1880′s London is the preliminary setting of Jennifer McVeigh’s debut novel, The Fever Tree. Francis Irvine, a privileged young woman, finds herself without any means of support when her father dies. Her options are to either live with her aunt as maid and nanny or accept a marriage proposal from a doctor relation. She travels by boat to South Africa to marry the doctor whom she does not love. While on the voyage she meets the handsome William Westbrook and falls for him. Thinking that he will leave his fiancé and marry her, Francis Is devastated to find she is without choice but to marry the doctor. This time period in South Africa’s history is a sad one as seen through McVeigh’s story. The British colonial government’s greed is displayed in their corrupt practices dealing with the diamond mines. We see smallpox epidemics hidden because of the devastation it would be to commerce. The conflicted feelings Francis has for her husband and lover are a perpetual theme as she deals with poverty, morals and deadly heat. This is a fascinating story about a very difficult time and place in history.
Clay Walker’s memoir speaks volumes to those who may not like mainstream religion but instead are looking for a humble, non-showy, simple faith experience.
Clay is a well known and respected country music star who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while in his 20′s. He was told that within four years he would be in a wheelchair and in eight years would be dead. Nearly fifteen years later, Clay is doing very well on a new medicine designed to arrest the development of his disease. He is still performing and has founded a nonprofit foundation toward MS research and education. He doesn’t understand why he has MS, but he doesn’t blame God. Instead he feels that God loves him, sustains him and strengthen him as he is forced to trust him. He has grown closer to him in ways that he never would have if he had not experienced MS. Clay shares his take on the parables and stories of Jesus life. He tells his own life experiences growing up poor and then what it’s like to be rich and famous. Important values to him have nothing to do with money but everything to do with honesty, humility, treating everyone with respect and never giving up.
In the conclusion, Clay shares,”No matter what you’re facing right now-whether it’s cancer like my daddy faced, or the betrayal of your spouse, the loss of your job, or a serious illness in your children- you must never give up the good fight. Just do the next thing you know to do. That’s what I always saw my daddy do when times were hard. When I was growing up, he didn’t always know where the money would come from to fix the truck, but he knew that the garden needed hoeing and animals needed tending. He just did the next thing he knew to do. He just did his part and obeyed what God asked him to do.” Clay Walker has co-written a popular song by the same title, Jesus Was a Country Boy.
I found this newest story by Lisa Scottoline to be timely reading for the Memorial Day holiday we just experienced. Dr. Mike Scanlon, a podiactric surgeon, has been called up by the Army Reserves to serve in Afghanistan. Blast wounds to the lower extremities were the signature wound of Operation Enduring Freedom, so Mike was one of the busiest doctors in his team. Just one month from completing his tour of duty, his gets the horrendous news that his wife has died in their own kitchen from an accident with a knife, leaving their seven month old baby girl without a mother. An intriguiing mystery develops as Mike discovers a secret about his wife and a stranger that had come into her life while Mike was gone. Lisa shares much about the details of army life in a war torn country, how former soldiers are affected by war and how they and their families then have to readjust once they are home. This is interspersed in a dynamic and emotional story of family love and murder. Read Don’t Go and you will appreciate our military personnel in a much deeper way.
Dr Ben Carson’s personal story is a rich reminder of what can be achieved through personal discipline and drive. The documentary, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story is a wonderful way to get to know his story of personal achievement. From poverty in the slums of Boston and Detroit to break-through achievements as a pediatric neurosurgeon, his life has been one of service to many. His latest book, America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great is a New York Times Bestseller. In it he covers a multitude of subjects including aspects of our country’s history that have led us to our preeminence among nations, where we are going astray, and how to solve issues such as high medical costs, government debt, immigration issues, term limits, class warfare, religious differences, etc. He punctuates his beliefs with humorous stories and examples of how other countries have solved tricky issues, such as driving while intoxicated in Sweden. He explains his thoughts on the difference between tolerance and accommodation and why we should be willing to stand up and express what we believe. He believes we should not be discouraged about our future. We are a God fearing nation, as every coin and bill in our pockets and billfolds show, so his prayer and belief is that God will continue to shed his grace on us.
The Tapestry of Fortunes is a blend of humor, wisdom, education and friendship that I found delightful. Cecilia has just lost her best friend to a fast-moving cancer. Penny had been the one to motivate and help Cecilia to know herself. Now she finds that Penny is still speaking to her in subtle ways and she followes her advice to slow down and seek changes. She puts her career aside, sells her home and furnishings and finds a group of women to share a home and a road trip. Cecilia receives a postcard from a former boy friend just home from Tahiti, and weighs the risks of reconnecting knowing how much they have changed. This beautifully written novel is a sensitive and hopeful story of women supporting each other through life’s trials.
Little Bertie visits the home of a playmate and discovers the grass is greener in Ranald Braveheart MacPherson’s home Bertie can eat as much chocolate cake as the wants at the MacPherson home. Ranald suggests that Bertie might find new parents if he puts himself up for adoption on eBay, and Ranald can help since he knows his Dad’s computer password. Meanwhile Matthew and Elspeth bring their triplet sons home and find their new life impossible to manage until an au pair arrives. Domenica and Angus are responsible for selling Antonia’s next door apartment as she has decided to join a nunnery in Italy. They must make the difficult decision of where to live after their marriage. Who will give up their current home and all the comforts they had while they were single? Bertie Plays the Blues is number seven in the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall-Smith. The fun continues as we commiserate with Bertie regarding his impossible mother and enjoy the many problems that seem to be insurmountable for the quirky characters on 44 Scotland street in Edinburgh.
Pat Head Summit has been in the news many times as the all time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history. As head coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vol’s her abilitiy to create amazing teams of winning girls is unsurpassed. Most recently she has been in the news for the announcement of her devastating diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Sum It Up is Pat Summit’s memoirs of a life with incredible accomplishments and difficult challenges. As the only girl in a very hard working farming family, her only past time activity was trying to keep up with her brothers in their nightly games of hayloft basketball. Her demanding father pushed her to her limits and as a coach she demanded the same in the girls she coached. The many quotes throughout the book from her family and friends verify what a strong challenger she was no matter whom or what she was up against. Pat battled back from a terrible knee injury after her journey to Russia with the Olympic team. Her drive to rehabilitate was not enough to be able to play to the level of where she had been so she was able to put her abilities into coaching. She coached an undefeated season, co-captained the first women’s Olympic team, and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. She always saw that her fame was of little importance in this world of ever changing victories.
Pat Summit is a courageous woman facing a difficult future with optimism, hope and a zest for life even though most others with that diagnosis feel the opposite. She recognizes that nothing is certain with Alzheimer’s and everything is possible. There are people in the best medical institutions working on a cure and her faith and their science together can work miracles.
The first novel of Irish journalist, Kathleen MacMahon is a compelling love story that hints at a tragic end almost from the start. Addie is an unemployed architect that designs dream swimming pools, takes daily swims with her dog, and cares for her recently injured father, a self-important surgeon. An American banker, Bruno, who is divorced and just finding himeself unemployed after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, travels to Ireland to research his family tree and locate Irish cousins. The two second cousins meet and begin a romance in 2008 against the backdrop of the presidential elections. (Bruno vows that he won’t return if Obama doesn’t win). As they spend their time traveling around Ireland, adjusting to each other’s cultural differences and meeting family and friends, Addie is ignoring a pain that her sister keeps nagging her about. In This is How It Ends, lighthearted banter, interesting characters, challenging times all unite to create a memorable story that keeps begging to be read.
Charles Lindbergh’s achievements are fairly well known, but his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, is portrayed in The Aviator’s Wife as a woman to be remembered for many reasons. Melanie Benjamin tells the story of Anne Morrow, the first American woman to earn a first-class glider pilot’s license, first woman to win the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal for exploration, and a National Book Award-winning novelist. Her marriage to Charles was difficult as his fame caused their life to be in the public’s eye. The terrible loss of their first little boy in a kidnapping added to their notoriety and heartache. Charles extremely disciplined manner and driven nature caused relationship issues with Anne and their children. Anne’s life comes alive for reader’s as we see her devotion to this celebrity husband and the problems that result.
Garden expert, Joel Karsten has experimented for years with the unique method of gardening right in straw bales. Need a raised bed to save your back? Try straw bales. Joel has discovered that straw bales allow you to raise wonderful vegetables in record time with few weeds. He has experimented and perfected this innovative method of conditioning straw bales with water and fertilizer for twelve days prior to planting directly into straw bales. Less expensive, small transplants can be directly placed into the extra warmth of these “cooked” bales with quick growing results. Seeds can be planted into a shallow layer of planting mix to germinate quickly. Discover how to use vertical gardening tricks with straw bales and how to keep pests away.This highly detailed and illustrated garden book answers every question, and has plenty of how-to’s so you will succeed with straw bales.
Lifelong family secrets are revealed through a series of letters which arrive along with condolence notes in this novel written by French novelist Helene Gremillon. Camille, a single woman in her thirties has just lost her mother and has recently found herself to be pregnant. She begins receiving long, unsigned letters telling a story that she knows nothing about. As they continue to arrive she learns of a previous war time love triangle. Wealthy Monsieur and Madame M cannot conceive a child. Madame M is deperate to have a baby, and the wartime efforts are pushing all women to have children. She befriends a teenage girl of lower class and helps provide the necessary art supplies that Annie needs to encourage her creativity. Annie becomes so close to Madame M that she empathizes with her to the point of offering to have her child.
This dark tale of love gone wrong jumps between the present and the past with many twists and involved secrets. Camille begins to guess that these letters may involve her much more deeply than she wants to know in The Confidant.
Julie Kibler has written a debut novel that won my heart. I could not put this tragic love story down without continuing to dwell on the power of love and the tragedy of racial discrimination. In the south during the 1930′s, a wealthy white doctor’s daughter, Isabelle, falls in love with the handsome black son of their family maid. This story combines two time periods as years later now ninty year old Isabelle, asks her young black hairdresser, Dorrie, to drive her to a funeral 1000 miles from their homes. The two women share their troubled family stories with Isabelles secrets unfolding at the same time Dorrie’s teenage son calls with his own life changing problems. Calling Me Home kept me mesmerized till the very end. I hope for more by Julie Kibler!
Manhattan had the privilege of a visit by Kent Haruf in 2006 for our first One Book/ One Community Read. His novel Plainsong was a finalist for the National Book Award and was adapted into a Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie in 2004. Many in Manhattan delighted in meeting the author and reveled in his engaging talks. Fast forward to this year and find Kent’s newest novel destined for a prestigious award. Benediction is set once again on the eastern high plains of Colorado in the small town of Holt. Dad Lewis has just been given the death sentence of a cancer diagnosis. His daughter comes home to help her mother, Mary, care for him, but his distant son is no longer a part of their lives. The secondary characters in the story all have issues and lives that are familiar to all of us. I found his latest book to be captivating and poignant as it drew me into a story that came so close to my personal experiences with my mother’s recent death. We all can feel the pathos of loss as none of us escape life’s sad transitions. Read Benediction also for the love shown to a small girl being raised by her grandmother and the hilarious skinny dipping scene.
The Summer Olympics seem in the distant past, but we haven’t forgotten the amazing, star gymnast Gabby Douglas who won the gold along with all our hearts. She has co-authored an autobiography about her rise to the pinnacle of Olympic history which is enjoyable and inspiring. Particularly recommended for young adults as encouragement to keep on pursuing their dreams, Gabby tells her story of sacrifice with little negativity. She shares her families history of struggle when they lived in their car and had nothing, the endless practice,the sacrifice of her sisters who gave up their own loves of ballroom dancing and ice skating, and the neglect of her father- her biggest hurt. She gives credit to her families faith in God and their love as the biggest factors in her successful rise to stardom.
For all Austen enthusiasts Syrie James has written a novel in the essence and style of Jane. It begins with a contemporary story of American librarian, Samantha McDonough, discovering a hidden letter written by Jane Austen in the back of a book of poetry while vacationing in London She gains enough insight from the letter to begin to believe that Jane has written and lost another manuscript while visiting friends at Greenbrier in Devonshire. Pursuing this exciting possibility, Samantha meets handsome owner of Greenbrier, Anthony Whtaker and begins the search within his home. Now the story within the story begins when the manuscript is found and the two begin reading it to each other. We walk the streets of Bath with Austen characters in a story with all the atmosphere, romance and charm found in a Jane Austen novel.