The Given Day Dennis Lehane


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


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 for more information and to hear her speak about the book.

Educated A Memoir Tara Westover


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

An American Marriage Tayari Jones


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


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


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


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


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


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. 

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Before We Were Yours Lisa Wingate


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


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.