This is a beautiful book, printed on heavy, smooth paper. Scattered through the book are photographs, maps, newspaper articles, and descriptions of objects in a collection. The rest of this historical novel set in Alaska and Vancouver, Washington is in the form of letters and journal entries, mostly by Colonel Allen Forrester and his wife Sophie. In 1885, Allen is leading an expedition up the Wolverine River into the interior of Alaska, to map and make contact with the Alaska natives. Sophie is waiting for his return in army housing, expecting their first child and learning to photograph birds and develop the pictures. A tale of adventure, hard to explain encounters in the wilderness for Allen, and a tale of waiting, hoping, and learning for Sophie. A remarkable second novel by the author of The Snow Child.
After her mother’s funeral, teen Hope Walton reluctantly travels to Scotland to meet her aunt. She learns that her mother is alive, but is trapped in London in 1154. Homeschooled Hope can remember everything she reads, is claustrophobic, and has recurrent nightmares. Only the memory skills are helpful when she travels back in time to the coronation of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II with her cousin and her new friend Phoebe. Caught up in the drama and intrigue of London and the Court, Hope’s cousin gets arrested and Hope encounters Bran, a handsome teen she met in Scotland. Is Bran going to help Hope and Phoebe, or is he one of her family’s enemies? Fearful Hope is an unexpected heroine, but pretty good company in this first novel full of drama, adventure, fights, and some romance. The historical London setting is vividly drawn, and readers will look forward to Hope’s next time travel adventure. Kerstin Gier’s Ruby Red trilogy is a good readalike.
At 10:00 am on October 18, the Tuesday Morning Book Group will be discussing The Tilted World, a historical novel by Tom Franklin and his wife Beth Ann Fennelly. Set in a river town in Mississippi in the spring of 1927 as the river levels rise and levees upstream start failing; a tale of federal revenuers, a baby, and moonshiners. Here’s my recent review.
The Tuesday Evening Book Group will meet at 7:00 pm on October 25 to talk about Georgia, by Dawn Tripp. This is a biographical novel about Georgia O’Keeffe, her long, adventurous life, her art, and her relationship with her older husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Read more here.
The Crime Readers will be discussing Our Kind of Traitor, by John Le Carré at 7:00 pm on Thursday, October 20 at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien, with optional dinner at 6:00 pm. A recent spy thriller set in Antigua, England, and Paris by a highly regarded novelist who served in British Intelligence during the Cold War. Check out our current display of Spy Thrillers, or look for Le Carré’s new memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel : Stories From My Life. The Crime Readers are co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library.
This book is set in Oklahoma, during the Dust Bowl. It should be depressing to read, but somehow isn’t, although some readers may feel differently. Annie and Samuel Bell migrated from Kansas to a homestead in the Oklahoma panhandle when they married. They have two children, Birdie, 15, and sweet Fred, 8, who is mute and carries a slate and chalk to communicate. Annie wants Birdie to move to a big city when she finishes school, but Birdie is restless and quite interested in farmer’s son Cy. Annie mourns lost baby Eleanor, and Samuel wonders if his recurrent dreams of abundant rain mean that he should build a boat, maybe even an ark. Other intriguing characters are the pastor, who tries to encourage the town, and mayor Jack Lily, a former Chicago journalist, who’s attracted to Birdie. Fred struggles with asthma as the dust storms arrive, and a few neighboring farmers suddenly move away. The setting reminds me of The Personal History of Rachel Dupree by Ann Weisgarber, but this book has beautiful, almost lyrical writing, with quirky, richly drawn characters, and a tone that’s more melancholy and moving then bleak. In the end, Annie and Samuel love and support each other, even as they deal with hardship and loss. A memorable historical novel.
Have you heard of Louise Penny, the Canadian author of the Armand Gamache mysteries set in Québec? If not, then you probably didn’t spend up to an hour standing in a line that wrapped around the block waiting to see her talk about her brand-new book, A Great Reckoning. That was the scene recently in Naperville, when seven or eight hundred fans (including my sister and me) paid and waited to get a signed copy of her 12th book. The author event was great, including an interview of Louise Penny by mystery author Charles Finch, who writes Victorian era mysteries, and plenty of time for questions from the audience. There was much laughter at some answers, and a fascinating look at how hard it is to write a second novel when the first one took you five years or more. It’s truly remarkable that Louise Penny has kept up the excellent quality of her writing for twelve books in a series, including intricate plotting and characters who seem absolutely real.
The first book in the series is Still Life, if you need an introduction to this award-winning series. Three Pines is a tiny village in Québec, near the Vermont border. Only dial-up internet is available, and the town is missing from maps of Québec. In A Great Reckoning, Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie have recently moved to Three Pines, where several of his former cases have led. Now Gamache is the Commander of Québec’s Sûreté Academy, training police officers. The previous administration was corrupt and recent graduates have shown tendencies of cruelty. With a combination of new and current teachers, Gamache tries to reform the Academy. When there is a murder, no one mourns for the victim, but Gamache takes four cadets close to the victim back to Three Pines for safety and to continue investigating a map found in the walls of the local bistro. With links to World War I and plenty of scenes with the unforgettably unique villagers (including a possibly mad poet and her pet duck), this is a very satisfying yet suspenseful mystery that Louise Penny fans will savor. I’m not sharing many plot details, lest I spoil your reading experience. My sister wouldn’t tell me anything about the book until I’d read it, but thankfully she finished our shared copy in only two days. Already finished the series and hungry for more about Three Pines? Recipes based on the books can be found here. And as a follow-up treat, my Tuesday Evening Book Group will be discussing Charles Finch’s first mystery, A Beautiful Blue Death, in November. Happy reading, or bon appétit!
Small town Texas in 1870 comes to life as Captain Jefferson Kidd, in his early seventies, travels around the state, charging a dime each to read to a crowd for an hour. Whenever he’s in a city, he buys newspapers and journals from all over, and highlights articles to inform and entertain his listeners, while trying to stay away from controversial topics right after the Civil War. I found this part of the book charming and interesting, and then Kidd is asked to take a 10-year-old girl 400 miles south to her family in San Antonio, for $50. Johanna was taken by the Kiowa at age 6, and she remembers little of her past. Kidd and Johanna learn to communicate a little, and she enjoys life on the road in a wagon. They have numerous adventures, including being shot at by a cowboy and his gang, but realize it will all end when the Captain leaves Johanna with her aunt and uncle. I would enjoy hearing the Captain read to a crowd, and I’d definitely enjoy learning what comes next for Johanna, trying to find her place in an alien world. Moving, adventurous, and unique; this book is not to be missed by any reader of historical fiction. This book will be published on October 4.
Elderly Alma Belasco is a woman of mystery, and grandson Seth asks her part-time secretary Irina to help him discover Alma’s secrets. As a girl, Alma is sent by her parents from Poland in 1939 to her aunt and uncle in San Francisco, while her parents remain behind. The Belasco family mansion in San Francisco is only sketchily described, except for the gardens. Alma is befriended by her cousin Nathaniel, whom she later marries, and by Ichimei, the Japanese gardener’s son. In the present, Nathaniel has died and Alma is living at Lark House for seniors, having shed all of her social responsibilities. Lark House and its quirky occupants are lovingly described, along with their activities. I would have liked more scenes with Ichimei, who was sent to an internment camp in Topaz, Utah, with his family. Some of his letters to Alma are included.
Irina, a young immigrant from Eastern Europe, has her own secrets, which don’t seem to fit with the rest of the story. Some chapters of textile artist Alma’s colorful life are rushed, and the author tells rather than shows what happened, as if filling in an outline of events. Other passages are beautifully written, leaving me uncertain how to rate this book. In the end I wanted to know more about Alma, the enigmatic Ichimei, and the residents and staff of Lark House.