ago, one of my book clubs chose a series of memoirs. One of those books was Tender
at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. In Tender at the Bone, Reichl describes
her early life and learning to cook as a defense mechanism because her own
mother was a terrible cook. Eventually, readers learn her mother was bipolar
which accounts for her mood swings and her inability to stick to one thing for
In her most
recent memoir, Save me the Plums, Reichl describes being offered the job
as editor of Gourmet magazine. She describes being courted to take the job
despite her reluctance and even belligerent answers of “NO!”
Reichl does take the job as editor of Gourmet; Save me the Plums
details her beginning at the magazine through to its closing. She had to learn
how to be the boss, how to make decisions that affected others, and how to turn
Gourmet into a magazine a wide variety of people wanted to read. When
Reichl’s young son learned that if his mother took the job at Gourmet, she
would be home each evening, he encouraged her to take the job. He missed seeing
his mother in the evenings because as a food critic, she was out most evenings.
me the Plums, Reichl gives readers additional glimpses into her early life
with her parents. She describes a winter
day when she returned home from school to discover her mother had purchased a “large
dead birch tree” which workmen were hoisting up to their eleventh-floor
apartment. She made other extravagant purchases
the family could not afford: a house in the country, a boat, a fur coat, and a
large painting. When the items had to be returned, Reichl’s mother was
heartbroken. She would often take to her bed and stay there for months.
father was the anchor who held the family steady. He loved his wife and stood
by her with whatever scheme she devised. Sadly, he could not give her all the
money she wanted for fine things.
into her job as Gourmet’s editor by describing the people she works with
and the terror she feels at taking over such a massive job. She has an office
which she is allowed to decorate with the bright colors she loves. She has a
budget she could only have dreamed about and a car, clothing allowance, and travel
Save me the
Plums is a vivid account of Reichl’s ten years with Gourmet. In the end, as the
magazine lost revenue, Reichl knew there would be changes. She writes, “I’d
fortified myself against the pain of being fired, but this was worse: They had
murdered the magazine.”
feel Reichl’s pain over the loss especially as they look back over the beginning
of Save me the Plums where Reichl recounts her first encounter with Gourmet.
That story, in itself, is enough to get readers interested in the rest of
Reichl’s memoir. A few recipes sprinkled throughout the book also add to the
Ruth Reichl is host of PBS’s Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth. At her Web site, http://ruthreichl.com/, discover more about Reichl, her books, and her other work.
Never Caught is a captivating story of Ona Judge, a slave
owned by Martha Custis Washington and brought to her marriage with George
Washington. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, the author, is the Charles and Mary Beard
Professor of History at Rutgers University. Professor Dunbar has received
fellowships from Ford, Mellon, and SSRC. Her first book is A Fragile
Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City.
Dunbar provides a biography of Ona
Judge, a dower slave, owned by Martha Parke Custis, brought to her marriage
with George Washington. Dower slaves were held in trust for Martha’s children
or grandchildren. Technically, they did not belong to Washington, but he owned
slaves in his own right.
When George Washington became
President of the newly formed United States, he had to move his family first to
New York City and then Philadelphia from their beloved home at Mount Vernon. The
Washingtons chose a small number of slaves to take with them as servants in
both NY and PA. Ona Judge was one of those who moved with the family. Betty,
Ona’s mother, was a favored slave in Martha’s household.
Ona became very much like a lady’s
maid, dressing Martha and combing her hair. Ona also had to repair any damage
to Martha’s clothes, so she became an expert seamstress. Martha depended upon
Ona a great deal. Ona would even make social calls with Martha, staying in the
background both at home and on visits to other homes in case Martha needed Ona.
Dunbar describes Ona’s duties well and
also reminds readers of the perils young female slaves faced. Apparently, the
Washingtons treated Ona well, giving her new clothes and treating her kindly,
but she was still enslaved and at their beck and call.
Once the family moved to Philadelphia,
the Washingtons had to take the slaves back to Mount Vernon or to the
neighboring state of New Jersey every six months or the slaves could be
declared free. The Washingtons wanted to keep this knowledge from the slaves,
but, no doubt, the information did leak out.
When Martha’s granddaughter Elizabeth
Parke Custis, also called Betsey and Eliza, married Thomas Law, a man twenty
years her senior, Martha bequeathed Ona Judge to the granddaughter. Elizabeth
was known to have a stormy temper and to be unpredictable. Ona definitely did
not wish to become her property even though it meant returning to her family in
At that point, Ona made up her mind to
run away. Runaway slaves had a difficult time and were often caught. Rewards
from $5 to $10, a lot of money in those days, were offered for the capture and
return of the slaves.
Ona found passage on a ship with Captain John Bowles who took her to Portsmouth, NH. The passage was difficult and Ona was seasick on the ship. Once she got to Portsmouth, she had to find a job and lodging. She managed both of those tasks, taking a job as a domestic.
Below is the first newspaper ad posted seeking Ona Judge’s return:
In living with the Washingtons, Ona
had had an easy life in terms of work, but she was on constant call. As an
escapee, she had to do very hard work as a laundress and housekeeper. In those
days, the jobs were not only difficult, but also dangerous.
One day in Portsmouth, Ona is on her
way to work when she comes face-to-face with Senator Langdon’s daughter. Ona
does not acknowledge the young woman, but she recognizes Ona and tells her
father that she has seen Ona. At that point, readers imagine that Ona will be
taken back to the Washingtons or that she will flee to another city.
In effort to find Ona Judge,
Washington wrote a letter to Oliver Wolcott: “I am sorry to give you, or any
one else trouble on such a trifling occasion. The ingratitude of the girl, who
was brought up & treated more like a child than a Servant ought not to
escape with impunity if it can be avoided.” Clearly, he missed the points that
Ona was not a child and was not free.
Ona remains in Portsmouth and she
remains free of capture, but she does experience some terrifying moments.
Washington’s nephew Burwell Bassett is sent to retrieve Ona, but he fails.
Others also try to return Ona to the Washingtons, but without success.
In Portsmouth, Ona met Jack Staines
and they were legally married in 1797. Staines was a free black man, seaman who
was often gone at sea. Unable to marry in Portsmouth, Ona and Jack went to the
nearby town of Greenland where they were married. Ona later found refuge in
Greenland with a free black family when Jack Staines died.
Dunbar gives readers background on the
times, the ways people began looking at slavery and groups which formed to
abolish slavery. In NY, for example, the New-York Manumission Society was
founded in 1785 by John Jay and others “to promote the gradual abolition of
slavery and manumission of slaves of African descent within the state of New
In Pennsylvania, the Society for the
Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully held in Bondage was the first American
Abolition society, founded April 14, 1775. Later, it was reorganized and became
the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and for the
Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage with the short name of the
Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Benjamin Franklin became the president of the
organization and took the matter of slavery to the Constitutional Convention of
The yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in
Philadelphia killed almost 5000 people between Aug 1 and Nov 9. No one knew
that mosquitoes transmitted the fever until that fact was verified in the
nineteenth century. The yellow fever epidemic ended with the frost that killed
the mosquitoes. Doctors thought African-Americans were immune to yellow fever,
so many were recruited to care for the sick and bury the dead. Of course, they
were not immune and many became ill and died.
Washington did struggle with the
morality of slavery, but he did not free his slaves during his lifetime. Washington’s
will “stipulated that aged slaves, those who were unable to work or support
themselves, receive assistance and that they be ‘comfortably clothed and fed’
by the Washington heirs after their liberation took effect.” He also decreed
that the slaves be taught to read and write and taught a useful occupation in
preparation for their freedom.
Dunbar provides readers with a
well-rounded look at slavery through the life of one slave: Ona Judge.
About a year
ago, I joined a book club at my branch of the Tulsa City-County Libraries.
Kelli McDowell, library manager, chooses the books and leads the discussions. I
am finding this book club a welcome respite because my responsibilities are to
read the books chosen and be prepared for the discussions —and occasionally
to bring refreshments.
time I’ve been in Beyond the Book, Ms. McDowell has chosen books I’ve already
read, books I would not have chosen on my own, and books I’ve been eager to
read. I’ve read all of them regardless of whether I had already read the
book—a refresher is always good. The books I would not have chosen have been
intriguing and fun to read. Since I choose books for another book club (or
two?), I like having someone else choose for this one.
The book for
September is Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton. I knew that Reese
Witherspoon had chosen it for her book club and had the book on my TBR list, so
it is a welcome choice. I looked up information on Chanel Cleeton since I am
not familiar with her work.
written a number of romance novels and a thriller and now this semi-political
novel set in Cuba, Next Year in Havana. As I read about Cleeton, I
discovered that she wanted to explore her own heritage since her family had
escaped from Cuba in 1960 and landed in Florida. She has listened to her
grandparents reminisce about their lives in Cuba, but they are reluctant to
talk about some of the deprivation they suffered after Castro took over.
Cleeton says her grandfather, similar to people who grew up in the Great
Depression, cannot bear to see food wasted because food was in such short
Like many writers,
Cleeton gives her readers the Perez family’s story told in two parts: then and
now. She also tells the story through two characters, Elise Perez and Marisol
Ferrera, Elise’s granddaughter.
parents divorced when she and her sisters were small and their mother moved
away, leaving the girls in their father’s care. His mother Elise, the girls’
paternal grandmother, steps in to help her son with his daughters. Elise and
Marisol share the closest bond and are much alike. When Elise dies suddenly in
her 70s, she leaves instructions for Marisol to take her ashes back to Cuba. In
the instructions, she says that Marisol will know where to leave the ashes once
she is there.
Cleeton sets up a mystery for Marisol to solve so that she knows the right
place to leave her dear grandmother’s ashes. Marisol is a freelance journalist,
so she has a reason to visit Cuba now that restrictions are somewhat relaxed
and Americans can visit there. She does not know when she sets off on her
journey that she will discover family secrets and a love.
Marisol is in Cuba to write about tourist spots for a magazine, and she does
plan to do that too. She has to smuggle her grandmother’s ashes into Cuba in a cosmetic
jar and she hopes the jar won’t be opened during her entrance into Cuba at the
made arrangements to stay with Ana Rodriguez, Elise’s neighbor and childhood
friend. Ana still lives in her family home next door to the old home where the
Perez family lived, now occupied by Russian diplomats.
Rodriguez, Ana’s grandson, picks Marisol up from the airport and takes her to
his grandmother’s home where he also lives with his mother and his ex-wife. Luis
is a history professor at the University of Havana. Immediately, sparks fly
when the two meet, but Marisol is wary. She is in Havana for a few days only
and she has much to do.
story, readers learn about the revolution and the factions trying to defeat
Batista. Elise and her family live the lives of the very privileged. They are
wealthy and feel untouched by dangers around them until all comes crashing
down. Their father has supported Batista, so that puts the family in immediate
danger when Castro takes over.
The Perez family manages to leave Cuba for the US as if going on vacation. Elise and her three sisters can take only one suitcase each and must leave valuables behind. Elise buries a box containing items precious to her in the backyard and enlists her friend Ana in the middle of the night to witness where the box is buried. Ana later digs that box up and keeps it safe without opening it until she gives it to Marisol.
Elise’s treasures in the box lead Marisol into some danger and Luis is right beside her. Readers also learn that Luis blogs under an assumed name and his blogging could get him into serious trouble with the government. He reminds Marisol that as an American and someone staying with the Rodriguez family she is being watched.
all the political and romantic intrigues, read Next Year in Havana. One
of my reading quirks is that I like to discover that the writer has used the title
of the book somewhere in the book. The caveat is that it must appear naturally;
it can’t be forced or just dropped in inexplicably. Cleeton meets my
expectations in that regard. Cubans who fled Cuba after Castro took over, end
their toasts with “Next year in Havana.”
When I finish a book, I usually head to
the computer (I still like working at my desk top despite having a small
laptop) to write out and share my thoughts about the book. September 5, 2019, I
finished reading Ellie and the Harp Maker by Hazel Prior. For some
reason, I did not immediately write my review. I am correcting that oversight
now because I truly enjoyed the book.
Hazel Prior, https://www.hazeltheharpist.co.uk/,
has been playing the harp for a long time. She has performed at the Ferrara Music
Festival in Italy, at the Tobacco Factory Theatre in Bristol, poetry readings,
and Medieval banquets. And she has played the harp at a number of weddings
including her own. On her Web site, Prior gives several examples of her harp
Ellie and the Harp Maker is a debut novel; Prior is already at work on her second book and has also written short stories, poems, and children’s stories. Her writing is warm and inviting. She creates characters that readers care about and wish to see successful in their endeavors. In Ellie and the Harp Maker, the story plays out simply, unfolding slowly as readers come to know Dan Hollis, the harp maker, and Ellie, the Exmoor housewife.
Prior’s Web site, readers will see this proclamation about Ellie and the
heart-warming, funny and quirky love story features . . .
pair of cherry-coloured socks
a pheasant named Phineas.”
reading that description, how could I not wish to read the book?
The story begins simply enough when Ellie, the Exmoor housewife, takes an impulsive trip down a wooded lane and discovers a barn where Dan Hollis makes Celtic harps. Dan most likely has Asperger’s; he says of himself that he does not always understand social situations. He prefers working on his harps in the solitude of his barn where he can let the wood tell him how to make the harp.
Ellie finds the barn, she goes in and views the beautiful harps all over the
barn, some completed and others Dan is still working on. As she admires the
harps, Ellie tells Dan she wishes she could play the harp, a goal before she
Dan admires Ellie’s bright, cherry-colored socks, so he gives her a harp of cherry wood. At first, Ellie protests and tells Dan she cannot possibly accept the harp as a gift. Dan insists that she take the harp and helps her load it into the back of her car with a blanket to cushion it for the trip to her home.
she is at home, Ellie still feels she should not accept the harp and her
husband echoes that sentiment insisting that she return it. Her husband is sure
Ellie misunderstood Dan and tells her they cannot afford to pay for the harp or
Sadly, Ellie returns the harp to Dan who tells her the harp belongs to her, Ellie, the Exmoor housewife. He assures her he will keep the harp in a little room up the seventeen stairs to his living quarters and that she can come there to play. He even tells her of a harp teacher, his girlfriend, who will teach Ellie.
Dan’s gift of the cherry wood harp to Ellie marks the beginning of a friendship between the two. The story is heartwarming and full of kindness. Oh, yes, there is strife and discord which we hope will be resolved. To discover the warmth of a kind soul and an act of generosity that turns into a friendship and more, read Ellie and the Harp Maker by Hazel Prior.
Ellie and the Harp Maker would make a delightful choice for a book talk for Books Sandwiched In with a harpist who could talk about the book and play the harp!
During the month of September, the Tulsa Press Club is collecting books for readers age 8 – 14. The Tulsa Press Club, https://www.facebook.com/pg/TulsaPressClub/posts/, will give the books to Tulsa Crime Stoppers for distribution through revamped Tulsa World dispensing boxes; the boxes will be in various places around Tulsa. Children are then encouraged to take a book from the box and read. Also, Tulsa Police officers will be reading to children in a variety of places around the city. People are invited to donate new and gently used books for readers age 8 – 14. These locations are accepting donations of books: Tulsa Press Club, Tulsa Crime Stoppers, and City Vet.
Since I have always enjoyed reading, I like to promote reading among all ages. When I learned of the book drive, I wanted to contribute. I purchased four picture books from the South Broken Arrow Library’s book sale to donate.
The middle picture is of Diana Cohn and the third picture is of Amy Cordova.
Namaste! by Diana Cohn and illustrated by Amy Cordova is a beautiful book about Nima Sherpa, a little girl who lives in Nepal where Mt Everest looks down on her village. Nima’s father is a tour guide for many foreign visitors who come to see Mt. Everest, called Chomolongma by the villagers.
Namaste! follows Nima on her journey through the
village. As she meets people, she “brings her hands together with her fingers
almost touching her chin, bows her head slightly, and says ‘Namaste!’” Namaste means “the light in me meets
the light in you.”
Through Nima’s journey, readers see
other villagers and learn about life in Nima’s village. Amy Cordova’s
illustrations are colorful and delight the eye.
At the end of the book, readers will
find information about Nepal, the Himalayas, the Sherpa people, Sir Edmund
Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, and preserving mountain cultures. Namaste! is
truly a book to savor and from which to learn.
Diana Cohn has published seven books
for children and has received awards for her work. She continues to have a
strong interest in social justice and environmental issues.
Amy Cordova is an artist and art educator. She has won awards for her work as well.
John Stadler’s Catilda takes
readers on a journey to find a lost toy, a stuffed bear. Father tucks Catilda
into bed and leaves her singing “a song about Ollie,” her bear lost on a trip
to the city. Stadler illustrates the book as well. The drawings are whimsical
and inviting. The colors are muted shades on one page and darken on another.
Catilda misses Ollie and wants to find him. Unbeknownst to her mother and father, she goes on a night-time journey to find the lost bear. Through the story, we see Catilda being bandied about by a giant wave only to land on a flagpole. She finally reaches The Statute of Liberty and then we see her clutching Ollie to her heart and smiling as she floats on a cloud. See more about John Stadler at this link: http://www.johnstadler.com/.
Sleepy Sam’s by Michael R.
Strickland and illustrated by Keaf Holliday portrays three brothers off to get
a Saturday haircut. Mother gives them money and hands them written instructions
for the barber: “Trim. Keep the hairline natural. Clean back of neck. And
please – not too short on the top!” Mark and Randy beg for a different cut
saying, “We’re tired of Afro cuts.” Mom is not budging, though.
Before the boys reach the barber shop,
they look across the street at the candy store and debate the merits of going
there first. They decide, however, they should get to the barber shop first.
Sam calls Mark to sit in the barber’s
chair. Sam wants to give the boys a different cut, but they remind him of their
mother’s instructions. However, “Sam
smiles to himself and goes to work.” When all three boys have had their
haircuts, they return home.
Mom looks at her sons and “a slow
smile appears. She laughingly says, “That Sam…. He gave you guys just what you
wanted!” The boys have “a bald fade” hair cut and all of them are happy.
Keaf Holliday has created realistic pictures of the three boys and the people they meet on their way to the barber shop. The colors are soft. Each boy is distinctive, but share features as brothers would.
Do All Bugs Have
Wings? And Other Questions Kids Have About Bugs by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Cary
Pillo will thrill young readers with information about bugs. The format is
simple. On each page, we see one or more questions posed by children whose
first names and ages appear with the questions. This touch add realism to the
The pages are full of facts, but not
so overwhelming that readers will become bored. For example, in answer to the
question “how many insects are on Earth today?” readers will discover this
answer: “Too many to count! Scientists think there are about 10 quintillion
(10,000,000,000,000,000,000) insects in the world. There are about 6.8 billion
people on Earth. This means there are 1.5 billion insects for each person!”
The book is one to be read and reread.
Cary Pillo has illustrated the book with drawings of a wide variety of bugs.
The drawings are fun and yet fit with the information on each page.
Suzanne Slade has written a number of
children’s books—more than 100! Her background is in mechanical engineering;
she wishes to share her passion for science with young readers. See more of her
work at this link: https://www.suzanneslade.com/.
On a recent
visit to Central Library for a meeting, I stopped to check the Quick Pick (QP)
table just to see what was available. Imagine my surprise to find six copies of
A Better Man, Louise Penny’s latest in the Armand Gamache series. It was
published in August, 2019!
surprisingly, A Better Man has already received accolades from a number
of reviewers. The Times of London named it a book of the month while The
Christian Science Monitor named it one of the best books of August.
fans expect her to provide a good story. A Better Man certainly has a strong
storyline. All of our favorite
characters from Three Pines are included along with the police agents we’ve
come to know.
investigating a murder, Gamache and Beauvoir and the police crew must deal with
several other issues: Gamache’s return to homicide after a suspension and a
catastrophic potential flooding across the province.
After a nine-month
suspension, Gamache returns to the Surete’ demoted to second in command
of homicide under his son-in-law, now named Chief Inspector Beauvoir. Of course, long-time Penny fans will remember that
Beauvoir will soon be leaving Quebec for Paris and a safe job, no longer a
police officer. How will Gamache act when he is no longer in charge? What about
the other officers, the subordinates?
difficulty that will involve police and other first responders is the potential
for flooding caused by the April thaws and continuous rain. Rivers are
threatening to burst dams and flood the province.
mentored Beauvoir through his career and his rise to Chief Inspector. In the process,
the two have become related through Gamache’s daughter’s marriage to Beauvoir;
even more than being related, the two have developed a mutual respect and love
for one another as brothers in arms and human beings.
As the story
moves forward, I enjoyed seeing Beauvoir engage in many of the behaviors he has
observed in Gamache over the years. Gamache is a calm man, a man given to
defusing situations with a quiet word and a calm demeanor even when he faces a
man holding a gun on him. Beauvoir finds himself thinking like Gamache and
quoting lines of poetry or literature—if only in his own head.
investigation involves a missing pregnant woman who happens to be Agent Lysette
Cloutier’s goddaughter. Several years earlier, Gamache had brought Agent
Cloutier from accounting into homicide so she could help with tracing money as
part of criminal investigations. Superintendent Isabelle Lacoste is also back following
her recovery from a shooting in a drug operation of nine months earlier.
Gamache’s daughter and Beauvoir’s wife, is about the same age as Vivienne, the
missing woman. Annie, too, is pregnant, so Gamache and Beauvoir think about how
they would feel if Annie were missing.
to locate Vivienne, the team encounters resistance from Carl Tracey, Vivienne’s
abusive drunken husband. Thus, Tracey becomes the prime suspect in Vivienne’s
threatening weather conditions also play a vital role in the investigation.
Other issues that intrude on the investigation include tweets denigrating
Gamache and saying he is unfit for service. I found those tweets to be
disturbing because they clearly are being sent out by people who do not know
Gamache and have no respect for him because they do not know the full story.
story concerns Clara, the artist resident of Three Pines. Her latest exhibition
has been savaged by art critics. She feels personally attacked and deflated because
of the terrible reviews.
In the end,
Gamache and Beauvoir determine what has happened to Vivienne and who is
responsible. The results are surprising. A Better Man is certainly a
Web site, https://www.louisepenny.com/books.htm, gives readers insight into the
characters and the setting of the Gamache novels. Readers can also subscribe to
her newsletter which keeps them updated on Penny’s work.
I learned on
the Web site that Penny is a great supporter of literacy programs. In addition
to being actively involved in literacy organizations, Penny has written a grade
3 novella: The Hangman. The story is set in Three Pines and features
Chief Inspector Gamache. The book is designed to engage “emerging adult
readers.” Anyone who works with adult learners knows that finding appropriate
reading material at a level that the readers can understand as they are
learning, but also appeal to an adult audience, is difficult.
Once again my friend Theresa has steered
me to a book I have found fascinating and can recommend wholeheartedly: The
Last List of Miss Judith Kratt by Andrea Bobotis. The story is set in
Bound, South Carolina, in the present-day with narrator Judith Kratt, 75, harkening
back to her youth in memory to give readers the complete story.
If I am pressed, I will admit that
Southern authors are my favorites. In no particular order, Eudora Welty,
William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Carson
McCullers, Margaret Mitchell, Alice Walker, and Kate Chopin come quickly to
mind. These authors tell stories that remind me of family stories and of the
way of telling the story. Rarely straightforward, each story ambles on its way
with tidbits thrown in to explain or further enhance the main story. Or sometimes
to go completely off track onto another path only to wander back to the
original story after all.
Jim Hartz interviewed Eudora Welty for
the Today Show on 6 Feb 1976. Welty “describes growing up in a culture
that ‘relished’ storytelling.” She further explained that “growing up in Mississippi,
in Jackson, is good for any writer because we are a nation of talkers, listeners,
and storytellers. And when you live in a small town where you know everybody
you get it all.” She continues by saying storytelling is “unique to the South
maybe.” She hedges a bit there, but we know Southerners do love telling
stories. Of course, other areas of the country and other cultures do too.
Pat Conroy, a South Carolina native,
weighed in on Southern storytellers: “Every region has their oddballs, for
sure. But in the South, we embrace our oddballs and listen to their tales.”
My heart is still pounding fifteen
minutes after finishing the last page of The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt.
While I will not include spoilers, it will not surprise readers to learn that
long-kept family secrets will come to light as Miss Judith faces the past her
family has lived.
Having grown up in a very small town
populated with many of my relatives, I am aware of secrets long-held. One of those
family secrets came to light last year when I had my DNA analyzed through
Ancestry.com. I discovered my cousin’s daughter who had been adopted at birth
sixty years ago in a closed adoption. That discovery resulted a cousins’ family
reunion and an opportunity to meet our newly-found cousin. Sadly, her mother has
died, but she did get to meet her two aunts and a whole passel of cousins.
This review will include no spoilers. Let
me say, though, that I hate Daddy Kratt even though he was long dead when the
story opens. He is a thoroughly despicable character and I still feel a
visceral hatred and repulsion when I think of him. He is the archetypal bully,
villain, and miscreant all rolled into one person. Caring only for himself and
what he can amass in money and goods, Daddy Kratt rolled over everyone and everything
in his path exactly like a bulldozer without caring about the consequences as
long as he got what he wanted.
And Daddy Kratt succeeded—for a time.
He owned cotton gins, many acres of land, a fine home, a store, and a gas
station. He even pushed Mr. Delour, his own father-in-law into bankruptcy and
never looked back. Mr. Delour had mentored Daddy Kratt when Daddy Kratt was a
young man working toward amassing his fortune. None of that means a thing to a
In the present-day, Judith lives in
the family home, now in some disrepair as fortunes have fallen long ago, with Olva,
a Black woman only slightly older than Judith. The two have been together all
their lives. Judith’s brother Quincey, age 14, died from “a fatal gunshot to
his person in the early hours of Friday, December 20, 1929.” This news is
related to readers at the beginning of the book.
Then Bobotis works backward and
forward to complete the story. Judith and Quincey’s younger sister is Rosemarie,
named for their mother, also Rosemarie. Other important characters include Dee,
Rosemarie’s only sibling, Charlie who works at the store and repairs all things
including mechanical ones, Marcus, and Amaryllis. A few other townspeople enter
the story as well.
Bobotis writes with a delicate use of
the language. Olva, holding a shotgun on a nasty white man from Bound, says, “I
will tell you a thing or two about tension. I will tell you that we did not
create it. You did. You merely have not felt it until now. Understand this—for me,
for Marcus—for [Amaryllis], tension lives under the surface of everything. We
feel the itch of it under our skin. But we sill rise from that tension.
Agitation is what sheds the snake of its skin, what shucks the moth of its
One cannot read those lines and not feel
the passion. To whom is she referring when she uses we?
Near the end of the book, Miss Judith
Kratt asks Marcus to take her to her lawyer’s office. What Judith takes in “an
old, distinguished piece of Daddy Kratt’s luggage,” will surprise readers. The
suitcase contained the following items: “pickled okra (one jar). Wray Little’s
rum apple butter (one jar, already opened), a sleeve of saltines, four butterscotch
candies, my social security card, and an antique brass teacher’s bell, which I
thought would be useful in an emergency.”
Andrea Bobotis has received a number
of awards for her debut novel, The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt. After
reading it, I can see why it has received such acclaim. Discover more about
Bobotis at her Web site: https://www.andreabobotis.com/.
Today’s blog takes
a new turn in that I am not reviewing a single book, but I’m promoting the
Books Sandwiched In fall 2019 series. The book reviews are held at the Central
Library, downtown Tulsa in Aaronson Auditorium. The reviews begin at 12:10 PM
on Mondays and end at 12:50 PM. This year, there are two exceptions. The first
review will be at Marshall Brewery, 6th & Utica, at 6:00 PM
because Central Library (and, in fact, all libraries) is closed for a day of
staff development. The second exception occurs on Nov 12 which is a Tuesday
since the libraries are closed for Veterans’ Day on Monday, Nov 11. The time
remains the same for this review: 12:10 – 12:50 PM. The complete schedule is listed
at the end of this blog.
Guests are encouraged to bring their lunch and listen to the book reviews. Bring a friend or two along to enjoy the reviews as well. Starbucks, located on the first floor of Central Library, is the only library-owned Starbucks in the US. Money made over expenses goes to help fund library programs. Thus, purchasing food and drinks from the Central Library Starbucks helps support the library system.
Mon, Oct 14, 6:00 PM, Marshall Brewery: John Carreyou details in Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup the story of Theranos and its founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes. Holmes promoted a radical idea that a single drop of blood could determine any number of diseases. Through the use of a machine installed in pharmacies, people could have a drop of blood drawn to give them quick, accurate test results. Sadly, the idea does not work, but Holmes raised more than $9 billion to fund her project until the whole company collapsed. Carreyou has written a true story that reads like a fast-paced thriller.
Mon, Oct 21, 12:10-12:50 PM: The Book Whisperer reviewed The Library Book by Susan Orlean on 25 Nov 2018. See the complete review there. Susan Orlean has written a captivating book about the Los Angeles Library fire in 1984. To explain the full extent of the fire and its aftermath, Orlean also provides a history of the library system in Los Angeles and how critical the library is to the well-being of a city and its people.
Mon, Oct 28, 12:10-12:50 PM: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is another book the Book Whisperer reviewed; this one on 15 Mar 2019. Owens has written a coming of age story combined with a mystery and wrapped in nature. Where the Crawdads Sing is a must read.
Mon, Nov 4, 12:10-12:50 PM: Marie Benedict’s The Only Woman in the Room will be reviewed. Again, the Book Whisperer reviewed The Only Woman in the Room in this blog on 13 Apr 2019. Hedy Lamarr has long been known as a beautiful Hollywood star. In truth, she was a scientist.
Tues, Nov 12, 12:10-12:50 PM: Because the libraries are closed for Veterans’ Day on Monday, Nov 11, the review of Becoming by Michelle Obama and The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty by Susan Page will take place on a Tuesday. The review of two books by and about First Ladies is unprecedented. Michelle Obama and Barbara Bush both contributed much to the US during their tenures as First Ladies.
Mon, Nov 18, 12:10-12:50 PM: Meet me at the Museum by Anne Youngston is the kind of novel to read and reread. Told in the form of letters between Tina Hopgood, an English farm wife, and Anders Larsen, a museum director in Denmark, Meet me at the Museum chronicles the growing friendship between two strangers through the letters they exchange. The Book Whisperer reviewed Meet me at the Museum in this blog on 1 Feb 2019.
Mon, Nov 25, 12:10-12:50 PM: Recipient of the 2019 Peggy V. Helmerich
Distinguished Author Award is Stacy Schiff. A review of her body of work will
include an overview of such books as The Witches: Salem, 1692, Cleopatra: A
Life, and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of
America. Such acclaimed authors as David McCullough, another Peggy V.
Helmerich Distinguished Author recipient, praise Schiff’s writing as “brilliant
from start to finish.”
2019 Books Sandwiched In Book Reviews
12:10-12:50 PM, Aaronson Auditorium, Central Library (two exceptions, noted with **)
Bring your lunch and bring a friend or two to enjoy these book
Oct 14**: Bad
Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (held
in the evening at Marshall Brewery, 6th & Utica. The library is closed for
staff development that day.)
Oct 21: The
Library Book by Susan Orlean (Monday marks the beginning of National
Friends of the Library Week, so the review celebrates libraries.)
Oct 28: Where
the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Nov 4: The
Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict
(TUESDAY because the library is closed for Veterans’ Day Nov 11): Becoming
by Michelle Obama and The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an
American Dynasty by Susan Page
Nov 18: Meet
Me at the Museum by Anne Youngston
Nov 25: Overview of the work of Stacy Schiff, the 2019 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author recipient
I had read The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff some time ago for a book
club. Another book club chose The Orphan’s Tale for the August book to
discuss. It had been long enough that I needed to reread the book, and I am
glad I did. I had forgotten some important details. I thoroughly enjoyed The
Orphan’s Tale the second time around.
Jenoff leads readers on an interesting journey by beginning in the
prologue with the present day and a 90-year-old unnamed woman who slips out of
her nursing home in Florida to fly to Paris to see a circus exhibit: Two
Hundred Years of Circus Magic. Now, why would this woman risk such a daring escape
from her nursing home, telling no one?
Chapter One takes readers back to Germany, 1944. Each chapter is narrated
by either by Noa, a sixteen-year-old girl cast out of her Dutch home, or
Astrid, a Jewish circus performer from a long-time circus family now hiding in
plain sight in a German, non-Jewish circus.
Noa has been sent away by her family because she became pregnant by a
German soldier who was long gone from the area when Noa realized she was
pregnant. Most likely, the pregnancy would not have mattered to the soldier
anyway. Noa’s furious parents send her to a home where she lives until she
gives birth to a baby boy. She is allowed to hold the baby only once before he
is snatched away, never to be seen again.
Knowing she cannot return home, Noa finds a job as cleaner at a railroad
station where she receives a tiny cubical in the attic fitted with an old
mattress as a place to live. One snowy evening, she walks past a railroad car
and sees it is full of infants, some of whom have no clothing, some are already
dead and others are clearly nearly dead. On an impluse she cannot explain, she
plucks one of the babies from the train, a baby boy.
Noa’s action of taking the baby sets her on a journey that will endanger
her and the infant. She knows she must flee the railroad station in the
freezing cold and snow. She has nothing but the clothes on her back which
includes a thin coat. She wraps the baby as best she can, discovering when she
cleans him up in the railway station bathroom that the baby is Jewish because
he has been circumsised. Thus, she will be in even greater danger with a Jewish
baby even though she is the ideal Aryan with blonde hair.
Noa falls in unconscious in the snow with the baby. When she awakens, she
finds herself taken in by the German circus in the area. There, she meets
Astrid, another castaway the circus has taken in. Everyone must earn his/her
keep in the circus, so Astrid reluctantly sets about teaching Noa the high wire
acrobat act. Noa is quite as reluctant to learn since she has never even
thought about being an high-wire acrobat.
Astrid and Noa enter into a wary relationship, each distrusting the other.
Circumstances, particularly danger for both of them and for Theo, the little boy
Noa has rescued, change turning the two into friends. Even then, the two have
some misgivings about the other.
With the Nazis being ever-present, everyone who works in the circus must
be on alert. Danger exists around every corner.
Jenoff weaves the tales told by the two narrators seamless so that readers
discover the full picture. Readers will also realize a surprise at the end of
the story if they have not already determined who the narrator of the prologue
Pam Jenoff has published 11 books. At her Web site, http://www.pamjenoff.com/, readers will find information on all of the novels along with questions to use in book clubs for discussion.
are based on real events. Hannah Pittard has taken the tragedy of a plane crash,
3 June 1962, in Paris that killed 103 of “Atlanta’s wealthiest residents” and
created Visible Empire, a novel. The plane crashed on takeoff. The
Atlanta residents on board were art patrons who had been on a month-long tour
of art galleries across Europe. They had returned to Paris and following an
evening of partying they were on their way home the next day. In all 130 people
died in the crash which was caused by a mechanical failure. At the time, it was
the worst single airplane crash recorded.
Pittard has published four other novels. Visible Empire has received a number of honors including the following: an Amazon Editors’ Pick for Summer Fiction, an IndieNext List Pick, a New York Times “New and Noteworthy” Selection, an O Magazine Book of Summer, and one of Southern Living‘s Best New Books of Summer. Her previous novels also received high praise and awards. Discover more about Pittard and her work on her Web site: http://www.hannahpittard.com/. Currently, she leads the MFA program in creative writing at the U of KY.
Visible Empire employs the use of different voices to tell the story. This ploy annoys some readers, but I like the added perspective it gives readers. Instead of an omniscient narrator or a single narrator, Pittard gives readers five characters who tell the story of the crash’s impact and the deaths of those on board on those left behind in Atlanta.
The book opens with Robert’s story. Immediately, I found Robert to be an unsympathetic character. He learns his in-laws have died in the Paris crash. His mind, however, is on the death of another passenger on board, a young woman named Rita. Rita, a journalist, works with Robert and they have been having an affair for over a year. Meanwhile, Robert’s wife Lily is seven months into what is becoming a difficult pregnancy. Robert is also in debt and drinking heavily. So what does Robert do—and this information is no spoiler since it occurs in the first chapter—but leave his pregnant, vulnerable wife on the day she learns her parents have died in Paris.
Other narrators include Piedmont Dobbs, a young Black man; Lily, Robert’s wife; Anastasia, a grifter; Coleman, a wealthy n’er-do-well and drug addict; and Skylar, Anastasia’s newly reunited twin brother. Additionally, short chapters of one or two pages feature Ivan and Lulu, Atlanta’s mayor and his wife. Those short chapters are interspersed throughout the book.
All of these characters find themselves interwoven into a story beyond their control. Piedmont, Anastasia, and Skylar are unknown to the other characters until the accident. Their addition to the story completes the narrative. Without them, Visible Empire would be the story of wealth and privilege as well as loss. Yet, 1962 is a critical time in Atlanta and the US because of integration and racial unrest.
All of the narrators have stories to tell. Their stories all relate in one way or another to the plane crash because without it, all of these people would not come together. I found Visible Empire compelling enough to complete in a single sitting.