Tag Archive | books

Book Review: The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules

The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules, by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg

This Swedish novel was chosen by my book club for March.  It was different than anything I would choose on my own, and I went into it without any idea of what to expect. 

The novel begins with Martha Andersson, a 79-year-old woman living in a retirement home in Sweden.  The cost-conscious owners are busy cutting every piece of joy throughout the old folks’ lives, rationing the coffee, cutting out pastries, not allowing alcohol, and closing off the exercise room.  Of course, they don’t know that you shouldn’t piss off a group of old people! 

Martha decides to lead a revolt and convinces several of her friends that if the living conditions are so bad in the old folks’ home, they might as well commit a nice white collar crime and earn themselves a nice luxurious stay in a minimum security prison.  Prisons in Sweden must be nicer than the ones in the United States.  So the group gets down to business, planning their crime to knock off the guest safes at a spa in the nicest hotel in town.  Unfortunately, this heist nets them less than they were hoping for in untraceable assets, and they don’t get caught, so they decide to continue on.

It was a fun quick read, high on action (at the pace of an 80 year old), but it was fairly predictable.  I enjoyed the creativity that went into their crimes, but was also amazed that the authorities couldn’t solve what should have been some open and shut cases.  These pensioners somehow flew under the radar in a way that was a bit unrealistic.  So it wasn’t earth-shattering, but a light read on a topic rarely covered in stories.

I listened to the audio book, and did enjoy the narrator, who kept things lively.  Hearing the translations of everyday items was interesting too.  Do you know what a Zimmer Frame is?  Apparently it is a brand name of walker, and the company is even based in the United States!  

3 stars. 

Book Review: Middling Folk

Middling Folk: Three Seas, Three Centuries, One Scots-Irish Family, by Linda H. Matthews

This is a book that my mom had, due to her interest in genealogy and our Scottish heritage, and while she was purging, she set it aside for me. 

Linda Matthews wrote the history of her family going back hundreds of years, from Scotland, to Ireland, to present day Chesapeake Bay, to Virginia, and finally all the way to the far western area of the United States, Washington State.  She has researched her family history and timeline, and presents the story of a middle class family throughout their migration.  Matthews explains that she wanted to tell the story of her family, which could be mirrored in the stories of thousands of other middle class families, as these are the stories most often not told in the history books.  The toil and hardships, as well as the joys and successes of middle class families are typically forgotten in the passage of time. 

The book is non-fiction and scholarly, weaving through the story of the family, from what she can determine through land records, family histories, court records and of course, genealogical records. We begin in Scotland in the 1600s, and eventually follow this family to their settlement in Ireland, and eventually across the sea to colonial America.  She details what is known about the family’s service in the Revolutionary War and later the Civil War, and their lives as farmers, blacksmiths, millers and boatmen.  She readily admits where the record is unknown, and infrequently makes guesses to try to fill in the gaps.

Matthews does end each section with a few fictional vignettes, telling the family story from the perspective of a few chosen family members.  She is upfront about the fact that these stories are simply stories, without historical context.  They are her imagination, and she invites the reader to skip them if they choose.  I didn’t find the stories adding much to her history, but it was interesting to hear her perspective of her family members.

My mom never finished the book, but I found it to be an interesting read and it went quickly for me.  It is not a well-known book, with only 10 reviews on Goodreads, but it would be of interest to those who are interested in genealogy and family histories. 

3 stars. 

Book Review: The “Unholy Apostles”

The “Unholy Apostles,” by James M. Keller

I was browsing at the library in the history section and came upon this book.  It details the shipwrecks in and around the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior in Wisconsin.  It covers shipwrecks between 1870 and 1930.

James Keller researched old news articles and other primary sources to compile stories of several shipwrecks and ships that are missing and presumed sunk.  He details the efforts to save lives and property and later efforts to raise or salvage the sunken ships.  The reasons are numerous; storms, fires and collisions are feature in the stories.  He does not try to fill in the gaps of what is not known, including the names of lost sailors, who were often itinerant young men who weren’t known in the community. 

The book was an interesting look into the savage waters of Lake Superior, which were unrelenting in a storm.  The bravery of these ship captains and men was impressive, and in one instance, there was even a female crew member.

It was a quick read of stories of a time when shipping by ship was king.

3 stars.

Book Review: Housebreaking

Housebreaking, by Colleen Hubbard

I picked up this book at the library because it is the March pick for the library book club, which I want to check out next month.  I knew nothing about it, or this author.

Del is a 24 year old woman with a failure to launch.  Her parents divorced after a long ago scandal, and have both now passed away.  She lives with a friend of her father’s, works a dead end job that she can’t be bothered to keep, and her roommate wants her out so his partner can move in. 

One day Del gets a call from a cousin she hasn’t talked to for years, not since she left her hometown after her mother’s death.  He has a proposition.  Del’s uncle wants to buy the house that her mother left her, a rundown house that hasn’t been lived in for years.  He’s a developer who wants to build new houses on the land where Del’s house sits.

Del, of course, can’t just take the money and run.  She’s bitter at her family for ostracizing her and her mother, and wants to get even.  She has a plan to sell him the home, get the money, and stick it to her uncle too.

Del is not a likable character.  She’s lazy and angry, anti-social and unconcerned with her own hygiene; her only focus is getting her revenge.  It takes her months, and along the way, she builds some connections with a few people from her hometown. 

I was not a fan of this book.  I’ve always had trouble with people who aren’t willing to work towards improving their lot, and Del is a good example of the victim mentality.  Sure, she’s been dealt a raw deal, but her uncle’s offer is very good, and her revenge plan basically cuts off her nose to spite her face. 

It also makes no sense from a logical perspective, and it even requires the reader to suspend disbelief to accept that she would have any chance at pulling it off.  That said, it was an easy read, and made me feel like a super high achiever. 

2 stars. 


Book Review: Love and Ruin

Love and Ruin, by Paula McLain

I have read two of Paula McLain’s other books, so when a friend was going through her books and asked me if I would like to borrow this one, of course I said yes.  I didn’t know it at the time, but this historical novel is related to one of her other books, The Paris Wife. 

The Paris Wife is the historical novel of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson.  Love and Ruin is the novel of Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn.  Martha Gellhorn was a budding writer and journalist when she met Hemingway while on a family trip to Key West, Florida, where Hemingway lived with his second wife.

The two made plans to travel to Spain and cover the Spanish Civil War.  Gellhorn was inspired by reporting on the conflict, and truly found her career calling.  But on that trip, she falls in love with Hemingway and they begin an affair. 

This novel tells the story of their affair and later marriage, as well as the marital conflict as a result of Gellhorn’s career aspirations.  It was interesting to read a fictionalized account of the marriage of two real, larger than life people.  McLain’s writing is believable and a realistic depiction of what may have transpired.

In real life, Martha Gellhorn couldn’t deal with Hemingway’s attempt to clip her wings, and ultimately chose to pursue her career over her marriage.  They divorced after only a few short years.  Gellhorn destroyed her correspondence with Hemingway at the end of her life, so this fictionalized novel may be the closest we have to an account of their relationship.

5 stars. 

Book Review: Immovable Feast

Immovable Feast: A Paris Christmas, by John Baxter

I went to the library to sign up for a new library card, and then of course perused the shelves to see what looked interesting.  I was drawn to this book for its title; if you know you know.  A Moveable Feast was the title of a book by Ernest Hemingway, about his time living in Paris in the 1920s. 

John Baxter is an expat Australian, living in France with his Parisian wife.  And along the way, he became the one responsible for cooking the Christmas dinner for his French extended family.  He has no formal cooking experience, just an interest and a curiosity about trying new things.

The book is about the Christmas traditions of the French, along with the experience Baxter has in planning and executing the seven course Christmas dinner.  From the appetizer to the suckling pig, to the cheese course and the dessert.  And of course, the wine. 

Baxter takes a simple subject and draws his reader in to the culinary culture of France, and his experience as an outsider being accepted into a Parisian family.  A funny, charming read. 

4 stars.

Book Review: The Reading List

The Reading List, by Sara Nisha Adams

“Just in case you need it:

To Kill a Mockingbird
The Kite Runner
Life of Pi
Pride and Prejudice
Little Women
A Suitable Boy”

What would you do if you found a reading list?  Would you read the books it contained? 

Aleisha is a high school student in London, working a summer job in the branch location of the library.  The only problem is, she doesn’t like to read.  One day an elderly man comes in looking for a book recommendation.  She doesn’t know what to recommend, until a discarded reading list drops out of a book.  So she gives the man the first book on the list.  Of course, she decides she must read it for herself too, because what happens when he asks her opinion of the book?

Mukesh is a lonely widower when he finds a forgotten library book under his bed.  It had been checked out by his late wife, who loved to read.  Since her death he has been lonely and isolated, and he devours The Time Traveler’s Wife.  He is so comforted by the book that he shows up at the library to ask for a recommendation of the next book to read. 

Aleisha and Mukesh slowly become friends as they both work through the mysterious reading list, learning lessons about life, grief and finding friendship.  A number of other characters weave in and out of the two main characters’ lives, helping them to cope, providing teaching moments, and giving the gift of friendship.

It was a heartwarming read, with one climatic tragedy, and it really made me think.  Who wrote the list?  What was its purpose?  What did the writer intend for the recipients to get from the list?  What would I put on my reading list and what wisdom would I want it to impart? 

Have you read the books on her reading list?  Of these eight books, I have read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Kite Runner, Pride and Prejudice, Little Women and Beloved.  I have seen the movie versions of Rebecca and The Life of Pi.  I had never heard of A Suitable Boy.  And although it wasn’t on the list, I have also read The Time Traveler’s Wife.  I think I may have to read the three of these that I have not yet read.

What would you put on your reading list?  

4 stars.

Book Review: The Black Count

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss

I have never read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, but I have a copy.  I have been a bit intimidated because it is so long, but maybe I need to!  The book was published in 1844; the adventure story of a man who is falsely imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, and learns about a huge treasure.  He is committed to gaining his freedom and finding the treasure! 

While The Count of Monte Cristo is fiction, I never knew that the story is loosely based on the life of Dumas’ father, also named Alexandre Dumas.  The father was born on Saint-Domingue, a French sugar colony on the island of Hispaniola, which is now Haiti.  He was born a slave, the son of a French nobleman and an enslaved woman.  Remarkably, the French laws at the time of the French Revolution were very favorable to free blacks and allowed them to be educated, to be accepted into society and even possess titles in French society, both in France and in the colonies.

The Black Count is about the father of the author Alexandre Dumas, and his life.  It details what is known about his birth and parentage, so his father bringing him as a teenager and a slave to France to be educated in one of the best boarding schools.  Later he obtains his freedom and makes his mark in the French military.  This is the time period of the French Revolution, and while this was one of the best times to be a person of color in France, he also had to carefully navigate the dangerous political climate.  The elder Dumas was a genius at commanding troops, moved up quickly through the ranks of the military, and established himself as one of France’s most talented generals. 

As Napoleon gained power, Dumas lost favor and was ultimately imprisoned by one of the independent nation states in Italy, who considered France an enemy for having conquered them previously.  This imprisonment was the impetus for the novel, The Count of Monte Cristo.  The Black Count covers his imprisonment and failing health, as well as his life after he obtains his freedom.  Unfortunately, under Napoleon’s rule, life for people of color was much more difficult, and the father Dumas lost much of the status and fortune he had attained.  He died young of cancer, leaving his wife and children in poverty.

Overall, this book was not what I was expecting – it was much more.  It dove deeply into the details of the French sugar colonies, the French Revolution, Napoleon’s campaigns, and the treatment of slaves and free people of color by the French government of the period.  I learned a lot!  I would recommend this book both for people who are interested in Alexandre Dumas and the Count of Monte Cristo, and another perspective on the French Revolution and the early Napoleonic period.  Very well written and researched. 

4 stars. 

Book Review: Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

This is a novel of family. 

Rill Foss is a 12 year old girl in 1939, living on a shanty boat near Memphis, Tennessee when her parents have to go to the hospital with a difficult delivery of twins.  Soon, the authorities show up to take Rill and her four siblings to an orphanage with allegations that they are not being properly cared for.  She has no idea the fate that awaits them.

In present day, Avery Stafford has lived a privileged life.  Her father is a Senator who has cancer, and she has come home from her up-and-coming career as a lawyer to help her father with his campaign and work.  While there, she meets a woman in a nursing home who insists that Avery’s bracelet, a unique family heirloom, is her own.  Avery begins to dig into this woman, who claims to know her grandmother, but she has no idea what her investigation will reveal.

Wingate draws on the true story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and Georgia Tann, a woman whose deceit and criminal dealings separated thousands of children from their families between 1924 and when the home was finally closed in 1950. If you don’t know the story of this infamous woman and the orphanage she ran for almost 30 years, it is a fascinating and heartbreaking story.

The novel weaves the story of the past and the present, leaving the reader trying to piece together the relationships between the characters.  Are things really as they seem?  I was both intrigued and heartbroken at what happened to Rill, her siblings and her parents after they were ripped apart.  And trying to process the unimaginable decisions these women made as adults, to try to maintain their ties to family after the trauma they endured.

A sad, but beautiful novel.

5 stars.


Book Review: Cold Snap

Cold Snap, by Marc Cameron

Cold Snap is the latest in the Arliss Cutter series by Marc Cameron. In this action-thriller, Arliss Cutter and his partner Lola Teariki are Federal Marshalls looking into a series of murders, marked by body parts that have washed up around the bays near Anchorage, Alaska.  They finally get a good lead on a suspect when Cutter is tasked with escorting four criminals via bush plane over the Alaska Wilderness.

Cold Snap (Arliss Cutter, #4)

Unfortunately they come across an emergency situation on the flight and things go downhill quickly.  Soon Cutter is involved in a fight for his life and the men he is supposed to be transporting don’t exactly want to see him get out of it alive… 

The book is fast paced and keeps the reader on their toes.  A number of twists and turns kept me interested until the last page.  Cameron has done his research and his knowledge of law enforcement procedures and wilderness survival is apparent in his writing.  Cameron also weaves in a number of subplots that don’t have a resolution in this book; to keep the reader wanting more.  I’m not sure I’ll go out and seek more in this series, but if another fell into my lap…

Marc Cameron is also the current author of the Tom Clancy novels, so fans of Tom Clancy thrillers will like this one too.

3 stars.

Note: this novel was received through a giveaway on Goodreads.