Saturday, July 23, 2011

Remarkable Creatures

I just finished Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. It also is a story loosely based on real characters. Born in 1799 young Mary Anning survived being struck by lightning as a baby, and appeared to be an unusual young girl.  She had a knack for finding fossils along the cliffs and beaches of Lyme Regis.  One day she met a young spinster, Elizabeth Philpot, who had moved to Lyme with her sisters.  Mary and Elizabeth shared an interest in searching the beaches and cliffs for fossils.  Elizabeth was more interested in fish fossils, while Mary searched more for other fossils.  They learned from each other and spent hours each searching in silence, but with each other, developing a lifelong friendship. They were from two very different worlds, yet their common interest forged genuine caring for each other.  Mary discovered dinosaur fossils and set the geological world upside down with her finds, although most of the men of that time were very reluctant to acknowledge that a woman had accomplished what she had.

The book is a great example of friendship between women and what great things were accomplished by women in a field that women had dared not enter!  I quite enjoyed this book!

 From an interview of the author about Remarkable Creatures (taken from the Barnes and Noble website):

"In one corner of the museum there was a small display about a woman named Mary Anning. In 1811 she and her brother found a complete specimen of an ichthyosaur, an ancient marine reptile which no one knew had even existed. (They thought it was a crocodile.) The discovery of such a creature challenged commonly held beliefs about the creation of the world. At that time there was no concept of extinction -- it would have been considered blasphemous to suggest that God might have created animals that He then allowed to die out as if they were mistakes.

Mary had no idea of the controversy her "crocodile" would set off. She was simply finding and selling fossils to make a living. That was what drew me to her story: she was a working-class woman holding her own among middle-class male scientists. There was something special about her -- underlined by the fact that she survived being struck by lightning as a baby. Indeed, some suggested that made her more intelligent."

Grieving and 2 mysteries

Yes, I am in mourning.  Borders is officially closing.  What am I to do?  I am afraid that the future will soon be a Kindle, or some such device.  I plan to hold out as long as I can, however.  I want to hold the book I am reading! I will be returning to Barnes and Noble, my old stand-by.  And, luckily for me, I have discovered a wonderful used bookstore, The Book Nook, that I have begun frequenting.  And, of course, there are libraries.  I need to put the closing of Borders in perspective, but oh, how I will miss it!  I really love Borders!  So sad.

But back to book of my book groups chose The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch for  this month's read.  Apparently it is a popular book club choice, but I had not heard of it.  It is a rather long book (435 pages) and is a historical novel, based loosely on the author's family, which I found quite interesting.

The story takes place in 1659 in Germany.  A young boy is pulled from the river with a crudely made tattoo on his shoulder.  The local hangman, Jacob Kuisl is called in to investigate if the tattoo is related to witchcraft.  The town is frightened even more than usual because the town had gone through witch hunts and d trials seventy years earlier and the town people did not want a repeat of that.  Soon, however, more children are found with the same tattoo, most of them orphans. And some of the children are murdered.

As the local hangman, part of Jacob's job is to torture and execute people.  He is asked to torture the local midwife, who delivered his children, in order to make her confess to being a witch. Once he makes her confess, he will have to execute her and the towns people will then be able to rest easy.  But Jacob does not believe that she is guilty of being a witch or a murderer, and sets out to try to find who is behind the mystery.  His daughter, Magdalena and her friend, Simon, help Jacob determine what has been happening in the town.

This is a good mystery, and as I said, is loosely based on the author's ancestry.  I think what I found most interesting is that it never occurred to me that some one's occupation would be "hangman".  It was not a coveted position!  People feared the hangman.

I chose to read a mystery again and found Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane.  He had authored Shutter Island, which I read earlier this year and enjoyed, so I thought that I would try another of his books. And I had noticed that they had made a movie of this book, so I decided to read it first!

It is a story about a child gone missing, with the twist that perhaps the child was kidnapped/taken to protect it from it's mother.  I enjoyed the story and have noticed that there is a sequel coming out.

A good, easy read. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

More Great Summer Reading

I have really been enjoying my reading lately.  I highly recommend both of these books being reviewed in this blog!

The Devil's Dream by Lee Smith is right up there among her best.  I have always liked books by Ms. Lee, and this one was not a disappointment!

Around 1833, Moses Bailey, son of a preacher, brought his wife, Laura, up to a lonely cabin in the hills.  Moses wanted to find the voice of God for himself. Laura came from a musical family and she loved playing the fiddle.  Moses forbade music, especially the fiddle, because he believed it to be the music of the devil. Moses would take off for long periods of time, searching for God, and leaving Laura and the children to fend for themselves.  Eventually, Laura took up her fiddling whenever Moses was gone and soon her children began enjoying the music also.

So began the family legacy of country music.  The book takes the reader through generations of the Bailey family and their music as they begin performing publicly through-out the years.  It is the story of several generations covering 150 years.  I do have to admit that several times I became confused on what characters were who.  Fortunately, Ms. Lee provided a family tree at the beginning of the book, and I often had to refer to it.  Each chapter is told by a different member of the family as the years progress.  Despite that confusion, I really enjoyed the book.  The author, as always, does an excellent job developing the characters.

Next I read Mudbound by Hillary Jordan.  I had read about this book earlier and had put it on my TBR list.  Luckily for me, I found it at the used book store!  And I was glad that I had written it down earlier as a book I wanted to read.  Again, a really good book.  And even better, it was Ms. Jordan's debut novel!  And the novel won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction.  It deserved the honor!

In 1946, Henry McAllen moves his wife and children from the city living in Memphis to a run-down farm in the Mississippi Delta.  Henry had failed to mention to Laura that being a farmer was his life-long dream and when he went down to Mississippi to help out his sister for a couple of weeks, he returned to Memphis and told Laura that he had bought a farm and that they were moving there in a couple of a farm that had no running water or electricity, and had been abandoned for a long time.  And on top of all that, Henry's racist, nasty father, Pappy, was going to be living with them.

After they arrive at the farm, they convince the local midwife, who is the wife of Hap one of Henry's tenant farmers, to work for them as a housekeeper.  Florence is a strong-willed black woman who becomes Laura's salvation. Soon, men return from the war, and among them are Florence's son, Ronsel, and Henry's brother, Jamie.  Jamie and Ronsel become friends, and begin to be seen around town together, which in 1946 Mississippi is a dangerous thing and both are warned to stop seeing each other before something bad happens.  Jamie is a charming, good-looking man, haunted by what he saw in combat.  Ronsel comes home as a decorated hero, which means pretty much nothing in the Mississippi Delta since he is a black man.  Jamie and Ronsel's friendship ends up creating great sorrow in the story.

Each chapter of this book is told by one of the main characters, Laura, Florence, Henry, Jamie, Ronsel, and Hap.  It is interesting that Pappy does not narrate any chapters, since his presence is so prominent in the story.  Yet, I am glad that he was not a narrator because he was so unlikable.

This is a very interesting book.  There is a great deal of tragedy in the story, yet it is very full of different ways love prevails and is experienced. And in the end, I felt great hope for the characters.  Very good book!!!