American Dirt  

Jeanine Cummins


Lydia Perez owns a bookstore in Acapulco. Her husband, Sebastian, is a journalist investigating the drug cartels that have created so much violence in their area. It is now an unsafe location not only for the citizens, but also for the tourists. They have one son, Luca, who is now eight. Lydia keeps her most personal favorite books in a certain area of her bookstore. One day, a man comes in and as he looks through her store, he selects these books. At the counter, they discuss his selection and find common interests. His name is Javier Fuentes. Javier becomes a frequent customer and he and Lydia become very good friends. He tells her about his daughter, his wife, and other women.  As time passes. Lydia realizes through conversations with her husband, that Javier is “La Lechuza”, head of the Los Jardineros drug cartel. Sebastian is about to publish an article exposing Javier as the "La Lechuza" and the cartel that has terrorized Acapulco. Lydia thinks that Javier will approve of the letter and find it flattering.

The story opens with Luca in the bathroom at his abuela’s house. The entire family is there to celebrate his cousin’s quinceanera. The family is having a large cookout. Lydia has come inside to check on Luca. As the two are in the bathroom, shots rang out. Lydia grabs Luca and presses him against the shower wall to shield him.  She hears three separate voices and one asks about Luca and Sebastian. Lydia hears men searching through the house. She remains hidden from the one man who does look into the bathroom. Once all is quiet and she is sure that the men have gone, she goes outside to find that her entire family is dead. Sixteen people are dead, including Sebastian and her mother. She calls the police. When they arrive and process the scene, she realizes that it is Javier’s cartel, sent their in retribution of the article. She knows the police will not be able to help her and that she needs to act fast. She grabs her mother’s bag and other various belongings that she can carry and fit into her bag. She finds her mother’s money and takes that along with the ATM card. She and Luca are now on the run. She finds a hotel to spend the night and pays cash. The hotel clerk makes a call and now Javier knows where she is. Lydia catches on and the two are off again. She knows that she has an uncle in Denver, Colorado and decides that is where they will go. Their long journey begins.

Lydia and Sebastian met in Mexico City where they attended college. Sebastian’s best friend and wife still live there. If she and Luca can get there, it is her hope that the friends will be able to help her from there. Lydia knows that she still needs to be very careful as Javier is still looking for her. Through conversations, Lydia learns ways that the migrants use to get to the border. She learns that the fastest way is by the train known as La Bestia. Lydia and Luca arrive at the site of the tracks where other migrants are waiting. They hear of different ways to jump on top of the train, many are horrifying. Lydia notices two girls waiting. The girls are sisters, Soledad and Rebeca. Rebeca is the younger sister. Their cousin in Maryland has arranged with El Chacal, a coyote, to meet them when they arrive at the border. He will cross them over to safety. The sisters tell Lydia the safest way to make the jump. When the train comes, the sisters jump and although hesitant, Lydia and Luca follow. From that moment on, the four travel together. Lydia notices a boy further up the train looking at her. He looks at his phone and then back at her. Lydia fears that he is there for her and Luca. Lorenzo makes his way down the train towards them. He knows who they are but he assures them that the reason he is on the train, is to escape the cartel. He wants out and that is why he is there. As they continue their journey, they befriend a young boy from Nogates. He was living in a dump there. He sold some drugs he had found to the owner of the dump who gave him a roll of money. Beto is alone and suffers with asthma. He pulls out his inhaler when he needs it to help him breathe. It is empty but he seems to find comfort and relief by the action.

The journey continues. There are stays at migrant camps and more times to jump on La Bestia. Lydia and Luca arrive at Sebastian’s best friend for help. The wife is hesitant but does agree to let them travel out of Mexico City in the vans they are using to return American teens that were staying with them on a missionary stay. As they continue their trek, they will encounter the brutality, fear, horror, the power of money, and the sheer determination it takes to step on American dirt.

This novel describes what it takes for a very small group of people to migrate across the Mexican border and why they do it.

We did not know until the time for our meeting, that we found out about the controversy surrounding the book. We did not consider it in our rating. Our rating reflects the book itself, a look into the reasons and horrors that causes a person to risk his/her life for a better one in the Unites States.

The Vanishing Half

Brit Bennett


Alphonse Decuir founded the town of Mallard, named after the ducks in the rice fields, in 1848. He inherited the land from his slave owner father. Upon the father’s death, he gained his freedom. Alphonse was a light colored black man as many of the slaves were. As the town grew and the years went by, Mallard’s residents became lighter, some with blonde and red hair. By 1938, the darkest person would be no darker than the coloring of person who was Greek. Legally, they were black, but many would able to pass as white. This was the case of Alphonse's great-great-granddaughters, the twins, Desiree and Stella Vignes. They had creamy skin, hazel eyes, and wavy hair.

The story begins in 1968. Desiree has returned to Mallard after being gone for fourteen years. A man comes running into Lou’s Diner telling everyone that he has seen Desiree walking down the road holding the hand of a young girl who is blacker than coal. Desiree finds her way back to her childhood home. Her mother, Adele, is not only shocked to see her but to see her with this little girl. Desiree explains that she had married a very dark black man in Washington. D.C., that he had become abusive, and that she has fled for the safety of her daughter, Jude, and herself. She still has the bruises on her face and around her neck to prove it. Sam does not know where she is.

The twins are very different. Desiree wants to leave Mallard to become an actor. Stella wants to stay in Mallard to become a teacher. When the girls turn sixteen, their mother, Adele, pulls them out of school. She does not believe they need any further education and Adele needs helps with bills. Adele has cleaned houses and taken in odd jobs for years. She has found a house cleaning job for the twins in a mansion nearby. Desiree has been trying to talk Stella into running away with her to New Orleans where she has a friend. It is two hours away. On August 14, 1954, after the Founders Day Dance, the two slip out in the dark of night. They head to New Orleans where they have a friend who gets them a job in a laundromat and finds them a place to live. Stella leaves the laundromat and applies for a job at a bank. When she arrives, all the applicants are white and the person in charge assumes Stella is white. She takes a typing test along with all the other women and gets the job. After she has worked there for a while, her boss, Blake Sanders, tells her that he is being transferred to Boston and asks Stella to go with him. Stella leaves, without telling Desiree that is she is leaving. She also never told Desiree that that the bank believes she is white. Desiree searches for Stella. Realizing that Stella is gone, Desiree finds herself moving north. In 1956, Desiree is working in D.C. where she has learned how to read fingerprints. It is there where she meets Sam, a black attorney working as a prosecutor.

Now that Desiree is back in Mallard, she starts working at Lou’s Diner. She decides to go to a bar one day after a shift and sees a familiar person there. It is Early Jones. She knew him years ago when he was a farmhand helping her mother. They connected but soon after, Early disappeared. Early now works as a private investigator searching for people who have disappeared or for other reasons. When Early sees Desiree, he realizes that it is she that he is there to find. As they start talking, Desiree tells him about the past years and what brought her back to Mallard. He sees her bruises and realizes that he cannot let Sam find her.

Stella and Blake marry and move to LA. They are quite affluent and live in a close community. They have a daughter, Kennedy. Stella has continued to pass as white and no one, not even Blake, knows of her race and history. She fears of being discovered and the chance of meeting any black person who might be able to discover her secret just by looking at her.

Jude has a hard time fitting in at school. She is the darkest person there. There is racism among their own race. Jude takes to running and soon becomes a track star. In 1978, she accepts a scholarship to run track at UCLA. During her time there, she meets a young man, Reese. They become quite close. He tells her that he is trans, (transgender) and is saving money to transition. Jude takes extra jobs as a waitress to help save money for Reese. It is at a catering job where she is the bartender, when she begins talking with a young blonde girl sitting at the bar. The girl is waiting for her mother. When her mother arrives. Jude gets a shock when she sees that the girl’s mother looks just like her own mother. That begins Jude’s search for her Aunt Stella and the ruse she uses on Kennedy to find her.

The Vanishing Half title is misleading as you may think it is just about Stella leaving. There are many instances of characters vanishing: Stella from herself, Reese from Therese, Desiree and Jude from Sam, those who Early are hired to find, Kennedy reinventing herself numerous times, and others.

This book goes back and forth between the early 1950’s and the 1990’s.

Behold the Dreamers

Imbolo Mbue


Jende Jonga is a native of Cameroon, Africa. He grew up in the rural town of Limbe. In 2004, he obtained a three-month visa from The U.S. Embassy in hopes of getting a green card. He arrived in New York City, worked three jobs, and lived in a basement apartment that he shared with six other people. His goal was to earn enough money to bring his girlfriend, Neni and their son, Liomi, to America for a better life. Now an undocumented immigrant, Jende continues to work. In 2006, Neni, on a student visa, and Liomi arrive in New York City. Neni works as a health care aide and attends college courses in chemistry. Her goal is to one day be a pharmacist.

It is now 2008. Jende’s cousin, Winston, is a lawyer and has lived in the States legally for many years. He advises Jende to hire an immigration lawyer named Bubaker. Bubaker is a fast-talking Nigerian and convinces Jende to seek asylum by concocting a story about not being able to return to Cameroon for fear of his life from Neni’s father. Jende decides to go along with him. The lawyer reassures Jende that it can takes months and even years before they hear from immigration.

Jende interviews to be a chauffeur to Clark Edwards. Clark Edwards is an executive at Lehman Brothers, an investment bank.  He needs Jende to be able to drive himself, his wife Cindy, and his son Mighty, Mighty’s nanny, and at times their older son Vincent at all times of the day and night. Vincent is in college and studying to be a lawyer but has now decided to leave school and travel to India. Jende will be making $35,000 a year. Jende will be able to use the money to pay for Neni’s college classes.

As a chauffeur, Jende hears conversations from his passengers. He realizes that Clark is very worried and stressed about the practices that are occurring at Lehman Brothers. When Clark wants to escape the phone calls and work while in the car, he starts to have conversations with Jende, inquiring about Jende, his family, where he came from, and his life. Jende befriends Mighty and Vincent. Jende learns that Cindy will need help in the summer in the South Hamptons. He tells Neni and she is hired. During the summer, Neni befriends Cindy and learns of her past and her secrets.

The impending and collapse of the Lehman Brothers, sets into motion fear, dishonesty, revealing secrets, betrayal, along with the decision from immigration, and the effect two family’s from very different backgrounds, affect and intertwine with each other’s lives. Of course within every novel, there is more to the story about each character and the additional characters from their own lives.

Behold the Dreamers is a debut novel of author Imbolo Mbue and won the 2016 Pen/Faulkner Award.

While Justice Sleeps

Stacey Abrams


It is June, and the Supreme Court only has a couple of cases left to decide before the term ends. One case is whether to allow the merger of the American biotech genetic company, Gen Works, with an Indian company, Advar. Justice Howard Wynn has a genetic disease that with the merger of the two companies, will be able cure it, if not for himself, for his estranged son and others. However, President Brandon Stokes is against it and will use any means possible to prevent this from happening. The Justice has collected information of a conspiracy theory to thwart the merger and has left the evidence he has collected in various places throughout the city. When the Justice slips into a coma, his seat on the Supreme Court becomes vacant. The next morning at the courthouse, his law clerk, Avery Keene, is called into the Chief Justice’s office. She learns that Wynn had previously arranged with the Chief Justice to be his power of attorney. This gives her the power to make decisions about his health and all legal matters.

Before Justice Wynn slipped into his coma, he told his nurse, Jaime Lewis, to give Avery a cryptic message. Avery now finds herself in a battle with the Justice’s ex-wife and with those against the merger. Avery does not know whom to trust as Major Vance and the FBI get involved. When the Justice’s son arrives, he and Avery embark on the mission to find the clues. They will uncover atrocities performed by former Advar researchers in India that involved the President and Major Vance.

Stacey Abrams writes a thrilling mystery, which questions the positive and negative aspects of genetic manipulation. For avid chess players, you will enjoy some of the chess references.

Miss Benson’s Beetle

Rachel Joyce


When Margery Benson was four years old, her father would read to her a story about the golden beetle of New Caledonia. Margery was fascinated with this beetle and longed to see one for herself.  In 1914, England soldiers are fighting in the war. Margery, now ten, hears a knock on her family’s door. It is a soldier informing her father that all of her four brothers had died during combat. Devastated by the news, her father takes his gun and commits suicide. His death leaves Margery and her mother alone with no means to take care of themselves. They have no choice but to go live with Margery aunts. Grief stricken, the mother can barely function which leaves Margery in the care of her very rigid aunts. With no childhood friends around, she visits the Natural History Museum insects department. She spends many hours throughout the next several years there.

It is now 1950. Margery’s mother and aunts have passed away and Margery, single, remains in the home. She is a Home Economics schoolteacher. One day, she catches the children laughing as they pass around a paper. Margery takes it and sees a caricature of herself, a lumpy old woman. She goes to the lounge, notices the head mistress’s boots, grabs, them and runs home. She decides then not to return to school. She wants to go to New Caledonia to find the golden beetle. Margery places an ad for an assistant to go with her. She interviews a traumatized war veteran, Mr. Mundic, who is convinced he is the only one who should be assisting her.  His jitteriness makes Margery nervous. Enid Pretty is another applicant. She is the opposite of Margery. She is young, energetic, and flighty. Margery does not think she will work out. Another middle age woman applies and seems perfect. Margery makes all the reservations for two people. She buys all the supplies she needs for their trip up into the mountains of New Caledonia, which includes clothing, camping equipment, food, and lab supplies to document and preserve her specimens. She wants to be the first person to ever find, document, and prove that the golden beetle exists.  At the last minute, the woman who was to accompany her on the trip has changed her mind. Mr. Mundic who has been following Margery around wants to take her place. Instead, Margery contacts Enid and the two of them leave in search of the golden beetle.

The Four Winds

Kristin Hannah


Elsa Wolcott is twenty-five and lives with her family in Texas. When Elsa was young, she became very ill. Now fully recovered, her parents treat her as if she is still frail, weak, and at her age, considered a spinster. Her mother devotes all her energy on her younger sisters. Elsa buys material to make herself a beautiful red dress for her birthday. She sneaks out of her house and goes into town. She meets Rafe Martinelli who is eighteen. He talks sweet to her and gives her the attention she craves. He has her meet him at another location where he has his way with her. Weeks later, Elsa discovers that she is pregnant. Her parents pack her up in the car and drives her to the Martinelli farm. They drop her off and tells her that she has brought shame to the family and they want nothing more to do with her. Rafe’s parents, Tony and Rose, take her in and tells Rafe that he must now marry her.

It is now 1933. Texas is in a severe drought. The Martinelli farm, which once produced large amounts of wheat, now lays barren. Elsa and Rafe have two children. Loreda is a young teen and idolizes her father. He fills her head with dreams of heading west and that it is Elsa who is keeping the family on the farm. Anthony is a young boy. One night, Rafe takes off and leaves his family behind. Loreda blames her mother for this. Elsa continues to work alongside Rose to salvage any vegetables they can dig up. Storms of wind blow in across the dry dirt land picking up dust that blows into the house, fills the rooms, and even covers the blankets over their bodies. The dust lodges into their hair, mouth, and lungs. Many become ill. Such as the case with Anthony. Anthony is placed in a make shift hospital in town. As he recovers, the doctor informs Elsa that the only way Anthony can survive is to get him out of Texas. They all decide to pack up and head west. The day of the move, Rose and Tony inform Elsa that they cannot go with them. They need to remain on the farm.

Elsa, Loreda, and Anthony leave Texas with their truck packed with everything they own. They head west to San Joaquin Valley. It is Elsa’s hope that she will find work to support her family. She did not anticipate that people from as far as the east coast of the country would also be migrating to California, all for the same reason. She is met with disdain, as the locals are angry at all the migrants’ entering their town. They yell “Oakies” at Elsa and her family even though she keeps telling them she is from Texas. When Elsa finds that her only place to settle for now is at a muddy squatter’s camp, she has to learn quickly what she needs to do to survive in a place she knows nothing about.

This story is fictional, but it is based on historical facts regarding; the dust bowl, the migrants that head west, the camps, union organizers, the landowners farms taking advantage and cheating the migrant workers, the Anti-Immigration Campaign and Round Up, and how the Civilian Conservation Corp stepped in to guide the farmers in the mid-west to ready the land for the future.

News of the World


Paulette Jiles



The year is 1870 and Texas is still recovering from the Civil War and Reconstruction. Seventy-two year old Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels throughout the State of Texas reading from newspapers to folks in remote towns. He puts up posters announcing his event in a local barn or a hall. He charges each person ten cents to sit and listen to him read. While in Wichita, Texas, he meets an acquaintance, Britt Johnson. Britt is a black man who travels north to recapture kidnapped women and children by Indians during their raids. He asks Kidd to come out to his wagon where Kidd sees a young blond girl sitting. She is quiet and stares off. Britt tells him that her name is Johanna Loenberger. She was kidnapped by the Kiowa’s four years ago. Her parents and sister were killed during the raid. He was paid a fifty-dollar gold piece by Johanna’s German aunt and uncle to transport the girl back to them in Southern Texas. Britt is not comfortable traveling that far south as a black man and it is too far for him to go to make it monetarily worth the trouble. Kidd reluctantly agrees.

The journey begins with Johanna being silent, scared, and skittish around others. She soon warms up to the Captain. He knows some Indian words and they begin to find their own way to communicate. They learn to work together preparing food and collecting his dimes from patrons as they travel from town to town. The trip is risky as there are raids by bandits and tribes of Kiowa’s and Comanche. After days of traveling, they find themselves at the aunt and uncle’s farm. Kidd is not happy to see what awaits the girl and has to make a decision that could change the rest of his life.

The Personal Librarian

Marie Benedict

Victoria Christopher Murray


Belle De Costa is a light-skinned black woman who is passing as white. Her birth name is Belle Marion Greener. Her mother, Genevieve Fleet, is from a prominent black family, and her father, Richard Greener,  a civil rights activist. Belle's parents separate when her mother decides to have their family pass as white. Her father, being an activist, leaves the family to continue his work.  Belle works as a librarian at Princeton University when the cousin of infamous banker J.P. Morgan refers her for a job as Morgan's personal librarian at the new Pierpont Morgan Library.

Belle starts the job in 1906, and moves back to New York to live with her mother and siblings.  Mr. Morgan begins to value Belle’s work and opinions. He gives Belle more responsibilities. As she makes major acquisitions, it raises Belle's profile in a mostly male industry. Belle attends large balls and galas of the most rich, meeting and mingling with other art curators. She researches which items are becoming available for auction and what Mr. Morgan would want for his library. He has told her which manuscripts and other literary and art items that he desires. In time, Belle starts to represent Morgan at auctions in London. She acquires pieces before the auction takes place, much to the demise of other curators.

J.P. Morgan’s daughter, Anne, does not trust Belle and is jealous of Belle’s relationship with her father, especially when he starts including Belle to the family’s events. She suspects Belle heritage (Belle claims to be of Portuguese descent) and on numerous occasions, tells Belle of rumors she has heard to that extent. Belle gets her to back off when Belle tells Anne of the rumors she has heard about Anne’s relationship with two other women. Belle knows that she would not be working at the library if she was black.

Through her job, Belle meets Bernard Berenson, who wrote a book of art history that Belle's father had gifted her as a child. Belle finds herself attracted to him even though he is older, married, and lives in Italy. Thus begins her relationship with Bernard.

Belle becomes invaluable to J.P. Morgan. When Morgan talks about the future of his library, even after he is gone and his son Jack takes over, Belle encourages him to make his library open to the public so that others will be able to see the marvelous works of the world.

As always, there is much more to this story and Belle’s family. The Pierpont Morgan Library is now open to public and you can find out more about Belle, Bernard, and all the pieces of the collection on their website.

Wish You Were Here

Jodi Picoult


In March of 2020, Diana O’Toole steps out of the subway and finds the streets of New York City desolate. Diana is twenty-nine years old and is an associate specialist at Sotheby’s Auction House. She is on her way to meet her boss at a possible client’s apartment to convince the woman to use Sotheby’s to sell her infamous painting. Diana then returns to her apartment that she shares with her boyfriend, Dr. Finn Carlson. Diana has spent hours planning their vacation to the Galapagos Islands and they were to leave in just a few days. Finn informs her that he will no longer be able to go.  The Sars Covid 19 virus has hit the city hard and all health professionals are on call at the hospital. He encourages her to go without him so that they do not lose money on the deal.

Upon Diana’s arrival, she finds that her luggage has not arrived. She also hears an announcement as she is getting off the boat that the island is now closing. All tourists are encouraged to leave. Diana decides to stay, believing that the island would be closed for a couple of weeks. When she arrives at her hotel, she discovers the hotel is not the one depicted in the ad. It is also closed due to the virus. Diana meets an elderly woman, Abuela, on the beach who offers her the small apartment underneath her home. Diana tries to contact Finn but the internet is very slow and nonexistent on several parts of the island. Diana meets Abuela’s grandson, Gabriel, who use to live in the apartment.  She had previously run into him when she was exploring. She is also wearing some of his clothes. She learns that Gabriel is a tour guide and has a daughter, Beatriz. Diana recognizes Beatriz from the boat that ferried her from the main island. Diana becomes a confidant to Beatriz. During her stay on the island, Gabriel and Beatriz show Diana different parts of the island. In the meantime, Diana leaves voice mail messages for Finn and send texts to let him know what is going on. There are times when the internet connects and Diana receives multiple emails from Finn. He explains to her what is going on in the city. The virus is rapidly spreading, the hospitals are full, he is working so many hours a day and when he does get to go home, he showers and washes his clothes immediately. He describes the toll the virus has placed on the healthcare workers, the families who loved ones are in the hospital dying of the virus, and no one is at their side except for the nurse or doctor. It is a good that she did not remain in the city.

One day, Diana and Gabriel go to a cove to swim. While Diana is under the water, she realizes she cannot get to the top and is drowning. When she opens her eyes, she finds that she has not drowned, but the past several weeks were not what she thought they were.

The author brings to life the beginning days and weeks of the Covid 19 virus. It seems so long ago when in reality; it has only been two years.


David Nicholls



Douglas Peterson is a middle-aged biochemist. His wife, Connie, once a very talented artist, has stopped drawing and painting to devote her life to her son, Albie, now seventeen. Albie and his mother have always been very close and now he too is artistic He is about to graduate and leave in the fall to study art at the university. His passion is photography and he sees his life through the lens of a camera. He wants to spend the summer with his friends in Ibiza.  However, Connie has arranged for one last family vacation. The Grand Tour of Europe will be to visit all the famous museums in the different European countries. The trip will take one month. Doug has planned how to visit each site down to the minute before it is time to move to the next one.

A few days before the trip, Connie wakes Doug in the middle of the night to tell him that after the trip, once Albie has left for school, she is planning to leave him. This is a total shock to Doug. He now sees the trip as an opportunity to renew not only his and Connie’s relationship, but that with his son. Doug did not have a good relationship with his parents and he swore he would not be like the father he had. Doug works long hours and he feels the need to make as much money as possible to provide for his family. Because Doug was not home often while Albie was growing up, and the fact that Connie and Albie had always been so close, Doug feels distant from Albie. Doug is methodical, structured, and unyielding. When Albie and Connie would joke around, he did not understand. Doug was now hoping that he could fix his relationship with both of them on this one-month trip.

As the family starts to visit the museums, he finds that Albie and Connie are often on their own together discussing the piece they are looking at or just standing quietly. He tries to join in by reading aloud from the plaque beside the art or from his guidebook. He is constantly talking as their silence makes him uncomfortable. As the trip moves forward, things start to fall apart as Doug insists that they stick to the schedule instead of just relaxing and enjoying the moment. The trip does not go as planned. Unforeseen occurrences happen. That is what happens in life. Not everything can be scheduled down to the minute.

The book goes back and forth in time from his own family, the beginning of his relationship with Connie, and different stages of thirty years together.

Cloud Cuckoo Land

Anthony Doerr


There are five wonderfully developed characters, each with their own story arcs. All are young people who experience the traditional hero’s journey of overcoming incredible challenges to find their way home, whether physically, emotionally, or both. The settings are amazing as well: the fall of Constantinople in 1056, a prisoner of war camp in Korea in 1953, a mountain town in Idaho in the present day, and a “spaceship” presumably traveling to a distant universe in the future. What is so amazing is that Doerr weaves all of these dispirit story lines together, primarily through their connection to his own version of an ancient fable, Cloud Cuckoo Land, which, though it is an unbelievable and fanciful tale, is the essential fiction, full of wisdom. It not only entertains human beings but also allows them to momentarily escape sorrow, illness, and grief. This exceptional book illuminates and celebrates the importance of books and libraries throughout human history.