her an estimate on repairs. Willa discovers that the house is falling apart. The foundation is non-existent and an addition had been added onto the house as well. The house needs to come down. She does not have the means to repair or tear down the house. She learns from Pete that the house, which is located in Vineland, New Jersey, was built on property owned by Captain Landis. In the 1800’s, Landis bought thirty thousand acres. When lots were sold back then, stipulations were that the property had to be improved in one year time, plant trees, and show intent to reside. He made land accessible to immigrants and poor farmers. He also wanted to attract prominent intellectuals and reformers of the time. One inventor was Thomas B. Welch who bottled unfermented wine which became known as Welch’s grape juice. Willa wonders if there may be grant money from the city for historical preservation to fix her house. While making supper that night, they get a call from their son Zeke who lives in Boston. His girlfriend, and mother of their newly born son Aldus, has committed suicide. Willa goes to Boston and brings Aldus home with her. Zeke stays in Boston to restart his life and career. Willa now has Aldus to care for and Iona’s father who also been living with them. Willa now has a full house with additional responsibilities along with a house that is falling apart. She is determined to find out if there is any money to fix her house and visits the Vineyard Historical Society. She meets Christopher Hawk who is the curator of the museum. He tells her of Vineyard’s history and the people who once lived there. She gives him her address to research the history of the house.



In the 1870’s, in this very same house, Thatcher Greenwood has consulted with a builder. The roof had problems and after the builder finished walking through the house, informed Thatcher that the whole house was about ready to fall apart. Thatcher’s wife, Rose, her sister, Polly, and their mother, Aurelia, had previously lived in the house when their father was alive. He was the one who built the house along with some amateurs friends. After his death, the family moved in with relatives in Boston. That is where Rose met Thatcher, a teacher of science and mathematics.  When an opportunity opened up to teach natural and physical science at the high school in Vineyard, he was able to return Rose and her family back to their home. Rose did not understand why Thatcher couldn’t just fix the house and why he didn’t have the money to repair it. As they were discussing the house, the woman next door, Mary Treat, was lying on the ground. They couldn’t figure out if she was counting ants or spiders. Mary was interested in botany. She had corresponded with other scientists, including Charles Darwin. One day, Thatcher had the opportunity to go over to Mary’s house to fetch the two dogs that belonged to Rose’s family. The dogs were left by the renter of the house and he had just abandoned them there. After he was gone, Mary had been feeding and taking care of them. Polly wanted to keep the dogs with her but they kept going over to Mary’s. Once inside, Thatcher could see all the plants and spiders that Mary was experimenting and observing. From that moment, Mary and Thatcher became friends. At the school, Thatcher is unable to teach any Science that would go against creationism. 



The story begins with the first chapter of Willa’s story. The following chapter is that of Thatcher’s. Each chapter ends with the last word being the title of the next chapter. Willa’s story includes the lives of her children, her husband, her father-in-law whose politics are not the same as Willa’s, and Willa trying to balance all of the above along with herself. Thatcher is trying to balance his home life, his role at the school,  going up against the principle and Landis, and his friendship with Mary who is a scientist herself. Both stories mirror each other with the same house in disarray.

The Library Book Susan Orlean

4

 

When Susan was a little girl, her mother would take her to the library where she could pick out her own books to read at home. Susan’s husband was transferred to Los Angeles from New York. Susan had been there several times to work on magazines and books, but had never gone into the area downtown. One day her son came home with an assignment to interview a city worker. He wanted to interview a librarian. She found a library that was only a mile from her home. As she walked into the library, she remembered this feeling of going to the library with her mom and now she was doing the same thing with her son. It is there that she meets Ken Brecher who runs the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. He invites her for a tour of the Central Library in downtown LA. As she tours the building with him, he stops, pulls out a book, smells it, and then closes the book and puts it back on the shelf. He tells her that he can still smell the smoke in some of the books. Asking him if they smell like smoke from smokers, he tells her that they smell like that because of the fire. On April 29, 1986, the library was consumed by fire. Many important artifacts, maps, patents, and over a million books were burned or damaged. The library had been written up for many code violations. At the time of the fire, there were twenty violations that hadn’t been resolved. This tour of the library is the beginning of Susan’s three years of research and two years of writing this book.

 

There are numerous facts of interest. Such as: 

Libraries date back centuries and were destroyed for one reason or another.

All that was lost and the process of how they salvaged over a hundred thousand books. 

Slavery was allowed in California and there were slave-labor auctions where white people could buy Native American children as apprentices and to “bid” on Native Americans who were declared “vagrant” and oblige them to work off the cost of the bid. The law was known as 'Act for the Government and Protections of Indians' and was not repealed until 1937.

At first, libraries were for the elite and had an annual fee. Women were not allowed to have their own card and could only be in the Ladies area.

Andrew Carnegie was unable to buy a library membership when he was young because he didn’t have the two-dollar membership fee. When he reached middle age,  he decided to give away his money. Libraries were one of the main beneficiaries funded and he built nearly 1,700 libraries in 1,400 communities.

In 1887, Melvil Dewey established the first library school and created the Dewey decimal system.

There were mobile libraries carried out by women on horseback to rural areas.

During WWII, Althea Warren, the head librarian of the LA Central Library, took a four month leave to run the Victory Book Campaign, a drive nationwide to supply books for army reading rooms, military hospitals, and training camps. By 1942, the organization collected over six million books and sent them to troops across the country and overseas.

Los Angeles was divided by race. In 1963, the Rumford Fair Housing Act was passed. However, the John Birch Society, a group of elite businessmen who wanted to keep the races separate and downtown LA white, voted to revoke the Act. 

Harry Peak, a wanna be actor, was suspected of starting the fire. They could never prove it was him or the actual  reason the fire started.

There is so much more information in the book. 

Visit https://www.lapl.org/branches/central-library to learn of all the programs that are offered.

Before We Were Yours Lisa Wingate

3.25

 

Avery Stafford, age 30, is a lawyer for the U.S. attorney’s office. Her father, Senator Wells Stafford, has been diagnosed with cancer. Avery has been asked to come home to her hometown of Aiken, South Carolina. Her mother wants a family photo taken of her family for their Christmas card even though it is July. Avery is expected to follow in her father's footsteps, taking his place as Senator when her father is no longer able to. Today they are going to visit a local nursing home to celebrate the birthday of a woman who is turning one hundred and her husband is ninety-nine. The senator's own mother was recently admitted into a private nursing home,  something he doesn't want known to the public. While there, Avery is approached by a woman, May, who has now grabbed Avery's wrist and asks, "Fern?"

 

May Crandall was placed in the home after she was found in her home living with her dead sister. She also suffers from dementia. When she sees Avery and the bracelet she is wearing, she grabs Avery's arm and asks "Fern?" She recognizes in Avery's eyes as that of her long passed mother Queenie Foss. A trigger of this sort, opens a window into the past of May life's. May grew up in a shanty boat on the Mississippi River near Memphis until she was twelve years old. One day, Queenie goes into labor. She is carrying twins. She has already given birth to five children: Rill, Camelia, Lark, Fern, and Gabion. This labor is unlike her others. The midwife begs Queenie's husband, Briny to take Queenie to the hospital or else Queenie will die. Briny doesn't want to leave the children home alone since a camp up the river had just been emptied. While they are gone, the police show up and take the children. Camelia puts up quite a fight. She will continue to keep fighting as the story progresses. Rill tries to keep everyone calm, hoping that they are going to be taken to the hospital or somewhere safe until Briny comes to pick them up. They are taken to the Tennessee Children's Home. Georgia Tann is in charge of the home and Mrs. Murphy is the caretaker. The children there are unkempt, hungry, and live in squalor conditions.

 

The Foss children are given new names. Their new names are: Rill will be known as May Weathers, Camelia will be Iris, Lark will be Bonnie, Fern will be Beth, and Gabion will be known as Robby. Rill tries to keep all of her siblings together. Gabion is the first to disappear. Miss Tann has arranged for another couple to adopt him. Miss Tann kidnaps babies from hospitals and off the streets. She  brokers deals with couples who have money from all over the country. She helps law enforcement and public officials adopt children who are willing to look the other way. Meet and greet parties are held for prospective couples looking to adopt. The children arrive clean and dressed well. They are warned not to say anything wrong against the home or who they actually are. If they do, they will be placed in the closet upon returning to the home. No one is quite sure what happens in the closet, but they know it is bad.

 

Back to present day, Avery receives a call from the nursing home. They found Avery's bracelet in May's room. Avery visits May. While in her room, she notices a picture. It is of May's parents. May's mother Queenie, looks so familiar to Avery. She reminds her of her own Grandmother Judy. This picture sends Avery on a search for the connection between her Grandmother and May.

 

The book follows Rill/May's story, what happened in the home, what happened after she left, and how she is connected to Avery. Avery's search leads her to question herself, her relationship with her own family, Elliot her fiance who she has known since they were children, and what it is she really wants her life to be.

 

The story of the Foss family and Mrs. Murphy is fictional. But, the conditions of the home are accurate as told by survivors. The Tennessee Home was well kept as that is where officials would visit. But the unlicensed boarding homes where she kept many children, had horrible conditions. She may have placed unwanted children in homes, but she also kidnapped babies from the arms of sedated mothers who were later told that their babies had been born dead. Miss Tann had benefited illegally to the amount of one million dollars, equivalent to ten million dollars today. When her records were opened, some survivors were able to connect with their other siblings, but many did not.

Meet Me at the Museum

Anne Youngson

3.25

 

Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award (an English award for a book with literary merit but wide appeal) Meet Me at the Museum, by Anne Youngston, is a slim little novel but very enjoyable. Two people, who have both recently experienced deep loss, are fascinated by Tollund Man, a mummified man found in Denmark that is two thousand years old. Tina is a farmer’s wife who mourns some of the choices she has made in her life, and Anders is the curator of a museum grappling with the tragic death of his fragile wife. They start a correspondence and gradually discover things about their lives and their pasts they never realized before. An epistolary novel, it’s a thoughtful examination of marriage, parenting, and self-reflection that was delightful to read.

 

 

Rules of Civility

Amor Towles

3.1

 

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

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

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

A Gentleman in Moscow

Amor Towles

4

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

This novel is a wonderful charming story.

Digging To America

Anne Tyler

2.83

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5

 

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

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

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

Enchanted Islands

Allison Amend 

2.6

 

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

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Sanders 

3.1

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead

3.5

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Sisters First

Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life

Jenna Bush Hager
and Barbara Pierce Bush

2.6

 

 

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

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

Miller's Valley
Anna Quindlen

3

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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