Beth's Book-Nook Blog

Reviews of What I've Been Reading….

Review: Soul Catcher by Michael White

“Soul Catcher” – a book club selection for me – tells the story of Augustus Cain as he seeks to track down two runaway slaves in accordance with the Fugitive Slave Act just prior to the Civil War. Cain is a man haunted by his past – marked by his determination to not be part of his family’s Southern plantation legacy and bearing the scars from his time spent in the Mexican-American War. He views his “profession” as honorable since he works within the law, though this foray to Boston to find the two runaways is due to his need to expunge a debt.

Cain travels with a motley crew – the vile and loathsome Preacher and the two Strofe brothers: Strofe and Little Strofe. They meet a cast of assorted characters along their journey. However, the book is really about Cain’s relationship with the runaway slave woman, Rosetta. Rosetta changes Cain – he goes from considering himself as honorable to rethinking all the ways he has been taught and indoctrinated since childhood. Somewhat predictably, their feelings for each other grow, until the final dramatic conclusion.

While I enjoyed this book, I did find it a little long. Cain’s journey to Boston was fairly quick, but he had countless adventures and trials to endure on the return trip. While I found that White did a good job portraying this time period, at times the character of Rosetta irritated me as she was almost unbelievably articulate in analyzing Cain’s inner feelings and motivations. In another time and place, she would have been an excellent analyst! I did like the character of Cain, however, and felt he was believable. I enjoyed the ending, which was not sappy or predictable.

 I would recommend this book to those who enjoy reading novels of this time period. I give it 3 1/2 stars! I got mine from the library, but then won one from my bookclub giveaway!

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Review: The Thirteenth Tale

A friend recently recommended “The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield. It looked like a mystery (but not a crime novel), so I plunged right in. “The Thirteenth Tale” is a Gothic tale of mystery and intrigue. This story-within-a-story captivates and holds the reader. I personally had difficulty putting it down between chapters!

In the story, the protagonist, Margaret Lea, is chosen by a famous yet reclusive author, Vida Winter, to write her official biography. Margaret is an intellectual introvert – a woman who lives among her books and book characters (and appropriately resides within a bookstore). As Vida’s story begins to unfold, we are introduced to a cast of unforgettable characters. And as Vida reveals her life’s secrets, we begin to understand Margaret’s as well.

I truly enjoyed this book (which I got from the library). Yes, I did find that it included just about everything under the sun in terms of family mystery and drama, and yes, I did find the conclusion rather implausible – though clever. Setterfield lays out all the clues for you to figure it out for yourself if you so choose; she’s a bit of a modern day Agatha Christie.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy Gothic mysteries, and to those who, like Margaret, truly love books.

I give this book 4 Stars!

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Review: Loving Frank

One of my book clubs recently chose “Loving Frank” by Nancy Horan as its January selection. This is the story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s rather public affair with Martha “Mamah” Cheney shortly after the turn of the century. Horan has done extensive research in order to capture Mamah (pronounced “May-mah”) as her protagonist. The book covers their relationship from their first meeting (when Wright was employed to build a house for Mamah and her then husband, Edwin) to its tragic end.

To be honest, this was not a book that I would have chosen on my own to read. I doubted that 362 pages about two married people having an affair – no matter how well-known they were – could hold my attention or interest. However, this book was oddly fascinating. Mamah is portrayed as an intelligent, independent, unique woman, while Frank Lloyd Wright is portrayed as a self-centered, driven genius. I felt that I had come to know these people, and to be honest, I did not like them. Frank’s selfishness and lack of dealing with the realities of life made me irritated with him – though I recognize that genius often comes at such a price. He had no qualms about trying to leave his wife and the six children he had by her. Mamah, on the other hand, was portrayed as sympathetic and as the proverbial butterfly trapped in a bell jar. I would have had more sympathy for her, but I personally could not move past the fact that she chose to desert her two very young children (and a very normal, though somewhat boring, husband) in order to live openly with Wright. She is portrayed as aching for her children, however, leaving them was by her choice, and she made that choice more than once. Furthermore, she left it to her maiden sister to raise them with her former husband.

As I became intrigued with this story, I made the very big mistake of googling these characters to get more real information on them. What a mistake!! I discovered the ending of this tale before I reached it, and let me warn you – it is not pleasant. In fact, I finished this book at 10:00 pm one night and had trouble sleeping. The ending is not only tragic, but haunting and disturbing – made all the more terrible by the fact that it is true.

I would recommend this book to those who have an interest in FLW, in historical fiction with real characters, and/or those who like a love story. It is well-written and well-researched, and I found that it reads easily. I can’t say I loved it as it was too disturbing, but I can appreciate its merits, so I’m giving it: 4 Stars. I purchased my copy from Amazon.

Coming Soon: a review of “The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield

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What’s On My Nightstand

Here’s a quick new edition of WOMN!

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory
Dragon Bones by Lisa See

and Soul Catcher by Michael White

 

Coming Soon — A review of “Loving Frank” by Nancy Horan.

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Review: The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent

My neighborhood book club recently selected “The Heretic’s Daughter” for reading (or “HERetic’s Daughter”, as the book indicates). It tells the story of Martha Carrier, victim of the Salem Witch trials, through the eyes of her daughter, Sarah. This was a compelling read, and a remarkable one since Kent is a descendant of Carrier and this is her first novel. Kent’s ability to portray the starkness of life in New England in the late 1600’s is extraordinary. Her descriptions of winter in Massachusetts (where, by the way, I live) left me feeling cold; her passages of the deplorable Salem jail conditions left me squirming. Throughout the story I held hope that the spirit and strength of the protagonist, Sarah, would see her through, even as I knew what the outcome would be for her mother.

I have read many accounts of the Salem Witch Trials and visited Salem several times. Each time I encounter the story, I once again marvel at how this horrible and terrible chapter in our nation’s history occurred. How could this have happened – accusing innocent people of witchcraft and getting them condemned to death – and could something like this happen again? Sadly, when one considers that the trials were about persecuting people who were different or disliked (often strong-minded and outspoken women), the answer is that yes, these atrocities do continue to happen in different forms today.

I enjoyed this book, even though it was stark and somewhat disturbing. The end left me with hope and with respect for the strength of Sarah Carrier and her mother. I thought the length was perfect – 332 pages – as it was not a “light” read. The characters were well-developed and the story moved well.

I give this book 4 stars — “I really liked it alot”. I purchased this book as I thought it’d be one I’d like to keep and lend.

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Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

A short while back, I had some “Border’s Bucks” to use, so I treated myself to a new book. I chose “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows as I had heard good things about it.

Then it sat next to my bed for two weeks.

For some strange reason, I just couldn’t start this book. And then I realized: trite as it may seem, the title was turning me off. What was the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society? And for that matter, what was potato peel pie? It sounded awful. However, I could see the book was a series of letters and written communication, so I wrapped my mind around that, and dug in.

In this story, our main character, Juliet, is a writer living in London at the end of WWII. She receives correspondence from a gentleman who lives in Guernsey in the Channel Islands, learns of his “book group” there and their exploits during the German occupation, and is pulled into their lives. Just as Juliet is drawn in, so was I. Once I started this book and got through the first 30 or 40 pages I was hooked. I loved these characters and I loved this story – so much so, that I didn’t want it to end. If I could pick one word to describe this book, it would be “charming”.

Now, gentle reader, I must confess that I do love historical fiction, so this book was typical of the things I enjoy reading. However, I think this story does great credit to once again remind us of the fortitude and strength of the generation who survived WWII with all its indecencies. This is a story about ordinary people, who seem extraordinary by their virtue.

This is Mary Ann Shaffer’s first novel, and sadly it will be her only one as she has passed away. Anne Barrows, her niece, helped with co-authoring the book after Mary Ann had sold the manuscript, but became ill.

I gave this book my coveted “5 Stars” – “I loved it so much, I need to own it!”

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What’s On My Nightstand….

About once a month I’ll post a list of the random things that are on my nightstand and which I am concurrently reading. Right now it is:

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent

Small Town Christmas by Debbie Macomber

Some of these titles may (or may not) be reviewed! Let me know if you’d like to see them here in a post.

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My Rating System

As I read books, I will give an overall “star” rating, from 1 to 5.

5 Stars: I loved it so much I need to own it!

4 Stars: I liked it alot.

3 Stars: It was fine (rather non-committal).

2 Stars: I did not like it, but I read it.

1 Star: I really disliked it and couldn’t finish it.

 

My first review is coming soon and will be on “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”.

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Hello world!

Welcome! I am excited to start this blog as a way to review the books I read. I’ve always loved to read and do read alot. Since friends and family are always asking me to recommend books and ask me what I’m reading, I thought a blog would be a good way to share this info with friends, family, and the world at large. I look forward to posting my thoughts on what I read (mostly adult fiction, though I also will read non-fiction and children’s lit). If you visit, feel free to leave your thoughts!

Just a note — I, like many bloggers, am an Amazon Associate. When you link to a book on Amazon through the link on my site, and then purchase the book, I receive a small percentage. Happy Reading!

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