Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Hellfire Club

The Hellfire ClubThe Hellfire Club by Jake Tapper is his first novel.  Jake is a CNN anchor and I thought it was interesting and fun that he wrote a novel, especially about Washington DC in the 1950's! It wasn't the best political thriller I've ever read, but it was good.

Charlie Marder was kind of thrown into the political scene from academia.  Charlie was a history professor who unexpectedly was appointed to Congress when a seat was vacant. It turned out that his father had pulled some strings to make the appointment happen.  Charlie had served in World War II and immediately after his appointment to Congress went after a company who had made defective gas masks, of which one had not worked and led to the death of one of Charlie's soldiers.  His fellow Republicans didn't like Charlie opposing the appropriations to the company. 

One early morning, Charlie woke up in a wrecked car that wasn't his. Then he saw that there was a young woman lying dead. He had no recollection of being in the car, or of anything happening, since he had been drinking at a party/gathering at the Hellfire Club the night before.

I felt like the story was a bit disconnected and predictable at times, but also interesting.  Charlie's pregnant wife was a zoologist who went off to study wild horses in Maryland a couple of times and that was kind of hard to figure out with the story as I was reading it, but it tied together in the end. Although I thought that the tie-in was a bit far-fetched.

Tapper had Roy Cohn, Joe McCarthy, John and Bobby Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and others tied into the story at times.

The Hellfire Club is a good first novel. I'm hoping that Tapper continues to write.

a piece of the world

A Piece of the World

Christina Baker Kline wrote The Orphan Train, which I liked.  Recently, my book group read her newest book called a piece of the world.  This is another book that I read while down in Alabama sitting at the pool.  I couldn't put it down.

a piece of the world is a historical novel based on the story of Christina Olson, the subject of Andrew Wyeth's painting Christina's World.  The author did  extensive research, even meeting some of Christina Olson's family who had known Christina. Reading the author's notes at the end of the book was fascinating.

Christina Olson was born in 1893, the oldest of four children (she had three brothers).  She and her family lived in the old family home in Cushing, Maine.  The home was built about one hundred years earlier by the Hawthorne family, who had left Massachusetts trying to get away from where their name was associated with the Salem witch trials.  The Hawthorne's built a large house up on a hill.  In 1890, there was a snowstorm and a fishing vessel was stuck in the ice.  A young man, named Johan Olauson walked on the ice to his captain's cottage there, and in the spring he walked up the hill to meet the Hawthorn's spinster daughter and ended up marrying her. They settled in the big home and that is where Christina lived her life.

In this novel, Christina Olson tells her story, going back and forth in time.  The novel starts in 1939 when Christina's friend Betsy introduced her to Andy Wyeth.  Andy was a young painter in Cushing, Maine for the summer.  He and Christina became friends and he came to her house almost daily, went upstairs and painted for the day, then left.  Through-out his visits, he and Christina would visit and he learned some of her story.

Early in her childhood (age three) Christina came down with a fever and was quite ill for some time.  After she recovered, she had difficulty with all tasks, especially walking.  She seemed to have some kind of progressive bone disease and there was no cure.  She ended up dragging herself around on the ground as she got older.  Christina had been a good student and when she finished school, she was encouraged by her teacher to become a teacher, but her parents would not allow it, so Christina remained at home with her parents.  She had one failed romance and she was then done with that.

"Maybe my memories of sweeter times are vivid enough and present enough, to overcome the disappointments that followed.  And to sustain me through the rest."

Christina seemed to be a rather miserable person, keeping most people away from her.  She ended up living alone with her brother, and had very few friends.  It was interesting how she connected with Andrew.  But as Andy says:

"You're like me.  You get on with it.  I admire that."

 This book surprised me.  I had first thought that it would be about Andrew Wyeth, but it's Christina's story, just like the painting is "Christina's World".

"I think about all the ways I've been perceived by others over the years: as a burden, a dutiful daughter, a girlfriend, a spiteful wretch, an invalid...
This is my letter to the World that never wrote to Me."
I liked this book very much and would recommend it to anyone

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Stars Are Fire

The Stars Are Fire

"Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love."
William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Anita Shreve's newest novel, The Stars Are Fire, is a book that I have had on my radar for awhile and when I saw it in paperback I grabbed it up.  It was a perfect book for my girl's weekend to Orange Beach over this past Mother's Day. I actually read two books over the long weekend...lots of time for reading on planes and sitting by the pool!
I've long been a fan of Shreve and this book did not disappoint.  The main event of the book was based on a true event that occurred in 1947 in Maine.  Maine experienced a devastating drought that summer, leading to wildfires in the fall that I read elsewhere burned over 17,000 acres and killed sixteen people.

In the novel, Grace Holland is married with two children, expecting her third.  Her husband, Gene, had returned from the war with issues that he would not discuss or deal with.  Grace spent as much with her neighbor Rosie and her children during the day when Gene is at work.  That seems to be the only time Grace has any joy in her life, other than with her children.   

As the fires got closer to their small community, Gene left with the other men to help build a fire break.  Grace fell asleep that night, waking to her daughter's screams.  She put the two children in the baby carriage and headed for the beach.  From that point on, Grace is left to deal by herself with every situation that occurs.  She was forced to summon up all her internal strength as she struggled to care for everyone around her.

There were some surprises and twists in the story that I enjoyed.  I especially loved reading of Grace's strength and determination at the end.

It was a good book, and an especially good summer beach read!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Just Kids

Just Kids by Patti Smith was the April book club read for one of my book groups.  It's not a book that I would have picked up on my own to read, but I really liked it!  Not surprisingly to me, it won the National Book Award. Again, the great thing about book groups is that they get you out of your ordinary book choices.Just Kids

Just Kids is the love story of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe.  If you don't know who they are, google it.  Both were amazing artists in their own rights.

In 1966, Patti became pregnant, had the baby and gave it up for adoption. In the spring of 1967, Patti was twenty years old,  had dropped out of college and was working in a textbook factory.  She decided to go to Brooklyn, New York (she was from New Jersey) and stay with some friends, hoping for find a job in a bookstore.  When she arrived, she found that her friends had moved.  But there was a young man staying there, and he led her to the brownstone where her friends had moved to.  He left her there and she found that her friends were not home.  Her friends didn't return that evening so Patti ended up spending the night on the steps of their place.  When the new day arrived she waited for her friends who still didn't return home, so eventually that day she headed back into the city, and slept in Central Park. This was the beginning of her summer in New York, sleeping wherever she could, trying to find work, roaming with other young kids living freely in the parks, etc.  It was also the summer that she met Robert Mapplethorpe.

After she and Robert met at a bookstore where Patti was working, she realized that he was the boy she had met her first day in Brooklyn when she went to her friend's place, and he took her to where they had moved. About a week later, she ran into him in a park, they talked and ended up going to his place.

"As if it were the most natural thing in the world we stayed together, not leaving each other's side save to go to work. Nothing was spoken; it was just mutually understood."

Both aspired to be artists and encouraged and helped each other with their works.

"We gathered our colored pencils and sheets of paper and drew like wild, feral children into the night, until, exhausted, we fell into bed."

Patti and Robert moved to the Chelsea Hotel where they lived for several years.  There was where Patti met both writers and musicians.  It was amazing to read all of the people that she knew and spent time with, including Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter and Janis Joplin.  And so many more.  They never had much money, sometimes no money. Eventually, Patti moved into writing poetry, then writing music, then performing music.  Robert became involved with photography.  Robert began to explore his homosexuality, and Patti had other relationships, but she and Robert always loved each other. 

The book ends in 1989.  It was hard to read the last couple of chapters.  Patti and Robert's love for each other was deep and abiding.  As one reviewer wrote about this book: "A touching tale of love and devotion."

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


I read Beartown by Fredrik Backman a couple of months ago and just have not felt able to blog about the book as it deserves.  I still don't.  It is an absolutely wonderful book that is full of wisdom and life lessons.  One would not suspect that a book about a hockey team for adolescent boys would be so inspiring.  

The story is about a hockey team in Sweden in Beartown.  Beartown was a very small town in the middle of a forest. The only thing going for the town was their junior hockey team.  The hockey team was good enough that it was competing in the national semi-finals.  And that meant everything for the small community. Until something happened involving the star of the team.

Kevin was the star of the team and every girl's dream.  After winning a game one night, his parents were gone and he had a party at his home.  Maya, the team manager's daughter, was at the party and the center of Kevin's attention.  Things went wrong quickly, leaving Maya traumatized.

"One of the many things snatched from the girl that night is the place where she never needed to feel afraid.  Everyone has a place like that, until it gets taken away from us.  You never get it back again.  Maya will feel afraid everywhere from now on."

After a short time went by, Maya finally told her parents what had happened, and Beartown was never the same again. As accusations flew around town, old secrets were revealed.  And the town had to figure out how to survive with each other.

The characters in the book are so well-developed that it was easy to be invested in each of them.  The love, friendship and concerns of the various townspeople were tested.  The writing in the book was superb.

"Until he put a record on. Perhaps it was something about the old record-player--the crackle in the speakers, the voices filling the room--but Isak fell completely silent.  Then he smiled.  And then he fell asleep in Peter's arms.  That's the last time Peter can remember really feeling like a good father.  The last time he had been able to tell himself that he actually knew what he was doing.  He's never told Kira that, has never told anyone.  But now he buys records in secret because he keeps hoping that feeling might come back, if only for a moment."

My favorite theme in the book was from Maya's mom:

"You never have the sort of friends you have when you're fifteen every again.  Even if you keep them for the rest of your life, it's never the same as it was then." 
So true, in various ways.  This is a great book, that I am sure will land in my top five for 2018.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Rules of Magic

I love Alice Hoffman's work and her newest book, The Rules of Magic, did not disappoint.  The new book is a prequel to Practical Magic. I thought that I had read somewhere that there would be a third book in the series, but I don't know that for sure.
The Rules of Magic

In The Rules of Magic, Susanna Owens left Massachusetts and went to New York where she married and had three children: Frances, Bridget and Vincent.  Susanna did not want her children to be aware of anything magic related; however as the children grew they became aware of "special abilities" that each had.  The connection going back to the 1600's between the Owens family and magic still could not be denied. One could communicate with animals and one could read other's thoughts. 

The book is divided into sections, with the first section being called "Intuition". This section begins with the Owens family history. The first line:

"Once upon a time, before the whole world changed, it was possible to run away from home, disguise who you were, adn fit into polite society. The children's mother had done exactly that." 
The first Owens traced back in the family came to America in 1680. And someone always fled from the home, never to return.  This is what Susanna had done in the early 1950's.  And there she made her life with her husband and children. The children were always different from other children. Then one morning in June a package arrived for Susanna and she told the children that it was from her Aunt Isabelle.  It was an invitation for Franny to come and visit in Massachusetts.  It was decided that all three children would to for the summer. And the children loved it there. Franny started visiting the local library trying to learn more about the family. And she came across a journal written by Maria Owens. On the first page was written:

"Beware of love. Know that for our family, love is a curse."
While the children were at their aunt's home that summer, a young girl named April showed up one day and they were told that April was their cousin.  April made the summer interesting for the children (kind of like Dill arriving each summer in To Kill A Mockingbird). This section ends with the children heading back to New York after their summer with their great-aunt.

The other sections of the book are "Alchemy", "Conjure", "Elemental", "Gravity", and "Remedy". The book went on with the children's lives, as they grew up and learned to live in the world with their gifts. Each struggled with love and their fear of the curse.  It was a quite touching story of the bond between the children. And those that came later.

And in the end,

"Know that the only remedy for love is to love more."

I'm already anxiously awaiting Ms. Hoffman's next book!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The King of Lies

Yes, I am definitely a fan of John Hart's books.  I came across one that I hadn't read while browsing in a used book store, so I picked it up.  It didn't disappoint.

The King of LiesThe main character of The King of Lies is Jackson Workman Pickens, known as "Work".  Work was an attorney in practice with his father.  His father, Ezra, suddenly disappeared and when his body was found, Work was hesitant to be very helpful to the police because he was concerned that his younger sister, Jean, may have killed their father and he had always tried to protect Jean.

There was a side of Ezra that others did not know.  He had been a very abusive husband and father and Work was afraid that after Ezra met and disapproved of Jean's partner, that Jean had had enough of his abuse and killed him.  Jean had a breakdown after her mother's death and was placed in an institution for a period of time.  It was there that she met her partner, Alex.  As Work soon found out, Alex had her own dark history.  So did Jean kill her father, or did Alex?

The backstory of Work's life was a very interesting part of the book.  As a young boy, he had rescued an older girl from being murdered, and their connection helped balance out the whole story.

The characters were well-developed and the novel is an easy, enjoyable mystery to read.  It was a little predictable, but still a good read.