Worthwhile Reads

I am a “Hamilton” musical lover and that led to a fascination with Lafayette as well, so I couldn’t wait to read The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray. I was not disappointed! I loved the detail and the characters, as well as the French setting. This novel was extremely well written – but do expect to commit some time to it, as it is 546 pages. It is a terrific historical fiction novel!

There are three timelines in The Women of Chateau Lafayette: 1774 / The French Revolution; 1914 / WWI and 1940 / WWII. The different eras were woven together really well by giving each era its own female lead character. Two of the women were actual historical figures . . . Adrienne de Noailles, Marquise de La Fayette became the wife of the Marquis de La Fayette at the age of 14. She was a remarkable woman and fought for her beliefs and for her husband until the day she died. Beatrice Chanler aided the war relief effort and thousands of children during WWI. The third character, Marthe is a fictional person – a teacher and artist, who aids children and helps the French Resistance fighters. The novel follows each woman’s life, loves and accomplishments.

I loved the focus on the roles that women played in three tumultuous eras. Adrienne, Beatrice and Marthe were strong, admirable women who followed their beliefs in the middle of great danger. The castle of Chavaniac (Chateau Lafayette) is the link that connects their stories. If you enjoy great historical fiction, don’t miss this novel! Below are several links you might enjoy before or after reading The Women of Chateau Lafayette.

Chateau de Chavaniac

Adrienne de Noailles, Marquise de La Fayette / Apartments

Beatrice Chanler

The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth was a thoroughly enjoyable read – it had short chapters and moved along quickly. Much of it was predictable, but I found myself chuckling over many passages and was totally surprised at one point in the book. The chapters alternate between Rosie and Fern Castle as narrators. Hepworth did a great job with the detail of their characterizations. The two girls are fraternal twins who seem to watch over each other, as children and as adults. But do they really????

Rosie Castle is a married interior decorator with a very responsible personality. She is now at the point in her life where she wants to have a baby, but discovers that she is unable to have one of her own. Fern Castle is a single librarian with a very quirky personality. She clings to her routines and has difficulty reading social clues. The novel explores their sibling relationship, as well as their relationships with others. There are flashbacks to their childhood throughout the story.

This book reminded me of The Rosie Effect and also Eleanor Oliphant because of Fern’s personality. Fern looks at the world in a different way than most people – but often she sees things more clearly than others. I don’t want to go into more detail about which characters I liked best, because I don’t want to give away any of the plot . . . but I think anyone who loves family stories with some mystery and drama thrown in will love The Good Sister!

The Note Through the Wire by Doug Gold is a great novel for readers who like WWII history. It is a fictionalized telling of the experiences of two people in Nazi-occupied Europe. Their story seems impossible, but it is documented through letters and press releases of the time. (Doug Gold, the author, is actually the son-in-law of the two main characters, and tells their story very eloquently.)

Bruce Murray is an Allied soldier from New Zealand. He and his buddies enlist in the military to defeat the Nazis and end up fighting in Greece. In a very short time, Bruce finds himself in a Stalag prison camp in Slovenia. Josefine Lobnik is a young Slovenian woman who joins the partisans in her area to fight the Germans. She doesn’t actually fight, but delivers information and helps to hide/save escaped prisoners and other resistance fighters. Bruce and Josefine meet when she passes a note through the wire at the prison camp. This simple act is the beginning of a long journey toward love for the pair. They are separated multiple times and somehow meet again and their romance develops despite the horrible circumstances. 

I really liked the details of this story and I loved the characters of Bruce and Josefine. I think anyone who loves WWII history would enjoy this novel. It does read like a non-fiction story, but it still kept my interest. The courage and resilience of the resistance fighters was really amazing and I loved that the author emphasized Bruce’s and Josefine’s characters individually before he told the complete story of their romance. I’m glad I checked this book out!

Since I read Beach Read by Emily Henry over a rainy, dreary 2 days in May, it wasn’t an actual ‘Beach Read’ for me – but it was a terrific escape and would be a great choice for a vacation read or just for a light-hearted, chuckle-often, romantic novel with a few steamy bits thrown in.

January Andrews is a writer of romance novels, suffering with writer’s block. She arrives at her inherited lake house, planning to clean it out, sell it, and try to meet a publisher’s deadline for a new book. Her new neighbor, Augustus Everett is a writer of literary fiction and her former crush from college. Gus is also struggling with writer’s block. The two eventually make a bet which they hope will get them both writing . . . and in the process we learn about their pasts, their inner fears and their losses. There has been sadness in both of their lives. But the best part of the book is their slow path toward a romantic relationship. 
Beach Read had me chuckling at the conversations between January and Gus and hoping for their paths to connect. I loved both of their characters and was sorry when the book ended, because I enjoyed the time spent escaping with this novel! I hope you check this book out – it shows that we all need second chance

I wasn’t sure I would enjoy a book about New Orleans in the 1950’s – especially with its focus on the dark, unsavory side of the city – but I am so glad someone recommended I read Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys! (In our library, this novel is classified as a Young Adult novel, but it could easily go on the Adult Fiction shelves instead.)

The main character in Out of the Easy is Josie Moraine, the seventeen year old daughter of a prostitute. Josie moved into her own apartment at the age of eleven, to escape her mother and her mother’s friends. Josie works in a bookstore, gets good grades in school and dreams of college and a better life. She also works in the early mornings at the brothel – cleaning up the mess from the night before. Surprisingly, Willie, the owner of the brothel, was one of my favorite characters. (In the book, Josie describes her as ‘the wicked stepmother with the fairy godmother heart.’) There are quite a few interesting characters in the book . . . some are so evil that they have no redeeming qualities . . . others are so caring and kind that they melt your heart. 
Out of the Easy was beautifully written and pretty fast-paced. There are many secrets, a murder and lots of drama that Josie must deal with in a short amount of time. Give this book a try – I think you’ll enjoy it!

The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis is actually a novel from 1983, rekindled in popularity by the same-named Netflix series in 2020. It is a book about orphans, addictions, relationships, feminism and chess . . . and it was a terrific read!

In the 1950’s, Beth Harmon, age 8, loses her parents and ends up in an orphanage in Kentucky. The other kids can be crude and she is often lonely. The staff routinely give the children tranquilizers to keep them calm, which begins Beth’s struggle with addiction – a problem which she recognizes, but she can’t completely escape. She has one friend, Jolene, at the orphanage and one adult mentor, a janitor, who sees Beth’s gift for chess and teaches her what he can. One day, Beth is adopted and eventually her new mother sees that she is a chess prodigy. The two of them begin traveling to tournaments in order to win prize money to pay their bills; but Beth’s skills take her far beyond little tournaments. She has a goal of being the U.S. champion and eventually beating the Russian champion. . .

I don’t know much about chess – other than the basic moves, but I loved this book. (If you ARE a chess player, the book will be even more enjoyable.) The character of Beth was very realistic and likeable, despite her flaws. And I loved seeing her change from being a loner – to being a person who needed her friends. (And I think I will be watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, now that I have read the book!)

The Mountains Wild by Sarah Stewart Taylor is a police investigation type of novel which takes place in and around Dublin, Ireland. It is well-written and is Taylor’s first book in a new series featuring Detective Maggie D’arcy. (A Distant Grave will be the 2nd novel in the series and is set to come out in June 2021.)

The chapters in this book alternate between 1993 – the year Maggie’s cousin, Erin disappeared in Ireland; and the year 2016, when Niamh Horrigan has gone missing. After years of relentless searching, Erin has never been found – they fear she is dead, but no one is sure. There have also been other murdered girls in the in-between years in the same area – so a serial murderer is suspected. Maggie, a detective in Long Island, New York, travels to Ireland to see if she can find out more about her cousin, Erin. The trip jogs her memories about the past and makes her seek answers to questions that have long been on her mind.

I loved the descriptions of Ireland in The Mountains Wild. The beautiful land and its people were a big part of the plot line. I also loved the way the novel seemed to come together like a puzzle. As the detectives search for answers, I felt like I was solving the crimes along with them. I give this book a “thumbs up” if you love crime mysteries!

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker is a book that was predicted to be a bestseller before it was even published at the end of March. I totally understand the love for this heartbreaking novel! The book is a slow-paced thriller, with perfectly detailed character development – I could picture each person in my mind, and almost hear their voices throughout the book.

Duchess Day Radley is a thirteen-year-old girl living in Cape Haven, California. She is foul-mouthed, strong-willed, an ‘outlaw’/unlikeable (by her own design) and a fierce protector of her five year old brother, Robin. Robin is a sweet, sweet little boy; still full of innocence and hope. Star Radley, their mother, is a lost soul – unable to care properly for her kids, and often surrounded by ‘bad elements’ of society. Sheriff Walker, known as ‘Walk’, has grown up with Star and remembers the day her little sister, Sissy, was killed in a hit-and-run accident by fifteen year old Vincent King. As the novel begins, Vincent King has served his time – 30 years in prison – and is returning to Cape Haven. Soon, Star is murdered, Vincent is rearrested, the children are moved to live with their estranged grandfather and the search for answers leads to many secrets unfolding.

We Begin at the End didn’t capture my interest right away, but by 100 pages in, I was hooked and couldn’t stop reading! The characters – especially Duchess and Robin – were so perfectly developed and my heart broke for their suffering. I thought their life was tragic, but then it got worse . . . How much would they have to endure? At one point, the cruelty made me cry because it was so unfair. There are good and bad characters who enter the story, and the lines between good and evil are blurry in many situations. This isn’t a light-hearted, happy “beach read.” But it was very real and had me thinking long after I put the book down. This will definitely be on the bestseller lists for a while!!!

Eight Perfect Murders is Peter Swanson’s newest novel, but the first one of his books that I had read. I enjoyed every work of this thriller/mystery. It was a quick read – only took me two evenings – and captured my interest from the beginning.

Malcolm Kershaw is a widower and co-owner of “Old Devils Bookstore” in Boston. He is contacted by the FBI about a book blog that he once wrote entitled ‘Eight Perfect Murders.’ Someone seems to be following Malcolm’s list in his or her own killing spree. (Be warned: this book does spoil the plot of the eight novels referenced in the blog title:- The A.B.C. Murders, Strangers on a Train, The Red House Mystery, Malice Aforethought, Double Indemnity, The Drowner, The Secret History and Deathtrap – so you may want to read them first if they’re still on your “to read” list.) I had only read two of these classic mysteries, but I still loved this novel, and the spoilers didn’t bother me. Malcolm reveals information bit by bit as he narrates the story and as he tries to discover who this killer might be.

I loved trying to guess who the killer was in Eight Perfect Murders. I did not guess correctly, even though I changed my mind several times, Lol. If you love crime/mystery novels – check this new book out!!

I remember how my boys loved Gary Paulsen novels about adventures in the outdoors when they were in middle school/junior high. Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff is the adult version of that genre – a great book for spring and summer! 

The plot centers around ten-year-old Fischer Branson and Dale Breadwin – one has a father who was killed while on deployment and the other has a dad who is just evil. The boys run away from their small Wisconsin town after a shooting at Dale’s home. Fischer’s grandfather, Teddy, knows the woods well and goes after the boys. He is accompanied by Sheriff Cal who is a big-hearted man, but knows nothing about tracking or surviving in a forest. Later, Fischer’s mom, Miranda, and a local woman, Tiffany, also set out to find the boys. Each group has its own journey – often harrowing, sometimes funny, with suspense and frustration built in as well.

Raft of Stars was a pleasure to read. I loved the descriptions of the river and the forest and also loved the relationships that developed in the short time frame the book covers. The mosquitoes and mud were described so realistically – as were the frustrations that different characters felt during their time in the forest. This is a terrific book for anyone who enjoys the outdoors and a little adventure in their reading! 

I read The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous in one day – partly because it is not a long novel and partly because I really wanted to find out the mystery at the end before I went to bed! The gothic house in the novel is named ‘Raven Hall’ and it is the one constant between the characters and the different generations. Ms Rous used dual timelines in her story – 1988: Beth, a 14 yr. old orphan, comes to live with the Averell family at Raven Hall; and 2019: Sadie, a struggling actress in her 20’s, is cast to help publicize a ‘mystery murder game’ that a new company is hosting at Raven Hall. Beth comes to love her ‘nice’ life with the Averells, but some things in the family just don’t seem right to her . . . Sadie is so excited to have a well-paying job for the weekend, but then people begin to disappear and strange things happen in the house . . .

I enjoyed the slow build-up in the plot of the story. As more information was revealed in the timelines of each chapter, I started to suspect some characters and wondered who might be lying. (There are quite a few characters, so I did go back and reread a paragraph or two when I needed to clarify exactly who or what had happened. If you love to try and solve mysteries – make sure to pay attention to details from the very beginning!)
There are loads of twists and turns in The Perfect Guests – some which I saw coming and others completely surprised me! I liked the characters of Beth and Sadie – their stories might be a little far-fetched, but still intriguing and definitely kept my interest. I would definitely recommend this book if you like mysteries!

I love most of Kristin Hannah’s books, and her new novel, The Four Winds is now one of my favorites! This historical fiction book covers the years of The Great Depression, The Dust Bowl and the California Agriculture Strikes. I know that seems like too much for one book, but Hannah expertly weaves her characters into these events with terrific detail and empathy.

Elsinor (Elsa) Wolcott is 25 years old and a member of a  well-to-do family in the Texas panhandle. She is ‘too tall,’ ‘too pale’ and ‘too sickly’ – according to her parents . . . and dreams of going away to school and being loved. She ends up marrying an Italian, Catholic farmer and her family disowns her due to her “ruined reputation.” The Four Winds follows Elsa through the years of her life and her endless challenges. (You might want to have kleenexes on hand – this is the first book in a long time that had me crying.) 

I LOVED the character of Elsa and also loved her inlaws and her children. They were all described so perfectly that I felt like I knew them. (And they were such interesting people to know!) The troubles of my everyday life seemed frivolous compared to the troubles that Elsa and her family faced. If you are looking for an amazing story that tugs at your heart and makes you care about its characters – read The Four Winds!!!!

Here is a link to a short videoclip about Ken Burns’ documentary, ‘The Dust Bowl’: Home | THE DUST BOWL 

If you love books and libraries – you need to read The Paris Library, a new historical fiction novel by Janet Skeslien Charles! I have read so many great WWII novels and sometimes wonder if anyone can write something that doesn’t just copy those other stories. I’m happy to say that this book dealt with that era from a different perspective than others, so it isn’t just a ‘copy’ of previous books. The American Library in Paris serves as the backdrop for Ms. Charles’ characters (many of them are patrons of the library) and their stories.

There is a dual timeline in this novel: Paris, France during WWII and small-town Montana in the 1980’s. Odile Souchet is a young, French woman who escapes her domineering father through the books she loves to read. Her dreams come true when she is hired at the American Library in Paris in 1939. Here, she makes many new friends and learns much about life. Odile is also a main character in the 1980’s chapters, as the widowed neighbor of Lily, a teenage girl who has her own growing-up struggles. Odile and Lily develop a connection and help each other to open up about their secrets.

I think my favorite thing about this book was that every character made mistakes . . . but those mistakes just made them more realistic and touching. There are so many times in the novel where the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ choices aren’t always that simple. It is a book that had me thinking about the characters long after I finished reading. The writing was wonderful, the characters came alive to me and the conflicts kept me from putting the book down! The Paris Library was a terrific, beautifully written novel:)

Here’s an article about the American Library in Paris, including pictures of Miss Reeder and Boris, who were characters in the novel:

https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2020/05/01/well-always-have-american-library-in-paris/

Greenlights is the best-selling memoir written by Matthew McConaughey – but don’t let the word “memoir” fool you into thinking it is dry or boring. This book is neither! I really enjoyed reading every word of Greenlights and found McConaughey to be an extremely talented writer. I have seen many of his movies, and he always seems to portray “characters” in his roles.  His acting is always intriguing and his book did not disappoint. I admire the fact that he admits his imperfections and strives to live a good life – and the stories he tells on his journey are fascinating.

McConaughey follows the timeline of his life chronologically in this book, which I really liked. He tells about his upbringing, parents, siblings, school, career choices, acting, marriage and being a father. I found him to be a very honest, funny, descriptive writer and I love how he included snippets from his diaries and poems that he has written. There is colorful language and some personal experiences that may not appeal to every reader – but they show who Matthew McConaughey is and he is unflinchingly honest – whether it embarrasses or bothers others or not. (Some of his stories can be a little coarse…)

After reading Greenlights, I know I want to listen to the audiobook! It is read by McConaughey and reviews for it are stellar as well. I laughed out loud many times while reading this book and it made me pause and think about how I live my life. I also went back and reread many of his poems and diary excerpts. So glad I read this autobiography!!

Here is a link to an interview with McConaughey about his life and his book:

My mother and grandmother often talked about the Dionne quintuplets – 5 little girls who were born in 1934 during the Depression in Canada. They were the first set of quintuplets to survive and they captured the world’s attention. The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood is a fiction account of the first five years of these babies’ lives. It was published in 2019, so it should be easily available on Libby or by request from the library.

The narrator of the story is Emma Trimpany, a teenage girl who is called to help the midwife at the birth of Mme. Dionne’s baby. To everyone’s surprise, there is not just one baby, but five! The parents, midwife and attendants are astounded – they don’t have the supplies or equipment to help these babies survive. Dr. Allan Dafoe, a country doctor, is called in and does everything he can to keep them alive and free from germs. But he also begins to profit from the media attention. Emma likes him, but sometimes wonders if he is doing the best thing for the babies.

I loved the character of Emma – she is a shy, artistic girl who has always felt like an outcast due to a large birthmark on her face. She gives the reader an honest look at the quintuplets’ situation through her eyes. She truly loves the girls for themselves, not as a spectacle or a money-making project.

The parents of the quintuplets are not likeable at all in this fictional account. Neither are several of the nurses and doctors. There is always a question of the cost of caring for the babies and who is going to profit from advertising and TV contracts. Even so, Emma gives us a focus on the babies themselves – not as five identical girls, but as five different individuals. Throughout the five years of the story, Emma grows stronger and comes to know herself and the world more clearly as the babies grow into little girls. I was disappointed in the ending – it seemed really abrupt, as if the story had gone on for too many pages and had to end ‘now’. Even so, I enjoyed the story of The Quintland Sisters.

I wanted to read Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise because he and his wife grew up in Illinois and I knew of his band – The Lt. Dan Band. The novel covers his life, beginning on the south side of Chicago and later moving to the north suburbs. He was not a good student, often on the wild side – but his life was transformed by the discovery of theatre when he got to high school. (The drama teachers thought he and his friend looked like gang members, and invited them to auditions for ‘West Side Story’.)

I enjoyed reading about John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf and other friends Gary Sinise met – who were attending Illinois State University, but about 3 years ahead of me. I also loved his stories of how they began the famous Steppenwolf theater in Chicago. In my mind, Sinise will always be Lt. Dan from the movie, Forrest Gump, and he includes tales of making that movie, as well as his climb to success in acting. (The book even has some wonderful pictures that correspond with the stories.) Interesting details are also shared about the movie, Apollo 13, and the CSI: New York tv series.

This biography really highlights the commitment that Gary Sinise has given to the veterans and first responders of our country. He wants each of us to remember that “freedom is never free – someone has to pay for it.” Thank you to Gary Sinise for supporting the men and women who have paid that price for us – your book brought their stories to my heart. I think anyone who reads Grateful American will appreciate those veterans. And it showed me that Gary Sinise was just a typical American kid, who grew up wanting the things we all want, but discovered a greater fulfillment in giving back to others. His story really impressed me.

Here is a link to a Grateful American book signing that you might enjoy:

Gary Sinise Book Signing & Interview | “Grateful American” 

If you enjoy a story that is a little corny, quirky and fanciful, try checking out Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce. The story’s setting is 1950’s England and New Caledonia (a French island in the South Pacific). The plot definitely COULD have happened as written, but it is very unlikely – but that is part of the charm of the book.

Margery Benson is a lonely spinster in her late 40’s who decides to travel to New Caledonia in search of a legendary Golden Beetle. She has had several tragedies in her life, dresses ‘like a potato’, has no confidence in herself and has no friends at all. Margery always does what is expected of her and tries to follow all proper rules. Enid Pretty is exactly the opposite. She is in her 20’s, makes ‘acquaintances’ wherever she goes because of her loud, boisterous personality, dyes her hair bleached blond, wears outlandish clothes and is very impulsive – to the point of stealing things quite often. Through a series of misadventures, the two women become friends and make it to New Caledonia to search for the elusive Golden Beetle. Will they find it before their visas expire? Will the police discover their whereabouts in a search for two female criminals? Will they make it off of the island alive?

I loved the wonderfully developed characters of Marge and Enid and I truly wanted them to succeed in their search. There were many many twists and turns in this novel and I liked it, even though it was a little eccentric and quirky. Reading Miss Benson’s Beetle was a great escape from the bad news we hear so often today.

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline is the first Science Fiction novel I have read for this blog. I really liked the first book and loved the movie, so I was looking forward to reading this sequel. If you do decide to pick this one up, make sure you have read Ready Player One first – or seen the movie – otherwise many of the references will not make any sense at all. (In our library, the book will be found in the YA display shelves near the teen room.)

The first 100 pages of Ready Player Two were on the boring side . . . just not much action and not much character building at all. Thankfully, the novel picked up pace after that and I enjoyed the rest of the story. Wade Watts is the main character who teams up with his old friends, Aech, Shoto and Art3mis to solve another video game type puzzle involving James Halliday and Ogden Morrow in their Oasis platform. The other main character is an AI (artificial intelligence) character named Anorak. He is threatening the future of the world and the friends are determined to stop him. Throughout the book there are hundreds of videogame, movie and music references from the 80’s. If you love John Hughes movies (“The Breakfast Club”, “Ferris Bueller”), the musical artist/Prince and ‘Lord of the Rings” stories, you will be entertained by the way Cline wove those things into his novel. I had to stop several times to play an excerpt of a particular 80’s song just to reminisce. 

If you enjoy video gaming, this book will be a must read. I do not play video games at all, but I enjoyed reading how the sequel continued the original story and brought the friends back together again.

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins has LOTS of unlikeable characters but I couldn’t help myself when reading – I didn’t want to put the book down because I wanted to know which one was really a murderer! 

The setting of the novel is present day Alabama. Jane Bell (not her real name) is a dog walker with a secret past… Eddie Rochester is a very wealthy widower (his wife died in a boating accident)… Tripp is a drunk (his wife also died in the boating accident)… John is Jane’s creepy roommate… and there are also the “neighborhood wives” who circle around Jane and Eddie with even more secrets to divulge. There is not really a likeable character in the bunch! But it’s the type of novel where you sometimes like to dislike them – after all, one or more of them is a murderer! There is lots of manipulation in this story – along with lots of jealousy and greed. There is also lots of profanity. (So if you don’t like bad language, steer away from this novel.) Different chapters tell the point of view of different characters, which I don’t always like…but in this book – it worked well.

The Wife Upstairs is a fun, easy to read thriller – an intriguing escape from a dreary, cold afternoon in winter! I probably wouldn’t classify it as a “super great” selection, but I did enjoy it and it moved along quickly. 

Did you know that the famous mystery writer, Agatha Christie, disappeared for eleven days in December 1926? When she finally reappeared, she claimed amnesia, and then NEVER spoke of the incident again. The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict is a historical fiction novel that alternates chapters between the early years of Agatha’s marriage to Archibald Christie and the eleven days of her disappearance.

I was really drawn into this historical fiction book. It was well-written and I found it to be a fast read. The ‘expectations for women’ were so unfair in the early 1900’s and were revealed so well in this story. I liked seeing Agatha grow into herself, but was disappointed that it took her a long time. (I guess viewpoint comes from me living in the 2000’s!)

As a fan of Agatha Christie mysteries, this mystery about her own life was a joy to read! And now I think I’ll grab a couple of her mystery books to reread!

Miracle Creek is a debut novel by Angie Kim and I found it to be extremely well written and engaging. The novel is basically a murder-mystery, most of which takes place in a courtroom. Each chapter is told by a different character in the story and their voices really give a wonderful insight to the qualities that make-up each individual. I liked knowing what drove each character’s personality, even if I didn’t particularly like that character.

The plot centers around an experimental hyperbaric oxygen treatment center run by a Korean family. Four patients and two parents are in the machine’s chamber one evening when a fire and explosion take place, killing 2 people and injuring 3 others. The author slowly unravels secrets that each character has kept hidden, not letting the full truth unfold until the end of the book. The novel explores family relationships, Korean Americans/immigration, parenting an autistic child and the widespread effects of not telling the truth. It would be a great book club book – lots of discussion points and philosophical questions.

I almost didn’t pick this book off of the shelf, but I am so glad that I did!

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin is not really a romance, but is the family story of four siblings – Renee, Joe, Carolyn and Fiona Skinner. The novel’s narrator is Fiona, as she looks back on her life at the age of 102. The author does a beautiful job describing the siblings’ relationships during different times in their lives – always loving each other, but often needing forgiveness and understanding.

This story covers a lifetime in the Skinner family and is beautifully written. There is not much action or adventure, but relationships and the thoughts of each individual receive great attention. The four children suffer trauma in their early lives which comes back to influence things they do and say many years later. I truly liked all of the siblings, especially Fiona. My heart hurt for each of them when life dealt them difficult times. But even in those difficult times, love is a constant among them. If you enjoy reading about families and the foundations/inner workings that hold them together, I think you will love The Last Romantics! 

I was excited to read Michael J. Fox’s new book,  No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality. I have enjoyed so many of his performances in the tv shows, “Family Ties,” “Spin City,” and “The Good Wife,” as well as his “Back To the Future” film series. I knew that Michael was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1991 at the age of 29, though he continued to act until very recently. 

No Time Like the Future was a great read – Michael J. Fox shares stories about his dog, his family, traveling and more. He also shares the optimism that he and his wife have chosen to embrace as they face his Parkinson’s disease. One devastating year takes a toll on Fox though and he loses his optimism for a period of time. It was interesting to read how he pulled himself back to a positive way of living, even though daily life must be very difficult for him. I really loved reading about his family relationships and his outlook on the future!

Below is a link to a “Sunday Today” tv interview with Michael J. Fox – he discusses his disease, his family, his home and his determination for optimism:

2020 Book Blog Review

Our Book Blog has been online for 8 months now – we hope you are enjoying it and have checked out a few of the selections. Today’s blog will be a “2020 Review” highlighting the Book Blog Books that have won awards from different organizations.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley was voted the #1 Best Mystery & Thriller in the Goodreads Choice Awards. (Votes are cast by actual readers and it had more than twice as many votes as the 2nd place mystery book.)  The Searcher by Tana French earned 6th place in the same category and also made Library Journal’s best of 2020 Crime Fiction list. The Bookpage Editors chose The Distant Dead by Heather Young as their 3rd place Mystery/Suspense book.

In the Historical Fiction category, Goodreads voters gave The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, a 3rd place nod. 4th place went to The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel.

Goodreads gave Anxious People by Fredrik Backman, 2nd place in the Fiction category. (It only missed earning 1st place by 6 votes!) USA Today chose it as one of the books that helped us get through 2020 – the editor said she finished it with a hug, a smile and tears in her eyes. (Anxious People was my favorite novel for this year.💕)

Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker finished in 6th place for Non-Fiction with the Goodreads voters. The Amazon Editors also placed it in their “Top 20” for the year and Library Journal and Time Magazine’s Editors included it on their lists as well. The Washington Post put Hidden Valley Road on its “10 Best Books of 2020” list.

History and Biography award winners also appeared in our Book Blog. Countdown 1945 by Chris Wallace and Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Crazy Horse made the Goodreads top 20 in this category.

Not everyone enjoys the same type of reading material, but it’s always fun to see which books others think belong in their “Best of Year” lists. I loved many books that didn’t make these lists at all, and you probably did too. 2020 was NOT a great year due to the pandemic, but at least we did have some great books that helped with the quarantine time! 

Come in and check one or two of them out if you haven’t read them yet! We have a special table just for Book Blog selections – so you don’t even have to search the shelves for them!

The Searcher is the first novel I have read by Tana French. It was a story set in a rural Irish village, near the bogs and mountains. This novel is a slow paced mystery/thriller, with a little more action near the end of the book. 

Cal Hooper, a retired American policeman, has moved to a fixer-upper home in Ireland’s rugged countryside. He is still dealing with divorce issues and a disconnect with his adult daughter. To his surprise, he befriends Trey, a teen from a broken family struggling to survive. The mystery enters when Trey asks him to find a brother, Brendan, who has disappeared. Slowly, the disturbing underside of the Irish community begins showing itself – endangering both Cal and Trey. Who or What chased Brendan away? (Or even worse, Who or What killed him?) I had some suspicions as I read, but there were some surprises along the way . . .

I will definitely look into some other books written by Tana French, such as her “Dublin Murder Squad” series, which begins with Into the Woods! 

I confess to being a “penguin person.”  While teaching, I loved listening to first graders tell me dozens of penguin facts they had learned during their January lessons and I love to watch the antics of penguins at the zoo. I also loved How the Penguins Saved Veronica by Hazel Prior. In this time of depressing news stories and limited contact with friends and relatives, this book was a breath of fresh air!

Veronica McCreedy is a wealthy 85 year old woman whose memory has occasional ‘blips.’ She seems to enjoy living alone, with only a housekeeper and a gardener – she has no relatives or friends and is rather crotchety in her old age. Her only joy is to watch a documentary, ‘Earth Matters,’ on her tv. Veronica is dismayed when the program ends its run and is replaced by ‘The Plight of Penguins.’ Surprisingly, she is drawn to the charming varieties of penguins, especially the Adele penguins of Antarctica. As Veronica’s interest in penguins grows, she decides to leave her substantial estate to penguin research – but only after visiting Antarctica first to investigate the project . . . In alternating chapters, Prior also introduces us to Patrick, an unemployed young man who is depressed from a breakup. He enters Veronica’s life as she discovers he is the grandson she never knew she had. He is not particularly likeable at the beginning of the novel, but he is affected by Veronica (Granny V) as the story goes along. The story of how Veronica lost touch with her family is also revealed a bit at a time.

I loved the character of Veronica and also loved the character, Terry, who is one of three penguin researchers. Through the penguins, all of the characters begin to bond and reveal their personalities, fears and backstories. How the Penguins Saved Veronica is a book that made me smile and touched my heart – I am so glad that I picked it up to read!!! 

If you are like Veronica and want to learn more about penguins, try this link:

https://www.penguinsinternational.org/penguin-articles/

After the End, by Clare Mackintosh, is a heart wrenching read. I was worried when I started the novel that I would find it too sad and depressing and have to quit – but the way Mackintosh writes is so compelling that I couldn’t stop until I made it to the end. 

The book tells the story of Pip and Max – their toddler son, Dylan, has had surgery and treatments for cancer and has a terminal diagnosis. Dr. Leila Khalili is also a key figure in the story. She has been treating Dylan for a year and cares very deeply for her patient and for his parents. In most cases, I would find it too difficult to read about such a sick child. But Dylan is sedated in the story – the tragic progression of his illness is more a prequel – this story shows how his parents love him and try to decide what is “best” for him. The first half of the story has Pip and Max as a united couple, both in their marriage and in Dylan’s treatment. The second half of the story has them at complete opposite ends – they have different opinions on what the doctors should do – and their case ends up in court. At times, the second half is confusing, but still really riveting, as it shows what happens ‘after the end.’ 

After the End reminded me of a Jodi Picoult novel. It was well written and the characters were likeable and flawed, just as we all are. If you do read it – let me know what you think of the ending!

If you are a history buff at all, you might be interested to read Killing Crazy Horse: The Merciless Indian Wars in America by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. It was an easy read – enough details to be really interesting, but not so many that I was bogged down trying to read it. Be warned that many sections are very brutal and graphic though. The savagery on both sides of the fighting was sad – but the authors presented fascinating factual accounts of battles and personalities from both perspectives.  

The book begins at Fort Mims, Alabama in 1813 where a massacre takes place. It continues through the 1800’s and ends in 1889 with the Oklahoma Land Rush. I was fascinated with the story of Native American tribes such as the Creek, Comanche, Sauk, Apache and Oglala. Some of their leaders – Cochise, Blackhawk, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and others are also described, including the qualities that made them so memorable. On the other side of the war is the U.S. Government and almost 20 presidents who had dealings with Native American tribes. There are many broken treaties and many dishonest people wrapped up in the history of the Native American story in America. In contrast, there were also some on both sides that tried to compromise – but in the end, all Native Americans are relocated to reservations.

I am so glad I chose this book to read, despite the horrific incidents that are described in many of the battles. I have visited some of the landmarks mentioned in the book, and reading Killing Crazy Horse made me want to visit more of them – many of the battle sights and landmarks are now protected in our National Park System. 

The Last Breath by Kimberly Belle is a great thriller/suspense novel for a cold, rainy afternoon read. (It’s an older book, published in 2014, so it is easily requested without a long wait.) Ray Andrews has been imprisoned for sixteen years for murdering his wife, Ella Mae. His children – Gia, Lexi and Bo – have not talked to him in all of that time, believing that he truly did kill their stepmother. Gia was only 18 at the time of the murder, and has spent the past sixteen years travelling the globe as a humanitarian worker. (And trying to run away from the horrible memories in her past.) As the story begins, Gia has returned home to stay with her father for his last weeks of life – he has been released from prison on house arrest as he is dying of cancer. Now Gia begins to wonder – was he really guilty? And if he is innocent, then who did murder her step-mother?

The chapters alternate between Gia’s current life being back in her Tennessee hometown and Ella Mae’s life, sixteen years previous. It was fun to try and discover clues along with Gia in her search for the true murderer. There is also a love story emerging between Gia and the town bar owner, Jake Foster. The book explores family relationships, family secrets, pain and forgiveness and it kept my interest. I really liked The Last Breath and did not discover the true killer until Belle revealed it in the book! 

There are so many historical fiction books about WWII, and if you enjoy that genre, please check out The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel. It is a wonderful story that I read in two sittings because I just couldn’t put it down! The plot is familiar, but the characters drew me into the book right away. Eva Traube, an 86 year old librarian in Florida, sees a newscast about a book that was stolen by the Nazis. A German library curator is trying to reunite it with its owner. Eva knows it is hers and wants to go and claim it. But doing so will dig up memories and stories that Eva has kept hidden for over 60 years . . . 

The setting is Paris as the Nazi’s are beginning to take over France. Eva Traube and her parents are Jewish and on a list to be arrested. By luck, Eva and her mother escape and end up in a remote village in France’s free zone. Eva has always had great artistic talent, and she is recruited to work for the French resistance as a forger – helping create documents to enable Jewish children to escape to Switzerland. There are many wonderful characters in her network: Remy, a resistance fighter; Pere Clement, a Catholic priest; Madame Noirot, a batty old book seller; Joseph Pelletier, a fellow Jewish comrade; Genevieve, a fellow forger and Madame Barbier, a boarding house owner. The group works together for quite some time before things begin to fall apart in their resistance network. Is there a traitor? Will any of them escape to freedom before the Germans find them? I loved reading The Book of Lost Names to discover the answers. Kristin Harmel (and Eva) tell us in the story that those “who realise that books are magic . . . will have the brightest lives.” I hope this book spreads some magic for those of you that choose to read it. 

Here is a link to an article with pictures about Adolpho Kaminsky, who was one of the actual Jewish forgers during WWII:https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-forger-who-saved-thousands-of-jews-from-the-nazis/

Sometimes I just need a heartwarming “chick lit” book to read, and Dear Emmie Blue was the perfect choice! Lia Louis is the author of this quick read, and she did a great job of developing wonderful characters that made me laugh and cry, sometimes in the same paragraph. The story has great insights on friendship and love – as well as forgiveness. It is both a romance and ‘growing up’ story about Emmie.

In her teens, Emmie released a balloon into the sky, with a secret and her email attached. It was found over 100 miles away by Lucas Moreau, who became Emmie’s best friend and has remained so for the past 14 years. I won’t tell anymore of the plot, because doing so would be a ‘spoiler’ – but there are many great characters in this book and you just need to read it to discover all about them. There are some twists and turns, most of them are predictable, but I didn’t mind that at all. I still enjoyed every minute of reading Dear Emmie Blue!

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd was recommended to me by my wonderful co-worker, Darcy . . . and I am so glad that she suggested it!! I’m not sure I would have picked it up to read on my own, and I truly enjoyed this novel.

The setting of The Book of Longings moves from Galilee to Alexandria and back again, during the time of Jesus. I am not giving away any of the plot by telling you that this historical fiction work imagines a young girl named Ana, as being Jesus’ wife. Ana is a young girl from a wealthy family whose passion is to write down her thoughts and stories and those of other women of her day. She rails against the cultural restraints that apply to women in her time – often bringing difficulties upon herself. (Many times, I feared for Ana’s well-being because her beliefs and actions made powerful men very angry.) Ana eventually becomes the wife of Jesus and lives with his family in Nazareth. Familiar Biblical characters appear throughout the book – Mary/the mother of Jesus, Mary/Martha/Lazarus, Judas, John the Baptist, Herod and others. 

I found the story so fascinating and well-written – I didn’t feel that it contradicted any of the Christian teachings of the Bible. Monk was very careful to research all of the facts presented in the Bible and kept her story true to the Gospel. The humanity and kindness of Jesus are apparent throughout the book.  (I have read that some feel this book is controversial, but I was not offended by it in any way.) The details of everyday life for women in the ancient times are explored so wonderfully by Monk! This book brings up many discussion points for readers, so would be great for a book club – or just for people who are interested in a fictional story based on women that might have been contemporaries of Jesus. (Darcy said that the audiobook is excellent, if the ancient names and pronunciations are a stumbling block for you.)

Here is a link to a short interview with Sue Monk Kidd about how she came to write The Book of Longings:

https://www.wbgo.org/post/best-selling-author-sue-monk-kidd-chats-about-book-longings-and-coronavirus-pandemic#stream/0

I decided to delve into a non-fiction book for this week’s blog – The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston. (Preston is co-author with Lincoln Child of the famed FBI agent Pendergast series of novels, but has also written for National Geographic, American Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian and others.)

This novel tells about the legend of a lost city of hidden wealth in the Honduran interior and how a group of scientists, archaeologists and explorers discovered a hidden cache in the rainforest jungles of that country in 2012. The journey is treacherous and drug cartels control most of the country. There are also deadly snakes, disease-carrying insects, torrential rains, howler monkeys and more. But the site that they eventually discover is wonderful and has not been touched by humans in hundreds of years. (The exploration of this area continues even today.) The story also details a disease that many of the scientists/writers contracted while in the country – a disease that is not common in the U.S., but is common in many parts of the world – leishmaniasis. I thought there were many connections to our current pandemic, even though the disease is different.


The Lost City of the Monkey God is very heavy in historical detail – sometimes the medical and scientific facts make the selection slow to read and a little dry. However, I highly recommend the book to anyone who is interested in history, exploration and ancient cultures. I especially enjoyed the passages about the days and nights the group actually spent in the rainforest. It made me appreciate my “pampered” life!

Curse of the “Lost City of the Monkey God”? 

I am a Fredrik Backman fan, so Anxious People has been on my “want to read” list since I first heard that it was being published. It did not disappoint!! (But you must enjoy  Backman’s style of writing to adore this book as much as I did.)

The premise is that a group of strangers attend a real estate apartment open house, suddenly find themselves confronted with a run-away bank robber and end up being held hostage. (Don’t be fooled into thinking this book is a thriller or suspense novel though. It is not!) During the course of the hostage drama, Backman unveils the feelings, flaws and personalities of the hostages, the bank robber and the two policemen who are first on the scene. I laughed out loud several times and also felt sadness and sympathy for several of the characters.

Backman is a master at writing passages that perfectly describe a situation. The writing is often funny, always honest and I found myself rereading passages quite often because they were so “spot on.” The writing may seem confusing at times – partly because we as human beings are very confusing. Anxious People also lets us see that there is good in all of us – and we need each other in order to live a better life. It also emphasized the difference that kindness can make. I loved the uplifting tone in this book and I was so happy that this novel met all of my expectations and more! I hope many of you find the same enjoyment that I did when reading it!!!!

“All stories need watchers. Otherwise, it’s like they never happened.” This quote from The Distant Dead by Heather Young has stayed with me – as has the haunting, desolate backdrop for the story. As I read the book, I was a watcher who was drawn into the lives of all of the characters and their choices. The setting is Nevada’s desert hills and I could picture it vividly through Young’s excellent writing.

Sal, a middle school orphan, lives with his ‘off the grid’ uncles on family land. (Sal is the heart of this story and I hoped for good outcomes because of him.) Nora Wheaton is a social studies teacher who cares for her ailing father. (Both of them love the history of the Paiute Native Americans.) Adam Merkel is a former university professor and the new middle school math teacher. (Quiet, somewhat odd and a loner.) The book reveals their lives bit by bit as the story progresses and the complexity of each character develops so perfectly that I often reread passages just to enjoy them a little longer. 

As the story begins, Sal discovers a burned body in the hills and by the end of the day, everyone learns that it is the new math teacher. From that point on, the story is a murder mystery – but not one of those action-packed thrillers – more like a slow, simmering suspense story that reveals facts bit by bit. And I was not able to put the book down!!!

I don’t want to give away any of the story, but if you love excellent writing, real depth of characters and thought-provoking reads, DO READ THIS BOOK! I am reluctant to turn it back in, because I almost want to go back and read it again to see what nuances I discover in a second reading! I found The Distant Dead to be a WONDERFUL book!

I’m back this week with a historical fiction blog on The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff. Most of the main characters in this novel are female, and are agents in the Special Operations Executive in Britain during the 1940’s. These women defied tradition by taking on a job that had typically been done by men. The story had some mystery to it, as well as the turmoil of the war efforts of the time. It also has discussion questions at the end, which makes it great for book clubs or just for extra insight into the characters and writing.

Grace Healey discovers a forgotten suitcase in Grand Central Terminal one morning on her way to work. She opens it to try to find some ID of the owner and finds an envelope of pictures – all of young, nicely dressed women. Eventually, Grace ends up tracking down the owner of the suitcase – Eleanor Trigg – and begins a journey to discover why these women were important to Eleanor. In alternating chapters, the story of women in the pictures (Marie, Josie, Maureen, and others) is told as it happened during WWII. Their story began in Britain and continued into France, Germany and the United States. Their stories are fictional, but are inspired by actual women of the SOE who trained, were deployed and operated in missions throughout France.

I loved the mysteries in The Lost Girls of Paris! Who are the women in the photos? Who will help Grace learn about the pictures? Who is on the allies side and who is possibly betraying them? I cared about the characters and I was intrigued by all of the unknown answers to my questions – so I couldn’t stop reading once I got to the second half of the book! This is a great read for those who love the WWII setting and like strong female characters!

Here are a couple of links about some of the actual SOE female operatives:

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2012/05/21/special-agents-the-women-of-soe/

historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/The-Female-Spies-Of-SOE/ 

If you are looking for an easy read with a little romance and a little mystery, you might like The Lies That Bind by Emily Giffin. I read it in two days – it would be a great “patio read” or “rainy day” read.

The setting is New York City in the summer before 9/11. Cecily Gardner is a twenty-eight year old reporter who has just broken up with her “perfect” boyfriend. She meets Grant Smith in a bar and feels an instant connection with him. Their friendship and relationship continue to build through the summer and then the terrible terrorist attacks of 9/11 occur. Cecily loses Grant in the tower collapse and then begins discovering that he was not at all what he seemed. She must come to terms with the love she had for him and also with the secrets that he kept from her. (I liked the character of Cecily, but I loved her gay best friend, Scottie – he seems the most honest of all of the characters in the book.) The story explores the search for love, acceptance and being true to oneself.  

Sometimes I don’t want a book that requires me to think too deeply – I want an easy “get-away” story to spend the afternoon reading. The Lies That Bind fit the bill perfectly. The story is a little predictable, but was still an enjoyable read.

I read a book this week that is not my typical genre to choose . . . “Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World” by Chris Wallace. This non-fiction book begins on the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt dies and Vice-President Harry S. Truman must suddenly take on the job as the leader of the United States after only a few weeks serving as Vice President.. (https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/harry-s-truman/)  WWII has been going on for years and the military has been working on the development of a secret weapon – one that even Vice-President Truman knows nothing about. The book documents the details behind the 116 days that lead up to the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. 

This book will really appeal to readers who enjoy military history because it offers glimpses into the men and women who worked on the Manhattan Project, the secret name for the project to develop the atomic bomb. Chris Wallace does a great job describing the people involved with the project, including thoughts they may have written in diaries and moral dilemmas that they wrestled with as the project unfolded. I especially liked the inclusion of many photos in the book.

I loved that “Countdown 1945,” showed how President Truman  wrestled with the difficult decisions made during the war. He was a down-to-earth, midwest man who had no patience for “games” or small-talk. Wallace included perceptions Truman had about Churchill and Stalin during their meetings about the war. It also detailed the different jobs that went into the project and the mindsets of the flight crews and pilots – who were also kept in the dark about certain information until the last minute. These men and women changed the world we live in – I am so glad that I was able to read their story!

I am often influenced by the book reviewers that say, “If you loved ______, then read ______.” My most recent experience was in reading, “This Tender Land” by William Kent Krueger. (Many sites compared it to “When the Crawdads Sing.”) I have read several of Krueger’s books and have usually found them very realistic and very down to earth – many are set in the midwest part of the U.S. and the familiarity of that setting drew me into his books.

“This Tender Land” begins in the summer of 1932 in the Lincoln Indian Training School. Odie O’Banion and his brother, Albert are orphaned white boys who have been sent to this dismal, cruel institution after the death of their parents. Mose is a mute Sioux boy who also lives at the school. After several tragic events, the three boys run away from the school and its evil administrators, along with a young girl named Emmy. They travel along rivers in a small canoe, meeting both cruel and kind people on their journey. It is a time of great poverty in much of the midwest, since this is the Depression era. They have to be resourceful and also have to be wary of being noticed and caught by the authorities.

I loved all four main characters in this book! They were very different children, with different motivations and personalities, but Odie, Albert, Mose and Emmy became part of my world while I was reading about their adventures. I liked to see the different ways that they approached problems in their journey and I loved the bonds that developed between them. Krueger did a terrific job of making the Depression era realities come alive in “This Tender Land.” If you are looking for a realistic read – I think the best recommendation I can give this book is that it was a WONDERFUL story that left me with a feeling of hope! 

If you love mysteries and suspense, try reading “The Girl from Widow Hills” by Megan Miranda! I LOVED this book – it was a real ‘page-turner’ with several twists and turns along the way. I actually read the entire book in one day because i couldn’t put it down!

Arden Olivia Maynor was 3 years old when she became a media sensation as ‘the girl who was rescued from a drainage tunnel’ after being missing for three days. She has no real memories of that time – only a sense of panic when she is in a tight space and a lingering memory of being a sleepwalker when she was a child. She has moved away from her childhood home and is a hospital administrator in her late twenties as “The Girl from Widow Hills” begins. Imagine Olivia’s horror as she awakes from sleepwalking one night to find herself barefoot in her yard with a dead man that she does not know! The story has several characters that seem friendly, but also have some suspicious tendencies – Rick/the elderly neighbor, Bennett/the hospital co-worker, Elyse/a nurse and friend and more. Olivia again becomes the center of attention in a sensational news story and this well-written book kept me on pins and needles wondering what new danger was about to happen. Since our current news seems to be about sensationalizing every story, this book also made me think about public reaction to news stories and how those reactions affect the people actually living the story. 

I really enjoyed “The Girl from Widow Hills” and plan to check-out “The Last House Guest” by Megan Miranda next! (“The Last House Guest” is on Reese Witherspoon’s

Book Club list . . . https://hello-sunshine.com/post/reeses-book-club-all-picks)

I was fascinated by the new Graham Moore fiction book, “The Holdout.” Several quotes in the book have stuck with me and kept me thinking about them, even after finishing the book several days ago . . . #1 – “Telling the truth isn’t always the best legal strategy.” and #2 – “The only thing worse than being wrong is having a bottomless need to prove that you never were.”

“The Holdout” is a thriller that is set within the judicial system. Maya Seale, a criminal defense attorney, is the main character. I liked her and was drawn to her sense of honor. The plot alternates between the present time and events that happened ten years earlier when Maya was a juror for five months in a high-profile murder trial. (At that time, Maya was very young and had not even started to pursue a career as a lawyer.) During the old trial, a black teacher, Bobby Nock, was acquitted of killing a white billionaire’s 15 year old daughter, Jessica Silver. A poll showed that 84% of Americans at that time believed that the jurors had let a killer go free. (That scenario brought to mind many trials in the past few years in our country.) 

In the current timeline, it is the ten year anniversary of the Bobby Nock trial and all the jurors have been asked to gather for a documentary and to see what new evidence might be revealed. One of the gathered jurors is found murdered and a whole new sequence of events unfolds… What relationships are discovered between Nock and Silver? Between certain jurors? Between jurors and the Silver family? Between jurors and Nock??? So many questions keep the twists and turns coming so fast that I did not want to put down the book!

“The Holdout” had me questioning our legal system, the presentation of evidence or lack of that evidence and the genuine belief that I had that ‘the truth will come out at the trial.’ Despite the problem with truth and our justice system, there truly were honorable characters in this book. In the end, “The Holdout” gave me hope that even if “truth isn’t always the best legal strategy,” the good people in this world can impose their will into situations and influence outcomes. If you enjoy the law, murder mysteries, and lots of turns of events – Read “The Holdout” by Graham Moore!

I confess that I am drawn to WWII fiction books, so while looking for a book to blog about – I discovered “The Memory of Us” by Camille Di Maio. (The publishing companies are just now catching up on printing new books, so I chose this selection because it was published in 2016 and is available!) It is Di Maio’s debut novel, and it was a touching historical romance that I really enjoyed!

“The Memory of Us” is set in the late 1930’s in Liverpool, England and delves into the Catholic/Protestant conflicts, the Blitz, Catholic rituals and beliefs and forbidden love. Julianne Wescott is a well-to-do debutante from a Protestant family who falls for Kyle McCarthy, a Catholic gardener intending to enter the seminary. The story takes us from their first meeting all the way to their old age – and there are many twists, turns and tragedies along the way. . . but always present in the story is love and forgiveness. Both Julianne and Kyle are very compelling and likeable characters and their friends and families play important roles in the story as well. Julianne even discovers that she has a twin brother, Charles, who is blind and deaf and in a home for handicapped individuals. (She never knew he existed, because her parents do not acknowledge him.) Julianne follows her plan to become a nurse and Kyle ends up enlisting in the military effort. I did not want to put this book down because the story drew me in and I felt for these two characters so much.

If you enjoy WWII stories and romance, try reading “The Memory of Us!”

I love to read historical fiction books – and it had been a while since I’d picked up a good one. I was pleasantly surprised to read Jess Montgomery’s new book, “The Hollows.” The setting is Moonvale Hollow Village, Ohio in 1926. It is an area of southeastern Ohio where a real coal mining town of Moonville used to exist. If you visit there today, you can hike to the Moonville Tunnel and hear local legends about ghosts named The Engineer, The Brakeman, The Lavender Lady and The Bully. (For more info, visit www.moonvilletunnel.net or tripadvisor.) In the book, “The Hollows,” there are not any ‘real’ ghosts at all – but there are hidden secrets from the past that have affected many lives in the town.

The main character is Lilly Ross, a female sheriff in the town of Moonvale. Her friends, Hildy and Marvena are other strong female characters, as well as several townspeople and relatives. Lily is called in to investigate the death of an elderly woman who wandered away from an asylum and was killed by a train at the Moonvale Hollow Tunnel. Did she fall? Or was she pushed? Facts and rumors about the Underground Railroad and abolitionists begin to emerge as Lilly follows the trail of clues left by the deceased woman. Just as troubling to Lily are discoveries about a possible WKKK group in Moonvale Hollow Village. (I never knew that the Women’s Ku Klux Clan existed in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Arkansas during the 1920’s.) The group spreads hatred and fear among the residents and can only be stopped by those who stand up for what is right. 

If you enjoy strong female characters and like the historical aspects included from the 1920’s, you will love this book! “The Hollows” can be read on its own and is a great story – but now that I’ve finished it, I need to read “The Widows,” which is the first book in the Kinship Historical Mystery Series. I think “The Widows” will give more background on why Lily’s husband died and why she became sheriff. It may also give more information about some of Lily’s friends and what happened to their husbands. And I’m guessing, after “The Widows” and “The Hollows,” more books in this series might be coming in the future . . .

P.S.  I DID go back and read “The Widows,” which is the first book in Jess Montgomery’s series. It tells the story of Lily and her first husband/sheriff Daniel Ross and also tells the story of Marvena, Tom and Jurgis. The plot centers around the coal mining industry and the unionization of the coal miners. I wish I would have read it first – just because I would have had a deeper understanding of Lily’s past. Marvena is a very central character in “The Widows” – and in “The Hollows,” she is mentioned often, but not much detail is given as to why she seems to stay in the shadows and out of community social life. Sooooo – my suggestion would be to read “The Widows” and then read “The Hollows.”

 
 

My next book blog is on “Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of An American Family” by Robert Kolker.  This book was an Oprah Book Club pick – not always books that appeal to my taste, even though most are well written – but “Hidden Valley Road” kept my interest and I was really drawn into the Galvin family and their tragic story.

“Hidden Valley Road” is a true story about Don and Mimi Galvin and their 12 children, born between 1945-1965. Six of their boys developed schizophrenia before they reached adulthood. The other 4 boys and 2 girls did not develop the disease, but grew up surrounded by mental illness. Even though there are 14 main characters in the book, the author did an excellent job presenting their personalities clearly and I was able to feel such empathy for all of them. In those years, not much was known about mental illness, especially schizophrenia. Parents were often blamed by doctors and others for the disease that the children developed, so Mimi and Don ignored many behaviors, were embarrassed and ashamed by other behaviors and were at a loss as to what to do with the sick boys. They usually pretended that everything was ok in the family, even as they all knew that “ok” was very far from the truth. The parents waited a long, long time before seeking medical help – partly because there was little help available and partly due to the shame of doctors blaming them. When treatment facilities were finally used as their last resort, the “cures” were as damaging to some of the boys as their disease.

The first 6 chapters deal with Don and Mimi’s early lives and marriage.  Beginning in chapter 7, Kolker discusses the mental illness as it affects each of the boys.  But he also shows how the disease affected the well children. Every member of that household was a victim of mental illness in some aspect. I did not realize that schizophrenia presents differently in each person that it affects. No wonder doctors and scientists have had such a difficult time treating these patients. Today, the studies are ongoing in trying to relieve the symptoms of schizophrenia and related illnesses – most scientists now believe that some combination of genetic makeup and environment (triggers) cause this brain disease to show itself. They are studying prenatal factors, nutrition, drug therapy, exercise, social relationships and more – many of the theories and experimental studies are presented in the later part of the book. The Galvins are still involved in many studies on schizophrenia and the two Galvin daughters wanted this book to be written to show the world what mental illness can do to a family. They wanted readers to realize that shaming and blaming those who are affected is not helpful and that understanding of the disease is needed.

Anyone with an wish to learn more about mental illness will want to read “Hidden Valley Road.” There are unpleasant details that had to be part of this story, but Kolker was a wonderful writer and I am glad that I picked this book to read!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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“The Fifth Avenue Story Society,” by Rachel Hauck, is a great book for those of you who like modern Christian fiction! The setting is current day New York City and the five main characters all receive mysterious invitations to a meeting in a 19th century room at the Fifth Avenue Library. The characters are well developed and likeable:

Jett – a college literature professor who is working on his dissertation. 

Lexa – an successful executive assistant at a trendy restaurant chain. 

Coral – a high profile owner of a cosmetic company.

Chuck – an Uber driver and divorced dad.

Ed – a retired widower.

Each of the characters has a detailed backstory, including Jett and Lexa who used to be married to each other. 
I enjoyed learning more about each person as the chapters unfolded. There are hidden secrets, tragic events and successes that have happened during the course of each character’s life. Their “mysterious society” becomes a bond of friendship that begins to change lives for the better. There is also a strong thread of romance throughout the book and a powerful message of hope. 


“The Fifth Avenue Story Society” is probably not a huge “award winner,” but I did enjoy it. I found myself wanting to continue reading ‘just one more page’ to find out what turn the story would take. Each chapter was a refreshing, pleasant read for me and I recommend it to all who need a reminder that hope is always there for us.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I found an intriguing book for those of you who love murder mysteries! “The Guest List” by Lucy Foley is a great read!! The setting is a tiny island off of the coast of Ireland where a wedding is taking place. The island is known as Cormorant Island – named after cormorant birds – I looked them up and Irish folklore says that a cormorant sitting on a church steeple foretells bad luck. Also they are sometimes seen as carrying messages from the dead. The wedding guests are staying at The Folly – another word I looked up – a costly, decorative building which was originally built to provide shelter; looks very usable, but is not what it seems. So the evil and the deception are foreshadowed from the beginning! As you can probably tell from the title, there is a rather large cast of characters – and each of them narrates different chapters, allowing you to gather different points of view. 

There is: Aoife (pronounced EE-fa – I looked it up!) the wedding planner and her partner, Freddie. Will and Jules – the happy couple. Olivia – sister of the bride. Charlie and his wife, Hannah – friend of the bride. Piers, Johnno, Femi, Angus, Duncan and Peter – friends of the groom. And a few other relatives and guests attending the wedding. Don’t let the list of characters put you off from reading this book though! I thought I might need to write a list in order to keep them straight, but their stories were told so well that I felt like I knew the characters and had no trouble remembering who was who. (Of course, Ms Foley makes sure you understand that every character is hiding some bit of his/her feelings or past history.)

I can’t divulge many details – don’t want to give anything away – but you do not find out who is murdered NOR who is the murderer until the end of the book. I loved the suspense of trying to figure out who might have made someone mad enough to commit the crime and I kept changing my mind about who might have been attacked. I didn’t want to put this book down and I can’t wait to hear if YOU suspected the killer before you reached the end of the book!

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Are you ready for Book Blog #2 from WPL? I just finished reading “Endurance: My Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery” by Scott Kelly. (Long title, I know.) I had heard Scott interviewed on a radio broadcast and they were comparing his long time in space with the isolation that we are all feeling with the Covid-19 pandemic. (Scott Kelly spent 6 months on the International Space Station and then, several years later, spent another year on the ISS.) That comparison hooked me, and I downloaded “Endurance” onto my Kindle that afternoon. (I really like the feel of a real book, but right now, books on Kindle are wonderful! If you don’t have the Libby app – please check it out!)
I enjoyed “Endurance” by Scott Kelly and found the details that he included about his struggles in school, his many mistakes as a youth and his persistence once he found a goal to pursue, very interesting. There is quite a bit of scientific info included in the book, but it is mixed with lots of humor and personal tidbits as well. At a time when so many countries seem to be at odds . . . it is great to read about “the largest peaceful international collaboration in history” by so many countries that contribute to the space station. I enjoyed the little details about astronauts on the station – like having to sleep while floating and the need for lots of velcro. Kelly also included lots of details about the Russian space program compared to the American one (NASA). (Some are shocking and some are very amusing.) A few times, the science facts made the reading drag just a bit, but not very often. Most of the time, I was very intrigued by the book and wanted to get to more of the story about Kelly’s year on the space station.
I especially like the following 2 quotes from the book . . .
#1 – “For certain things, better can be the enemy of good enough.”
#2 – “Sometimes you don’t feel how exhausting an experience has been until it’s over and you allow yourself to stop ignoring it.”
When comparing Kelly’s time in space to my time “staying at home” – I feel lucky to be quarantined in my home where I have running water, fresh fruits and vegetables and can change clothes daily. Being an astronaut is not as glamorous as it sometimes appears – and it is definitely not comfortable. About half of the chapters cover space flights and the other half describe the journey that Kelly took to get into the astronaut program – and it was NOT always easy! He does talk about how he paced himself to get through a year without his family and friends and things he did to make the time easier to bear. (I’ll let you discover those little details on your own.) And he does emphasize the importance of exercise when you are confined, both for your body and your mind.
I think both of those ideas jumped right out at me when I read them! Sometimes I definitely get too focused on EXACTLY how I want something to be, when perhaps, it would work just fine being a little less perfect. And I think we all might experience the second quote when our lives go back to a more normal pattern – we need to give ourselves permission to feel exhausted when this pandemic is all over . . . just with the stress of keeping it all together for our families during this crazy year.
I would highly recommend “Endurance” to any readers who have an interest in space! If you enjoy reading memoirs, this book would appeal to you also. I usually love fiction, but truly enjoyed this non-fiction selection! (If you download it, be sure to get the one by Scott Kelly. There is another book with the same title that is about Shackleford’s Antarctic expedition.) Kelly also has published a book of photographs that he took while in space, (which I definitely want to see) and a children’s book about his time in space.
One more endnote . . . when we are free to travel again, if you are in Florida, check out the Kennedy Space Center. It is a little pricey, but it is fascinating and very kid-friendly. My husband and I visited there last spring, and spent the entire day enjoying everything they had displayed. It sure had changed since I was there 15 years ago!! And now that I’ve read, “Endurance,” I want to go back and visit there again!

Hi Library Friends!

Welcome to Velanne’s first attempt at writing a blog with reflections on books I’ve read. I hope to explore at least one or two books each month and hopefully try to consider several different genres. I tend to fall back on historical or literary fiction for most of my “enjoyable” reading – and I know there are some great books out there that don’t fall into those categories! I have always loved to read – and now that many of us are “stuck at home” more, I have even more time to sit on my porch and escape with a good book =)

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I chose “When We Believed in Mermaids” by Barbara O’Neal for my first book – the cover just kept calling my name with its beautiful ocean scene and colors. (I admit that I am often attracted to books by their covers…) This book is 348 pages long (but seemed to read much more quickly than that) and was published in 2019. The story is part mystery/part story of family relationships with a little bit of romance thrown in as well. It leads us through the relationship between two sisters, Kit and Josie, who grew up on a beach in California. The chapters alternate between sisters – each telling their experience in the evolving story – which was a wonderful way to see their different perspectives and to understand why they chose the paths they did.
Here is a very short intro, without giving away any major plot details…for the past 15 years, Kit has been grieving the death of her sister, Josie, who was killed in a terrorist attack in Europe. Out of the blue, Kit sees a news clip with a woman in the background who looks EXACTLY like her sister. Kit gets on a plane to New Zealand to investigate the possibility that Josie is alive. The story of the girl’s childhood is fed to us bit by bit, and I really got drawn into the lives of this family. The character development was superb – and I grew to really like both Kit and Josie. I have two sisters, so the complex relationship between the girls and their parents was so interesting. O’Neal added enough detail to bring the story alive without having it bog down and become boring. The topics of good/bad parenting, addiction, alcoholism, forgiveness and love all play an important role in the story. The scenery of California and New Zealand are also so vividly described – this is a perfect summer read or beach read!!
I absolutely loved, “When we Believed in Mermaids”!! I was never that big of a fan of mermaids when I was little, but did like the idea of the “magic” of a mermaid. This book had its own magic – it “carried me away” into the lives of Kit, Josie, their family and friends. Even better, it kept alive the magic feelings of “hope” and love”! I was sad when the book finished – I wanted to read more! I will be looking into some of the other books that Barbara O’Neal has written – really loved her style of writing!

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