Spring Ahead…

If I had known this was a sequel/continuation to her book My Name is Mary Sutter, I would have had it on amazon pre-order. As it was I found it as a display, noting a lovely cover and title: Winter Sisters.

Title: Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira

Publisher: Viking February 2018, 415pp

Genre: literature, historical, mystery, suspense

5 stars highly recommended

Author:

Robin Oliveira (BA Russian Literature (1976), registered nurse, former literary agent (MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts 2006)), was awarded the James Jones First Novel Fellowship for a work-in-progress. My Name is Mary Sutter won the 2011 Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction. Originally from Albany NY, she now lives in Seattle, Washington.

Story:

Mary Sutter was an unforgettable character, fiercely passionate as a doctor, intensely loyal to her family and friends, and driven by an independent spirit. Fourteen years have passed and she is still challenging social norms, prejudices and conventions. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Mary is again a central figure, few would have her perseverance and defiance but she shares the story with her niece Elizabeth and mother Amelia. All are needed not just to save the girls physically, but emotionally. They provide a multifaceted, deeply layered view of the era, women’s roles, love and family bonds. They are lucky to have the strong unwavering support of men who understand their sacrifice.

This is a very dark, difficult tale of kidnapping, rape and court proceedings against a 10year old child, which was considered consensual by law at that time (1879). It portrays a society laced with greed, police corruption, social class, bribery and betrayal. It is also a rewarding tale of hope and perseverance. Oliveira knows Albany well and and her detailed research provides rich descriptions of Victorian architecture, commerce, historical detail, even the weather create a powerful backdrop to this complex mystery. The writing is evocative, sensitive and filled with vivid characters. The story is timeless and riveting. I savored the historical detail, was haunted by the conditions of the street women, restricted social climate and horrific rape, found comfort in William and Mary’s relationship and ended determined to continue the fight over 100years later.

This novel can be read as a stand-alone, but don’t miss her other books.

Read on:

Nicola Upson Josephine Tey series, Jacqueline Winspear Maisie Dobbs series

Quotes:

One joy in this somber story is Mary and William’s marriage. “Neither of them could think of a time together when either of them let each other down.” “Theirs was a tenacious love, as solid and true as granite.”

“I will gladly hear what you have to say, Dr. Stipp, but only after I speak to Emma. I do not want to contaminate my impressions with yours.”

“They are not impressions. They are facts.”

“There are facts and then there are alternate facts.”

“That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard anyone say.”

One day, I’m going to write a violin concerto and call it Number One Hundred Thirteen, and Elizabeth will play it” One hundred twelve days since they were taken, that day (113) marked the first day she wasn’t scared when she awoke.

Travel Books

img_3979February is book lovers month

Travel always brings extra reading with plane time, airport delays, bookshop perusal and friends recommendations.

As quick ebook reads I started the Iris and Roy Johansen’s Kendra Michaels series. Kendra had her sight restored through stem cell technology as a young woman and now uses all her senses to help the FBI solve difficult murder cases. Today I discovered there is a new one in the series! The suspense kept me occupied for a day of flight delays. I love the ease of downloading Library ebooks. At any one time I have 5-7books waiting to be read, as well as a long hold list or current and popular titles.

An absolutely fantastic charming read was recommended by an RPL librarian. The Unexpected Inheritance Of Inspector Chopra, written by Vaseem Khan is the Alexander McCall Smith of India. It is also the first of three novels published (so far) and I have to find the other two. You are in for the funny, poignant, insightful tale of Chopra retiring from the police force but determined to solve one last case. I can’t wait to find out what happens with the baby elephant, a most unusual retirement gift.

Three Queens in Erin by Douglas Nicholas. RPL has this fantasy series, where few do; it it is one of the best! Read on if you like Patrick Rothfuss, Dave Duncan or GRRMartin. I was delighted to find the latest and last installment by this award winning poet. Magic exists but all the stories are based on actual British history. There are several plot lines that develop through the series, coming of age of Hob (to Robert the Englishman), good vs evil with magical shape shifting or witchcraft, clan allegiance and reestablishing matriarch lineage in medieval times. They must be read in order for full appreciation of the trials of Queen Maeve and the historical perspective. I loved every novel and the satisfactory sense of completion at the end of Three Queens.

Flavia is back!! I love all the Flavia deLuce books in Alan Bradley’s charming YA series. The Grave is a Fine and Private Place is the 10th installment in the award winning author’s preteen English sleuth. She has had so many maturing changes, but is back in Buckshaw in familiar territory: there’s another body, her trusted friends surround her and the celebrated wit and observations are to the fore. It’s not the best book in the series, I’d read them in order to appreciate this more. But it is a delightful read nonetheless.

Book Group in a Bag

Our book group met today, using Zoom, as we couldn’t get out of our icy driveways. We all wanted to discuss this month’s amazing selection Homegoing and didn’t want to delay meeting. A friend has been to the slave castle (Cape Coast) in Ghana recently and provided a few photographs (thanks to Joe Lobl for including them). This book is available as a book group In a bag from RPL, but there is a reserve line. Ditto hardcopy and ebook. Sign up now!

Title: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Publisher: Knopf 2016 vintage reprint May 2017 320 pp

Highly recommended, rounded up to five stars

Author:

Gyasi is 26 year old and was born in Ghana. Her family moved to the USA when she was two when her father was completing his PhD at Ohio State. As an immigrant child “books were her closest friends”. She studied English literature, BA Stanford, MFA University Of Iowa. Homecoming was inspired by her first (2009) trip to Ghana and is her debut novel. The title is from an African belief that death allowed an enslaved persons spirit to travel back home to Africa.

National Book Critic Circle award for best first book

Winner of the PEN/ Hemingway Award

Winner of the NBCC’s John Leonard Award

A New York Times Notable Book

A Washington Post Notable Book

2017 Granta Best Of Young American Novelists

One of the Best Books of the Year: NPR, Time, Oprah.com, Harper’s Bazaar, San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones, Esquire, Elle, Paste, Entertainment Weekly, the Skimm, PopSugar, Minneapolis Star Tribune, BuzzFeed, The Guardian, Financial Times

Story:

(Excerpt from book plate) “Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.

Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.”

Bookgroup comments:

1)The genealogy page is very important to keep the characters straight, but it was also noted that these stories were interchangeable with many African American families.

2)This is not the usual book you read from the Iowa Writing School. Loved the originality of it.

3)It was a dark book, not necessarily one I would have chosen to read. But we learned so many different things from it. Importantly the author wanted you to understand racial tension in America by the time you got to the end.

4)I became invested in the characters and wished to know so much more about them, instead of the short chapters they were restricted to.

5)Surprise at some of the literary criticism (our balanced book reporting), as we thought the writing was exceptional. She is working on her next book too.

Book Review: What I Remember Most

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What I Remember Most
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

There is nothing I love more than the anticipation of reading a new book by a favorite author. I mark my calendar far in advance and begin counting down the days about two weeks before launch date. The only thing that comes close to equaling that excitement is when I’m surprised with the the opportunity to review a copy in advance in the form of an Advanced Reader’s Copy from the author or publisher. Recently, I had the opportunity to get my hands on an ARC of Cathy Lamb’s newest novel, What I Remember Most.

As an avid reader and fan of Lamb’s work, I walked into this book expecting a good read. I’ve read everything she’s released, and so there’s a reason why I always anxiously await her next book. With that said, though, I had no idea the huge treat that was in store for me. Simply stated, this book was absolutely beautiful and probably the best book Lamb has released yet. It was without any doubts one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

As with many of Lamb’s books, What I Remember Most is filled with a strong female leading character surrounded by a close-knit group of quirky friends. But what sets this book apart and above all others is the grit and determination of the main character, Grenadine Scotch Wild. She’s a young woman who has been knocked down by life and by the system her entire life, and yet she refuses to give up. She refuses to be beaten and she refuses to accept defeat. She keeps her chin up and her head high as she plows forward through life in search of the peace and fairness she deserves. She’s tender-hearted, yet tough as nails and unafraid to stand her ground against those who would take advantage of her. And through all of this, she’s intensely likable and the kind of person we all wish was among our inner circle of friends. She’s the kind of character that a reader falls in love with, and the one who lingers in your memory long after the last pages have been turned.

When an author starts with a character as appealing as Grenadine, she has a responsibility to that character not to drop the ball on the storyline. Luckily Cathy Lamb was up to the task and brings the reader an unforgettable story of a young orphan as she navigates through the foster care system and then, later, the real world. It’s a story of love, loss, survival, determination, perseverance, friendship and new starts.

This is a book that I will be recommending to every one of my friends, and one that you won’t want to wait any longer than necessary to read.  This book is not yet available at Rochester Public Library, but a request has been sent to purchase it for their shelves.

Good reads all summer long!

Review by Helen McIver

Summer is a time for indulgence – a time to get away from it all.
You don’t have to travel, skip the trip and get lost in a good book!
Enjoy the ‘forbidden’ pleasures of reading by the pool, in the shade, in a hammock, on the beach. And remember to read to your child, a grandchild, any child!

Sarah Jio. Goodnight June 2014

I have recommended several of her books before: I simply loved her first novel The Violets of March (which also won a library journal best book of 2011 award, and especially Blackberry Winter and The Last Camellia (still my favourite). Her books take place in a variety of places, from NYC to PNW to England to the Pacific and are often historical love stories/mysteries. I think they are perfect summer reads, for escapes in time, place with fascinating characters and interesting historical events. This tale is also published by Penguin Books, notes for their good literary reads.

Once again she has written a lovely tale, this time about one of our favourite childhood stories Goodnight Moon, (Margaret Wise Brown 1947) because no one knows what inspired her to write this story.
This is a delightful heartwarming story that will make you wish you had a bookstore. It is an important story about installing a love of reading in children (and grandchildren). There are a number of mysteries and secrets that are uncovered mostly through letters between Aunt Ruby and Margaret Wise Brown. Don’t miss this tender story, foremost of family and the importance of being there, forgiveness and second chances.

“When you are looking for something, it is right where you find it.”

“We didn’t have much, but we always had books.”

4 stars (only because, while charming, it was predictable. And disbelief with Bill Gates)
Popular with book clubs

 

Book Review – “Slammed”

13372690Slammed
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Several months ago I read another book by Colleen Hoover called Hopeless.  It was a book I deeply enjoyed and wasn’t at all what I was expecting.  Since then, I’ve noticed several other titles by this same author and have been trying to decide whether to try another by her…not because I didn’t completely enjoy the first, but because the first was so “perfect” that I wasn’t sure I was ready for the letdown that often happens when an author doesn’t meet your expectations.  After noticing the nearly perfect 4.5 ratings by almost 2,000 Amazon readers, I had to give this one a try.  I’m glad I did.

First let me start with the genre.  Though I’m not 100% certain, I think this book would be classified as a YA novel since the main characters are 18 (a high schooler) and 21 (an almost college grad).  As a reader, I “like” YA novels, but I don’t usually love them.  My biggest pet peeve is that (though I’m 43), I hate when an author talks down to young readers and assumes all of their life problems are frivolous.  This is where Colleen Hoover greatly succeeds where other authors often leave me irritated.

The young adult characters in this book are truly inspiring.  They’re young, but their problems are “real.”  Neither is whiny or wishy-washy, but tackle their problems with the maturity of full adults.  And to be honest, I think that any “kid” in these types of situations would grow up quickly in the same way that Hoover has portrayed them.

So…what’s this book about?  I can’t give you a lot of detail without ruining it for you, but I’ll try to break it down.  Layken has recently turned 18.  Her father has suddenly passed away and her mother moves her and her 9-year old brother, Kel, to Michigan from their home in Texas.  They move next door to a young man, Will, who is 21 and raising his 9-year old brother after the sudden death two years previous of both of their parents.  He’s grown up quickly to be both mother and father to his younger brother, and he’s taken on more responsibilities than a “kid” his age should ever have to take on.  But he’s done it admirably well.

Within only a couple of days of becoming neighbors, the two younger brothers quickly become best friends and Layken and Will acknowledge their chemistry and begin a relationship.  The chemistry takes them both off guard, but the reader immediately realizes that this is going to be a very special couple.  After only one date, Layken and Will are suddenly hit with a brick wall that will keep them apart in spite of how much they want to be together.  I can’t tell you what that brick wall is, but I can tell you that it seems completely insurmountable even for the reader.  There is simply no good solution that will allow the two to continue a relationship.

Slammed is a beautiful story of two young people – far older and wiser than their years – who understand the importance of commitment and responsibility.  It’s sweet and heartbreaking (for a variety of reasons), and there are moments when you are so proud of one or both of the characters for taking a stand in moments where they should be intimidated.  The bottom line is that this is an excellent read.

I’d recommend this book for YA readers (15+, probably) as well as for adults.  There is no gratuitous sex, so the subject matter – while sometimes difficult – is completely appropriate for younger readers as well as interesting enough to keep the interest of older readers.

Very nicely done!

This books is available in traditional format at the Rochester Public Library.

Book Review – I Hate Picture Books

cover24888-mediumI Hate Picture Books
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

My favorite thing in the entire world is a great book.  Don’t get me wrong; I love all books.  I love the smell of books, the weight of a book in my hands, and even the crisp sound of the pages as I turn them.  But what I love most of all is a really great book; a book that makes me laugh out loud, or one with a main character that speaks to me and evokes strong emotions.  And when I find a great book, I can’t wait to tell the world about it.  I want the whole world to know what I’ve discovered.  Last night, I found a great book, and – much to my complete surprise – it’s a children’s picture book!

I Hate Picture Books by Timothy Young is simply the best picture book I’ve read in years!  It tells the story of a young boy who decides one day that he’s too old for picture books.  After all, every picture book he’s ever read has led him astray!  He read Harold and the Purple Crayon and then got into trouble for drawing on the walls!  He had a bad day and went to bed believing that the monsters from Where the Wild Things Are would come and spirit him away in the night.  He awakened the next morning to find  himself snuggled into his same old bed in his same old room.  One day, he even found some green ham in the refrigerator and decided to give it a try.  After all, Sam I Am found out that it was really good, right?  Only, unlike Green Eggs and Ham, the green ham made him throw up!

This book had me laughing out loud, and even giggling later that evening when I was reflecting back on pieces of the story.  Unable to help myself, I called my 8 year old down to read it with me.  He not only recognized every book referenced in this story, but he got more than a few surges of the giggles.  But I knew had a hit when I decided to read it at dinner to my husband and 17 year old daughter.  When you can make “the teenager” laugh, then you know you’ve done something pretty special…and that’s exactly what Timothy Young has done! He had all four of us – including “the teenager” – grinning from ear to ear!

I Hate Picture Books is a fantastic story that uses some of the best loved story books of all time to remind us all that we’re never too old for a great picture book.  In all honesty – though it’s a children’s picture book – I’m going to add I Hate Picture Books to my list of “Top 10 Books” I’ve read in 2013.  It really is that good!

This book is not yet available at the Rochester Public Library, but I’ve already put in a request.  Let’s see if we can’t get it added to our shelves!