Home for Erring and Outcast Girls
Julie Kibler 3.33

 

This story is told by three different narrators and covers three decades. Cate is a university librarian where she is handed some information about Beracha, a home for unwed mothers. She begins her research on the home, the founders, and many of the women and children who lived there. The home was founded in the early 1900's by Reverend J.T. Upchurch and his wife Maggie Mary. It was founded for the protection and redemption of 'erring' girls and life circumstances. These circumstances included prostitution, rape, poverty, addiction, abuse, and pregnancy. Although there were many homes for these type of needs, this home was a faith based haven for the outcast women. This is where the women did not have to give up their babies.They received training and skills to prepare them for the outside world.Mattie Corder and her son, Cap, arrive at the home in 1904. Lizzie comes with her daughter, Docie. Both women  have a common back story, similar to the other women who find themselves at Beracha. They have all suffered from heartache and loss. They have had to make difficult choices in their past. They were out of options. Mattie and Lizzie become friends. They help each other to adjust with this new life in a home which is very different from the ones they left behind.As the story continues, time moves on. Both women will make different choices as to how they will live their life. Lizzie will find that she has grown and changed, unlike the family that she had left behind. Mattie will use her education and life experience to make a new life for herself.The Beracha home existed for thirty years. The home held yearly reunions for the women who had once lived there. Lizzie would attend as she had stayed there for many years. However, Mattie never did.

Ask Again, Yes Mary Beth Keane 3.5

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

 

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

 

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

The Great Alone Kristin Hannah 3

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

My Dear Hamilton A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie 3.5

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

 

General Washington  was host to many British Generals, Majors, soldiers, and politicians. Betsy knew them all. As the men came in and out of the house, they noticed Betsy and she became friends with a few. In 1780, Betsy went to stay with her aunt in Morristown, New Jersey. Nearby was General Washington’s camp. Betsy attended a dance and it was there that she met Alexander Hamilton, and aide-de-camp to the General. They became engaged in April 1870 and married in December 1870 at the Schuyler mansion. Betsy left home to travel with her husband from camp to camp. She assisted him with his writings and tended to injured soldiers. She became a close friend to the General’s wife, Martha Washington.As time goes on, the roles that Eliza and Alexander play to the founding of this country is vital. Washington, Adams, Monroe, Madison, and Jefferson, their actions politically and through their friendships created the basis of what started this country and the two party system. “He’d fought and won a war and built a federal government. He created a coast guard, a national bank, and invented a scheme of taxation that held the states together. He founded a political party, smashed a rebellion, and put in motion a financial system that was providing prosperity for nearly everyone.” Unfortunately, some of the very people he helped would also be the ones to betray him. Eliza and Alexander were parents to eight children. As Alexander was often away, the running of the household and the children were Eliza’s responsibility with the help of their slave, Jenny. Slavery was another issue brought up in this book. It became public knowledge that Alexander had had an affair. There were also accusations that Alexander had taken money from the treasury, which was false. Eliza and Alexander loss their oldest son, Philip, to a duel. Three years later Alexander would suffer the same fate. After his death, Eliza learned of Alexander’s debt. Many of their belongings, including their home were to be sold.Eliza lived another fifty years after Alexander’s death. Eliza had the gift for charity. She founded a society to care for widows, an orphanage to shelter children, and a school to provide guidance and learning. She was intimately acquainted with the management of all her endeavors. At the same time, she had to endure the bad press and false allegations from the very people she had once had in her home. It took her several years of inquiries and meetings with these very people, Presidents, during their terms, requesting Alexander’s pension from the time he was in the military service. Eliza left no correspondence behind. However, Hamilton made copies of every letter he sent. There was a vast amount of information in the archives as well as from others during that time. There were also many other story lines that were part of this story but too numerous to include. Such as, her relationships with her sisters, brothers, parents, friends, her own children, betrayals, even the origination of the word gerrymandering. Politics and elections from the very beginning are still the same as they were then.

 

History really does repeat itself.

The Boys in the Boat

Nine Americans and Their Epic

Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics  

Daniel James Brown  4

Daniel James Brown learned that his neighbor’s daughter had just finished reading one of Daniel’s books to her father, Joe Rantz. Daniel knew that Joe had been of the nine rowers that won the Olympic gold medal in Crew in the year 1936. As Daniel crossed over the cedar fence that surrounded Joe’s property, he knew that Joe had hand-split the cedar logs into fencing and posts and that he had dragged them down the mountain himself. There was 2,224 linear feet of pasture fence. This shows just the work ethic Joe had made for himself beginning as a young boy trying to survive on his own, through college, crew, and throughout the rest if his life. Joe was now dying from congestive heart failure and his daughter, Judy, was staying with him. As Joe and Daniel began to talk, the conversation went to his rowing days and his life. Daniel asked his permission to write a book of his life and experience at the University of Washington, which led him to the Olympics. Joe agreed to write the book, as long as Daniel made the book about the boat. Not exactly the boat he rode at the Olympics or at U.W. but, the boat as an entity of friendship, work, and a shared experience.

When Joe was three years old, his mother died of throat cancer at the same time that Joe’s brother Fred was in college. Harry found it difficult to raise Joe by himself. Harry, overcome with grief, sent Joe to live with his aunt while he headed to Canada. Fred became a principal and moved to Idaho with his wife, Thelma, and he sent for Joe to come live with them. Thelma’s twin sister, Thula, met Harry and although she was much younger than he, they married. Harry sent for Joe to come back to live them. Life was difficult with Harry. He was always moving around from one job to another, one town to the other. After Thula and Harry started having children of their own, Thula wanted Harry to send Joe away. She thought it was too much work to care for him and the other children. On his own again, Joe became quite self-sufficient making a home for himself in the town of Sequim, going to school where he meets the love of his life, Joyce, and finding many ways to make money to support himself.  Joe applied and was accepted to the University of Washington. The UW known for its crew team, many freshmen, including Joe, tried out for the team. The men would meet in the shell house, a type of hangar, where the boat/shell builder, renowned George Yeoman Pocock, had his workroom. The head coach of the team, Al Ulbrikson, was an alumnus of UW and rowed crew for them. The freshmen soon found out that rowing crew was very hard physically. In a manner of days/weeks, more freshmen dropped out. The freshmen coach, Tom Bolles, was responsible for training and selecting the men who would now be on the actual crew team. Joe was one of those chosen. As training continued in all elements of weather, the coaches would decide who would ride on what team and which seat position fit the person.

Now that the teams were established, competitive races began between school on the west coast and then traveling to compete with the elite schools in the east. The main goal of all the teams were to be the team that would go to Germany in 1936 for the Olympics. During this same time, the country was in the middle of the Great Depression and the weather was causing windstorms, dust storms, and drought.  Joe spent his summers working hard to make money for the following years. One summer he and other teammates found themselves working together building a dam. Like Joe, some of the students came from families of loggers and farmers, paying their own way in order to have an education.

Germany was now under Hitler’s rule. Hitler wanted to show the world the Germany was a wonderful country and not what was reported. Before the other countries arrived, the area was sanitized to represent this.

Throughout the book, the author describes in detail the art of rowing, the competitive races (won and lost), and his relationship with his father. His research from written material and interviews with Joe along with other teammate’s families is the heart and soul of the book. Not only was the team successful at crew, but they became very successful in their chosen fields.

The sport of rowing, known as crew, dates back to Ancient Egyptian times. In the early 1800’s, in England, rowing became a popular sport and many rowing clubs were formed, including the universities.  Germany joined in shortly after. Rowing is a very physical and mental sport. It takes an enormous amount of strength and energy to burst in just a very short time. Physiologists have calculated that rowing a two hundred meter race, the Olympic standard, takes the same physical toll as playing two basketball games, back to back, in only about six minutes.

Empire of the Summer Moon

Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

S.C. Gwynne

3.2

 

The book has two storylines. One is that of the Comanches. It traces their journey from centuries ago. Feared by other tribes, they would raid and pillage any tribe they came across. They would rape, scalp, torture, and burn entire villages. Spain came to this continent settling in the area of Mexico. They brought the first horses over with them. When the Comanches first approached these new wild horses, the horses became calm. The Comanches were the only tribe to have the ability to fight while riding on the horse, not on foot as was the custom. The Comanches were able to stop Spain from entering into the northern land.  White settlers from the East came to settle this new frontier, unaware of the dangers they were about to face.

 

The second storyline is that of the Parker family. John Parker had been a soldier for the United States Army and had experience with other Indian tribes.  He was sent to Texas to build a settlement fortified against Comanche raids. The raids were making it impossible for other settlers to make a home for themselves. The government was hoping that Parker would be able to make a treaty with all the tribes. The Parker family had built a fort, Fort Parker, for themselves and extended family. One day, the Comanches raided the fort, catching the compound off guard. They kidnapped nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker, Cynthia’s brother, along with Rachel Parker, a baby, and her mother. A couple of the captives were brutally killed. Rachel, after fifteen months of captivity, was sold to a Mexican trader, who then sold her back to her family. She wrote a memoir once she returned. Cynthia remained with the tribe. She was adopted into the tribe by a Tenowish couple. They raised her as their own daughter and Cynthia became part of the tribe. She learned their language, and their way of life. She married Peta Nacona, a chieftan. They had three children together. Quanah was the oldest son.

 

Empire of the Summer Moon is an extensive history of the Comanche tribe. It details many of the battles won and lost with the army soldiers and the newly formed Texan Rangers.  The introduction of the Colt and Walker Colt pistols changed the way the army and Rangers were able to fight the Comanches. Samuel Colt was just sixteen when he designed the five-chamber pistol, made out of wood, and obtained a patent. In 1838, he began manufacturing the pistol. In 1847, with the help of Samuel Walker, he redesigned the colt to contain six chambers. In 1847, he convinced Eli Whitney to make the pistols. The book details the treaties that the government made, and broke, with other tribes. The Great Plains buffalo are also a main “character” in the book. As history has taught us over the years, the Native American Indians were forced to live on reservations, and their way of life was taken from them. Even the great Quanah Parker, had to succumb to the white man ways.

The Chaperone

Laura Moriarty

3

 

Myra Brooks was looking for someone to chaperone her daughter, Louise, to New York City. At fifteen, Louise had been accepted to the prestigious Denishawn Dance School for five weeks in the summer. Louise was hoping to join the troupe. When Cora’s friend told her about this need, Cora decided she wanted to go. Her twin sons were in college and away for the summer. It would give her an opportunity to see New York City, but also to go back where her life started, The New York Home for Childless Girls.

Cora’s first memories were of being a young girl in the NYHFCG. Nuns ran the home. One day, the nuns chose Cora and five other orphans to be bathed, dressed them in clean clothes, and taken to the train station. They did not know why. Sister Delores told them they were very lucky children. The Children’s Aid Society had funded the train to take these orphans across the country to find permanent homes. Whenever the train stopped in a major city, the orphans would leave the train and line up at a certain venue where hopeful couples were waiting to adopt them. When Cora went back on the train, she noticed that a couple of them did not return. At a stop in Kansas City, she met the Kaufmann's. Mr. Kaufmann had older children from his first wife. Mrs. Kaufmann did not have any children. They lived on a farm in Kansas and Mrs. Kaufmann told Cora that they had a room ready for her. Years later, the Kaufmann's died in a farm accident. Cora had to leave the farm since there was no one to care for her. She went to live with the next-door neighbor. The Kaufmann adult children did not want to share any of the estate’s money. Since the Kaufmann’s never finished with the adoption papers, Cora had no legal claim to the estate. The neighbor had a friend who knew of a lawyer out of Wichita, Andy Carlisle. Mr. Carlisle visited with Cora and eventually did recover some money for her. A friendship began between the two. Although Andy was older than Cora was, he courted her and they married.

Cora and Louse traveled by train to New York City. Louise may only be fifteen, but she dressed and behaved as if she was older. She flirted with men and used her looks to attract and get what she wanted. She also wanted to have fun. While Louise was in dance class during the day, Cora set out to find the home where she came from. She wanted to talk to the nuns about seeing her file. The nuns refused her requests twice. There was a handyman at the home, a German named Joseph. His wife had died and Joseph and his daughter, Greta, stayed at the home. While the nuns were in church, he slipped Cora into the file room where she discovered her papers. In the file was a letter from a woman who wanted to know if Cora had found a good home. There was a name and address of the woman, Mary O’Dell.

Louise was accepted into the Denishawn Dance troop and was to perform with them the next day in Pennsylvania. Cora and Louise went across the street to a diner they frequented often. Louise had been flirting with the college student, Floyd, who had been serving them. That night, Louise snuck out with Floyd to go to a party. The next morning, with Cora’s insistence and help, Louise managed to get up and travel to Pennsylvania for the performance. Once back in New York, Louise informed Cora that she was accepted into the dance company. As of the following day, she would be staying with the instructor and Cora could now go home in two days. The next day Joseph arrived at Cora’s door with Greta. He had lost his job and home with Greta after the nuns saw Cora there the night before. Cora told him that they could go back to Wichita with her where he would find plenty of work.

This is Cora’s story. Her life from the beginning to the end. Her life consisted of loss, lies, and secrets. It began at the Florence Night Mission, (Cora found this out while she was in New York), the Kaufmann’s farm, her marriage, and once she arrived back home in Wichita.
Louise Brooks is a real person. She did dance with the Denishawn Dance School and moved on to the Ziegfeld Follies, silent movies, and talkies. As a child, a Sunday school teacher molested her. When she told her mother, she pushed it aside. I do believe this trauma was what set Louise on the path of self-destruction

The Water Dancer

Ta-Nehisi Coates

3.8

 

Hiram Walker was born a slave on the Lockless Plantation. His mother was a slave and his father, Howell Walker, was the owner of the plantation. When Hiram was five, he awoke to a commotion and his mother was gone. Hiram found out later that she had been sold.  Hiram was now alone. Hiram went down the street to live with another slave, Thena. Thena had once had a family and husband of her own, but they too, were sold years before. Thena let Hiram stay with her. One day when Howell was out on his horse, he spotted Hiram and threw him a coin. He later called to have someone bring Hiram to the house. He enjoyed having Hiram around and had Hiram move up to the house along with Thena. They two lived in an area called the Warrens which was under the main house and gained access through the tunnels.

 

When Hiram was older, he would help and accompany his half-brother Maynard. Maynard was the only child of Howell and his deceased wife. Maynard was reckless and spoiled. Howell relied on Hiram to keep an eye on him. Maynard was engaged to Corrine Hawkins. Corrine owned a nearby plantation. The marriage would be beneficial to the Walkers as it would now be a part of the Walker plantation. Hiram had to drive Maynard into town one day. As they were heading back to the plantation, Hiram felt the pull of the river beside them. The next thing he knew, they were in the water. Maynard could not swim and Hiram could not reach him. Hiram grabbed for something to keep him from drowning. The next thing he knew, he was at the edge of the plantation. He had no memory of how he got there.

 

The river was a special place for Hiram. It was there that he would recall a vision of his mother on the bridge dancing with a jug on her head. She emitted a blue glow. Hiram’s mother and his aunt use to dance with jugs balanced on their heads, being careful not to spill any water. They were known as water dancers. Hiram had perfect memory recall, yet the one thing he could not remember was his mother, what she looked like, and her name. This lack of her memory would prove vital much later. He also learned, with guidance from Harriet Tubman, that this pull to water, conduction, allowed him to transport himself and others, from one place to another. Once he arrived, he would have no memory of how he got there, but he would be exhausted and need sleep for a few days before he recovered.

 

Hiram knew it was only a matter of time before he would run away to be free. Hiram wanted to escape and take Sophia, another slave, with him. When Hiram went into town with Maynard, that day, he had visited Georgia Parks, a free slave. Georgie told Hiram that he would help him escape through the Underground Railroad. One night, the two left the plantation only to be captured by Roland and his hounds. The owners of the plantations paid Roland to bring back runaway slaves. When the two were back at the jail, Ryland put them in an outside pen. Sophia was gone first. Hiram had no idea where she went. A few days later, Hiram was sold. His head covered, he was placed in a cart with other slaves.

 

That began Hiram’s odyssey through the Underground Railroad, the part he played for others to be free, and his eventual return to the plantation.

Carnegie’s Maid

Marie Benedict

2.75

 

Clara Kelley has just arrived in Philadelphia departing from the ship ‘Envoy’. She has come to America from Galway, Ireland. Clara is the middle daughter in her family, sent here to gain employment so that she could send money home to help them keep their farm tenancy intact. There is opportunity in America and her family has cousins in Pittsburgh. Pittsburg is an industrial city and she is hoping to find work there. As she disembarks the ship into the crowd, she hears a man calling out "Clara Kelley" from and from "Galway". She approaches him and he asks her if she is indeed Clara Kelly from on board the Envoy. She replies with a “yes sir”. He boards her onto his carriage and is told that he will be taking her to Pittsburgh. She realizes that there must have been another Clara Kelly from Galway and that Clara had died on board the ship. Many passengers did die on the ship from cholera and typhoid. Once in the carriage, she learns from the other two girls seated, that the three of them had been on the boat together, passage paid for by Mrs. Seeley. Mrs. Seeley owns a servants’ registry in town and for a fee, checks references and qualifications to place the servants in the right homes and positions. She recoups her fees from these girls’ wages. Clara learns that she is to be the new lady’s maid for Mrs. Carnegie. She has no idea what a lady’s maid is and what is expected from her.

 

After a brief introduction to Mrs. Carnegie, Mrs. Carnegie leaves her with Mr. Holyrod, the butler, who gives Clara her instructions for the night. Since Clara is unsure what to do, she asks Mr. Holyrod, claiming that every mistress wants things done differently. Clara learns quickly what she needs to do. On a day when Mrs. Carnegie is resting before dinner, Clara goes into the library. It is there that she meets Mr. Andrew Carnegie. Startled by his arrival, he puts her at ease by reading her a poem titled “Is There for Honest Poverty”. Clara herself loves poetry and as Andrew reads the poem, she recognizes as one that her father and his political mates sing at their meetings. This poem brings tears to her eyes and Andrew sees them. He tells her she is welcome to come read in the library anytime. This becomes the first of many meetings the two of them will have in the library. Their conversations give Clara insight to Andrew, his family’s immigrating from Scotland, and how he came from poverty to a successful businessman. He tells Clara of his business deals and Clara gives him her thoughts on the matter. She also tells him of her overheard conversations between Mrs. Carnegie and her friends. These become invaluable to Andrew.

 

When Clara goes to visit her cousins near the factories, she witnesses the dirt, waste and soot in the streets and in the air. The workers are living in poverty, crammed into rooms with barely enough to eat. With each visit, she takes what food she can. Experiencing the abundance of the rich compared to what her life would have been had she not been the other Clara Kelley, she is determined to make her life better for her family and those around her. Through her continued conversations and growing relationship with Andrew, she is able to do just that.

 

This is a work of fiction.

The Given Day Dennis Lehane 3.75

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


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


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


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


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

Girl in Reverse Barbara Stuber

3.2

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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


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

Educated A Memoir Tara Westover

3.8

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

An American Marriage Tayari Jones

3

 

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

 

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

 

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

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

Karen Abbott

4

 

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



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



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



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



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



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

Lilac Girls

 

Martha Hall Kelly

3.6

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

The Last Castle

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

Denise  Kiernan

2.9

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Unsheltered Barbara Kingsolver

3.6

 

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



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



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

The Library Book Susan Orlean

4

 

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

 

There are numerous facts of interest. Such as: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is so much more information in the book. 

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

Before We Were Yours Lisa Wingate

3.25

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Meet Me at the Museum

Anne Youngson

3.25

 

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

 

The Summer Before the War

Helen Simonson

3

In the summer of 1914, in the small town of Rye, England, Beatrice Nash arrives to start teaching Latin in the Fall. A woman has never taught Latin before, but she is sponsored by a woman of good standing, Agatha Kent. Agatha is married to John who works in the Foreign office in London. Agatha has two grown nephews, Hugh and Daniel, who have grown up spending their vacations and holidays with Agatha. They are very different but are more like brothers. Daniel is a writer of poetry. Hugh is studying and training to be a surgical doctor. Beatrice arrives at the station and is picked up by Hugh. She is taken to Agatha's for the night and a friendship begins among Beatrice, Daniel, and Hugh.

After the passing of Beatrice's father, Beatrice was left with no money of her own as it has been left in a trust for her Aunt to dole out to her as needed. Beatrice took the opportunity of teaching in Rye as a way out of her Aunt's care and to have her own independence. She also writes and wants time to write a book featuring a collection of her father's letters and their adventures. Not only does the time period dislike women in teaching roles such as Latin, women aren't realized as valid writers either. Beatrice sees an opportunity of perhaps publishing her book when she meets famed poet and author Mr. Tillingham.

During the summer, Beatrice tutors three boys in Latin before the school year begins. One boy, Snout, a gypsy boy, has taken a keen interest in Latin and its novels. Beatrice will also attend picnics and parties where she will meet other important members of the school board and residents of Rye. As the summer winds down and school begins, it becomes more evident that England with be joining the war. Many men, including Hugh, Daniel, and Snout, will join the fight.

There are many other story lines and characters in the novel. The story concludes with a battle in France, where most of the characters that went to war are all together. After the battle, those that are able, return home.

Beautiful Ruins

Jess Walter

3.5

 

It is April, 1962, and Pasquale Tursi is out in the water of the Ligurian Sea on the Italian Coastline. The sea and beach fronts his small inn which he inherited from his father. His mother and aunt still reside there. As a boat approaches the inn, Pasquale sees a vision of beauty on the boat. A young, blonde, slight of build, American actress is coming to stay at his inn. Her name is Dee Moray. He finds out that she is sick and dying. She had been in Rome filming Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton when she became ill. The film producer, Michael Deane, sends Dee to this small and remote hotel for privacy. The films doctor has told her she has cancer. During her stay there, Pasquale and Dee become friends. They take walks around the village and discover up on a hill, a small cave used during the war as a look out post for soldiers. The view is beautiful and the inside walls have various pictures painted by one of the soldiers.

During a bout of sickness, Pasquale calls a local doctor to examine Dee Moray. When he tells Pasquale the true diagnosis of her illness, Pasquale goes to Rome to tell Micheal Deane about this. A few things happen between then and later, but Pasquale is given Micheal's card and told if he ever needs anything, to contact Micheal.

Jump ahead to 2008. Micheal Deane's assistant, Claire Silver, is reading scripts and hearing pitches for possible new shows for Micheal to produce. People will randomly come in with a card that Micheal had handed them, hoping this will open the door for an opportunity. One day, a very elderly Pasquale walks in the door with his card. He has come from Italy. He wants to see Michael. He wants to find Dee Moray.

The rest of the book is filled with characters and happenings that take place in 1962 Italy. It then jumps to 2008 America where we now catch up on Dee and her life. A character from the past had gone to America and been a part of her life there until his pasting.

The book concludes with the author neatly wrapping up every story line.

Being Mortal
Medicine and What Matters in the End
Atul Gawande
 

3.75

 

This book addresses the issues we must all face at the end of one's life, Whether it is from an illness or old age, the body declines and adjustments to oneself, way of life, home care, and family dependency become apparent.

Years ago, people didn't generally live to be over age forty-five. People died from disease, accidents, and natural causes. The discovery of medicines and knowledge in the health industry, people started to live longer.

There are different options the elderly now have. Many remain healthy and are able to live independently on their own. It is not until an illness, dementia/alzheimers, or falls start, that it is no longer safe for a person to stay home on their own. Sometimes family members will take in a parent or loved one, but for some, that is not an option. For those who need some assistance, self assisted living apartments are available. For others, the only options for the care they need is a nursing home.

Dr. Gawande writes of the many interviews he conducted with elderly patients and the various nursing homes and self assisted living complexes that have sprung up across the country. He writes of the importance of keeping a person physically and mentally alert through various stimuli. The elderly need a reason to get up in the morning and to feel like they have a purpose in life.

Then there are those who are able to stay in their home. They will remain and eventually die at home with the help of family and hospice to provide "comfort care".
 
It is not only the elderly who must face the end of life decisions, it is the terminally ill. Dr. Gawande interviewed patients who were facing cancer and the treatments they had to have in order to survive. There comes a time though when a treatment no longer works, and the hard decision is when to stop treatment. It becomes a matter of quality or quantity of time.

Dr. Gawande discusses the difference between doctors. One doctor may be all facts, cut to the chase, this is what it is, and this is what must be done. Some people may like that. But, for the most part, patients want to know their options. They want to be apart of making the decisions. The ideal doctor, and isn't that what we all want, will explain everything and ask us about ourselves. What do we want? How much pain and suffering can we go through before we say, "Enough"?

This book opens the door for conversations with your spouse or elderly parents as unfortunately, that time will someday come.
The Dressmaker's War
Mary Chamberlain

3.2

 

Ada Vaughan is eighteen years old and lives in London. She is an extremely talented seamstress and designer who hopes to open her own fashion house someday. She is hired to be a mannequin in an upscale fashion house working for Mrs. B. One night as she steps out into the rain, a handsome gentleman appears with an umbrella. He offers to accompany her home, but as she is embarrassed for him to see where she lives, she declines. He offers to take her to Tea at the Ritz. That is the beginning of their relationship.

His name is Stanislaus von Lieben. He is from Hungary and he tells her he is a Count. He sweeps her off her feet, taking her to nice restaurants and nightclubs. She sews her own dresses and appears very glamorous. This is all very new to naive Ada. He promises her a trip to Paris and to help support her in having her own fashion house. As the war is about to break out, he asks her to go to Paris. Although everyone warns her that the war is coming, she ignores them and travels to Paris with Stanislaus. He does not have his passport on him. She is his means to get into the other country.

Upon arrival in France, the war breaks out. Ada is trapped there totally dependent on Stanislaus. She soon finds out he isn't who he said he is.
They need to escape France and head to Belgium. Once there, there is a turn of events which leaves Ada alone and broke. She finds herself at a convent which soon becomes occupied by the Nazi's. She is now a prisoner of war. Because of her ability to sew, she is transferred to Berlin where she is held prisoner for seven years.

After the end of the war, she is able to return to London. She tries to get back on her feet, but her hope to open her own fashion house, the desire to be fashionable and wanted, leads Ada down the same path that she was on when she eighteen.

Some lessons are never learned.

The Nightingale
Kristin Hannah

4+

 


It is April 9, 1995 on the Oregon Coast. The narrator of the story is an elderly woman who is packing up her home to move to a retirement center. She is going through her belongings when her son sees a name on a piece of paper and asks, "Who is Juliette Gervaise?". The memories unfold.

Vianne was fourteen and Isabelle four, when their Maman died. Two weeks later, their Papa dropped them off at the summer house in Carriveau, unable to deal with his grief along with the fact that he was never the same after he came home from the war. He limped, drank, argued with his wife, and became distant. He was void of having any feelings for his daughters. He left them with a stranger to care for him. Vianne was dealing with her own grief and Isabelle was inconsolable. Vianne met a young neighbor boy, Antoine, and became pregnant when she was just sixteen. Isabelle was shipped to numerous schools, always running away from each one, only to be rejected by her Papa once more, to be sent to another.

It is now August 1939 in France. Vianne and Antoine have a daughter Sophie who is ten. Antoine is mobilized, along with most of the men in town, and now is a soldier for the French. They hear of a war coming but do not believe it will infiltrate France. Sadly, soon it does.

Isabelle returns to stay with Vianne as her Papa rejects her once again. Isabelle is strong minded and wants to fight against the war in someway. The Germans soon take over France. When a German soldier, Beck, billets their home, Isabelle is very angry and Vianne worries that Isabelle will put her family at risk. Soon, Isabelle finds some local resisters and she begins to deliver pamphlets in the middle of the night to local citizens. It is a very dangerous job but Isabelle is determined to do something. Isabelle leaves to go to Paris to help more with the resistance. This relieves the tension in the house.

Vianne has her own heartache to go through. She stands in long lines hoping to use her ration cards to find some sort of food for Sophie and herself. Her best friend Rachel, who is Jewish, is sent away leaving her son with Vianne to care for.

As the story goes on, we read of the bombings throughout France and Germany. The rounding up of all the Jewish families and their treks to various camps.
Isabelle becomes a hero, saving 117 airmen form various countries, by crossing them over the Pyrenees into Spain. Vianne becomes a hero as well saving nineteen Jewish children from going to the camps. There are many other characters in this story. With the men off to fight the war, the women are left to take care of the home, find food for the family, work at jobs, and when the men do come home, go back to their previous life as if nothing had happened or their own sacrifices acknowledged.

Kristin Hannah, while researching for another book she was writing, came across the story of Andree de Jongh, A Belgium woman who saved 118 airmen during the war. She based this novel on that premise. It is a very well written book.

Tarzan of the Apes
Edgar Rice Burroughs

3

 

Lord Clayton Greystoke was commissioned to set sail for the British West African Colony to investigate the fighting and slavery that was happening in the colony. He took with him him his new bride, Lady Alice Greystoke. There was a mutiny on the ship and the couple were left to fend for themselves on a beach. They only had a few supplies that were left for them. In order to survive, Clayton had to provide shelter for himself and Alice against not only the elements of the weather, but the beasts of the jungle. He built a strong cabin with a door that locked. Within the first year, Alice gave birth to a son.There was a strong ape tribe living in the area and it wasn't long before the apes descended on the cabin. As Clayton was being attacked by a giant ape, Alice shot the beast. The ape came after her but died by he time he got there. Alice was never the same after that, and soon died. Shortly thereafter, the ape came back for Clayton, leaving the baby alone without parents.

At the same time, Kerchak, the head of the ape tribe, was on a rage. He spotted Kala, carrying her babe, and went after her. As she swung through the trees to get away from him, the babe slipped from her arms and died. She continued to carry the dead babe and joined the tribe on its way to the cabin. She heard a baby crying and when she went into the cabin, she picked up the crying baby from the crib and placed her dead baby ape in the crib. She held the baby close and as nature takes over, the baby began to nurse from Kala. This baby was to be Tarzan of the Apes, and Kala was his mother. He learned everything from her; hunting, swinging, communicating, and living the life as an ape. He knew no difference.

As Tarzan grew up, he became a fierce fighter among the other apes when he or others were threatened. He learned how to kill other beasts that were after the apes.

Years later, another ship showed up on the beach and again, left the party aboard to fend for themselves. They found the cabin on the beach that Tarzan's father had built. In the cabin, remained the skeletons of Alice, Clayton, and the baby ape.  Tarzan had been going back to the cabin throughout the years and inside found books with pictures and letters. From these, he learned how to read, but he did not know how to communicate verbally other than in ape gestures and sounds.
Tarzan kept an eye on the new white, hairless people. He was very curious about the white woman, Jane. Jane was accompanied by her father, a professor, looking for a lost treasure chest. He was also accompanied by a companion and a young man, Clayton Greystoke, Tarzan's cousin. As the party ventured into the jungle, Tarzan needed to rescue them may times from danger.

As everyone knows by now, Tarzan is in love with Jane, learns to communicate, and becomes domesticated, so to speak. Burroughs wrote twenty-three Tarzan books and this is the first one. It is a classic and has been made into many alternative books, comics, movies, and cartoons.

The Good Lieutenant
Whitney Terrell

2.75

 

The book begins with Lieutenant Emma Fowler leading her platoon into a field to search and recover the body of a fellow soldier, Carl Beale. They were in the Iraqi back country, west of Baghdad. Beside her was a fellow soldier, and who at one time she had had a romantic relationship, Lieutenant Pulowski. As they drove through the field, an IUD exploded, knocking the Humvee over. Pulowski was injured as were others. Fowler caught site of a young Iraqi waving a gun so she shot him.

 
From there, the story reverses itself in time until you get to the end to learn how their relationship began back in Fort Riley, Kansas. And, how they found their way to that field of explosion.
 

Whitney Terrell went to Iraq many times as a reporter. Therefore, in this book, he was able to draw on his experiences. This book needs to be read twice since the book is written backwards, it was confusing to many in our club. But, it is worth the second read. He did an excellent job describing the war and the behind the scenes crap that happens in a platoon with a female in a lead position of men. This book was listed as a must read in many newspapers and literary posts.

Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King
Audrey Truschke

3.85

 

Audrey is the daughter of one of our book club members. This is her 2 nd
published book. She studied Sanskrit and Persian and majored in Religious
Studies at the University of Chicago, before earning a PhD at the Department of
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. Her
research focuses on early modern India, especially the Mughal period and cross-
cultural interactions therein. She is an Assistant Professor of South Asian History
at Rutger’s University.
Summary of the book in Audrey’s words:
“In 1700, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb was arguably the richest, most
powerful man in the world. He ruled for nearly 50 years, from 1658 until 1707,
over a vast empire in South Asia that boasted a population exceeding the entirety
of contemporary Europe. Today, he has been forgotten in the West.
In modern-day India, however, Aurangzeb is alive in public debates, national
politics, and people’s imaginations. From Mumbai to Delhi to Hyderabad, Indians
debate his legacy and, overwhelmingly, condemn him as the cruelest king in Indian
history. The list of charges against Aurangzeb is severe and, if they were all true,
shocking. Aurangzeb, a Muslim, is widely thought to have destroyed thousands of
Hindu temples, forced millions of Indians to convert to Islam, and enacted a
genocide of Hindus. As I am reminded daily on Twitter, many Indians sincerely
believe that Aurangzeb was Hitler and ISIS rolled into one with a single objective:
to eradicate Hindus and Hinduism.
Aurangzeb is controversial not so much because of India’s past but rather
because of India’s present. Twenty-first- century India is plagued by religious-
based conflict, especially between Hindus and Muslims, India’s religious majority
and its largest religious minority, respectively. As the minority, Indian Muslim
communities are in the weaker position. They are often demonized as anti-national,
less Indian than Hindus, and tend to bear the brunt of religious-based clashes in
terms of the loss of human life and livelihood. “ (end of quote)
We found Audrey’s book very “readable” and we learned a lot about a
time/place that few of us had previously known, i.e. Indian culture and history.
We felt Audrey made a good case for a reconsideration of Aurangzeb’s legacy as a
man of his times and one who should not be judged by the standards of our own.

Because of India’s current political climate, Audrey’s book has generated much
discussion and passion there; her book is a bestseller on AmazonIndia! She has
become somewhat of a hate figure for India’s Hindutva wing on social media and
Twitter, where she patiently rebuts the trolls. If you Google her book, 3 pages of
reviews are listed, from the India Times to the Wall Street Journal.
To close in Audrey’s words: "The past is rarely, if ever, only about the past. But when we allow modern interests to constrain and dictate our view of the past, then we are engaging in mythology that, however powerful, is not history."

Pretend I'm Not Here
Barbara Feinman Todd

2.33

 

In 1982, Feinman went to work as a copy editor for the Washington Post. She became a research assistant for Bob Woodward and later become his personal researcher for his book. She later moved on to aid Carl Bernstein with his book. From there she was asked to assist the editor of the Washington Post, Ben Bradlee.
 
When First Lady Hillary Clinton needed an assistant to help her write the book, "It Takes a Village", Feinman was hired. She spent many days, even overnights, at the White House. She sat in on important meetings. In her contract, it was written the Feinman would be acknowledged in the credits. When the book was published, there was no mention of Feinman anywhere in the book. This fact was widely publicized. Clinton had to prove that she wrote the book herself with little help from Feinman. It would take Feinman twenty years to finally read Clinton's book, (really?), to compare her manuscript to what was written in Clinton's book. Seventy-five percent of the book was in Feinman's manuscript. While Feinman was working on the Clinton book, Ben Bradlee was working on his own book. While conversing with Feinman, he used his interview skills to get Feinman to divulge personal matters about Clinton. Bradlee included this information in his book. Feinman was shocked that he would do this and although he implied that the information came from other sources, everyone knew that it was Feinman who told him.
 

The book was informative as to what a ghost writer does and what type of recognition one gets. It was interesting reading about the politics of D.C., going back to John F. Kennedy and his affair with a mistress of a mafia boss while he was in the White House.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid 
A Memoir
Bill Bryson

3.5

 

 

Bill Bryson is a master storyteller. He grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. He was born in 1951. It was a time when manufacturing was booming. The automobile industry, appliances, the invention of the tv dinners along with the tv tray tables, all of these things that made life easier and better for the all American family. After the war when men returned home to their jobs, many women wanted to stay in the workplace. Now that there were two income families, more money was being made which meant more money was being spent. This was great for the economy.

 
Bill Bryson's parents worked. His father was a sports writer for the local paper and his mother was the editor of the home furnishing section of the same paper. Bill would travel with his dad out of town to attend baseball games that his father would be reporting. His mother, according to Bill's memories, was not a very good cook and was very forgetful, as was Bill. Bill had a variety of friends, all very different. He writes about his experiences with all of them, sometimes getting into trouble.
 
Woven into his memories, he writes of the climate of our country. It was a time of the threat of nuclear war. In school, there were fire drills and there were also drills in case of war. An alarm would go off and children would have to duck under their desks. Of course, Bill didn't do this. He figured if everyone else was under their desk, he didn't need to and no one would notice. That is, until he got caught and was sent to the office. Nuclear tests were going on all over the world. The fallout of radiation was never considered. One test caused death within hours on a small island. When they moved the testing to Nevada, people would go to watch the explosions until it was found they had radiation in their bodies. After that, people were no longer allowed to observe. DDT was considered safe and so was smoking. It was the time of the McCarthy hearings which was a witch hunt against communists. Whether a person was one or not, proof did not matter and many people had their careers ruined.
 

Bill Bryson's memories and observations growing up in the Midwest, during the fifties, gives us a look back in time in an informative and delightful view.

Last Days of Night
Graham Moore

3.6

 

The year is 1888. Paul Cravath has just passed the bar and is a graduate of Columbia Law School. He is hired by the law firm of Carter and Hughes. Carter is the senior lawyer and Hughes is Carter's son-in-law. George Westinghouse has hired the firm to represent him in several lawsuits filed by Thomas Edison. The main suit is whether or not Edison did indeed invent the light bulb and does that include every type of light bulb after that. Cravath is sent to meet Westinghouse in Pennsylvania at Westinghouse's home. After the meeting, Westinghouse hires Cravath to be his lawyer. Having never tried a case before, Cravath sets out to prove that there are different types of light bulbs and that Edison's patent, was not the light bulb that he first described to the world.

 
Nikola Tesla, a Serbian immigrant, is a brilliant scientist and inventor. He sees visions of what he wants to invent. He worked for Edison until a big row sent him fleeing. Cravath was informed by Fessenden, a former Edison employee now working for Westinghouse. He tells Cravath that if he wants some dirt on Edison, that Tesla might be the man. As it turns out, Tesla has quirks, which today would be diagnosed as autism, manic-bipolar, and/or schizophrenia. Tesla is working on his own invention to prove that AC/DC current is safer and travels farther than DC current which is what Edison is trying to prove.
 
During his long hardworking hours, a new client walks into Cravath's office. It is Agnes Huntington, a famous and beautiful opera singer. She wants Cravath to represent her in a contract dispute with an employer.
 
Tesla is working on his own project in a private lab when Cravath finds him. As Tesla is showing him his new invention, the building is set on fire and the roof collapses on Tesla and Cravath. Cravath is pulled to safety but Tesla's body is nowhere to be found. Cravath has injuries that puts him in the hospital for some time. Once recovered, he is determined to find out what happened to Tesla, continue the lawsuit for Westinghouse, and renew his acquaintance with Agnes.
 

What comes next and in between all of the above, brings all the people in the novel together in the end. The cast of characters also includes Alexandrian Graham Bell, J.P. Morgan, and  Charles Coffin. This book is historical fiction based on true events. In the back of the book, Moore lists the true facts and how he combined events, timeline, and changed facts, in order to write the novel. While reading, it's hard to discern which is true and what is not. It is very well written and there is much to learn about the Edison/Westinghouse feud.

     
     

Rules of Civility

Amor Towles

3.1

 

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

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

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

A Gentleman in Moscow

Amor Towles

4

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

This novel is a wonderful charming story.

Digging To America

Anne Tyler

2.83

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5

 

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

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

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

Enchanted Islands

Allison Amend 

2.6

 

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

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Sanders 

3.1

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead

3.5

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Sisters First

Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life

Jenna Bush Hager
and Barbara Pierce Bush

2.6

 

 

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

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

Miller's Valley
Anna Quindlen

3

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 God Help the Child Toni Morrison  2.33

When Sweetness,a light skinned African American woman gives birth to her daughter, Lulu Ann, she is shocked. Lula Ann is as black as ebony, almost a blue/black. Her husband was out of town working as a porter for the railroad and when he comes home, he does not want anything to do with Lula Ann. They fight and eventually split up. Sweetness does not let Lula Ann call her momma or mom. She has her call her Sweetness. She doesn't take her out in public because of what people will say. She decides that she has to treat Lula hard in order for Lula to survive in a prejudice society. Or, so she thinks. She never gives Lula Ann affection or love. It is only until Lula Ann testifies against a teacher for child molestation, that Sweetness tells her how proud she is of Lula and begins to show her affection.

Years later, Lula Ann changes her name to Bride, short for her last name of Bridewell. She starts working for a cosmetic company, moves up in the company to became a regional manager, and then again to become head of her own line of cosmetics. She meets a man named, Booker, who give her the love, affection, and attention she craves. When one day he tells her, "You not the woman I want", Bride falls apart. Her rejection begins once again.

She tries to reach out to the woman that she testified against, upon the woman's release from prison. She becomes so obsessed with the thought of Booker being gone, that she  decides to hunt down Booker to find out exactly why she isn't the woman he wants.She ignores her work, her friend Brooklyn, and all her responsibilities in order to track him down.

Of course, things happen along the way and she will find the truth.
This is a small book which may account for the underdeveloped characters. It was a disappointment from what we have read in the past from Ms. Morrison.
The Secrets of Mary Bowser Lois Leveen 3.5

The story opens with Mary and her mama walking across the yard to the kitchen playing the game, I Spy. How little Mary knew at the time how true that game would unfold in her future.

Mary and her mama were slaves in Richmond Virginia.They were owned by the Van Lew family. Her father was also a slave but he was owned by a blacksmith. They were able to be together as a family on the weekends. When the Van Lew's daughter, Bet, was given possession of the slaves, she set them free. Mama went to live with her husband. Bet made arrangements for Mary to go to Philadelphia for an education. Pennsylvania was a free state for slaves. While in Pennsylvania, Mary became involved in the abolition movement where she befriended a Quaker woman and others in support of the cause. Hattie was her best friend that she met in school. Hattie's father was the town's undertaker. Mary soon learned that he also was part of the underground railroad, transporting slaves via caskets. Once Hattie married, Mary moved into her father's house and began to help him with transports. Bet continued to stay in contact with Mary, offering her financial assistance. Bet was also very much involved in the abolition movement and was helping those in Richmond to become free.

Mary wanted to do more for the movement and she missed her family. She returned to Richmond, risking her freedom. She continued working for the underground railroad with her acquaintances from Pennsylvania, who often came to Richmond, along with Bet. By now the Civil war had started and Mary knew she had to not only help free the slaves secretly, but work for the freedom of all slaves. She went undercover as a slave for the family of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. As slaves were considered uneducated, illiterate, and unable to learn anything, no one would suspect Mary of anything. Mary also had a photographic memory so that when she went into President Davis's office, she could read his letters and maps. She would then report back to her sources to relay the information. Mary continued to spy, no matter what happened to those around her, until the war finally ended. Mary Bowser was instrumental in helping the North win the war against the South.

There are many other characters and incidents throughout the book.This novel is fiction yet based on the true fact that Mary Bowser was a spy. Little is known about her, but she is mentioned in key letters from Bet and Thomas McNiven. An explanation of historic notes can be found at the back of the book
The Painted Drum Louise Erdrich

3.5

Faye Travers lives with her mother, Elsie, in a small New Hampshire town. The two have an estate business. When a local client calls Faye to handle the estate of her Uncle, Faye finds that the deceased Uncle had acquired quite a large collection of Native American artifacts.When he was a younger man, he was an Indian agent who worked on the North Dakota Ojibwe Reservation. Elsie's mother, Faye's grandmother, came from that very tribe. Many children from reservations were sent east to be educated and Americanized. While in the attic, Faye discovers a painted drum. She had never seen anything like it before and was strangely drawn to it. She covered it up so that her client did not notice it. She would later return to steal the drum and to take it back to her house for safe keeping. She does know the traditions of an Indian drum and how to take care and respect it. After her mother finds out she has the drum, she decides to find out who the original and now rightful owner was so that it can be returned.

They return to the reservation and it is there that they meet Bernard Shaawano. They now learn that he is a relative and how the drum belongs to their family. He begins the story with how his grandmother, Anaquot, and her two daughters, left his grandfather and his father, to be with another man, Simon Jack Pillager, the baby's father. From there, the story unfolds with the history of the Pillagers, and the history of the Shaawano's.

The story jumps back to the present at times. Faye is involved with a sculptor, Kurt Krahe who suffered a loss. When Kurt decides to resurrect Faye's family's orchard, Faye's story of loss is revealed.

Grief, loss, and how people deal with tragedy is a reoccurring theme throughout the book.

Erdrich writes a three generational story of Native Americans, on and off of the Reservation. We learn of customs, clothing, nature, spirits, and mysticism. It is a story that by the end comes full circle and brings closure for the families, all because of a painted drum.

The Dead Beat Marilyn Johnson

2.7

 

Once a year, a small group of obituary writers, approximately 50 or so, get together for a weekend conference. Marilyn Johnson, an avid obituary reader and writer, attends the conference to interview the writers for this book. As it happens, that very weekend, Ronald Reagan passes away and she observes the frantic buzz as these writers rush to call their offices to get the story out. Magazines and newspapers around the world employ obituary writers. These writers keep research files on various famous people for that very day when they get the news that someone has died.

Other towns and cities will employ an obituary writer to interview the survivors of local deaths. Some write a straight forward obit while others may write a more humorous. Either way, an obituary is an opportunity to learn more about a person and the life they led.

The author traveled the globe to interview authors and to visit obit chat rooms,(who knew?), to enlighten us into the world of obituary writers. An interesting read.
The Rosie Project graeme simsion

4

 

Don Tillman, a Professor of Genetics, was asked by his friend Gene, also a Professor of Genetics and now the head of the Psychology Department, to give a lecture on Asperger's Syndrome. Gene was unable to give the lecture as he had made a date with a Chilean woman and didn't want to break it.  Gene was married to Claudia, a psychologist, but they had an open marriage. At least, Gene thought they did. It was Gene's goal to have sex with a woman from as many countries as he could. Don, who on meeting a person noted their BMI, was the perfect person to give the lecture. Although he did not diagnose himself as having Asperger's, he did meet the criteria.

When his dating women failed after the first date due to the woman not meeting his exact specifications, he decided to create a sixteen page, double sided questionnaire. This would eliminate quickly any woman he would not be compatible with. This would be known as The Wife Project.

In the meantime, Gene sent one of his student's, Rosie, to Don's office. Upon arrival, Don instantly assumed that Rosie was there on account of the questionnaire and made a date with her at a restaurant. She accepted, slightly confused. When they arrive at the restaurant, Don is not dressed appropriately for the restaurant and an incident ensues. When Rosie and Don leave the restaurant, they go to Don's for dinner. Through conversation, Don learns that Rosie's mom died when she was young and that Rosie doesn't know the real identity of her father. This is the beginning of the Rosie Project. They are going to find her father using DNA. Rosie knows that she was conceived the night of her mother's college graduation. It is just a matter of finding which man from the men her mother talked about from school,could be her father.  She doesn't believe her step-father, Phil, is the father because her mother and Phil did not think it was possible because of the color of their eyes and Rosie's.
 
Rosie is everything that Don is not looking for in a wife, they are total opposites. But throughout the night, Rosie has set Don off balance. Everything is off schedule. The next day he confronts Gene as to why he sent him Rosie. It is then that he finds out that Rosie was not part of the questionnaire. Gene asks him if he had fun anyway. It was something to think about.

Rosie and Don set off to find who Rosie's biological father is through various adventures and testing. Is it true that opposites do attract? We all loved this book. It's a romantic comedy and at the same time, a look into a person's world of being on the autism spectrum.
Orphan Train Christina Baker Kline

3.5

 

Between 1854 and 1929, orphan trains ran from the East Coast to the Midwest. Orphaned children from newly immigrants, to homeless children living on the streets, were taken in by the Children's Aid Society. They were then placed on trains to travel to different stops along a route where they would be adopted by families. If they were not adopted by a family at one stop, they would board back onto the rain and travel to the next city. Advertisements were placed before the train was to arrive so that families would be ready to adopt. The babies and toddlers were easily placed. The older children were placed in homes where the families either wanted a farm hand or a maid, babysitter, etc. In the latter homes, they were actually indentured servants. They were often not treated well. The family was to make sure the child was schooled, led a Christian life, and be housed and fed. This was not often the case.

In "The Orphan Train", Vivian Daly is now 91. She lives in Spruce Harbor, Maine, in the year 2011. Born Niamh, her name was later changed when she was adopted out. She came to the United States as a child from Ireland. Once in NYC, she lost her family due to a fire and was placed in the care of The Children's Society. She was placed on an orphan train and traveled west where she was placed in three different homes. The third home is where she actually found a home.

Molly Ayers is seventeen years old and is in foster care. At the age of eighteen, she will be out of the foster care program and left to her own accord. After numerous foster homes, she now lives with her foster parents, Larry and Dina. Larry was in the big brother program and he wants to help Molly. On the other hand, Dina is not happy with Molly in her home. When Molly is caught stealing a book from the library, she is sentenced to fifty hours of community service. Her boyfriend, Jack, suggest that she helps his mother's employer, Vivian, clean out her attic.

Molly and Vivian head to the attic to organize and clear the attic. But as Vivian opens each box and trunk, memories come flooding out and she shares her history with Molly. Molly eventually shares her history with Vivian, and the two realize that they have lived parallel lives in many ways.

The two heal each other and doors are open. Both will find closure,

We loved this book. The author did a wonderful job researching the topic. It was an enjoyable read and gave us a look into a part of history we did not know about. Well done

The Known World

Edward P. Jones

3

 

Henry Townsend was born a slave. At the time of his death, age thirty-one, he owned thirty-three slaves.

When Henry was a boy, his father, Augustus, was able to earn enough money on his own to buy his freedom. He later was able to buy his wife's freedom. Henry remained a slave under his master William Robbins. He made himself invaluable and loyal to Robbins. When Augustus was able to buy Henry's freedom from Robbins, Henry continued to work for Robbins and Robbins took Henry under his wing. Henry was able to purchase land from Robbins and he then bought slaves himself to work the land and build a house for himself and future wife Caldonia. His first slave was Moses. When Robbins saw that Henry was treating Moses as more of a friend than slave, Robbins had a talk with Henry about the separation of slave and owner. Henry now became a true slave owner.

Henry's parents were appalled that their own son who was once a slave, was now a slave owner. However, Caldonia's family wanted to make sure that after Henry"s death, she remained being the owner and not the friend to her slaves. Moses took it upon himself to keep Caldonia informed of what was going on among the slaves and to manage them for her.

The lives of different slaves on the property and how they interact with each other, is carried throughout the story line. When patrols are sent out by the sheriff's office to watch over the roads for runaways and criminals, no one is safe, even if you are a freed slave with the proper papers.

There are many individual stories throughout this book. The fact that freed slaves and Native American Indians would be slave owners, was thought provoking.

In the Garden of Beasts

Erik Larson

3.5

 


William E. Dodd was a Professor of History in Chicago. He was nearing retirement age, and wanted to spend time writing. He had become unhappy with his position as chair. He was working on writing a series of books called, "The Rise and Fall of the Old South". He had become interested in becoming an Ambassador of the United States as it would give him time to travel and work on his book. The only Ambassadorship available was in Berlin, Germany. No one else wanted to accept the position at the time so he was their only choice. In his younger years, he studied in Germany at the University of Leipzig. Having fond memories of his time there, he accepted the position.

He packed up his wife, Martha, known as Mattie, his daughter, Martha, 24, and his son William Jr, Bill, 28. He knew that this would be the last time to be together as a family, since his children were now at an age to leave home.

The Dodd family was a simple family, careful with money and not spending it carelessly. Upon arrival, he learned that Ambassadors were expected to entertain other dignitaries and society with their own money in a dignified manner. Dodd was not comfortable with this and continued to spend carefully and at his own expense. He even complained to the Presidency about the waste of money in the offices of the embassy. He soon realized with all of appointments and social occasions, he was not going to have the time to write his book.

Dodd became very busy with his duties as Ambassador. His main duty was to convince Hitler and Germany to pay back the money that they owed the United States. He was not to upset Hitler or his people since that would jeopardize the return of the money. After spending time there and meeting with people, he soon found that fellow Americans and associates were being harassed and victimized by Hitler's army. He witnessed the persecution of Jews. When he tried to notify the United States about this, he was reminded to collect the debt.

Dodd's children Martha and Bill, set out to explore Germany and their way of life. Martha became enamored with the New Germany and the men in uniform. She attended social clubs and parties. She became romantically with several men, including a chief of the Gestapo and a Russian agent. Martha was a writer. She attended meetings with her peers where they read their writings and talked about social issues.

As the Hitler's Army descended on the extermination of the Jews in Germany and Europe, the war was hitting Berlin. This was not what Dodd wanted to be apart of, he was seeing his acquaintances die. Dodd returned to the States for R&R and then met with Roosevelt. The President wanted him to stay in Germany longer. Dodd was eager to return home to the USA and to his farm. He was finally relieved and returned to America on December 29, 1937.

Dodd and Mattie returned to the farm. Bill accepted a teaching job. Martha met another man and married. After Mattie's death, Dodd traveled giving lectures and warnings of Hitler's tirade and intention to kill all the Jews. Martha eventually became a communist and a spy for the KGB. She later wrote a memoir of her time in Germany. Bill and Martha edited a book based on her father's diaries.

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