Home is where the hurt is

The Dutch HouseThe Dutch House by Ann Patchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The danger of listening to a really good book on audible while driving is that I almost ran out of gas. The trip went so fast! Ann Patchett is a great story teller and Tom Hanks did a fantastic job bringing the scenes to life. This story of a fabulous Pennsylvannia house and the people who lived there over about a century is told from the point of view of Danny Conroy whose mother leaves him and his older sister Maeve in the care of their real estate mogul father after he gives her a fantastic 1922 mansion that she despises. She’d rather help the poor and heads to India. An evil step mother soon enters the scene with daughters of her own. Before you know it Dad is dead and Danny and Maeve are kicked out with little more than a trust for Danny’s education. The siblings develop a close bond, spending hours year after year sitting outside their former home and remembering better times. Although the tale generally follows a chronological timeline, it is being told by the grownup Danny hitting his memories so things get out of order sometimes or he jumps ahead and divulges his divorce from Celeste before he’s even revealed their marriage. This bugs me a little but I suppose it adds to the realism of Danny telling the story. The house casts such a huge shadow over all these lives even extending into the next generation. You can see it in your mind and hear the voices and imagine the train rides. Very well done.

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Not exactly a Waltz in WWII

 

The Angel of ViennaThe Angel of Vienna by Kate Hewitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I chose this book because I was headed to Vienna on vacation and I thought this might put me in the mood. Of course, we all know WWII was no vacation. Nevertheless the author creates a very real, complex tale of a nurse and a Catholic nun who try protect disabled children from being killed in the hospital where they work. I love the details she uses to flesh out the personality of Hannah Stern and her estranged half brother who pays for her training and gets her the job in Vienna, on the condition that she watch over his disabled son, Willi. She and the boy build a bond but hospital rules don’t give them much time together. There is Karl, a love interest, but Hannah is hesitant. She discovers that children are being selected for elimination and joins a shady group sneaking them to safety. The action is fast paced, but there are a few pleasant side tracks when the characters are able to forget the war for few pages, go for a swim and let friendships develop. Even the final scene holds a surprise or two.

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Fast Four Months

 

The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the WorldThe Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World by A.J. Baime
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable, well-researched and yet fast-moving peek at an intriguing president. It certainly boosted my respect for a man who came from my home state and started serving before I was born. The author uses minute-by-minute records to draw out the drama of the day he took office when FDR died and his wife and daughter had to take a taxi to the white house for his oath of office. Right up to the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Truman was sailing across the Atlantic returning from the Potsdam Conference with Churchill and Stalin. I loved the quotes chosen as well such as Truman telling the other two he wanted “decisions not discussion.” Good read.

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Hollywood Thriller

Dream TownDream Town by David Baldacci
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this author and this latest Archer thriller doesn’t disappoint. I love the way he paints the period — 1953– with references to the day’s entertainers like Frank Sinatra, current movies being made like “Rear Window” and the fashions. But like always he outdoes himself creating a convoluted tale where nothing is what it seems. Archer is in LA visiting friend Liberty Callahan when one of Liberty’s Hollywood connections goes missing and a body is found at her home. Archer pieces it all together but not before almost getting killed, of course. Even though the story happens long ago the characters seem very today.

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Glow-in-the-dark Girls

 

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining WomenThe Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Long, and very detailed, but it is exactly those details — like describing the polka dot dress one of the women is wearing — that brings these girls alive almost a century after they died just doing their jobs. I used to live not far from Ottawa, Il., the setting for one of the factories where young women were hired to paint glow in the dark dials on clocks and watches. They were told to use their lips to keep the brushes pointy, even though the paint they were using was radioactive radium. Months or years later they became ill with assorted pains caused by the radium they injested. It deposited in their bones causing some to lose teeth, others to limp, another to have a growth on her shoulder. It was many years before the cause became known and still many more before the courts made the companies pay medical bills or maybe a little more. I had heard the general story before but Moore really makes this story more about the women and what they went through. She examined family photos of the women so she could describe them and their clothes, visited the houses where they lived, and even takes a few liberties to suggest that their tenacity in fighting for justice probably prevented future injuries on other radioactive endeavors such as The Manhattan Project. Well done.

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New hero for coffee addicts

The Monk of MokhaThe Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t even drink coffee, but I love it when I can learn a lot and still be entertained. This book tells an interesting history of coffee and the many processing steps and the tasting process as complicated as wine. I also appreciated learning more about Yemen which I had previously only known from reports of war and famine. This is the semi true story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, an immigrant from Yemen who grew up in the San Francisco area, sort of ditzi and lacking direction. Then he reads the history of coffee tracing back to Yemen and discovers that his grandfather was actually a coffee farmer back in Yemen. Suddenly Mokhtar has a quest. He infiltrates the coffee culture in San Francisco, returns to Yemen and gets to know the coffee farmers in the different parts of his country. War breaks out and he has to fight just to make it down the street. But he manages to take some samples out of the country and get the experts in San Francisco to agree his country’s coffee is extra special. I was cheering for him in the end.

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Return to Mackinac

The Dockporter: A Mackinac Island Novel (Mackinac Island Series #1)The Dockporter: A Mackinac Island Novel by Dave McVeigh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For those of us who know and love Mackinac Island, revisiting through this book brings all those memories to life again. The fudge shops. The porch of the Grand Hotel. The rock formations. The booming cannon. And, of course, the poor guy shoveling up the inevitable horse droppings. And for those who have never been to Mackinac, the tale revives those days of young abandon, of friends and foes, pranks and hangovers and warm, sweet love. The book is written as a story within a story. Big city photographer Jack McGuinn is returning to the island after a 10-year absence, for a reunion with his dockporter buddies who, as young men, met the ferries to the island and ported baggage to the hotels on their bikes. On the slow freight ferry to the reunion Jack tells a fellow passenger the tale of his final summer on the island, which becomes the bulk of the book. It is an awkward arrangement sometimes when the passenger interrupts the storyteller to remind the reader of the story-within-a-story format but it pays off in the end when the exciting finale of Jack’s last summer on the island melds into a surprising denouement at the reunion.

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Patterson and Parton

Run Rose RunRun Rose Run by Dolly Parton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Combine the talents of one of my favorite country singers with those of the best mystery/thriller author and you’re bound to get something wonderful. I listened to Run Rose Run on a car trip and was thoroughly entertained for two days. Dolly narrates the Ruthanne character on the audio version so it’s easy to picture her. But the story is really about a scrappy wannabe singer, AnnieLee, who rises to fame with the help of a retired star (Ruthanne). Annielee is full of surprises, pulling a gun out of her backpack, walking out on Ruthanne and turning down fancy clothes. Although her choices are not always the best her spunk is endearing. Though her career gets a big boost from Ruthanne, the cloud of her unrevealed past keeps interrupting with thugs attacking her repeatedly and following her. When the past is finally revealed it doesn’t really seem worthy of so many thugs chasing her but it wouldn’t be a thriller without all those encounters. The title is disappointing since the name Rose isn’t mentioned until the past is revealed near the end of the book. But now I need to get the Dolly Parton album that goes along with the book so I can hear the songs that are mentioned in the story.

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Don’t bother with this one

The Poisoned Rose (The Gin Palace Trilogy, #1)The Poisoned Rose by Daniel Judson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Page after page of pointless violence. Finally about page 255 the author starts tying the apparently random violence together and you get hints of who the characters are and the motivations and corruption that lead to all the rest. But it is too little too late. I scanned scene after scene it was just too boring to read. Even the supposedly good folks are terrible: a protagonist who is constantly in a drunken stupor, a sweet innocent 15-year-old who is depicted as purposely trying to lure the protagonist astray. I finished the book hoping for something to make it worthwhile, but I never found it.

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Mystery in style

If Looks Could Kill (Bailey Weggins Mystery, #1)If Looks Could Kill by Kate White
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVE it! The real trick in a mystery is to give the reader enough hints so that they think they are smarter than the detective. Then as the climax approaches, the detective comes to the conclusion the reader already figured out. While the reader is basking in I-told-you-so, suddenly that conclusion falls apart and a totally different, but ultimately logical, perpetrator is revealed, ideally in the midst of trying to kill the protagonist. Kate White does exactly that in this tale of magazine true crime writer Bailey Weggins who puts on her detective hat when her editor’s nanny is poisoned. All the glamour–and politics — of the magazine biz is drawn perfectly since White was editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan from 1998-2012. White also has an uncanny skill at describing the oddities in facial features: a head too small, eyes too far apart, eyes so dark the pupil disappears. My only regret is that I waited so long to read this 2002 gem.

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