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This quarter’s blog has 12 entries from enthusiastic readers. Sample some of these selections while you rest those tired shoveling muscles.
The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs (Historical Fiction)
Great description of Alexander Hamilton and wife Eliza, and the historical times they lived through. Told from their point of view - like an inside peek into their marriage and the tumultuous events surrounding their lives. Highly recommend and easy to read.
Reviewed by Judy Danielson
My Name is Lucy Barton (Contemporary Fiction)
Don't pick up this book looking for happy endings, characters whom life has treated perfectly, or a life studded with silver clouds -- the things people share on Facebook. Elizabeth Strout and its main character, Lucy Barton, know that "life is lonely and unfair, that only the greatest luck will bring blessings like a long life and a quick death". It is a sad book but perfectly written, seamlessly revealing character and plot, whose tone exactly matches its subject. Its subject is our inarticulateness with those whom we have the deepest connection, our searches for happiness that unintentionally hurt the people we love, how the wounds of social class heal slowly, if ever. Lucy Barton's story begins in a hospital where she suffers a mysterious infection, the book's overarching metaphor. It haunts me because of its courage and because it reveals a part of the human condition I’d never seen on the page before, which is why it can change your life.
Reviewed by Betsy Bowen
Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear (Mystery)
The latest Maisie Dobbs, sprightlier than the last few, is enlivened by a plot that unfolds in Hitler's Munich. Maisie is almost back on her feet, after suffering a series of tragedies, and forthrightly takes on the Third Reich, along with a string of other suspicious characters. A minor mystery to me is that every day she dresses in linen, but never has to iron.
Reviewed by Jane Andrews
Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips (Historical Fiction)
Quiet Dell is a novel based on an actual event. In Chicago in 1931, Asta Eicher, mother of 3, is lonely and despairing, pressed for money after the sudden death of her husband. She begins receiving seductive letters from a chivalrous man named Harry Powers who promises to cherish and protect her and the children. Weeks later all 4 Eicher’s are dead. Emily Thornhill who is one of the few women journalists of this time works for a Chicago paper and becomes invested in the story, the trial of Powers and the family. The book includes actual photographs of the family and of Powers. I enjoyed the book and found the mix of fact and fiction well blended.
Reviewed by Connie Locashio
The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens (Contemporary Fiction)
It was an excellent read and a very compelling story. It is about a boy from a dysfunctional family who leaves and goes away to college and is assigned to write a paper about an old person. Since he has no one in his family he begins his interview at a nursing home with a convicted killer who is dying of cancer. A relationship develops and a mystery about his conviction. I could not put this book down. This was the first novel for Eskens and he has won several awards as a new author.
Reviewed by Lucy DiRenzo
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Historical Fiction)
After experiencing the world though the senses of Doerr's characters, it is hard to believe that this is a work of fiction. The realities of WWII, in which the story is centered, are unfortunately quite real.
The greatest thing about this book has to be the characters. Our hero is a girl who is curious, thoughtful, and blind by the age of six. She loves marine biology and asks too many questions. I wouldn't be opposed to having a daughter just like her. And you just know that in spite of everything, she is the kind of person who will find a way through whatever challenges arise.
Many other characters ended up being major contributors to what turns out to be a shimmering web of story. Central was the way in which people affect other people, offering drive and depth to the personalities involved.
The only thing that threatened to slow down the momentum was perhaps a slight heaviness from too much nostalgia, but it could be argued that the nostalgia felt in real life, by those imprisoned, forced to leave their homes, etc. would have been a thousand times more obliterating. And anyway, calmer readers may find this level of detail naught but an asset to Doerr's storytelling.
Reviewed by Sarah Adelberg
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Biography/Memoir)
An amazing story of a Somalian woman who grew up in several north African countries, and escaped an arranged marriage by making her way to Holland and applying for asylum. She educated herself, learned 4 + languages, graduated from college, served in the Dutch parliament, and left for America when her life was threatened. She has described her experience growing up in the Muslim religion, denounces many of the practices, and has gained an international reputation. Well written - informative - fascinating - well worth reading !!
Reviewed by Judy Danielson
American Character; A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good by Colin Woodard (American History)
No matter where you are on the American political spectrum, this book will give you some perspective on these two opposite beliefs from the landing of the Mayflower to current Senate deadlocks. Woodard put forward the premise that only through perceived fairness of the federal government can we protect our freedom, both economic and civic. This Maine journalist writes a persuasive review on a national stage.
Reviewed by Mary Jean Cowing
H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Nature Writing/Personal Memoir)
Helen Macdonald’s H Is For Hawk is a great description of her attempts to train the brutal and most dangerous raptor, the goshawk. When Mcdonald’s father dies unexpectedly she finds herself working through her bereavement by recalling her walks into the woods with him. He taught her so much about observing nature and about the art of falconry. Mcdonald was an avid reader as a child and turns to the ancient books on falconry to obtain and train her gos. Nature lovers should be prepared to deal with the sometimes treacherous ways of our natural beings.
Reviewed by Jim DiRenzo
The Firebrand and the First Lady by Patricia Bell-Scott (History)
This new book is about the friendship between Eleanor Roosevelt and an African-American woman several decades her junior. This unusual link fascinated me. Pauli Murray becomes a lawyer, intellectual, and poet and rebel striving throughout her life to bring justice and equality to blacks, the poor, women and others. Eleanor Roosevelt surprises me with her strength of character as she becomes the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, treats all as equals, and is not afraid to stand up for equality in our culture. She and Pauli become fast friends. Better than historical fiction!
Reviewed by Pam Chenea
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (Non-Fiction)
This can be a very hard book to read, but hang in there. Atul Gawande is a surgeon, professor of medicine, and author. In a way that is both emotionally perceptive and clinically informed, he identifies institutional failures and innovative successes in caring for the aging and terminally ill -- in hospitals; in nursing homes; in assisted care facilities. He doesn't flinch from revealing his profession's sometimes desperate, misguided last-ditch attempts to prolong life. He sees the limits of medicine to provide what we most need -- a rich and meaningful life right up to the end. He speaks of "the art of dying," of aging at home, of hospice, about how to be autonomous yet connected with family, how to close out one's life with grace and dignity. I found it impossible to come away from this book and not be better prepared for my own (needless to say, inevitable) aging and death.
Reviewed by Betsy Connor Bowen
Sisters in Law by Linda Hirshman (Non-Fiction)
Wonderful description of the evolution of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O'Connor both as young women growing up, and then as young lawyers confronting restrictions on women. The book then elaborates on how various supreme court decisions have slowly nudged the country into accepting wider roles for both women and men. Well worth reading and pertinent to current events unfolding in real time.
Reviewed by Judy Danielson
Young Adults (of All Ages)
No titles this month-do you have one to recommend for the next issue?