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:
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:
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!
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:
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!
“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!
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!