Monday, January 31, 2011

The Heretic's Daughter

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent is written with an interesting perspective.  It is a historical fiction novel (right up my alley!) that takes place during the Salem Witch Trials.  The story is told through the daughter, Sarah, of Martha Carrier.

The book begins with a letter written in 1752 from Sarah to her granddaughter.  In the letter she explains that included with the letter is "my own written history", and thus, the book begins.  The story starts in 1690 when the Carrier family is moving from Billerica to neighboring Andover to live with Martha's mother.  Smallpox is prevalent in the area and any new visitors or settlers to the area are not welcome, due to the fear of people bringing smallpox to the community.  So right from the beginning, the Carrier's are not made welcome.  Soon, smallpox does arrive, and Sarah and her baby sister are sent back to Billerica to Martha's sister's family in hopes that the disease will not reach them.

Sarah's family is interesting.  Her mother, Martha, is not very affectionate with the children and Sarah finds that she loves living with Martha's sister's family, where much affection is shown, and she has a cousin, Margaret,  that Sarah becomes very close to.  Sarah's father, Thomas Carrier, is a mystery to Sarah.  He is a giant of a man, who seems to have a mysterious, forbidden past.  Sarah has two older brothers, along with her baby sister.

After Sarah and her sister had been away for a few months, they were returned home to the family.  Sarah was not happy about leaving her aunt's family, especially Margaret.

Over the next year, hysteria begins to rear up, as young girls begin accusing others of being witches.  By 1692, Martha is accused of being a witch and is taken away from the family's home and put in prison. Shortly before Martha is taken away, she tells Sarah what is happening and directs Sarah to commit heresy.  As Martha predicted, soon Martha's children are also accused and Sarah and her brothers are also put in prison, accused of witchery.

This was a fascinating story, based on true facts.  Interestingly, the author of the book is a direct descendant of Martha Carrier.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

January's Reading (so far!)

I read The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow for one of my book groups.  It is a book that I had considered reading ever since it came out, but had never gotten around to it, so I was pleased when it was chosen as one of our reads. 

The book is a non-fiction story of a forty-year friendship between eleven girls/women who grew up in Ames, Iowa.  As expected, all eleven did not remain in Ames as they grew up and they ended up in eight different states.  All of the eleven stayed in contact with each other and once a year as many of them as possible would meet up somewhere for a long weekend.   As you can imagine, over the forty years, they shared many joys and tragedies.  Most married and had children. There were divorces and deaths.  And there was enduring friendship and support.

I think that most women reading this book could identify with it, even if you only had one very best friend growing up.  Reading it brought back lots of memories of friends.

The only fault that I can find with the book is that it seemed to be too long.  About half-way through, I felt bogged down with all of the details.  Yet, saying that, I did enjoy the book. 

For my other book group, we read Black Girl/White Girl by Joyce Carol Oates.  Ms. Oates is one of my favorite authors and I had not read this book, so again, I was pleased with the choice. 

This was a very interesting book and led to great discussion in the book group.  It is the story of two young women, Genna and Minette, who end up roommates their freshman year of college in 1975.  Partly through their freshman year, Minette died in a mysterious accident.  Fifteen years later, Genna is still trying to make sense of the relationship that they had. 

From the back of the book:
In 1975 Genna Hewett-Meade's college roommate died a mysterious, violent death partway through their freshman year.  Minette Swift had been assertive, fiercely individualistic, and one of the few black girls at their exclusive, "enlightened" college-and Genna, daughter of a prominent civil defense lawyer, felt duty-bound to protect her at all costs.  But fifteen years later, while reconstructing Minette's tragic death, Genna is forced to painfully confront her own past life and identity...and her deepest beliefs about social obligation in a morally gray world.

Neither Genna nor Minette came across as likable characters.  They both had deep flaws that set them up for their tenuous relationship. And, in the end, it appears that the story may really be about Genna's father!

Very interesting book.  I did not find it very similar to Ms. Oates' other works, although the character flaws may be somewhat similar to characters in her other books.

Next I read The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova.  Excellent read!

One day Dr. Andrew Marlowe (a psychiatrist) receives a phone call from a colleague requesting Dr. Marlow to take on a patient who had been arrested for attacking a painting at the National Gallery of Art.  The patient was Robert Oliver, a well-respected artist in his own right.  Dr. Marlow is also an artist, so he is quite interested in admitting Robert to his clinic and working with him.  However, Robert is not responsive to anyone and basically refuses to talk.  As Dr. Marlow begins to unravel the mysteries surrounding Robert, he gets pulled in to Robert's life and his obsessions with the distant past. 

The story is quite a good mystery with some twists and turns.  I enjoyed it immensely!

And my most recent read was The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards.  Ms. Edwards wrote The Memory Keepers Daughter, which I had liked very much, so I was quite excited to see that she had a new book out.  This book was fascinating for me as it involved genealogy research! 

It is the story of Lucy Jarrett who returns home from Japan for a visit after having been away for quite awhile.  Her father had died under strange circumstances ten years earlier and she returned home to find that her mother was not only seeing someone, but was considering selling the family home.  One night, Lucy was wandering around the home and noticed a lock on a window seat that she had never noticed before.  Inside, Lucy discovered some objects that revealed a hidden family history.  As Lucy researches the information she becomes more involved in the history (the curse and glory of all genealogists!) and continues to unravel long ago secrets that evetually affect her family now.

This was a good "story of love lost and found".

I need to add a sad note to the end of this post.  Reynold Price died last week.  He was one of my all time favorite authors, who I consider one of the best Southern authors ever.  If you haven't read any of his books, I highly recommend them. I have been reading his memoir Clear Pictures for the past month off and on, so will review it soon.  Reynolds Price 1933-2011.

Friday, January 14, 2011

2011 Reading Challenges

Though I haven't joined the official 100 Books Challenge for the year, it is my personal challenge for myself.  If I am to complete it, I need to get a move on far this year I have only read 3 books (to be reviewed next week).  But I am quite excited to announce that I have joined the Irish Reading Challenge!

And I already have my first book for the challenge!  The February book for one of my book groups is Annie Dunne by Sebastian Barry.  I would welcome any other suggestions, as I have committed to reading 4 books for the Challenge.

To join this Challenge or to read about it, go here:

Monday, January 3, 2011

My Top 21 Books of 2010

Yes, it says Top 21.  I just couldn't narrow it down to Top 20!  It was a good reading year, although I don't believe that I made my 100 books read goal that I had set.    I came in at around 75 books read.  I will try to do better this year!

Top 21 of 2010

The Glass Castle-Jeanette Walls
Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet-Jamie Ford
The Blue Orchard-Jackson Taylor
A Thousand Splendid Suns-Khaled Hosseini
The Girl Who Played With Fire-Stieg Larsson
Beach Music-Pat Conroy                                                                  
The Cellist of Sarajevo-Steven Galloway
Little Bird of Heaven-Joyce Carol Oates
Annie’s Ghosts-Steve Luxenberg
The Paperboy-Pete Dexter
Return From Heaven-Carol Bowman
Blood Memory-Greg Iles                                                      
The Greatest Generation-Tom Brokaw
The Thirteenth Tale-Diane Setterfield
The Last Child-John Hart                                                                  
The Other Side of the Bridge-Mary Lawson
The Odd Sea-Frederick Reiken
The Devil’s Punchbowl-Greg Iles
Gilead-Marilyn Robinson
Faithful Place-Tana French
Half A Life-Darin Strauss

It was really fun finding  new-to-me author Greg Iles's books this past year.  I am anxiously awaiting his newest one due out in the next couple of months!

Books from October

The September choice for my evening book group was The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  I had not read it before, mostly because I am not an "animal person" and didn't care to read a story told by a dog.  Well, I have learned a more open...if a book is touted as good, try it!

 The story is told by Enzo, a lab terrier, whose owner is Denny, a race care driver.  Enzo shares Denny's love of racing and follows racing as closely as his owner.  Enzo loves to watch TV and the taped races that Denny watches.  Denny marries Eve and they have a daughter, Zoe.  Enzo is constantly frustrated that he can't speak because there is so much that he could tell Denny about what is going on, and, besides that, Enzo has many questions that he cannot ask!  He also laments his lack of opposable thumbs.

 Enzo has learned from TV that when dogs die, they return to earth as a person.  He is anxious for that to occur and hopes that when he would return he would be able to meet up with Denny. When Eve starts not feeling well, Enzo is unable to tell Denny what is happening with her. Things continue to fall apart and Enzo stays faithful to Denny, trying to help him through the rough patches.

Some of the story is hard to swallow, primarily because Denny allows things to happen, especially with his in-laws, but all-in-all, the story is a good one and you just can't help but love Enzo!

The next book "read" was Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation, which I listened to as an audio book.  It is important to note that I love Tom Brokaw, so being able to hear his voice reading his book was amazing to me!  I loved the's full of stories about men and women who served during World War II.  In the stories, Tom tells of their wartime service and then how their lives played out after the war.  It is a very moving, entertaining, and informative book.  It certainly adds to one's appreciation of the sacrifice that all of our men and women have given in the service, in any of the wars that have occurred.

Lastly, I have re-read The End of Overeating by David A. Kessler.  It is a very eye-opening book talking about the food industry and how they have developed foods that keep people wanting more.  Basically, if sugar, salt and fat are added and added, layered and layered on foods, people continue to want them.  A very interesting book that may change the way you look at food, both at the supermarket and in restaurants.  I didn't like the emphasis on dieting and restricting food, although I did understand the concept.  I am just working on a more kind way of looking at eating.

All in all, some good reading.  Now I am returning to another mystery of Greg Iles!

Half A Life

I had put Half a Life  by Darin Strauss on my Christmas list this past year after reading a review of it done by Nancy Pearl.  And I was lucky enough to receive it Christmas morning! I read it quickly and it is among the very best books that I read in 2010.

This is a memoir written when the author was thirty-six years old.  When he was eighteen years old he accidentally hit a classmate while he was driving a car and she was on a bicycle.  The girl swerved in front of the car and there was nothing that the driver could do.  The girl died.

The book tells about the next half of the author's life, living with this tragic accident.  As the book began "Half my life ago, I killed a girl."  The book is an examination of Mr. Strauss' life after the accident and how he came to terms with the tragedy.

There are great lessons to be learned in this book.  It is not a sad book, but a book of hope.  The part of the book that impacted me the greatest was this: "But we keep making our way, as we have to.  We're all pretty much able to deal even with the worst that life can fire at us, if we simply admit that it is very difficult.  I think that's the whole of the answer."

As a therapist, I have seen probably thousands of times, that as a person is able to just admit the difficulty of events, situations, etc., they are able to move on.  Things can't always be resolved as we would like, but being able to admit that it is just hard can work wonders!

I highly recommend this book to anyone.  Great book!

Two More Books for December

1) Something Missing by Matthew Dicks. This was a book chosen by one of my book groups for our December meeting. I found the concept intriguing! It is the story of "A career criminal with OCD tendencies and a savant-like genius for bringing order to his crime scenes." Martin has been stealing from people for years and had never been caught. The twist is that he only steals from the same people over the years. They are considered his "clients". Martin does very thorough inventory of everything in his client's homes, then only steals what he think that they won't miss. And he usually only steals things that he needs. For example, he might steal a couple of cups of laundry detergent, two or three rolls of toilet paper, etc. Once in awhile, if he comes across something of value, he will monitor his client's use of the item for several months and if it is something that they rarely or never use, he will steal that and then sell it on EBay. Things get complicated, however, when one day he sees someone else leaving a client's home and follows the burglar and finds out who he is. Martin then determines that his client may be in danger. But how to deal with this? He has never met his clients face-to-face and to warn his client would give himself away.

This was a really fun book to read and as we discussed at book group, it started us thinking about how one often can't find something or thinks that they have more than they do of we have our own Martin?

2) Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.  I was a bit disappointed with this book, but some of that disappointment is due to my expectation of the book because it was about an Irish girl.  I love all things Irish (my Murphy heritage, I guess).  Eilis Lacey was born and raised in a small town in Ireland.  One day, her family informed her that she is to go to America, sponsored by a priest who had been in their town visiting.  The priest arranged for her passage to Brooklyn and located both a job and housing for Eilis.  Eilis did not want to leave Ireland and her family, but felt as if she had no choice.  The book does a good job describing her passage over to the US.  When she arrives in Brooklyn, she began work at a large department store and fell in love with Tony.  One day, tragic news arrived and Eilis had to make some hard decisions about her future.  It was kind of a simple story and was actually well-written.  I guess I just wanted a little more from it.