Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Nevermore: When Stars Rain Down, Anatomy of an Illness, Living Nations Living Words, Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba


Reported by Garry


We had a smaller group this week than last, but it was still energetic and had a wide variety of books discussed. 



Our first book reviewed was When Stars Rain Down by Angela Jackson-Brown.  “Unreal! I almost wanted to hide under the bed in parts!” exclaimed our reader.  Set in 1936 in the fictional town of Parsons, Georgia, this historical novel follows Opal Pruitt, a young black woman.   Opal and her grandmother, Birdie, are housekeepers for a local white widow, Miss Peggy.  When the Ku Klux Klan descends on their small, tightknit Southern town, everyone’s lives are changed.  Our reader says that this is a wonderful book that is powerfully written, and puts you right in the middle of the action.  The book is written as a series of diary entries, so the reader “sees” the action through Opal’s eyes.


The next book review is Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient:  Reflections on Healing and Regeneration by Norman Cousins.   Written in 1979, this book is the memoir of the time that Cousins suffered a crippling, painful bout of what is now called “mixed connective tissue disease.” In 1964, after a stressful trip to Russia, Cousins came down with extreme pain and fatigue.  He was told by doctors that his disease was essentially un-curable and would result in an excruciatingly painful death.  Cousins decided to take his medical care into his own hands, and with the cooperation of his MD, developed his own recovery program consisting of large amounts of intravenous Vitamin C and hours of humorous films and TV programs.  Our reader really liked this book, and found it to be a very thought provoking look at the connection between mind and body.


Living Nations, Living Words: An Anthology of First Peoples Poetry edited by Joy Harjo, the current U.S. Poet Laureate and first Native American to hold the position.  Our reader was enthralled by this collection of prose and poetry by First Peoples authors.  Heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time, our reader was deeply touched by the stories of displacement, visibility, resilience and persistence in this anthology.  Our reader HIGHLY recommends this look at the world through the eyes of the descendants of the first humans to set foot on this continent.


The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton is a historical novel is based on the story of the real-life Cuban woman, Evangelina Cisneros, whose jailing and escape from Cuba was covered by William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers.  In this novel, reporter Grace Harrington lands the story of Evangelina’s imprisonment on the sketchiest of charges, and travels to Havana to try to free her.  This swashbuckling beach-read captivated our reader with the strong story and well defined, powerful characters.



Also mentioned:


The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

The World in a Grain:  The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilization by Vince Beiser

Imperial Woman:  The Story of the Last Empress of China by Pearl S. Buck

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

A Lab of One’s Own:  One Woman’s Personal Journey Through Sexism in Science by Rita Colwell

The Premonition by Michael Lewis

The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Messina

Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

Awakening by Nora Roberts

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The Hitchhikers’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – a newly illustrated version.

Forces of Nature:  The Women Who Changed Science by Anna Reser and Leila McNeill

My Remarkable Journey by Katherine Johnson

The Crown:  The Official Companion, Volume 1:  Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, and the Making of a Young Queen (1947 – 1955) by Robert Lacey

Monday, June 28, 2021

Old World Murder by Kathleen Ernst


Reviewed by Jeanne

Chloe Ellefson has endured a traumatic break up and left a job she loved in Switzerland to try for a fresh start.  She’s just been hired as collections curator at Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor museum dedicated to showing how life was for the various European settlers.  Chloe’s job is to help the interpreters provide realistic portrayals, right down to using the correct sort of plates for a Norwegian farmhouse or the right sort of chairs for Swedish newlyweds.

She’s not exactly getting off on the right foot.  Her boss seems to take a dim view of Chloe’s organizational methods, and the security guard seems to find her suspicious.  Then an elderly woman shows up, distraught because she has been trying to locate a particular object that had been donated to the museum, a Norwegian ale bowl which had been in her family for generations.  Chloe promises to look for the item and get back in touch, but while leaving the museum the woman is involved in a fatal car crash.

Was it an accident? The police seem to think so, but as Chloe begins her search for the bowl it seems that someone is determined to keep its existence a secret—someone who might be willing to commit crimes, maybe even murder, to do so.

This is a first in series book, and acquitted itself well in introducing characters and providing a setting.  I found the behind the scenes look at how some of these outdoor museums work at training interpreters, equipping the buildings, and so forth to be enlightening.  I’ve visited the local Rocky Mount Museum several times and always appreciated the way the staff get into character and provide information. Seeing how the process worked was interesting, especially as it also provided a look at cultures I didn’t know much about. 

All the information is wrapped up in a mystery which makes the learning go down easily.  The characters are well defined: Chloe’s pain drives her to sometimes make bad decisions, a fact which frustrates Roelke McKenna, the policeman who is called in to investigate.  Roelke, his sister tells him, is always trying to rescue people, and she thinks he’s seeing Chloe as someone who needs saving; it doesn’t matter if she wants to be saved or not.

All in all, this was a mostly satisfying read.  The qualification there is because a lot of information was revealed near the end. I did see why part of it was done that way, and appreciate the reason.  I’m going to be reading more of these.

Friday, June 25, 2021

A Book to Kill For by Harper Lin


Reviewed by Kristin

Discovering Harper Lin audiobooks on READS has kept me amused while driving to and from work, and she certainly does have a wide variety of series from which to choose. Lin writes mysteries featuring bakeries, cats, cafes, holidays, senior sleuths, southern sleuths, and finally, books. This prolific author either has cloned herself or she just has ideas bubbling out of her head and very quick typing fingers. (This might be a good time to recommend going to which does an excellent job of listing authors’ series and non-series books.) For those of you who do prefer a physical book over digital, right on our new shelf is Lin’s latest offering, A Book to Kill For.

Maggie Bell is a fairly stereotypical bookworm who loves working at the Whitfield Bookshop in the small town of Fair Haven, Connecticut. She enjoys her conversations with Mr. Alexander Whitfield, and the chance to read her way through the stock during the quiet hours when very few customers are browsing the stacks. When she finds her boss dead within the first chapter, Maggie’s world is turned upside down.

Mr. Whitfield’s son Joshua arrives in town with great plans for renovating his father’s bookshop into a book cafĂ© which might actually make a profit. Joshua has much different ideas than his father about the types of books which will draw people into the store. Beach books? Vampires? Popular fiction? Shocked, Maggie just wants to curl into herself and hide among the classic stories. Good looking as Joshua might be, he doesn’t have much interest in reading. Oh, the horror!

The storyline progresses rather predictably, but if cozy mysteries are your cup of tea, then this one will not disappoint. I’m sure that many other townspeople will find themselves bludgeoned, poisoned, or otherwise endangered all for the sake of a plotline in coming titles. As an amateur sleuth with a sleek black cat named Poe by her side, Maggie surely will find the handily dropped clues and save the day.

If you’re interested in Lin’s senior sleuth Barbara Gold, check out her “Granny” series about a former CIA agent who is not slowing down (much) in her retirement, reviewed here.