Monday, October 31, 2016


This is Book I of the King Raven Trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead. He has taken the Robin Hood legends and, after some research, set them where he thinks they really begin. In the forests of the March borderland, in Wales, in the eleventh century. William the Conquerer had swept through, but recognizing the warlike nature of the early Britons (the Welsh) and unwilling to fight the rest of his life, he left various barons in charge and left the people alone. His son, William the Red, wanting to fill his tax coffers, did not. Here is where Lawhead has set Hood, in AD 1093 Wales. Primeval forest where the Britons conducted guerilla warfare against their oppressors. (It took 200 years for the Normans to make any lasting impression on Wales.) The longbow was also the weapon of choice in that area at that time.

The legend Lawhead weaves is incredibly enticing and his action scenes would sweep up anyone. As I read I kept thinking my children would enjoy this. The only drawback is the Welsh names and words contained in the text. Latin and French are also in there, but the Welsh are the most unfamiliar and would cause the tongue to stumble in a read aloud. A pronunciation guide is included at the back of the book. The book is found in the science fiction/fantasy section of the library and I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Fragment

I read this novel by Davis Bunn for a book group. It is a satisfactory, quick read. Muriel Ross, an amateur photographer and professional historian specializing in reliquaries, finds herself in Paris with an old family friend, Senator Thomas Bryan, after the Great War (World War I). She is there at his behest to photograph a piece of the True Cross of Christ held in a reliquary at Notre Dame Cathedral and possibly to authenticate another piece rumored to be in Constantinople. It is a dangerous job, for the Ottoman Empire is falling, and others want the reliquary.

This is a historical novel and the history is well woven into the storyline. I really enjoyed reading about Paris in the 1920s and about Atatürk and his conquest of the Ottoman Empire despite the West's plans and their puppet caliph. It even mentioned the name change from Constantinople to Istanbul. An interesting read.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A Girl Named Zippy:

Growing up Small in Mooreland, Indiana. This is an unusual and delightful memoir by Haven Kimmel. She remembers well the thought processes of herself as a child, which adds so much to the humor and poignancy of the stories she relates. Many times I found myself thinking of my own growing up years in small town Indiana, comparing my upbringing to hers. There were the same triumphs and catastrophes with family pets, for instance. I grew up more secluded, without neighbors, which, considering Zippy's neighbors, is a good thing. She lived with her Quaker mother and her godless father and a brother and sister who were twelve and ten years older than she (she was an "afterthought") . I lived with my Christian parents and my two younger brothers, one not quite two years younger, the other over twelve years younger (he was an "afterthought") .  I truly enjoyed this memoir.

Haven Kimmel has written another book I've read, The Solace of Leaving Early. I read it some years ago and still remember lines from the book. Good writing.

Monday, October 24, 2016

My Bookstore

Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop. This is a fun collection of essays written by an eclectic mix of authors. The collection is edited by Ronald Rice. An illustration of each featured bookstore done by Leif Parsons is included and they are simply elegant. Eighty - four bookstores are featured; at the end of the book they are listed by location. These are all independent booksellers in the United States and I want to plan my next vacation around at least half of them!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

What Alice Forgot

An engaging novel by Liane Moriarty, this book follows Alice Love as she tries to make sense of her life after a minor accident at the gym. She bumps her head; when she regains consciousness, she finds she has amnesia. Ten years of her life is simply... gone. As if that weren't confusing enough, it's been a busy ten years. Having children, refurbishing a dream home, the beginning and ending of relationships all around her. This book is funny, and poignant, evocative and endearing. I highly recommend it.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend

Written by Laura Hillenbrand, this non-fiction work reads like a novel. Telling the story of the great racehorse of the '30s and '40s that took a nation's attention momentarily from the Great Depression, the book rollicks along. It also spells out the details of Seabiscuit's owner, Charles Howard; trainer, Tom Smith; and top jockey, Red Pollard. These men form an unlikely partnership around a bandy-legged horse and made him a household name; so much so that in 1938 Seabiscuit was the biggest newsmaker in America, receiving more coverage than such public figures as Franklin Roosevelt and Adolph Hitler. It also tells of the brutality that was horse racing in those days.

I chose to read the Special Illustrated Collector's Edition; released with nearly 150 images the author chose. The photos bring a by-gone world into focus and really emphasize the storyline. Get your hands on that edition if you can.

Laura Hillenbrand later wrote Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. I have read this biography of Louis Zamperini; it is mesmerizing. Zamperini was an Olympic track star who signed up when the US entered World War II. He survived a plane crash in the Pacific theater and spent a month and a half drifting on a raft only to drift into enemy hands. He then survived nearly three years of brutality in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. Both of Hillenbrand's non-fiction works are well researched and well written and worth the reading.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Time in Between

This hefty tome is written by Maria Dueñas and translated by Daniel Hahn. It tells the story of Sira Quiroga, a young Spanish girl living in Madrid with her single seamstress mother. Sira becomes an accomplished seamstress and affianced to a nice young man. Instead, she runs away with a man who excites her. They live a grand life in colonial Morocco, until she gets pregnant and he gets in over his head. Then the cad leaves her, taking all her money, leaving her responsible for his debts. Worse still,  she can't go home; the Spanish civil war has closed all borders. She opens an atelier to support herself with the help of a new friend. She reinvents herself to appeal to her clients. As a result, she makes powerful friends among those clients. She manages to get her mother out of war-torn Spain. Later, some of these same friends approach her with a proposal: open an atelier in Franco's Madrid to serve the many German ladies there. As a spy for British interests, she would be well placed to hear what those ladies' Nazi husbands were up to. The goal is to keep Spain from entering World War II on the side of the Axis. (Gibraltar is key, I believe, though that was never stated emphatically.) Sira is sceptical, her mother, who has been through a war, convinces her to do it. She has a gift for it.

A good editor would not have been amiss here. The timing dragged occasionally. I have found this to be true of other "international bestsellers" I've read before though. Perhaps the writing is not expected to be tight. There is more patience for the quotidian in the life of a character. This novel is a fine blend of historical and fiction; quite well researched. Altogether, a good read if you've got some time. A great read if you're interested in the era.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

At the Edge of the Orchard

Tracy Chevalier has created a mesmerizing tale of a pioneer family on the American frontier. Their tree claim is a character itself, playing a large role in the thoughts of James and Sadie Goodenough. It is made up of eaters, sweet apples that James tends carefully as they remind him of his Connecticut upbringing, and spitters, the tart apples that get pressed into cider and from there into applejack, Sadie's alcoholic refuge from daily life in Black Swamp, Ohio. Their youngest son, Robert, is a tree man like his father. After some time spent telling us of James and Sadie in 1838 the novel switches to a series of letters from Robert to his brothers and sisters that span the years 1840 - 1856. During this time he moves from location and job fairly randomly. In 1853 he meets William Lobb and begins collecting seeds and saplings for him to send to England. We are then treated to a flashback to 1838 and the reason Robert left home. Next comes a series of letters to Robert from his sister Martha covering 1844 - 1856. The novel concludes in 1856 California.

The jumps in time are not confusing at all; they do serve to move the plot along. Chevalier has masterfully handled the letters sections to set apart great passages of time, giving depth to the characters in few words. Though the novel initially deals with a dysfunctional family it ends in hope, showing us it is possible to overcome your background. A luminous work.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

You Will Know Me

By Megan Abbott, this novel takes place in the world of competitive gymnastics. It is a suspenseful family drama that asks, literally, "how far will you go to achieve a dream?" And it answers what we might be prepared to do for our children in a disturbingly profound way. I tore through this book in a single day; an intense, satisfying read.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd

By Alan Bradley, this eighth installment of the Flavia de Luce mysteries is as charming and delightful as the others. Flavia has been ejected from Miss Bodycote's Female Academy in Canada; she sails home to England expecting to be greeted joyously at the docks by her family. But there is only Dogger, her father's man-servant and her friend, waiting for her. Her father is ill in hospital and the house is in disarray as a result. Her sisters are short tempered; her cousin incorrigible. Flavia must get out of the house!

Thus she is delivering a letter for the vicar's wife when she finds the recipient...dead. Hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door. The 12 year old Flavia is thrilled, for she is a crack investigator, with a prime chemistry laboratory in her ancestral home of Buckshaw. The novel deals with her investigation and her family situation. The mystery is solved. The family situation is left murky; bearing an implicit promise of another Flavia de Luce mystery in the series.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Age of Miracles

This is the debut novel of Karen Thompson Walker. It is a coming -of-age tale of Julia, a California tween who suddenly finds herself in uncertain times. The Earth's rotation is slowing, which affects the gravitational field, the magnetic field, the tides, the weather, people's health.... At first, though, all it seems to affect is length of days and nights.

I found this novel incredibly disheartening. It seems to end abruptly; one moment Julia is 12, the next 23. And in spite of the title, there are no miracles here. Unless it's the one where people just keep putting one foot in front of the other despite the circumstances. Maybe a miracle after all.

The Yellow - Lighted Bookstore

Part memoir, part history, by Lewis Buzbee, this book is terrific. It took me a while to get into, because I was not familiar with Buzbee's style and wasn't sure I liked it. As I continued, the writing grew on me, drew me in. He mixes his own experiences as bookstore employee and book sales rep with the history of books, production, printing presses, bookselling, bookstores, publishing, etc. For a bibliomaniac like me, it turned out absolutely fascinating.