June 14 The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown Sometimes I just need to read me some NON-fiction!! 🙂 This was a gripping account of the Donner Party from the start of their overland trip in Missouri — to their unfortunate end, the winter of 1846-47 in California. Everybody has heard about the Donner Party, but I learned a lot about not only the Donners, but also many other families that were part of the group, and the folks that made rescue attempts as well. I had no knowledge of the “Hastings Cutoff” which veered away from the proven road to California…. a road which the Donner group unfortunately decided to take. It became their undoing. Very well researched and very well written, this book kept my attention to the bitter end. And bitter it was.
May 10 Dancing in the Dark by Maureen Lee I haven’t read anyone else’s review on this book, so as not to be influenced by other’s opinions. I have read MANY books by Maureen Lee and have thoroughly enjoyed them all. This was no exception. In this one we travel between 1939 and 1999. Millie of 1999 is given the task to go through the things in her late Aunt Flo’s flat in Liverpool. She discovers all sorts of interesting things – this book premise is used all too often these days, but Maureen Lee wrote this many years ago, so I can’t fault her for that. We learn all about the Cameron, Clancy, and O’Mara families and how they intermingled over the course of 60 years. I love these “family saga” novels! My only complaint is that the ending is about 30 pages too long. It could have been wrapped up nicely, not abruptly, much earlier than it was. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed it and will continue to read more and more by Ms Lee. If you are a person seeking a great novel with WWII details set on the Homefront in Liverpool England, you may be disappointed… there’s honestly not much about the war years in here – which sort of surprised me as this author is known for her great detailed WWII stories. Still, a lovely read!
April 8 The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth
I loved this book! In fact, I could barely lay it down and finished it in about 3 days. I knew I’d like it as I’ve read Ms Hepworth’s other two novels and enjoyed them both thoroughly. I even sent her an email after reading her book The Secrets of Midwives and told her how impressed I was at the accuracy of the descriptions of the medical/birthing scenes — and she wrote back! WOW! Anyway, this one is about a 40 year old single mother with a 15 year old daughter. The daughter has severe social anxiety disorder. The mom discovers that she has ovarian cancer. Again, this author did a fantastic job at making all of the medical bits of this book seem extremely realistic. I’ve never been a chemo nurse, so I can’t attest to everything, but it all sounded totally plausible to me. We learn about our main character Alice, her daughter Zoe, a chemo nurse Kate, and a social worker Sonja. How their lives become interwoven made this into a wonderful, engaging book. Definitely one that makes your emotions run the gamut. I don’t give many 5 star reviews on Goodreads or Amazon, but this deserves definitely deserves it!
April 8 Ellie Pride and Connie’s Courage by Annie Groves
I’ve read both these books over the past month or so and totally enjoyed them both. But then, it’s no surprise that I really sink my teeth into anything by the real Annie Groves. I say “the real” because other women have recently assumed her pen name. I’m not sure how good they are, but the REAL Annie Groves was wonderful. She died in 2011. These great books were each over 500 pages, so they kept me going for awhile. Ellie Pride is the name of the main character – and to be honest, that sort of threw me off. I think the dearly departed Ms Groves should have chosen Ellie’s “strength” or something like that, to go along with the “courage” of her sister, Connie. Anyway, Ellie Pride was first in a series of three. It was set prior to WWI in northern England and was about how the clash of classes in a family turned their world upside down. The plot was well thought out and accurate for the times, even addressing the women’s suffrage movement. Connie’s Courage takes up where Ellie leaves off and continues through the “Great War”. After some serious family issues, Connie ends up becoming a nurse, working in a large “infirmary” in Liverpool. I think our author did some well thought out research as to the lives of the nurses and the conditions they worked in during those times. I love reading these family saga novels…I feel like I should also say that while there is a small amount of romance in there, these two books (just like all the others by this wonderful author) tell stories of families and communities and are historically correct. There is one more in the series, and yep, it’s on my to-read pile!
I got this book for free, or nearly so on my Kindle. Since I love to travel, and particularly to national parks, I thought this would be of great interest to me. It turned out to be mildly interesting, not exactly what I hoped it might be, but a decent enough read to finish it. It’s about a couple in their early 50’s who quit their jobs with the intent on visiting every single National Park in the US. They wrote this book in “letter form” as if they were emailing friends back home. I thought this format was very cheesy, and totally unnecessary. Anyway, they accomplish their goal of visiting all the parks, eventually. These folks live in Seattle and for the most part, visits to the parks include flights to and from Seattle. I know if it had been me, and I’d quit my job, I would have purchased an RV and made my way via the open road to all the parks that I could in the lower 48. They kept flying back and forth to/from Seattle which I thought was silly, considering they didn’t have jobs to get back to, OR kids. I also was somewhat disappointed that they went into great detail about some parks, and others were more like: we went, we walked around, took a few pics, and left – next! That said, I had never even heard of a bunch of these parks, and actually learned a few things…. like “never run away from bears, they WILL catch you!” Some people have complained about the “disparaging” remarks bantered between the husband and wife. Heck, that wasn’t a concern to me – if you can’t joke around with your spouse, you’re in deep trouble! You’ve gotta be able to give it and take it as well…. that’s how it works in my house anyway.
February 21 An Irish Country Love Story by Patrick Taylor (audio version read by John Keating)
Just finished the latest book in the Irish Country Doctor series – I think this may be number twelve! I’ve enjoyed each and every one, and this was no exception. This time we follow the love story of the younger doctor Laverty and his fiance` Sue Nolan — as well as more from all the regular townspeople of Ballybucklebo that we know and love so well. Plenty happens in this book, but in a way, I would love to see more in the way of medical goings on – after all this series is about a group of rural Irish doctors, set in 1967. Yes, there was some medical stuff, but maybe it’s just me, I eat that up and would love to read about more. When someone presents with an ailment of sorts, I love trying to diagnose the problem before the doctors do. I hope this book series keeps on going and going – it’s great escapism from our world – back to a time when life was simpler. As I always try to do, I listened to this book on audio, thanks to our local library. The narrator is impeccable and it makes the story even more fun. Love those Irish accents. Funny, I learned about 10 months ago that my great, great, great grandmother was from County Down in Northern Ireland. Right where this book is set. Gotta love it.
February 8 Our Own Country by Jodi Daynard This was book number two in what the author calls “The Midwife Series”. Book number one was The Midwife’s Revolt which I read well over a year ago and really enjoyed. In my review of the first book I mentioned that it was a rather poor/misleading title because there was next to zero mention of midwifery, and I’d reiterate that again for this book. At any rate, this book was odd. It rehashed many, many events of the previous book, but from a different character’s perspective. It was not a bad book, or a boring book, but it was somewhat off-putting because I pretty much already knew most everything that was going to happen, before it happened. There were some parts, particularly the end of this one that had some interesting, different events in it. Like the other book, this was set in revolutionary war times, in Massachusetts. Some of the characters were real (John and Abigail Adams make appearances) but most were not. This time the main character was the sister in law of the main character of the previous book. I think the struggles of that time were depicted accurately and it was interesting, but not riveting. There is a 3rd book in the series that has very recently been published, and while I’m sort of tempted to see how it all pans out, there are so many other great books to read, that it will not be tops on my list. The really cool thing about this book is that I borrowed it from the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library – which is awesome. There are NO return times, the only caveat is that you can’t borrow another book until you return this one (one book at a time, in essence).
February 3 Homestead by Rosina Lippi Picked this book up some time ago at a thrift store and thought it sounded good. It even won some literary award so I figured it would be well worth a read. I was SO disappointed. I’ve got to say that I really struggled to get thru this one. Have you ever read a book where each chapter was a “short story” but all the short stories (chapters) had a common theme and intertwined in an interesting way? I have, and I loved it! It was called “Olive Kitteridge” and actually won the Pulitzer prize for fiction one year. I also read one years ago by Maeve Binchy that had this premise and I really enjoyed it. This book was the same type of format, but oh my, it just didn’t click with me. It was set in Austria during the very early 1900’s and worked it’s way up to the 1970’s. While the writing took on the style of the times, it was confusing. All the people in this town had very confusing names and backgrounds, and I honestly couldn’t keep them straight. I’ve read a lot of family sagas with many characters and have NEVER had problems knowing who-was-who until this book. I give it 2 stars at most and cannot recommend. I Googled the author and see that she’s written several very successful historical novels under the name Sara Donati. That name rang a bell, and I now remember trying to read her first novel (under that name) called Into the Wilderness and couldn’t follow that one either! It was well received, so maybe it’s just me. What I DO know is that I’m done with Rosina Lippi AND Sara Donati. Oh well.
January 12 The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas Less about midwifery, more about life in a small mining town in Colorado in the late 1800’s, this book was just SO good (in my opinion). I thought it was quite realistic in describing how life actually was back then – including the sometimes sordid, covert human elements. We follow the life of the one and only local midwife who has delivered most of the babies in the region. Then one day she is accused of murdering an infant. I’m not a big fan of mysteries or “whodunits”, but this sure kept me intrigued. I really, REALLY like this author, have read lots of her her books and will continue to do so in the future.
January 9 Teacher Man by Frank McCourt First off, I listened to this book, read by the author with his great Irish accent, on my old fashioned cassette tape player! I get the tapes from Paperbackswap.com and while it IS old fashioned to listen to cassettes, I find it actually easier to stop and start listening to them over CD’s. I listen while I’m having a shower…. I listen while I’m folding laundry…. I listen while I’m getting ready to go out – what a great way to “read” a book while doing something else! Anyway, I have now read all of Mr McCourt’s books and have enjoyed them all. I like biographies and this was a good one, describing McCourt’s life as a high school teacher in New York City. I’m actually sad that this is the last book he wrote before he passed on. I HIGHLY recommend reading Angela’s Ashes – the story of his childhood, growing up in Ireland. Fantastic reading. Totally deserving of the Pulitzer Prize it won.
January 3 Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent Chronicles of a Modern Midwife I enjoy books about midwives and midwifery, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed this book, written by a Certified Nurse Midwife. It was published in 2002 and I do think that times have changed for midwives considerably since then. This book actually ended in about 1993, when the author quit her private practice and went into hospital midwifery. Nowadays, many midwives practice outside the hospital in their own “birthing centers” – we even have one in our small town. I believe they are held in greater regard and with higher respect these days as well. Anyway, on to the book. It was good, but not great. I did enjoy all the descriptions of memorable births she attended, but 99% of them turned out with happy, pink, squealing babies, and mothers who, after their home birth, would never do it another way. I know from personal experience that 99% of births, home or otherwise, do not turn perfect without a bit of some sort of intervention. This author never mentioned needing to be certified in NRP (neonatal resuscitation), which I am sure was in widespread use at least through some of her career. While I feel like she painted a very rosy picture of birthing, I still enjoyed it and must keep in mind that midwives can really only see the lowest risk patients – and these patients often have the best outcomes. In my career, I really enjoyed attending deliveries, where I was responsible for the immediate care of the infant. It was fun and nerve wracking, stressful and even sad sometimes. Things are not always as rosy as an evening sunset – and that’s how I felt this book portrayed childbirth. It was worth the read, however.