Rules of Civility

Amor Towles


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


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


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


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 


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 


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


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


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


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
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

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.