Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Movement of Stars




Based loosely on the life of Maria Mitchell, the 19th-century astronomer from Nantucket Island, The Movement of Stars is the story of Hannah Price, a young Quaker woman with a strong intellect and a passion for astronomy.  Her goal is to make a name for herself by discovering a comet.

Hannah's values reflect those of her Quaker community:  equality of women and men; abolition of slavery; and simple living.  However, when she meets and falls in love with Isaac, a person of color, she risks her place in the community and questions the choices of those who are closest to her.

The Movement of Stars is a beautifully written historical novel with a protagonist you'll sympathize with as she struggles with the confines of her society and the strength of her forbidden love.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Way Around: Finding My Mother and Myself Among the Yanomami



David Good's memoir is a fascinating journey from the Amazonian jungle to suburban New Jersey, and back again.  His father was an American anthropologist who fell in love with and married a tribeswoman.  Her people were completely untouched by modern society, and when he brought her to live in New Jersey she could not fully adapt to her new world.

David's mother abandoned the family when he was very young, and this trauma had a disastrous effect on his life.  However, as an adult David traveled back to the Amazon to find his mother.  Along the way, he made discoveries about life, love and forgiveness.  For an incredibly interesting look at an unfamiliar culture and lifestyle, paired with a wrenching story of loss and survival, try The Way Around.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

City of Dreams



I was inspired by all the talk about this area 350 years ago to read a historical novel about New York in the 1600s.  What a fascinating read it was.  City of Dreams, although it is fiction, describes in vivid detail the harsh life of Native Americans and European settlers in Nieuw Amsterdam. 

In 1661, Lucas Turner, a barber surgeon, and his sister, Sally, an apothecary, sail from Europe to the New World to make a new life.  Lucas experiments with surgical procedures to cure local residents of various ailments, and Sally grows and sells herbs for medicinal treatments.  But violence and betrayal cause irreparable damage to both lives.

In a riveting narrative, the author describes encounters between settlers and Native Americans, and relationships between slaves and slave owners.  Her depiction of 17th and 18th century medicine and law are also fascinating. 

The Los Angeles Times calls City of Dreams “A near-perfect historical novel.”  I couldn’t agree more.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life






Kaufman is a renowned dance critic, but in this book she illustrates the importance of grace in the small moments of everyday life.  I read it recently, and find myself noticing how our behavior, whether graceless or graceful, really does affect those around us.
 
Rather than being preachy, The Art of Grace shows us examples of grace demonstrated by anyone from movie stars to working class people.  These stories, some funny and others touching, remind us to be aware of others especially during these frenetic and stressful times.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Star for Mrs. Blake


This novel explores a little-known time in American history featuring the mothers of American soldiers who were killed in France during World War I.  The mothers, called “Gold Star Mothers” for the symbol of their sacrifice, were sent to France, all expenses paid by the U.S. government.  Many American soldiers’ remains were not shipped home, and so this journey would be the only opportunity for the mothers to visit their sons’ graves.    
Cora Blake is one of the Gold Star Mothers who lost her only son, Sammy.  A single mother, Cora raised Sammy on a small island off the coast of Maine.  On her journey to France she bonds with other mothers from all walks of life who could not be more different from each other in personality and social background, but share the common experience of great loss.  Their trip to France results in lifelong friendships.

The book does not shy away from graphic depictions of how the soldiers were killed in trench warfare.  Issues of racism and sexism in the U.S. military are also dealt with honestly.  But whether she is describing a funny scene of women travelling together in a foreign land, or depicting the searing grief of losing a child, Smith has written a book that you will possibly learn from, and probably never forget.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sisters of Shiloh




Josephine and Libby are close-knit young sisters living in Virginia during the Civil War.  Libby marries a young neighbor, Arden, who is later killed in the battle of Antietam.  

Extremely distraught and vowing revenge, Libby swears to kill 21 Yankee soldiers – one for every year of Arden’s life.  But in order to exact her revenge, she must dress as a man and join the army in disguise.  Josephine, concerned for her sister’s safety, joins the war with her. 

This was not as unlikely as it sounds; many women fought in the Civil War.  If they were discovered, some were imprisoned or institutionalized, but many were simply sent home. 
Fearing not only for Libby’s safety but also for her sanity, Josephine struggles to keep them safe and undetected.  Meanwhile, she develops romantic feelings for a fellow soldier who believes she is a man.

This historical novel illustrates a fascinating aspect of the Civil War while engaging readers in a story of sisterhood, loyalty and love.

If you like Civil War fiction and are undaunted by graphic battle scenes, try Sisters of Shiloh.  For more information about female soldiers in the Civil War, go to  http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/untold-stories/female-soldiers-in-the-civil.html.




Burial Rites



Burial Rites, set in rural Iceland in 1829, is based on the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir. Agnes was executed for the murder of her former employer and his friend.  The novel is beautifully written, including wrenching descriptions of the extremely harsh conditions of an Icelandic winter.

While she is waiting for her execution, Agnes is placed in the home of a local family.  Her presence there causes anger and fear among the family members and neighbors.  She is allowed to meet with a young priest, to whom she tells the very sad story of her life. 

Agnes’ relationship with some of the family members changes subtly as her execution date nears.  The young priest, too, is affected by her story and her quiet dignity.  

Burial Rites is an exceptional novel, both for its story and its graphic depiction of the beautiful, harsh Icelandic landscape.