The newest book of historical fiction by Nancy Horan takes place in Springfield, Illinois from 1854-1909. The main character, Ana Ferreira, comes to Springfield from Madeira, Portugal with her family when she is a young girl. When she is a teen, she lands a job at the Lincoln’s home where she helps with household chores and taking care of the Lincoln’s sons. Ana not only gets to know all the Lincolns but some individuals instrumental in The Underground Railway.
Ana and her best friend, Cal, are fictional characters, but many of the others in The House of Lincoln really existed and were important figures in Springfield and in the fight against slavery in the 19th century. Like Loving Frank, The House of Lincoln is a readable work of historical fiction where one learns about interesting events and notable people during that era.
It’s the summer of 1974 in Boston and enforced busing will begin when school starts in the fall. It seems that no one in Mary Pat Fennessy’s neighborhood is happy about it. One night her teenage daughter, Jules, doesn’t return home from a night of drinking and partying. That same night a young Black man dies, perhaps from being struck by a subway train. Mary Pat astutely senses that the two events are related and thus searches for answers as well as the people involved in the man’s death and her daughter’s disappearance.
What I liked best about Small Mercies is that it is not just a” who done it” mystery, Lehane captures the anger and prejudice of the poor Irish of Boston, the long arm of the Irish Mafia, the tension created when people must involuntarily bus their children and the determination and monomania of Mary Pat Fennessy.
It is the 1950’s in Dublin, and a young, outspoken Jewish woman has been found dead in her car in a mechanic’s garage. Her death, from carbon monoxide poisoning at first appears to be suicide. However, Dr. Quirk believes Rosa Jacobs has been murdered. He soon is able to convince Deputy John Strafford to agree with him. As they investigate, the two men begin to see a connection between this death, a hit and run in Israel and a wealthy German father and son.
I usually don’t read mysteries, but I couldn’t resist one by John Banville that takes place in Ireland. The Lock-Up is well-written, illustrates the caste system in Ireland in the ’50’s, and has some sad, yet endearing characters. Yet, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why it is called The Lock-Up!
Abraham Verghese’s second work of fiction was a long time coming but well worth the wait. It is a family saga that covers three generations of a Christian family living in Kerala which is on the southern coast of India. Each generation produces at least one individual who has a fear of water and dies from drowning. There is no escaping water in Kerala. Parallel to this saga is the life of Digby Kilgour, a Scotsman who becomes a brilliant surgeon in Madras, India and eventually becomes the director of a leper colony. Of course, Verghese eventually brings these plots together in an surprising yet heart warming way.
I adored Cutting for Stone and was afraid The Covenant of Water would be a let down. NOT AT ALL. Characters, plot and descriptions are terrific. It is the kind of book I couldn’t put down, yet didn’t want to finish.
Warning: There are many medical descriptions in The Covenant of Water-surgeries, ailments, and examinations. I found them interesting and sometimes fascinating but others may not.
Ari Shapiro has traveled the world working for NPR. He has chatted with Obama, Syrian refugees and LGBT activists. He has been in The Oval Office, sung with the international orchestra Pink Martini, performed a cabaret act with Alan Cumming and hosted National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. While relating all these stories, Shapiro tells his own tale about a gay, Jewish guy from Fargo, North Dakota who made it big time.
I have reading a lot of nonfiction lately, and while most of the books were well-written, they were also depressing. The Best Strangers in the World is a real upper. Shapiro describes individuals who represent the positivity of humanity without sounding sappy or smarmy. Every chapter introduced me to folks I’d like to meet in person.
The final novel of well-known Israeli author, A.B. Yehoshua, published posthumously describes a few weeks in the life of 12 year old Rachele Luzzato. Rachele is Jewish but is angry when her father won’t let her portray the Virgin Mary in her school’s Christmas pageant. We are introduced to her when she learns that her father is ill and will require brain surgery. The family lives in Padua, Italy but Rachele’s father will have the operation in Venice.
Rachele is an intriguing character. In some ways she is wise beyond her years, yet she tends to say whatever is on her mind, never thinking of how it will affect others. As she prepares for her bat mitzvah, issues about God, religion and ethics are brought up. The Only Daughter is not Yehoshua’s best novel, but it is a worthwhile read.
The Wager is a ship that capsized in treacherous waters off the coast of Patagonia in 1740. From sailor’s log books, their personal writings, history books about the Wager and other well researched writings, Grann presents an exciting, tragic tale of what men do when they are faced with desperate circumstances.
Although I’m usually not a fan of seafaring books, I wanted to read The Wager because I enjoyed David Grann’s other works of nonfiction. The Wager did not disappoint. It is exciting, frightening and poses complicated dilemmas. There are a number of crew members that are described at the beginning of the book. At first it was a bit difficult to keep them straight, but eventually they all are sorted out with their own jobs and personalities.
Victoria Nash is17 years old and lives on a peach farm in rural Colorado in the 1940’s. She looks after her father, brother and handicapped uncle. One day she is in town and meets Wilson Moon, a drifter who has a sunny disposition and a way with words. He is Native American, and her brother is furious when he discovers that Victoria is attracted to him. Go As a River describes the sad consequences of Wil and Victoria’s relationship and how it affects her for the next thirty years.
Debut author Shelley Read has written an interesting, well-written story. Victoria Nash is a complex character and a fine narrator. However, I found the conclusion of Go As a River a bit too predictable.
Val Welch is an artist. During the Depression he takes on a government funded job painting a mural on the walls of a post office in Dawes, Wyoming. A wealthy rancher, John Long, has offered him free room and board. John is married to Eve who has packed a lot into her short life. She has been a hobo, a night club singer and a variety of other short term jobs all over the country. One day Eve disappears, taking with her a small, valuable Renoir painting. For several reasons, John doesn’t want the law involved, so he sends Val to find her. Val’s search takes him to Seattle, Florida and San Francisco.
When I began reading The Trackers, I wasn’t sure I would like it, but the more I read, the more I enjoyed it. Frazier’s characters are interesting, and he does a good job of depicting slices of life during the Depression.
Don’t be startled by the length of Big Tree. Like many of Selznick’s works, it is mostly beautiful pictures and pages with four or five sentences. Big Tree takes place during the cretaceous period, at least 66 million years ago. It focuses on two sycamore seedlings, Merwin and Louise. They are blown away from their mother tree during a forest fire and then must search for a place with sun, water and soil, so they can grow into trees.
I usually don’t read or recommend children’s book, but Brian Selznick is a special talent. For a child who is seven years or older and is curious, sensitive and can appreciate outstanding art work, Big Tree would make a perfect gift.