Saturday, July 30, 2016

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Yes I know, it took me an awful long time to get to this book. I'm making great use of my public library's digital collection, but it often means I have to wait a while for books. I finally got it!

I began reading this book amid news reports of the shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota. On and off that day, and still continuing, our news was filled with the protests of "Black lives matter". This was the backdrop to my reading of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman.

It was with this frame of mind that I read how Jean Louise Finch ("Scout"), returned home from New York. Her homecoming gave me opportunity to reflect on Atticus, her father, and on all of her childhood memories. The amazing thing about reading is that the events of a book somehow transform into events that affect one's own life - and this was what I felt as I read Go Set a Watchman. It was almost as if I had come home too.

But in the midst of a country in turmoil over violence, and a very real recognition of the way that people are treated based on the color of their skin, it was hard to read. I want to believe we have come so far since the 1950s, and the events of this month make me question that, in many of the same ways that Scout questioned her own father's beliefs.

I didn't come to any brilliant conclusions, but reading this book did help me see how far we have yet to come in our country. If you haven't had a chance to read it, I recommend that you do. I believe David Ulin, book critic from the Los Angeles Times, has some interesting comments to make on this idea as well.

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

The Last Anniversary is the story of Sophie Honeywell. The story begins as Sophie unexpectedly inherits a home on Scribbly Gum Island - a home that was owned by her former boyfriend's aunt. Sophie had broken up with Thomas Gordon shortly before the wedding, and she has spent years bemoaning the fact that she has still not met the man of her dreams. Did she make a mistake in letting him go?

When Thomas contacts her to let her know about the home she has inherited she assumes he is available and considers bringing him back into her life. She soon finds out, however, that Thomas is no longer single, having married his travel agent, and not interested in her at all.

Regardless, she moves onto Scribbly Gum Island and becomes involved in the family mystery: the mystery of the Munro Baby. Rather than uncovering the secrets of the family, Sophie becomes caught up in life in this crazy, unconventional group of people, and the mysteries only grow stronger.

The Last Anniversary was a fun summer book to read. It never got too complicated, and the story was told with a sense of humor, particularly in the last half of the book. Although not about The Last Anniversary, this is an enjoyable interview with Liane Moriarty.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

The House Girl is told in two time periods: the 1850s and the early 2000s. New York lawyer Lina Sparrow is attempting to locate a plaintiff in a trial that would provide reparation for slaves and potentially become a historic class action lawsuit. In her quest to find the perfect plaintiff she comes across the artwork of artist Lu Anne Bell, from the 1850s.

In 1852 Josephine Bell was the house girl for LuAnne and her husband. Lu Anne's health is failing, and more and more Josephine finds herself abused and mistreated. She is determined to run away from the Bell's and all the family she has ever known.

These two stories come together as we learn that much of the artwork attributed to Lu Anne may actually have been painted by Josephine. Now it is Lina's job to find a relative in the case - someone who is willing to speak on behalf of Josephine.

This novel was beautifully written! I immediately recommended it to others, and I highly recommend it to you as well.

Enjoy this interview with author Tara Conklin:

Monday, June 13, 2016

The High Divide: A Novel by Lin Enger

I first met Lin Enger a year or so ago when I listened to him speak at a book store in Park Rapids. I'd known his wife for a while, and was anxious to meet him and hear him in person!

Lin was kind enough to sign a book - which he actually gave us - and my husband read it right away and loved it. Then, there it sat in my pile of books for quite a long time. (Sorry, Lin!) Last week I picked it up...and I didn't put it down for three days!

First of all I have to say that I love reading books set in my area, so when towns in Minnesota and North Dakota were mentioned I felt like I was practically a character in the story. I also love historical fiction, and so many of the events in the story were closely tied to my knowledge of this region's history.

In the novel we meet Gretta Pope, who awakens one morning to find that her husband has left without a trace. The Pope's are a poor family, struggling to get by, and when Gretta's oldest son Eli sneaks off to find his father (followed closely by his younger brother, Danny), Gretta has no choice but to go off in search of them.

Little by little we learn about Ulysses Pope, and the secrets he has kept from his family. He is on a journey to find redemption, and it is only in the final chapters of the book that we learn whether the family will be able to find their way back together or not.

The book is beautifully written and totally captivating. The characters felt incredibly real, with raw and rich emotion. I believe that each story is a gift, and one this beautifully told is a treasure. Thank you, Lin, for sharing your gift with us!

Enjoy this video, where Lin shares his thoughts on the value of reading.

Intrusion: A Novel by Mary McCluskey

The story begins with Kat and her husband mourning the loss of their son, who was killed in an accident. Although her husband, Scott, is back at work, and appears to be dealing with the tragedy, Kat cannot move beyond her grief and can barely leave the house. In fact, Kat is having such a difficult time coping that she has considered (and even planned for) ways to commit suicide.

Kat's sister and husband are supportive and encouraging, but both are becoming frustrated that Kat is having so much trouble accepting their loss.

When a wealthy new client moves to town and it appears Scott may be asked to represent her, he begs Kat to accompany him. It is here that Kat and her sister make a startling discovery: this new client is an old friend, Sarah Cherrington. As she reasserts herself into their lives and attempts to become close friends with Kat (and Scott), Kat begins to wonder if Sarah is there to make amends for her past or to hurt her the way she had years earlier.

I enjoyed the book and found it to be an interesting and captivating read. It wasn't as suspenseful as I had thought it might be, but definitely kept my attention until the very end.

I believe this is Mary McCluskey's first published novel. You can learn more about her at:

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Last Girl by Joe Hart

We are introduced in this first book in the Dominion Trilogy, to Zoey, one of the last girls remaining on earth. Her life as one of the last girls consists of going to school. eating, exercising, and socializing with the other girls, and waiting until the day she will turn 21.

Her life changes radically when she finds a book hidden in her room.  Books are forbidden. The book, The Count of Monte Cristo, becomes somewhat of a guide for Zoey. Throughout The Last Girl it is a mystery to us as to who might have hidden the book in her room.

Each of the girls has a guardian - and Zoey's guardian, Simon, has a son, Lee, who is Zoey's age. They are fast friends, and Zoey shares with Lee that she thinks that the leaders in the compound are really keeping her prisoner, and lying about her future. The girls have been told that a unexplained virus has caused the disappearance of girl babies, and caused all births to be baby boys. Could this be true? Could they really be the last girls on earth?

Zoey is determined to leave the compound, unearth the mysteries surrounding their captivity, and find her parents, although she is beginning to think they are no longer alive. I enjoyed the mystery of the books and I think many of my high school students will be excited to read this series. I'm also hoping that Joe Hart will be willing to do an author visit of some type with our book club.

It wasn't until I finished reading The Last Girl by Joe Hart that I learned that Joe Hart is a Minnesota author. I can't believe I missed that fact! I'm looking forward to the second book in the trilogy, and will recommend it to my book club students. Joe talks about The Last Girl in this brief video below.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street: A Novel by Susan Jane Gilmore

I honestly thought that I would read a dozen books in this two month "retirement" period. However, the beautiful Florida weather, visits to the beach, visits from family, and outdoor activities continually distracted me. However, I just finished reading The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street  and I found it to be delightful.

I loved learning about Malka as a little girl, and all the struggles she faced as a new American immigrant. As the book continued I was impressed with her ingenuity and entrepreneurship. In the end I was touched by her grief and saddened by her alcoholism. Although I knew that the details in the story were fiction, I enjoyed the historical events that were interwoven. I must admit to being an ice cream lover - I came by it honestly - and learning about the ice cream industry, particularly during World War II was extremely interesting to me. I found myself googling many of the events and people, just to see which ones were real and which were fiction.

Readers were also given some insight into the polio epidemic and I found that there was very little I knew about the vaccinations as a whole. I found this to be fascinating, and again went online to do some additional research just to learn more.

I checked this book out of my public library digitally, and I have to admit I barely finished before its due date. Although I enjoyed it I felt like it was too long, and at times I wanted to skim ahead. Lillian (Malka) tells her tale in a voice that I found to be a bit whiny, and very often I found myself skipping a paragraph or two because I just didn't want to hear more about how much she thought people rejected her. However, this didn't take away from the fact that I really enjoyed the story as a whole and I highly recommend it to anyone. My tip: check out a dish of every flavor of ice cream as you read!

Now, I must get back to reading! I have only 3 weeks - and about 10 books to go!