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!
“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 disertation.
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!
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 =)
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!