“The kept” James Scott

Rated 2 stars ** 2014. HarperCollins. 354 p. (Includes “Insights, Interviews & more.”)

The KeptIt’s Elspeth and her twelve-year-old son Caleb against the world of 1897 after three men killed her four children and husband when she was away from home. Only Caleb survived so, bonded by revenge, the two of them struggle through the wilderness seeking the nearest town. There Caleb gets involved with the local gangsters while Elspeth tries to survive the guilt she feels, knowing she was the reason her family was killed. Both she and Caleb have to control their demons if either expects to reach closure.

I was not a fan. The book meandered too much, and many questions weren’t answered. What was Elspeth and Jorah’s relationship in the beginning? Why did her father beat her so terribly if all she said was hello? I especially did NOT like the ending because, after taking readers through a convoluted path to get where Caleb and Elspeth finally arrived, why end the book so openly? These were just a few of my disagreements with “The kept.”

So, though I didn’t like it, I will leave it up to you Adult readers to decide if you want to read it or not.

 

“The lions of Fifth Avenue” Fiona Davis

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Penguin Random House. To be published July 21, 2020.

The lions of fifth avenueIn 1913 Laura Lyons struggles during a time in history when women were expected to be complacent with their roles as wife and mother.

In 1993 Sadie Donovan hasn’t gotten over her long ago divorce and is insecure about everything in her life. She has sealed herself off from getting hurt again, so the only thing that gives her joy is answering reference questions and working with rare books at her NYPL job.

Laura lived with her superintendent husband Jack and two children in an apartment hidden away in the recently built New York Public Library. Her dream was to go to school to become a reporter, but she soon learned that women who dreamed faced uphill battles. The more she got involved with free thinking women in the Heterodoxy Club, the more she realized it would take great courage to risk everything she held dear to be truly happy.

Sadie’s career and job is in danger when rare books continue to be stolen from under her nose and she becomes a suspect. It doesn’t help matters when her research into her grandmother’s life discovers that her grandfather was accused of stealing rare books from the same library in 1913. Sadie will have to learn to work with others who share similar goals if she wants to clear her name and, in the process, unveils 80-year-old secrets about her own family.

I enjoyed the dual voice narratives of Laura and Sadie, and how Davis tied the stolen books to both of their stories. I also enjoyed learning about the history of the NYPL, its collections, immigrant babies, and free thinking women of the early 20th century. This is a great book for those who enjoy historical fiction, and who want to learn more about what it was like to be a woman who had dreams in 1913.

Highly recommended for Adults.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

 

“Hannah’s war” Jan Eliasberg

Rated 5 stars **** ARC. To be published March 3, 2020. 313 p. (Includes Author’s note, Further exploration, and Reading group guide.)

Hannah's warLise Meitner,  a physicist who discovered nuclear fission, is an unknown figure to those of us not part of the scientific world. Eliasberg wrote “Hannah’s war” to get Lise’s story “out there,” and to explain why Hitler’s scientists were never able to produce an atomic bomb of their own.

Hannah Weiss, a brilliant scientist who lived in Germany during Hitler’s brutal reign, has been denied her rightful place among scientists because she’s female and Jewish. When her arrest by the Gestapo was forthcoming she was whisked away to the United States where she joined other scientists to work on the Manhattan Project, (the American race to create a bomb before Hitler).

In time the commanding officer of the Project was informed that there was a spy amongst the scientists, which led to Major Jack Delaney being assigned to the case. His dogged determination to uncover the spy’s identity, and the revealed secrets that follow, are the basis for this historical fiction tale of romance, intrigue, and betrayal during a time that forever changed our world.

I really enjoyed “Hannah’s war,” and know other readers will also enjoy it.

Recommended for Adults.

“The Nickel Boys” Colson Whitehead

Rated 5 stars ***** Doubleday. 2019. 210 p.

The Nickel BoysElwood Curtis lived in segregated Tallahassee Florida with his grandmother. He was studious, obedient, and a deep thinker with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. resounding in his head. In 1963, when he was a high school senior, his love for learning made him a candidate for free college classes. On his first day he had to hitchhike, and the car he rode in turned out to be stolen. Elwood’s innocence didn’t mean anything to the arresting officer, and he was sentenced to time at the Nickel Academy for juvenile offenders.

The segregated prison presented itself as a comfortable looking place, but hid a long, twisted history of student beatings, sexual abuse, starvation, and murder. With a cruel, sadistic staff it wasn’t long before Elwood was beaten so badly it took the doctor 2 hours with tweezers to remove pants fibers from his legs. Though he eventually recuperated, his soul was broken.

How could Dr. King expect him to love the people who daily tortured him and his fellow captives? Would they all be rescued if he wrote down what he knew of the school’s inner wrongdoings and gave it to state inspectors? Would there finally be justice for the boys of the Nickel Academy? Could he survive his time there?

Whitehead uses events from a real Florida reform school to supplement Elwood’s story, leaving readers fully engaged. It’s hard to believe this evil school, with its atrocities, was allowed to operate for so many years without state interference. After reading Elwood’s partly fictional story I was inspired to find out more information about the school on which this book was based. Colson inspired me, so my next book will be “The Dozier school for boys: Forensics, survivors and a painful past” by Elizabeth A. Murray, PhD. Stay tuned to this blog for its review.

I highly recommend “The Nickel Boys” for mature teens, ages 16-18, and for Adult readers.

 

“The Underground Railroad” Colson Whitehead

Happy New Year! I’ve been writing on this blog since April of 2012, so happy almost 8 year anniversary to me!

It’s fitting on this first day of 2020 that I’m reviewing a book that will remind readers of our flawed American history. It also serves to remind us that “To be forewarned is to be forearmed,” and “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” 

Read on, and remember our past. Read on so that past is not repeated.

Rated 5 stars ***** Doubleday. 2016. 306 p.

The Underground RailroadCora escaped from her Georgia plantation, and is now hunted by Ridgeway, a slave catcher. He has a single-minded devotion towards her, because he was never able to find her mother when she escaped years earlier. Cora and her companion managed to make their way to the Underground Railroad, and travelled to South Carolina. The Underground Railroad once consisted of places, (stations), where black and white citizens (stationmasters) hid fugitives, passing them secretly on to the next station. However, in Whitehead’s novel, the Underground Railroad is an actual locomotive that moves through underground tunnels from station to station.

Despite her belief that South Carolina was safe Cora had to flee again, but was trapped for months in the attic home of the stationmaster in North Carolina because blacks were no longer allowed in the state. It was impossible to get to safety. From her stuffy perch, she watched the weekly lynching of freemen and escaped slaves found by night patrollers as the town celebrated their capture. While recuperating from an illness Cora was captured once again, while her benefactors were stoned to death.

Cora’s desperate runs towards freedom, descriptions of the horrors of slavery, the kindnesses of strangers, and the behavior of slave catchers and night patrollers are detailed in this compelling novel that kept me turning pages until its satisfying conclusion. I highly recommend it.

NOTE: I believe that if our Founding Fathers had freed their slaves when they were “freed” from England’s tyranny, we would now have a very different world. The Declaration of Independence says “all men are created equal,” but those words ring hollow since the definition of “men” didn’t include slaves or women. If they had done so, the writing of this novel would be a moot point. They did not, so Cora’s story needs to be told.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“May the road rise up to meet you” by Peter Troy

Rated 5 stars ***** Doubleday. 2012. 386 p.

May the road rise up to meet youMary Wilkens and Micah are southern slaves in 1853; Ethan McOwen survived the great famine of Ireland in 1847, while Marcella Arroyo (Abolitionist and feminist) is a Spanish immigrant living with her rich family in 1860 New York. Spanning the years from 1847 until 1867 the evils of slavery, along with the horrors of the Civil War, are described for readers. All have roles to play in the stories of these four characters as, with losses to endure and tears to cry, their stories eventually intertwine. Readers learn that there are good people in an evil world, and that good can come from bad – especially when you can’t see the whole picture of what’s happening.

This novel is reminiscent of great, sweeping historical dramas like “Roots” and “Gone with the wind.” The storyline jumps from person to person, so can become confusing. For example I’ll read about Ethan for a while then the storyline goes to Marcella for a few chapters. Afterwards I’ll read about Mary for a bit, then it meanders to Micah’s story. By the time the story returns to Ethan I forgot what he was doing.

However the book is interesting, emotional, and has great plot twists. I love historical fiction, so was willing to overlook the back and forth dilemma to give it 5 stars.

Recommended for Adults.

“Only love can break your heart” by Ed Tarkington

Rated 3 stars *** Algonquin Books. 2016. 307 p.

Only love can break your heartSet in a small Virginia town in 1977 Richard, called Rocky by his beloved sixteen-year-old big brother Paul, was almost eight years old. Paul was everything Rocky wished he could be – though he was always in trouble, and not a favorite of his mom. He was a girl charmer, and owned a great collection of records he often invited Rocky to hear in his room. Paul was always there until, one day, he wasn’t. He disappeared with Leigh, his long-time girlfriend.

Rocky missed his brother, but was distracted by his neighbor’s daughter Patricia who he met when he was almost 15 years old. Though she was almost 10 years older, for several months she schooled him in the art of sex in the hayloft of her family’s stable. Rocky was content to spend time with her, and was bereft when she broke up with him after Leigh returned and figured out their relationship.

Many years later Paul returned. Leigh’s time away had badly scarred her, leaving her mentally unstable, for which Paul blamed himself. Though Rocky and the Old Man were thrilled to have him back, Richard’s mom felt he was still the bane of her existence. When their next-door neighbor and wife were found murdered, Paul and Leigh quickly became the main suspects. Were the police overlooking the real killers in their eagerness to solve the crime, or was it true that Rocky’s idol and his girlfriend were murderers?

Rocky, as narrator, told his story as an adult sharing his memories. Though there was lots of rambling as he described his feelings and thoughts during the various events that transpired over the years, what I got out of it was that small town life in the late 70’s meant no one suspected what Patricia was doing to him, that an older father loved both his sons equally, that Rocky’s mom needed to get over herself for disliking her stepson so much, and that Rocky and Paul loved each other very much. That’s what I got out of it, and I’m sticking to it.

Though I wasn’t a huge fan, I’ll leave it up to you Adults to decide if you want to read it or not.