Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Fall of Marigolds

This novel by Susan Meissner tells the joy of love, the heartache of losing that love and questions - would we forego love entirely in order to never again feel heartache? It also explores the wisdom of an  "in-between" place; a space safe for a time, allowing you to catch your breath, regroup; but not only a time, you're not meant to live there the rest of your life. Meissner's books often meld a historical story with a modern one using some tangible object to connect the two. In this case, the tangible object is a vibrant scarf patterned with marigolds. The historical story (which is most of the book) follows nurse Clara Wood beginning September 1911 in her chosen in-between place, the hospital on Ellis Island. She has worked and lived there since the man she loved met his death in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Then she meets a patient whose own loss mirrors hers and notices the name embroidered on the scarf he carries. This, in turn, leads her to an ethical dilemma and a freeing choice. The modern story hinges on Taryn Michaels in September 2011. She works at a specialty fabric store in Manhattan, raising her daughter alone. Then a "lost" photograph is printed in a national magazine, and Taryn is forced to relive the day she became a widow, when her husband died in the fall of the World Trade Center Towers. The day a stranger and a century old scarf saved her own life. And a chance reconnection makes Taryn think perhaps she has been in her own in-between place too long.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Still Life

By Louise Penny, this is the debut of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. Gamache and his team are called to a suspicious death Thanksgiving morning at Three Pines, an idyllic village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, retired school teacher, seems to be the victim of a hunting accident. But things are not what they seem. Gamache is an experienced investigator; he is also an experienced, compassionate human being. His observations and interactions are enlightening. I look forward to reading the rest of this series.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Stained Glass

An old-fashioned spy novel by the inimitable William F. Buckley, Jr. Blackford Oakes, CIA operative, is sent to a divided Germany in the early 1950s ostensibly to repair a chapel damaged by allied bombing in the war. The chapel belongs to Count Axel Wintergrin, captain of the reunification party in Germany which is causing upset on both sides of the Iron Curtain. During the course of his mission, Blackie meets a gorgeous KGB operative. And in this battle, loser kills.

I found the book slow-going, though interesting for the most part. Had never read Bill Buckley's fiction before; I prefer his non-fiction.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

What She Knew

This is the debut novel by Gilly Macmillan. And it's every parent's worst nightmare. Rachel Jenner is a newly single mother walking the dog with her 8 year old son in a Bristol wood when Ben asks to run ahead. Wanting to give him a bit more Independence, Rachel says yes, and Ben disappears. After a frantic search the police are called. Everyone Rachel knows is investigated; her remarried ex,-husband, her perfect sister, her best friend. As days go by without leads, the press focus on Rachel, and she is vilified in print and on social media. And nothing is how it seems.... This is a thriller, taut and well written. I tore through it in two days. It uses two perspectives; Rachel's and Jim's, the DI in charge of the case. It uses email, blog posts, and psychological notes as well to flesh out plot and characters. A very immediate, focused work.

Travels with Charley

In Search of America. An absolutely delightful read by John Steinbeck. In preparation for writing another book, Steinbeck, who hadn't really travelled in America for 25 years, was afraid he had lost the pulse of how Americans outside New York thought, felt, acted. He was an American author, writing about Americans, and felt he was working from memory. So he equipped a heavy-duty truck with a camper top, took his blue standard poodle named Charley with him, and set out to discover America anew. The interstate system was just going in, and besides, you can't see the country or meet the people that way. He stuck to back roads, pulling in to likely shady spots for the night, asking permission of the owners if they could be found. He hit local diners for news, occasionally stayed at motor lodges, and called his wife once a week.

The book veered out of "delightful" territory when Steinbeck and Charley got to the South. He went there intentionally, knowing he wouldn't like what he would see, but wanting to try to understand. It was 1960; the height of the Civil Rights movement. In New Orleans, the integration of an elementary school was in the news. Not really because of the children involved, but because of a group of women who gathered every morning and evening to shout abuse at the children. They apparently were dubbed "cheerleaders" by the press and hordes of people came to watch them scream insults at the tiny black girl who attended the school and the equally small white girl and her frightened father who walked her in to attend school with a girl of color. And everywhere Steinbeck went in the South, Charley, who sat tall in the seat next to him, was mistaken for a negro. Only of course, they didn't say "negro". The use of the n-word, which was copious, made me cringe each time. As did some of the arguments of the day, ("Why, their schools are better than ours; why would they want to go to a white school?" and "I might invite him to dinner but I wouldn't want my sister to marry him.").  This is how Steinbeck found us in 1960 and he lays it out in unflinching detail. In spite of all the effort, the prayers, the hopes, it seems we've come little farther in the intervening half-century. Sad.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Personal Prayers of Christians Through the Centuries

This is a small book full of brief prayers compiled by David Schubert. The prayers have been put into modernized form and are listed in a loose alphabetical framework. It includes some relatively unknown people (Acuin, English priest and scholar), and some woefully mislabeled (Patrick, patron of Ireland), from all Cristian traditions (John Knox, Martin Luther, John Wesley, etc.), and many Church fathers (Clement, Polycarp, Irenaeus, etc.). There are poets and kings, hymnists and seamen, theologians and headmasters. People who would seem to have nothing in common, yet they all prayed. Beautiful prayers. Written down for posterity. So we, too, may pray these prayers. A beginning prayer of contrition, an ending plea for peace.

"Lord God,
Of your goodness give me yourself,
For you are enough for me,
And only in you have I all. Amen."
                               Julian of Norwich

Monday, October 9, 2017


Harrowing. This debut novel by Tiffany D. Jackson is absolutely harrowing. Again, an entry in the young adult genre that is so chilling... I don't want to feed our young people pablum, but a steady diet of stories such as this one... it's no wonder teens are depressed in greater numbers than ever before. This book; Mary Addison allegedly killed a baby in her Momma's care when she was nine years old. She wouldn't speak during interrogation by police, reporters, psychiatrists. She was vilified by the press - by everyone, for Mary was a young black girl who (allegedly) killed a white baby. She was convicted and spent six years in baby jail before being released to a group home (not really a home when you fear for your life). During community service at a nursing home she met Ted. He was home. Soon they were expecting a baby of their own. That's when the trouble started. The state wanted to take the baby. So Mary finally had a reason to talk about what happened the night Alyssa died. But would Momma tell the truth, too? She hadn't yet.

I thought I had this character figured out, but there's a twist at the end I didn't see coming. This book touched a major trigger for me, and will stay with me for a long while. I won't be sharing this one with my kids.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

This is a tautly written debut novel by Matthew Sullivan. Lydia Smith is the quintessential bookseller; a great listener, eccentric colleagues, regular customers... someone who loves her craft. Then one of the regulars kills himself in one of the bookstore's upper rooms. Lydia finds she has been left his worldly goods, which consists of a suit and a crate full of books which seem to contain a hidden code. What did he know of the violent past Lydia tries to keep buried? Memories of that past are dredged up of a bloody night long ago that is not as distant as Lydia would like. Top notch mystery.

Our Lady of Fatima

100 Years of Stories, Prayers, and Devotions. By Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle, this is a non-fiction account of the Marian apparitions in Fatima, Portugal in 1917, culminating with the miracle of the sun on October 13 of that year. The messages are discussed, as well as the sees, the times, and what Our Lady could want from us today. Each chapter includes a prayer, a reflection, and an attainable call to action; making the book a devotional more than a history.

I read this for Book Club in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the final appearance of Mary at Fatima. I knew about the event and to whom Our Lady appeared, and that's about all. So in this book I learned of the Angel of Peace who appeared to the children twice, in preparation. I learned the messages Mary gave. They are homey messages; simple, though not easy. Conversion. Penance. Prayer. I fall so short; it's disheartening. So. Begin again. In the Sacred Heart of Christ and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, begin again.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Today Will Be Different

A novel by Maria Semple. I didn't like this one at all. The protagonist is completely selfish, arrogant. Perhaps I see too much of myself in her. Eleanor Flood is an animator living in Seattle. She can't remember names, dates; she's erratic, drifting through life. So she wakes one morning vowing that "today will be different". She'll take care with her appearance, have lunch with a boring friend, play a game with her son, initiate sex with her husband. Be her best self. Then Life happens. Her son fakes illness to spend time with her. Her lunch date is not with the boring friend but an old work colleague, who opens a family secret that Eleanor thought she had put to rest. Her husband has been going to work all week, yet has told his receptionist he's been on vacation and has not been in. Where's he been? All gets resolved, sort of. And, to redeem the book, and Eleanor, she wakes the next morning saying, "today will be different".
This book is virulently anti-Catholic. It's anti-faith, period, until the end. And if you're feeling blue at all, don't read the first page. The self-deprecation is easy to identify with.

The Dark Enquiry

The last (so far) of the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn. Julia and Brisbane are finally back in London, engaged in merging their two households and keeping the private inquiry business going at the same time. Lord Bellmont, Julia's straight-laced brother, asks Brisbane's help and his silence in an intimate matter; however, Julia, unwilling to be left out of anything pertaining to her eccentric family, inserts herself into the investigation. It leads to spiritualism, seances, espionage... danger.