American Dirt  

Jeanine Cummins

 

 

3.5

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Lisa See

3.5

 

 

Li-yan lives in Yunnan, China and is a member of the Akha tribe. The tribe is remote from the rest of China. It still follows the rituals and traditions that the Akha have followed for hundreds of year. She resides in Spring Well Village located on the tea mountain of Nannou. Her home is made of bamboo and thatch, built on stilts providing an area for any livestock they have. There is the main residence along with three newlywed huts for her brothers and their wives. Li-yan is the only girl. The entire family rise early and after their family breakfast, walk for two hours into the mountain to pick tea leaves from the tiers that they own. When they are finished picking, they take their leaves to the tea market for sale. On this particular day, they arrive too late to sell their leaves. A-ma is Li-yan’s mother and A-ba is her father. While there, Li-yan spots a boy behind a wall of tea. She finds him eating a pancake and offers her a bite. She takes one and they exchange names. His name is San-pa. A woman screams “Thieves “and yanks both of them out from behind the wall. She has had trouble with San-pa before. A-ba insists on paying for the pancake. He pays with the few coins that they made today. Li-yan’s and San-pa’s family both adhere to Akha Law. They both will have to have a cleansing ceremony. They cannot have it together as San-pa was born on the day of the tiger and Li-yan was born on the day of the pig. The two must never be friends or marry as tiger eats pig. The family makes it back to the village. A ruma comes to perform the ceremony that will take place outside and attended by the entire village. The ruma is an intermediary between the spirit worlds. At the end of the ceremony, Li-yan’s family has to sacrifice a chicken, another loss of the family caused by Li-yan.

 

Li-yan’s best friend is Ci-the. Her older brother Ci-do is married to Deh-ja. They are expecting their first child. A-ma, is the village midwife and healer. She uses her tea and herbs when treating the villagers.  When Deh-ha goes into labor, Ci-do fetches A-ma. A-ma is expecting Li-yan to help her and later become a midwife as well. After the baby is delivered, Deh-ha delivers another baby, twins. It is Ahab Law that twins are human rejects and must be taken into the woods to be killed by the father. The parents then must leave the village for bringing shame and bad spirits to the village. Ci-do and Deh-ha leave.

 

Li-yan sister-in-laws criticize her needlepoint telling her that she will not have much to offer for a dowry. A-ma tells L-yan to grab her cloak and to follow A-ma. They walk and climb high up into the mountain until they reach a boulder that is tricky to walk around. They come across a very secluded grove of camphor trees. As she steps inside, she sees about a dozen old tea trees. A-ma explains that the land; the trees have been in the women line of her family for thirty-three generations and the mother tree has been there for one hundred generations or three thousand years. It will be Li-yan’s dowry when she marries. The tree is covered with yellow threads that appear to be parasites and mold. A-ma explains to her that they are what make the tea so powerful against diseases and sickness. A-ma tells Li-yan never to tell or show anyone this sacred, secret place. The family continues to pick tea leaves from their tiers but no one, only A-ma and now Li-yan, know about these tea trees. They are for their own personal use, never be mentioned or sold to anyone else.

 

Li-yan and Ci-the attend school together. A-ba was against sending his daughter to school. Teacher Zhang convinced the village leaders: the headman, ruma, and nima, to allow her to go to school as it will bring honor to the village and inspire other children. Li-yan studies hard for two years while continuing to do her chores and pick tea. Now twelve, she enters the second-level school. Many different languages are spoken. There is only one other student that is Akha, San-pa. The two will go through the next few years in school together.

 

 When Li-yan and Ci-the turn sixteen, a ceremony is performed where they exchange one headdress for another more suitable to their age. Boys attend and the girls are encouraged to go into the forest with a boy. San-pa appears and slips off with Li-yan, ignoring that they are not to be together as it can only be bad for all concerned.

 

Mr. Huang and his son come to the village in search of Pu’er tea. He lives in Hong Kong and buys Pu’er tea to sell to others. It is a high monetary commodity around the world. He speaks mandarin and Li-yan translates. He wants to buy their Pu’er tea which come from the very old tea trees. The leaves are aged and processed a certain way. He offers to buy their tea leaves at a much higher price than Li-yan offers. He will teach them his process. For three months, the villagers pick and process the leaves under Mr. Huang’s supervision.  Mr. Huang hears about A-ma’s special grove or tea. Every day he asks Li-yan for just a few leaves. He will pay her for them. She sneaks off to the grove, picks a few leaves, and makes them into tea cakes. He pays her much more than she expected. Although she feels guilty about her deceit, she is only thinking of how the money will help her and San-pa in the future. Li-yan is to head off to University but decides not to go so that she can continue to earn money for her and San-pa’s future.

 

While San-pa is away, Li-yan discovers that she is pregnant. A-ma and Li-yan head to their tea grove where Li-yan gives birth to a daughter. It is Akha way that when a child is born to an unwed mother, the mother must kill and bury the baby. A-ma tells Li-yan that this is what she must do. Now that the baby is here though, A-ma tells Li-yan that she can take the baby to an orphanage. She gives Li-yan two tea cakes, wrapped in the groves special paper, to be left with the child.

 

The story continues with Li-yan and San-pa’s reuniting and travels, Li-yan’s return, her acceptance into trade school, and finally, into the Yunnan Agricultural University. They are opening a Pu’er Tea College. It will be the first one opened in the world. They are offering two tracks, one as a tea master, and the other as a tea evaluator. It is there that two men, unbeknownst to Li-yan, will have a direct influence in her future.

 

Li-yan’s daughter is adopted by a couple in Los Angeles, California. They name her Haley Davis. Haley goes to school with other Chinese children, some adopted, and others whose parents or generations before came to California. Haley wants to learn more about her birth mother and why she was left at the orphanage. She has her two tea cakes as the only link to her birth mother. As she gets older and becomes involved in her own studies, she sets off to find the answers.

 

This story has many storylines and themes. There is the Akha tribe with its rituals, customs, and beliefs.  The history of tea, where it grows, picked, dried, and processed. The different methods in preparing teas. The history of the Pu’er tea, its taste, and its place in the world market. Chinese adoptions in the United States, the effects of living in a country not originally their own, the need to find where they came from, and why they were left at the orphanage.

 

Lisa See’s book brings everything together in an amazing story.

 

Chances Are

Richard Russo

3.5

 

 

 Lincoln Moser grew up in Dunbar, Arizona. He is an only child.  His father, Wolfgang Amadeus Moser, is part owner of a mining company. His mother originally grew up in the East in town called Wellesly. Her parents were well off and owned a small house in Chilmark on the island of Martha Vineyard. When she a senior in college, her parents died in a car crash. She moved to Tucson, Arizona to live with her aunt. Her parents had left her money in a trust along with ownership of the cabin. The money would be available when she was 21. She married Wolfgang, aka Dubyay who convinced her to move to Dunbar. When it comes time for Lincoln to go to college, his father insists that he go to the University in Arizona. His mom refuses. She wants him to go to Minerva College where she went. This takes both Lincoln and Dubyay by surprise because his mom never stands up to Dubyay. She has always been meek and domineered by Dubyay. She tells Lincoln the truth about her family. She tells him that all of the trips and nice purchases they had was because she paid for them. She tells Lincoln about the cabin and that it will be his one day. She asks him to promise never to sell it. Dubyay had tried many times to convince her to sell, but she refused. Lincoln goes to Minerva.

 

Mickey Girardi is the youngest of eight children and the only boy. He is from Westhaven, Connecticut. He is of Irish/Italian decent and grew up in a working class, rough neighborhood. Mickey bought his first guitar and started a band. When it comes time to go to college, he tells his father he want to go to Minerva College to study music. His dad tells him to make his mother proud.

 

Teddy Novak is an only child and lives in the Midwest. His parents are both English teachers. The pay no attention to Teddy as they need to make plans for their students during all their spare time. They believe Teddy is fine since he is always off reading by himself. They are unaware of what Teddy faces in school. He is bullied and made fun of in gym class. Once in high school, Teddy realizes that he enjoys playing basketball and is very good. The coach notices that Teddy needs toughening up so he has another player jab at Teddy when he goes in for shots. One of those jabs knocks Teddy to the floor, causing a hairline fracture on his vertebrate. Teddy can no longer play. Teddy read a book written by Tom Merton, a Trappist Monk. He feels that many suitable for him. First, he needs to get his education. He chooses Minerva College.

 

Jacy Calloway is the daughter of Donald and Vivian Calloway. When Jacy is in eighth grade, she goes on a date. The boy asks her when she knew that she was adopted. The reason he asks is that she does not resemble her parents. Her father calls her “our little gypsy” because she has brown curly hair and olive complexion. She goes home and searches her house for evidence. She finds her birth certificate and everything looks normal. She confronts her mother who does not deny it. When Jacy asks who her father is, her mother tells her that it does not matter, he is dead. From then on, Jacy calls her parents by their first names, Don and Viv. Jacy is engaged to Vance, who she has known since childhood. Their parents have been friends for years and are members of the same country club. Jacy and Vance’s future marriage has been predestined for just as long. Jacy attends Minerva College. She is a member of the Theta Sorority and resides in the sorority house.

 

Lincoln, Mickey, and Teddy are on scholarship at the college. They shared a freshmen dorm suite and now continue as roommates. All three work in the kitchen of the Theta Sorority House. Mickey is the dishwasher; Teddy helps the chef with salads, dessert, and plating, while Lincoln serves the meals to the dining room. The kitchen help are known as hashers. Jacy likes to go back into the kitchen to flirt and hang out with them. Lincoln is dating Anita, a sorority girl. On December 1, 1969, all the hashers, Jacy, and Anita, sit in the kitchen to listen to the radio. They are waiting to hear the first draft lottery. The birthdate determines your number in the draft. Mickey’s birthdate is ninth. This hits the group hard. He will be drafted. As more dates are announced, other people in the kitchen and house begin to leave. Lincoln’s date is one hundred eighty-nine. There will be a slight chance that he will have to go. Teddy’s birthdate is number three hundred twenty-two. He will not be going. Jacy told Mickey that he cannot go. He needs to go to Canada until the war is over. Mickey knew that he could not do that. His father would not like that. He had to make his mother proud.

 

After graduation, the four decide to spend for the last weekend at Lincoln’s cabin before heading to their individual futures. On the last day, Jacy leaves in the early morning. She leaves a note saying that she hates saying goodbye. No one hears from Jacy after that. It is if she has disappeared.

 

The book starts in the year 2015. It is now forty years later. Lincoln is back in Chilmark, hoping to sell the house in order to recoup losses he had during the recession. He is now a real estate investor and resides in Las Vegas with his wife Anita. He invites his friends Teddy and Mickey to join him. They have not seen each other in years and it will be the last chance they have to be together as they once were, all those years ago. Of course, the one topic of discussion is what happened to Jacy Calloway? Lincoln is determined to find the truth while he is there. The story begins.

 

 

The Dutch House

Ann Patchett

3

 

 

Mr. and Mrs. VanHoebeek built the Dutch House in 1922. A large painting of the couple hung in the main living room. The house was located in the country outside the city of Philadelphia. It is now known as Elkins Park.  After Mr. VanHoebeek passed away, his wife remained in the house with only their caretaker, Fiona, known to all as Fluffy. Fluffy resided in the garage apartment where she had grown up helping her parents, who worked for the couple. After the death of Mrs. VanHoebeek, Fluffy remained to check the main house from time to time. In 1946, Cyril Conroy bought the house for his family. The house included all of the VanHoebeek’s possessions. The day Cyril brought his wife Elna, ten year old daughter Maeve, and three year old son, Danny to the house, he announced to his wife that this was now their home. He bought it for them.

 

Elna was not comfortable being in the house. With so many poor people in the world without food and shelter, the house represented opulence. She had been living in a convent when Cyril had returned from being away and insisted that they marry. They had scraped by for years and now they have a house such as this? Elna tells Cyril that she is leaving him. She is moving to India where she can help the poor and needy.  It did not matter that she had two children who needed their mother. They had the staff. Fluffy was the children’s nanny, and sisters, Sandy, and Jocelyn, did the cooking and cleaning. Now that she is gone, Maeve misses her mother terribly. Danny being young, does not have many memories of her. After Elna leaves, Maeve becomes extremely sick and is diagnosed with diabetes.

 

Cyril makes his money in real estate. He has several rental buildings and once a month, he takes Danny with him to collect the rent. In the beginning, Elna would go with Cyril. She would notice that an apartment was in need of repair or that the renter was poor and did not have the money for the rent. Elna would tell them not to worry and that she would take care of that. After that, Cyril would not take Elna with him. Cyril begins taking Danny with him. Danny loves this time he is able to spend with his dad. He learns the business from his father and in the summer, he learns how to make repairs on the various buildings. He plans to join his father’s business someday.

 

When Cyril is forty-nine, he brings home a young woman, Andrea. Andrea, thirty-one, has two children of her own. Norma is three years younger than Danny and Bright is five years younger. Andrea loves the Dutch House. Cyril once said that Andrea married him because she loved the house, not him. They do not have a happy marriage. The two young girls love Maeve and Danny. Andrea does not. When Maeve leaves for college in New York City, Andrea has her two daughters move into Maeve’s room. When Maeve comes home for break, she finds that her belongings are now in the third floor attic/bedroom. Cyril injured one of his legs in the war and now walks with a limp. He has difficulty walking and it is painful. It is very difficult and painful to go up and down the stairs. When Maeve graduates from college, she returns to Elkins Park and rents her own apartment. She works for a frozen vegetable plant distributor as the accountant.

 

In 1963, Danny is fifteen. He and Maeve receive a call from the hospital. They were the contact on their father’s records. Cyril has had a heart attack, falling down a flight of stairs in one of his unfinished buildings. When they arrive at the hospital, they arrange for their father’s burial to be in the Catholic Cemetery. The Conroy family is Catholic but Andrea is Protestant. Andrea is furious at Maeve and Danny for not notifying her after they were at the hospital and that they made burial arrangements without her. Maeve and Danny offer to run the Conroy business since Maeve has experience in accounting and Danny has the experience from working with his father. Andrea refuses. Maeve and Danny find out from the family lawyer that Cyril has left everything to Andrea. When Andrea and Cyril married, she had Cyril put her name on everything he owned. Cyril did set up a trust for Danny and Maeve’s education. Andrea tells Danny that he has to leave the house and live with Maeve. Andrea sells the business and fires the entire staff; Fluffy, Jocelyn, and Sandy.

 

Danny leaves for boarding school, paid for by the trust. When Danny comes home on vacation, he lives with Maeve. Maeve and Danny begin a ritual of driving to the Dutch House, parking on the street in front of the house, and talking. This ritual will continue for several years. Maeve is determined to spend as much as her father’s money as she can. She convinces Danny to go to medical school. He does not want to be a doctor, but alas, he is. While in college, he meets a girl on the train. Her name is Celeste Norcross. He and Celeste will have an on and off again relationship ending in marriage. She wants him to be a doctor, he wants to buy and renovate buildings.

 

The story continues with Danny, the narrator of this story, caught in the middle of the relationship between him, Celeste, and Maeve. His heart and alliance is with his sister. Her health is fragile and Danny has felt responsible for her since he was just a small boy. A return from the past enters their lives and changes everything.

 

This Tender Land

William Kent Krueger

3.5

 

 

This story takes place during the Great Depression in the year 1932.

Odie O’Banion, 12, and his older brother, Albert, are orphans living at The Lincoln School. Their mother had passed away years before followed recently by their father. They had their Aunt Julia, their mother’s sister, who lived in St. Louis but she was unable to care for them. The Lincoln School had previously been a military outpost named Fort Sibley. It is located on the banks of the Gilead River in Minnesota. The students are Native American children; children forcibly removed from their homes to make them look and behave like White Americans.   Their hair is cut short and they are forbidden to speak in their native tongue. Odie and Arthur are the only whites there. Thelma Brinkman, aka The Black Witch, and her husband Clyde supervise the school. When a child disobeys, he is taken to the Quiet Room, formerly used for solitary confinement by the military. Vincent DiMarco is in charge of discipline. He will beat the child with a strap and leave him in the dark for the night. Odie is often in there. The next day he will join the others as they go to work at local farms to provide free labor. Odie and Arthur are friends with another boy there, Mose. Mose is Sioux Indian and mute. When he was four, his body was discovered in a ditch beside his dead mother. His tongue had been removed. A teacher at the school, Cora Frost, owns a farm and lives there with her daughter, Emmy, 6. One day she has the boys work at her farm. She tells them that she is going to see if she can adopt them so they can stay with her permanently. Shortly after, a tornado touches down, causing devastation and death, Cora Frost being one of them. The Brinkman’s move Emmy in to their house.  Odie refers to the tornado as the Tornado God.

 

Odie is once again in the quiet room. He hears someone coming for him in the night. It is DiMarco.  DiMarco had Odie follow him to the quarry. Odie realizes that DiMarco is going to kill him by throwing him over the cliff of the quarry. In a struggle, DiMarco goes over and falls over the rim. Odie believe he has killed DiMarco and he must flee. Odie tells Arthur and they decide to run. They do not want to leave Emmy with the Brinkman’s. They go to the Brinkman’s house who are not at home but Emmy is. They free Emmy and while there, break into the safe and steal two hundred dollars, a gun, and a large packet of letters. Mose joins them and the four head to the river. Herman Volz, a carpenter at the school, helps them into a canoe. Their journey begins.

 

After a stop to rest and buy supplies, they find out that they are wanted for murder and kidnapping. They know that they must now stay out of site and be careful. A man finds them sleeping on a bank. He has a patch over one eye. Odie calls him One Eyed Jack. The man makes them follow him to his farm. He keeps Emmy in his house, forces the three boys to work on his farm, and takes their bag of money, letters, and gun. He drinks at night while talking with the boys. He learns that Albert knows how to make moonshine. His father had made his living this way. One night, One Eye, gets very drunk. Odie’s action that night allows the four to escape. Odie runs back to the house and grabs the remaining items they had taken from the safe.

 

They continue down the river. There next stop is New Bremen. While sitting on the bank, they hear a woman singing. They follow the music until they arrive at a tent filled with people. It is a revival meeting. On the stage is Sister Eve. She has the appearance and voice of angel. The four stay with them for a few days. Emmy loves being with Sister Eve and the other boys enjoy having a place to stay, warm meals, and fellowship working beside the others. Sid is in the band but he is also the manager. He looks for the next city to travel to and advertises their arrival. Odie is suspicious of Sid and follows him into town. What he sees infuriates him. He tells the other four and Sister Eve what he has seen. She explains to Odie what he think he saw. Odie still does not trust Sid. He snoops through Sid’s belongings and is furious with what he finds. His reaction soon endangers his brother’s life. While in town, Sid learns the truth about the four and alerts the authorities. Later, Odie sees the Brinkman’s on the premises. The four once again flee.

 

Their next stop is in Menkato. They rest there. Odie leaves to search the area. He finds an encampment of homeless people. He befriends the Schofield family. He is smitten with their daughter, Marybeth. She explains to him that the family’s truck broke down on their way to Chicago and they do not have the money to repair it. Odie enlists Albert to help them fix the truck. Once the truck is fixed, the family is able to leave with more help from Odie. The four continue the journey down the river.

 

Hawk Flies, AKA Forest, is Sioux and guides Mose in his journey as a Native American. He suggests that the four go to West Side Flats and ask for Gertie. Gertie owns a restaurant and can help them. Forest brother, Cal, lives there. He and two other men have a business transporting goods on their boat. Albert helps them repair their boat and they offer him a job. They all want to stay except for Odie. He is determined to go to St. Louis. Odie had made friends with another boy while there named John Kelly. John teaches Odie how to hop a train. Odie leaves.

 

Odie has other experiences before he finally lands on his Aunt Julia’s doorstep. There he learns the truth about his family. In the end, he will know who is true family is. That is all he ever wanted.

 

We had the author be a part of our Zoom book club. It was interesting hearing about his writing process and his research for the book.

 

A Place For Us

Fatima Farheen Mirza

3.75

 

Hadia’s entire family has come together to celebrate her wedding to Tariq. Hadia is the eldest daughter of Layla and Rafiq, followed by her sister Huda, and then her brother Amar. The family has not seen Amar in three years and he has only returned because Hadia wants him there. Hadia wants to let Amar know that she has picked her own husband, that she did not follow their parent’s Indian tradition of an arranged marriage. She wanted to let Amar know that she too disappointed them, hoping that would make him feel better about himself. As the guests mingle, Amar sees his father across the room. Neither of them try to look at each other. Amar then sees his former girlfriend, Amira, who asks him to meet her privately later.

 

The story continues through flashbacks of various members of the family.

Rafiq, an Indian Muslim, had immigrated to the United States. He now has returned to India to meet and marry Layla, an arrangement made by her parents. Layla is to marry and return to the United States with him immediately following the ceremony. Layla is not only marrying someone she does not know or love, but she is leaving her country, her family, to live in a country where she knows no one nor speaks their language. She believes that God will look favorably on her by doing this. The two reside in a tight knit Indian community. After the birth of two daughters, Layla gives birth to a son.

 

Rafiq and Layla are a very strict, religious, and traditional family. They do not allow their children to have friends over inside their house and do not allow the children to socialize outside of their community. They attend social gatherings within their Indian community. Boys and girls do not interact with one another as they do in other cultures. The girls do not make eye contact with the boys, they appear shy, and touching is taboo. The Ali family is part of this community. The children have known each other since they were very young. Now in their teens, the Ali’s oldest son, Abbas, takes Amar who is younger, under his wing. He lets Amar hang out and play ball with his friends. He is also very handsome and Hadia is attracted to him. The feelings appear to be mutual. Abba has a younger sister, Amira. They too are attracted to each other.

 

Hadia is a hard working student, responsible, and tries very hard to please her father. She is very protective of her brother Amar. Amar is the opposite. He does not do well in school and is very close to his mother. Amar and his father do not get along. Huda follows the path Hadia has chosen, to be a dutiful daughter and to make her parents proud.

 

Secrets, jealousy, pride, tradition, religion, addiction, betrayal, the terrorist attack on 9/11, and death, all lead this family to where the book begins, at the wedding of Tariq and Hadia. In the end, Rafiq writes a letter to Amar in hopes that someday Amar will read it and understand.

 

America’s First Daughter

Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie

3

 

 

It is July 5, 1826, and President Thomas Jefferson had died the day before. President Jefferson’s oldest daughter Martha, “Patsy”, Jefferson is going through her father’s letters at his desk. She has promised her father that she will protect his legacy and is burning any letters that would tarnish him. Sally Hemings, a black slave, half-sister to Jefferson’s wife Martha, mistress to Jefferson for decades, and mother to their 6 children, walks through the room with three items that she tells Patsy that she is going to keep, and leaves. As Patsy reads the letters, she reminisces of their life together.

 

The year is 1781 and William Short, Jefferson’s secretary, has come to Jefferson’s Monticello Plantation, to warn him that the British are on their way to capture him as a traitor. The family flees to their cabin miles away. They are able to return once William alerts them that the British have turned back and it is safe to return home.

 

In 1782, Jefferson’s wife Martha dies during childbirth. On her deathbed, she has Patsy promise to watch over her father and to protect the family. She has Jefferson promise her that he will never remarry, as she does not want a stepmother raising her children, based on her own experience growing up with one. Jefferson, devastated by her death, becomes so depressed that Patsy and William have to keep a close eye on him to keep him from harming himself.

 

Jefferson goes to Philadelphia taking Patsy with him. Two years later Jefferson goes to France as an emissary and a U.S. ambassador. He takes Patsy with him and sends her to live in a convent for school. William is there also and becomes good friends with Patsy. Daughters, Mary, “Polly”, and Lucy have been living with their Aunt and Uncle since the death of their mother. At the age of two, Lucy dies from whooping cough.  Jefferson sends for Polly, accompanied by their family slave, Sally. France was in the early stages of the French Revolution when Jefferson first arrived but now it has become more intense and dangerous.  In July of 1789, the Bastille falls and Jefferson flees back to the States with his family. Patsy wants to stay with William as they are now in love. Jefferson refuses their relationship, as William does not have the monetary means and status to provide for Patsy and the family. Patsy threatens to join the convent and become a nun, but her promise and duty to her father causes her to relent and return with the family to Monticello.

Once back, Jefferson encourages Patsy to marry her third cousin, Thomas Mann Randolph Jr. As he is the oldest son of Colonel Randolph, a close friend of Jefferson, he will be the heir of the Colonel acquiring his estate and multiple properties. Jefferson needs this to happen for himself as he is in need of money and is hoping that young Thomas will be able to help them financially. Upon the Colonel’s deathbed, he disinherits Thomas, leaving Thomas only with his debts and siblings to take care of.  The Colonel’s new young wife and son inherits everything. This is the beginning of a long downhill fall for Thomas and Patsy, now known as Martha. Martha, now a mother, struggles between her duties as a mother, wife, and dutiful daughter of Jefferson. When Jefferson becomes President, Martha and her children move to Washington. It is there where Martha takes on the duties of what the First Lady would be doing. She hosts dinners for politicians and foreign dignitaries. She is the First Daughter.

 

There are many more stories throughout the book of Jefferson, William Short, the Randolph’s 11 children, Sally Hemings and her children, and slavery. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Yet, he himself owned slaves and refused to fight for their freedom and to grant freedom to his own slaves, as promised.

 

This novel is historical fiction based on his letters and other documents that the authors researched. Liberties were taken when mixing fact into fiction. It is an enjoyable read.

 

She Come By It Natural

Sarah Smarsh

2.5

 

The author wrote this book after she had written a four part series for “No Depression, the Journal of Roots Music.” She was also writing her own book, “Heartland” at the time, a memoir of growing up with a single mother and grandmother in rural Kansas. She combined her four part series with reflections and parallels she felt between Dolly Parton and her Grandma Betty. They were both the same age and both grew up in a rural community and poor.

 

Dolly grew up in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.  She is one of twelve children. There was a period of several years where they lived in a cabin with only one bedroom. It was located on a subsistence farm on Locust Ridge. Dolly began singing in church when she was six years old. She credits her mother with her musical talent. At the age of seven she played a homemade guitar, and when she was eight, her uncle Bill bought her a real one. At age ten, she appeared on Cos Walker’s radio and televised show. Dolly graduated from high school in 1964 and left for Nashville the next day. Uncle Bill and Dolly co-wrote several songs and recorded them. Dolly soon met Carl Thomas Dean. He was a cement worker and they married in 1966. On May 16, 2016, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

 

In 1967, Music and country singer Porter Wagoner invited Dolly to join his organization. It included appearing on his weekly television show, his road tours, and recording songs together. She left his organization in mid-1974. Dolly went solo and had multiple hits through the years. Dolly appeared in her own variety television shows and specials. In 1980, Dolly appeared in her first feature film 9-5. She had nominations for several awards for her performance and the song she wrote and sang. She went on to other film and television roles.

 

When she was young, she noticed a woman, a trash lady on the street, dressed in a way that eventually Dolly took as her own stage look. She wore the high wig, tight clothing, and a top with a low neckline. Dolly was faced with sexism her entire career. When she was a guest on talk shows, the hosts would ask her to spin around to show off her hourglass figure. Even Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters asked this of her.

 

Dolly created the Dollywood Foundation to support several of charities, many in literacy. She donated money to the families who lost their homes in the Smokey Mountains wild fires in 2016. She raised millions for them thru telethons. She created Dollywood Amusement Park in her hometown area so that her neighbors will have employment. A list of her philanthropy is available on any search engine.

 

This was an interesting book to read about Dolly Parton. The author’s interjections of her own life and family at times became confusing and was a distraction.

 

Ordinary Grace

William Kent Krueger

3

 

 

The year is 2001, and Frank Drum, 53, reflects on the summer of 1961 when he lived in New Breman, Minnesota.

 

Frank, 13, is the middle child of Nathan and Ruth Drum. His sister Ariel is 18. She is dating Karl Brandt; son of a wealthy local beer magnate family. He lives in the Heights; a wealthy area in New Breman. Ariel is to attend the prestigious Juilliard School of Art in the fall. She is an accomplished pianist and vocalist. She has been studying under Emil Brandt, a famous pianist and composer. When Emil was a young man, he was engaged to Ruth. That ended when he chose to go to New York City to pursue his career. He later moved to Hollywood and became a successful music composer for films. After he left, Ruth met Nathan and they married. Nathan was studying to become a lawyer. At this time, the United States entered WWII. Both Nathan and Emil went overseas to fight in the war. Both men came home changed. Emil returned home blind and half of his face disfigured. Nathan returned deciding he no longer wanted to be a lawyer, but a minister of a church. He was now the minister of three churches in the area, and lived across the street from the one in New Bremen. Ruth was not happy with this decision. Jake, 10, is Frank’s younger brother. He has a stutter, which is the reason he is quiet and does not speak up when he hears Frank’s lies. When Frank sets off to investigate something he really should not be doing, Jake will tell him so yet follow him anyway.

 

The beginning of the summer starts out with the death of Bobby Cole. Bobby had been sitting on the train trestle, unaware of the train that was heading his direction, and dies instantly. Frank wants to go see where it happened. His parents tell him not to go the scene, but Frank does not listen. As Frank and Jake stand on the trestle, they look below to the riverbank. There are two men there. One is lying still and the other, Warren Redstone, is going through the man’s pockets. The boys head down there. Redstone tells them that he found the man dead. The boys head back to town. Their father is at the jail bailing out his longtime war friend, Gus, and Frank tells him and Officer Doyle about the body. Gus lives in the basement of the church. Nathan felt responsible for him after the war and gave Gus a place to live and work. Gus has his own demons from the war and drinking is his way of dealing with them.

 

During the day, Ariel is at Emil’s farmhouse. Emil has been dictating his autobiography into a recorder and Ariel is transcribing. Emil’s sister, Lise, who is deaf, also lives there. She takes care of the house, garden, and Emil. They live a quiet life, just the two of them. Lise does not like to be around other people and has a strong, at times violent, reaction to being touched.  That summer, Ariel tells her parents that she has decided not to go to Julliard. She will stay close by and continue to study under Emil. The parents believe this is about Karl Brandt. Jake and Frank have seen Ariel sneaking out of the house after their parents have gone to bed and coming up early in the morning before they wake up.

 

The Fourth of July has arrived and New Bremen is celebrating. Tomorrow and the following days of summer will bring two more deaths, heartache, secrets uncovered, lies, and guilt. In the end, Frank will be back in the year 2001 to conclude the summer of 1961 and the Drum family.

 

Ordinary Grace won the Edgar Award for best novel in 2014 and won the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award in 2013.

 

The Great Believers

Rebecca Makkai

3

 

It is 1985 in Chicago. The story begins with the funeral of Nico Marcus who passed away from AIDS. His parents turned their backs on him when he came out.  Nico’s group of friends and his partner, Terrance, have been restricted from attending the funeral. In protest, his younger sister, Fiona, does not attend either. After Nico left the family home, Fiona would sneak food and supplies to Nico’s place and became very close to his friends. One of those friends was Yale Tishman. Nico was the first friend Yale made when he moved to Chicago. The two of them shared their passion of Art.The group of friends and Fiona hold a celebration of life for Nico at the home of their friend Richard Campo, a photographer. The group consists of: Terrance, who now has the virus, Teddy Naples, Aster Haas,  a lawyer and AIDS activist, Julian Ames, a young actor, and Charlie Keene, who runs the publication ‘Outloud Chicago’ which advocates safe sex, condoms, and other gay issues. He is Yale’s partner and feels insecure with their relationship. He is possessive and worries that Yale may cheat on him. Yale works as a financial developer for the Brigg Gallery at Northwestern University, which allows him to be involved with his true passion. As Richard begins a slide show of pictures that he has taken of Nico and the group, Yale decides to go upstairs to lay down. Fiona watches him as he goes. When Yale decides to rejoin the group, he finds the house empty. He has no idea where everyone has gone and how long he was upstairs. Fiona, drunk, tells Charlie a lie about Yale, which will now cause serious repercussion in the coming days.

 

Fiona has a great aunt, Norna Lerner. Norna has an art collection worth over two million dollars. Fiona tells Yale to contact her as Norna wants to bequeath her collection in its entirety. The only caveat is that it has to include all paintings in the gallery, including those by artist Ranko Novak. Norna was an art student living in Paris in 1912.  She met fellow artists who would one day be famous. It was there that she met Ranko. The two fell in love almost instantly. She returned to the States before the war began because it was not safe for her to stay and her father had suddenly died. She later returned but the war had changed Ranko. Their relationship was no more. She continued modeling in exchange for lessons and autographed artwork. That is how she has acquired her collection and still feels very protective of Ranko and his work.  Norna now lives in Wisconsin and is quite ill. In order to acquire the collection and authenticate the individual pieces, Yale has to drive back and forth from Chicago to Wisconsin to listen and take notes of Norna’s stories. He takes with him an intern, Roman, to help with the process. This is another story that will affect Yale in the future.

 

It is 2015 and Fiona is in Paris looking for her estranged daughter Claire. The only proof that she has is from a photograph of a woman and child on a bridge. The woman looks just like Claire. Richard is now living in Paris and Claire stays with him and his partner, Serge. Richard is getting ready for a show that will include all of his photographs from the time he spent in Chicago with his friends during the AIDS epidemic. Many of his and Fiona’s friends passed from the disease. Fiona was caretaker of many.

 

The book has many storylines. One is of the AIDS epidemic in Chicago at the time and the effects it has on the gay community, the friends and relationships within the group, and how each individual with the disease has to cope. There is the story of Yale and his work to acquire an art collection for his gallery while dealing with Norna’s family. Cecily Pierce, who works for Northwestern in charge of donations. She has another donor that she is working with that is in conflict with Yale.  Then, there is the story of Fiona. Her life intertwines with Yale and the others that she met through her brother Nico. Through Yale, she meets Cecily. This acquaintance affects her future and that of her daughter. The book jumps back and forth between timelines. In the end, the culmination of all storylines takes place in Paris, 2015.

 

The Island of Sea Women

Lisa See

3.8

 

The Island of Sea Women describes the lives of the Haenyeo. The Haenyeo are women divers who reside in Jeju, a small island off the coast of South Korea. The women are the breadwinners of the family. They are able to hold their breath while diving deep for few minutes at a time. They search for albacore and octopus, which is more profitable. They also collect smaller fish. When the divers become elderly and are no longer able to dive, they will collect seaweed as a form of income. While the women are diving during the day, the men are caring for the children, generally outside with other men as all the children play. Diving can be very dangerous and some have lost their lives.

 

This story takes place between the years of 1938-2008 in the village of Hado. Young-sook and Mi-ja are best friends. Mi-ja lost her mother when she was young. Her father, a Japanese collaborator, sends Mi-ja to live with her aunt and uncle on the island who treat her terribly. Many in the village shun Mi-ja, including Young-sook’s grandmother. When both girls are fifteen, they begin their training as baby divers.  Young-sook’s mother, Sun-sil, is chief of the divers. She tells the divers where they will dive, assigns the baby divers to older divers for training, and begins each day with prayers to their God. In the off seasons, the women and daughters will garden at their homes to feed their family. As the years went on, Young-sook’s grandmother arranged marriages for both girls. Young-sook was fortunate, as she had grown up with her suitor and knew him to be a good man. However, she was very upset with her grandmother as she arranged Mi-ja to marry a very handsome and well off man that the two girls had met once at the port dock. Mi-ja was not happy. She had reason to be.

 

In the year 1938, the Japanese had control of the Island. After WWII and then the Korean War, the island was now under the jurisdiction of South Korea with the assistance of military from the United States. In the period known as the uprising of April 3, over 30,000 natives lost their lives. The book describes this era of time and how the lives of Young-sook and Mi-ja’s lives were affected.

 

The story begins and ends in 2008. It is a story of friendship, betrayal, secrets, lies, loss, and the possibility of forgiveness.

 

Americana

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This young Nigerian writer is firing on all cylinders: interesting characters, great writing, spot-on insights into modern life, and a combination of themes that are so compelling and timely. Although the obvious one is race, she also deals with class, immigration, the American dream, self-invention, relationships of both men and women, and the glorification of wealth that seems to be a human and not only a national trait. In the midst of all this, she makes some interesting observations about the characteristics of Americans, as well as her native Nigerians. It is a great book for discussion.  

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

Where the Crawdads Sing

Delia Owens

 

3.2

 

In 1969, two boys find a body in the marshes outside of Barkly Cove, North Caroline. The body identified is Chase Andrews. It appears that Chase has fallen off the large water tower. No evidence of foul play is apparent except for the fact that the seashell necklace that Chase was wearing the night before, is not on his body. Chase had worn the necklace for years, never taking it off.

 

In 1952, Kya Clark is six years old. She lives with her mother, father, and brother, Jodie in a rundown shack in the outskirts of her town where the marsh is. She is sitting on an outside step as she watches her mother walk down to the road carrying her suitcase. Every day after that, she continues to sit at her post, hoping to see her mother return. Kya’s father is an alcoholic and often disappears for days, weeks, only to return home in a rage. Now that her mother is gone, it is up to Jodie and Kya to fend for themselves. Jodie knew his way around the canals and outlets. He would take the boat out fishing and Kya would join him. When the father returns finally returns home, he and Jodie get into a fight. He beats Jodie and that is when Jodie decides to leave for good. He says goodbye to Kya explaining to her that he can longer stay there. Kya is now home alone.

 

Kya tries to support herself with what food she can find left in the garden. She has some change and goes into town to the local grocery store. She is dirty and barefoot. She picks up what she can and puts her change on the table. She does know not know the value of her coins. The people on the sidewalk step aside and the boys call her Marsh Girl. One-day two visitors arrive from the truant office at the local school. They convince Kya to come to school where she will receive a hot meal every day for lunch. Kya only goes the one day. She does not own a pair of shoes and the other children make fun of her. When the officers show up several times after, Kya hides. One day while she is out on the boat fishing, a boy waves to her. She recognizes the boy as Tate, a friend of Jodie’s. Kya eventually lets him come ashore. He teaches her how to read. They have a mutual interest in the marsh and all living things that inhabit, including grasses, insects, birds, fish, and animals.

 

At one point, Kya’s dad returns home. Kya cooks for him, they go fishing together, he teaches her how to clean fish, and leaves her money every week to buy supplies they may need. When a letter arrives in the mail, Kya recognizes her mother’s handwriting. Since she cannot read, she leaves it for her dad on the kitchen table. She can tell by the noise coming from the shack that he is angry and tearing things up in the house. He then leaves. She finds the remnants of the letter burned. Kya’s father never returns.

 

There is a gas station/store at the edge of a dock where boaters and residents stop for supplies and gas. Kya makes a deal with the owner, Jumpin, a black man who lives a distance down the road in the black section of town, to sell him mussels and eventually smoke fish in exchange for gas and food. Jumpin tells his wife, Mabel, about Kya. The next time Kya shows up at the dock, Mabel is there. She sizes up Kya so the next time Kya sees Jumpin, he has a bag of clothes and shoes for her, along with some seeds and vegetables.

 

On one of Kya’s excursions out on the boat, she comes into the bay and sees the local teenagers playing on the beach. She watches them and notices one handsome boy in particular. His name is Chase Andrews. Chase befriends Kya and they begin a relationship. Tate has gone away to college and Kya welcomes the companionship with Chase.

 

The rest of the story continues from there and leads up to where the finding of Chase’s body begins in this book. Of course, there is much more to the story between the years.

 

 

Olive, Again

Elizabeth Stroutdf

3.5

 

Olive Kitteridge lives in Crosby, Maine. She was a junior high math teacher for forty years and is retired. She lives alone, since her husband Henry passed away and her son, Christopher, lives in New York City. He is married for the second time. His wife has two children and now Christopher has one named Henry, after his father. He and Olive do not have a close relationship. Olive has a tendency to be blunt, outspoken, and critical of others. She has no time for idle chitchat.

 

Jack Kennison is a Harvard professor with two PHD’S. He had an affair with a fellow teacher, Elaine, and when she was up for tenure, Jack voted against her because he did not think she deserved it. It was not because of their relationship. When Elaine found out, she went to the dean and filed a sexual harassment suit. Jack left Harvard on a so called “research leave”, never to return. He and his wife, Betsy, left Cambridge and relocated to Crosby, Maine. His wife passed away seven months ago. The last time Olive saw Jack Kennison, was when she left him in his bed after just lying beside him for a night. That was a month ago. He had asked Olive to call him but she never did. Jack has not talked to her since. In fact, he drove an hour out of town to shop just so he would not run into her at the grocery store. However, Olive did see him at the grocery store one time and he was speaking to another woman.

 

One day Olive is at a baby shower and finds herself delivering the baby in her car at the house. She calls her son to tell him. The conversation did not go well. Two days later, Olive calls Jack to tell him. This renews their relationship. After a time, they decide to get married. Olive invites her son and his family to come up to Crosby. Olive tells Christopher that she and Jack are getting married and that she is going to sell the house and offers her son to take whatever he wants. Christopher is angry and yells at Olive. His wife rebukes him for talking to his mother that way. As Olive witnesses this, she realizes that this is exactly how she talked to Henry.

 

Olive and Jack have now been married for eight years.  After a few years into the marriage, Jack starts to think of his past life, his time with Betsy, his regrets of his affair, and his estranged relationship with his daughter. He becomes withdrawn. After his death, Olive is doing the same. She hates being alone in Jack’s house, misses her house with Henry, and misses Henry himself.

 

The chapters in the book alternate with Olive’s storyline and storylines of other people in the community. Some of these characters are from the author’s previous books. When asked why she did this, she said that sometimes she need a break from Olive. Olive did appear in some way or another in each of the other storylines.

 

Olive’s life comes full circle when she finds herself living in a self-assisted senior community. Once there, the characters from the previous chapters make their appearance once again.  Seeing them, Olive reflects on who she was and who she wants to be now.

 

 

The Nichol Boys

Colson Whitehead

3.5

 

Elwood Curtis is a thirteen-year-old African American boy growing up on Florida. The year is 1962 and he lives with his grandmother, Harriet, who has raised him since Elwood’s parents took off when he was six.  Elwood receives an album for Christmas of Martin Luther King’s speeches at Zion Hill. He listens intently and is determined to follow King’s words and fight for justice. Elwood likes to spend time at the neighborhood grocery store. The owner, Mr. Marconi notices that Elwood will read a comic book and then purchase it. Mr. Marconi asks Elwood if he would like a job at the store. He asks his grandmother and she agrees. Elwood notices that the neighborhood boys often come into the store to steal candy. Mr. Marconi sees this but does not say anything to the boys. Elwood asks him why, and Mr. Marconi tells him it is a small loss when you consider that the parents and others in the community shop there. One day when Mr. Marconi is not watching, Elwood sees the boys stealing. He sees the injustice of allowing the boys to stealand tells them to put it back. While walking home he sees that the boys are waiting for him. He is beaten.

 

Elwood excels in school. He wants a good education. He is now sixteen and a junior in high school. He meets his history teacher Mr. Hill. With the encouragement of Dr. King’s words. Elwood starts to attend civil rights protests. Elwood sees Mr. Hill there. Later, Mr. Hill wants to help Elwood prepare and go to college. He has a friend at the colored college Melvin Griggs Tech. There is an opening available for achieving high school students. Elwood would be able to go there free the first semester. The day comes when Elwood is to leave. He is so excited and eager to get there that he decides not to wait for the bus, but to hitch a ride. He waits on the highway until he sees a car with another colored person. He gets in the car and after driving a distance, the car is suddenly pulled over by the police. The driver had stolen the car and he and Elwood are arrested. Elwood is sent to the Nickel Academy for boys.

 

Upon arrival, the grounds and buildings look like a college dormitory. Once inside, things are very different. The boys are segregated. The white boys have their own building and the coloreds their own. The superintendent, Mr. Spencer, tells the boys the rules. They are to go to class, work, and stay out of trouble. This will allow them to raise their rank and perhaps go back to their families earlier. If they do get into trouble, there are severe consequences. Elwood meets a boy, Turner, who has been in, out, and now back at Nichol. He tells Elwood the dos and don'ts. The one thing you do not want to do is get in trouble. If you do, they will take you to the white house. There have been boys that have gone there that never returned. Elwood sees a boy being bullied and intercedes. By getting involved, Elwood is now in trouble. In the middle of the night, he is grabbed out of bed and taken to the white house. He is there for hours and is severely beaten and whipped. He has huge lacerations on his legs and back. He spends multiple days in the infirmary, unable to move or walk. Turner is there also. He purposely drinks something that will make him sick so he does not have to work.

 

Once Elwood is well enough to return to his dorm, he receives his work assignment. He and Turner are to ride into town to deliver food and other goods to various places. Elwood realizes that these goods are meant for the boys at the Academy, but Mr. Spencer is profiting from them. There are days when the boys go to work at a house of a certain city member or a benefactor of the Academy. When news comes that the facility will be inspected. All the boys work to repair, replace, and paint the entire area. Elwood sees this visit as an opportunity to report all the wrong doings that is happening. He makes a thorough list and now needs to find a way to give it to an appropriate person. Following the event, the lives of both boys changes them forever.

 

The book begins when archeological students find unmarked graves on a piece of property where a reform school had once been. The remains show that some bodies have bullet holes and some bones are broke from beatings. The book is based on the true story of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in the Florida panhandle. In the century of its existence, nearly 100 black boys between the ages of six and eighteen died. Some of them were buried in unmarked graves. The survivors of the White House stay in touch with each other. The school finally closed in 2011.

 

This book won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

 

 

Rules of Civility

Amor Towles

3.1

 

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

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

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

A Gentleman in Moscow

Amor Towles

4

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

This novel is a wonderful charming story.

Digging To America

Anne Tyler

2.83

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5

 

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

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

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

Enchanted Islands

Allison Amend 

2.6

 

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

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Sanders 

3.1

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead

3.5

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Sisters First

Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life

Jenna Bush Hager
and Barbara Pierce Bush

2.6

 

 

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

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

Miller's Valley
Anna Quindlen

3

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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