Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson FIC Mey

       I'm think I have loved every book I've ever read which has to do with a bookshop!  This one is no exception.   When Miranda Brooks thinks back to her childhood it is always filled with wonderful memories of trips to Prospero Books which was owned by her uncle Billy.  It wasn't just the books that she loved.  He also shared with her his love of riddles and he set up many scavenger hunts for her.  On her 12th birthday there is an argument between Billy and her mother and he is no longer in her life despite her attempts to contact him.
     Miranda grows up and moves across the country.  She has a teaching job she loves and is in a serious relationship.  Her life takes an unexpected turn when she finds out that Billy has died and left his bookshop to her.  She returns home and discovers that Billy has left her the ultimate scavenger hunt.
      I loved the characters and the mystery that surrounded the falling-out between her mother and her beloved uncle.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar (FIC Jou)

It is 2011 and Nour's Syrian-American family is still mourning the loss three months ago of her father who died as a result of cancer.  At 11, Nour is the youngest of her siblings and sees and hears the world in colors, a condition known as synesthesia.  Her mother's angry voice is red; she misses her father's caramel and brown voice.

As their finances suffer, Nour's mother decides to take her family back to Syria and family there.  They settle in Homs, a city initially far away from the fighting in the rest of the country.  But when a bomb hits their neighborhood, destroying their home and severely injuring her oldest sister, Huda, Nour and her family become refugees.

As they work their way through Syria on their way to safety, Nour and her family face unknown challenges.  But always, Nour remembers the many stories her Baba shared with her before he died, particularly the story of Rawiya - a twelfth century girl who disguised herself as a boy  in order to apprentice herself to a famous mapmaker.

I won't lie.  This book was difficult for me to read.  But oh so rewarding in the end.  Written from Nour's point-of-view, we only know what she sees and understands. I felt so much empathy for Nour that it was hard for me to deal with the many challenges she and her family faced as they fled their home.  

If you are at all interested in the reasons people flee their homeland, this book will help you understand just a little bit of what they go through.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Carnegie's Maid by Marie Benedict (FIC Ben)

When her father's political activities threaten their small tenant farm in Ireland, Clara Kelley is sent to America to find a job and send whatever money she can back home.  Upon her arrival in Philadelphia and without a job, she answers a call for "Clara Kelley" only to find that she has mistakenly taken the place of another woman from Ireland with the same name.  Determined to help her family, Clara jumps at the opportunity that presents itself to her.  And ends up in Pittsburgh as a lady's maid to Mrs. Carnegie, the mother of famous industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

Thrust into a world that is completely foreign to her, Clara becomes the perfect lady's maid.  She must keep the secret of her real origins in order to earn money and help her family. Always with her is the constant fear that her lie will be discovered.  In spite of her efforts, Clara is drawn to Andrew Carnegie and finds they have much in common.  But can she reconcile her sympathy with immigrants and the working poor with the ambition of Carnegie?

This book lays the groundwork for Andrew Carnegie's future philanthropy.  In a note from the author, she explains that history has not provided a clear reason for why, by the time he died, Carnegie had given away his entire fortune - to the building of free public libraries, for one.  Whether it was because of a forbidden relationship, as this book portrays, is unclear.  But why not?

Clara is a likable character and I felt for both her ambition and her worry about her family.  Andrew Carnegie and his rise to wealth, along with his personal ambition, are also well drawn.  I enjoyed the book for a (fictional) look at man whose name I've known all my life but about whom I knew very little.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser 921 Wilder Fra

Ostensibly a biography of the famous author, this book is really a look at not only Wilder's life but also the times in which she lived.  It is the story of her parents, Charles and Caroline, her sisters, Mary, Carrie and Grace, and her beloved husband, Almanzo.  But it is also the story of her daughter Rose and their relationship - sometimes loving but often contentious.

Interwoven into all of these stories is the story of how the United States grew and changed during the lifespan of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The author's explanation of social and cultural changes is carefully interwoven with the lives of Laura and those who surround her.  These explanations help explain many of Laura's attitudes and opinions.

Loaded with information, this book took me awhile to read.  The portrait of Laura Ingalls Wilder isn't always a nice one but ultimately I found myself liking the real person and not the fictional version I grew up with.  Her daughter, Rose, doesn't come across as very likable and often not very nice to her mother.  Still, according to the author, there was no denying the bond between mother and daughter.

At the end of her life, swamped with letters from an adoring public, Laura often found herself unable to respond to each as personally as she would have liked.  One quote that she used often was this:  "The most valuable thing for life never changes by time or place - it is to be honest and cheerful, to find happiness in what you have, and to have courage in hardships."  Words for all of us to live by.

This book was well worth the time it took me to read it and left me with a new perspective on someone I thought I knew well.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Endurance A Year In Space: A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly 629.45 Kel

I loved this memoir.  Scott Kelly's story is pretty amazing. Growing up he struggled in school and he seemed destined to fail in life as far as education goes.  Amazingly it was a book that changed his life.  When he read the book The Right Stuff, which tells the story of the Mercury astronauts and the beginning of the space program, he had his dream.  And with hard work and determination he succeeded.

The book invites us into the world of living a year in space which was fascinating.  We also learn the back story of how he ended up fulfilling his dream.  Over the years I have seen videos and stories about space travel but this book is a bit more explicit!

From the trip to Russia for take off to the chores they have to do in order to keep their quarters clean and safe I was totally drawn in.

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Educated by Tara Westover BCD 270 Wes

Very few memoirs are written about boring lives!  It is unbelievable what some people go through as children and yet grow up to be so successful.  Tara Westover has a PhD from Cambridge and yet the first time she entered into a classroom she was 17.  And it isn't that she had a mother who had been homeschooling her with a great curriculum.

Tara and her family lived in Idaho up in the mountains.  Her parents are survivalists.  So everyone in the family has a bag packed to grab on the way out the door if they have to leave quickly.  Tara's dad wanted his children to know that they couldn't trust the government, the educators or even the doctors.  So they were very isolated.  Her mom begins working with herbs and has all sorts of salves and 'medicines' to cure whatever ails you.  She also began working as a midwife.

Tara's life was hard, painful and isolated.  She spent days doing hard, physical work in her father's junkyard.  Besides the many injuries she suffered there, she was also physically abused by her older brothers.

There were many parts of the book that were hard to read (well actually listening) but I was in awe of the story and it has stayed with me.  The family loyalty is very hard to understand.   A great book if you want to broaden your horizons and find out about another 'culture' that is part of our country.

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Gone to dust by Matt Goldman MYS Gol

Nils Shapiro is a private detective who lives in Minnesota.  It is winter which is a challenge.  His private life is also a challenge because he can't seem to get over his ex-wife.

"Ellie" - a nickname for a former colleague - has called him to come help with an investigation.  Maggie Somerville was murdered in her suburban home.  Finding evidence is going to be very difficult because in the bedroom where her body was found the murderer has dumped hundreds of vacuum cleaner bags.

There are a few suspects immediately because Maggie had an ex-husband, a former boyfriend and a current boyfriend.  After checking the cell phone records Nils also finds a frequently called number which belongs to a young woman who has a secret involving Maggie.

As the investigation continues, the FBI steps in to tell Nils to drop it because someone they have their eyes on is also one of the suspects in Maggie's death.  Of course he doesn't give up!

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