Jefferson's Daughters

The Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America

by Caterhine Kerrison

Non-fiction, 2018


I’ve read historical fiction about Thomas Jefferson and his relationships with his daughters.  The reason this focus is story-worthy is that his wife died early leaving him to parent 12-year-old Martha and 9-year-old Maria.  He became a single father, single household manager and land owner, a single statesman during the formative years of a democracy, a single ambassador serving abroad and a single President.   Any one of those roles would be enough to break the spirit of a lifelong widower.


Kerison immersed herself in the thousands of letters left as Thomas Jefferson’s legacy.  She visited monuments and libraries that protect his memory.  She tracked down documents through court records and census files to prove or dispell the stories that have contributed to his bigger-than-life history.  What resulted is a detailed retelling of the family Jefferson. 

Not only do you learn about Thomas Jefferson, you learn what it meant to be a privileged white woman in the formative years of America as well as in European circles.  Details about etiquette, clothing, social acceptance and expectation.  Every part of this very human story is laced with transporting details that places you in another time and place. 

Exquisitely crafted for sustained interest, the author shows her skilled hand as an accomplished historian and culture commentator.  But she didn’t stop there.  The well-exposed story of Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings and the daughter, Harriet, that resulted, is part of this story.  She traces the life of Harriet with the same tenacity she uncovered details about Martha and Maria.  But it is an unfinishable story because Harriet melted into the oblivion she probably sought.  

This is not an expose; it is historical exposition.  While she shines a light on the admirable, the questionable, and the unsavory; she is traditional journalist throughout and reserves her comments until the end.

I highly recommend this as a documentary look at the time when America was still young and innocent, and those who lived the story were in the middle of their own emerging identities as well.


I Also Read

America’s First Daughter

by  Stephanie Drayl and Laura Kamoie

Historical Fiction

While this book tells the same story, it tells it through oldest daughter, Martha's eyes,

filling in the blanks as only a novelist can do.

The Place of Help

by Oswald Chambers

Devotional, 1936 (originally)


The chapters are divided by sub-headings which allow us to take Chambers in bite-sized pieces.  And believe, on some days, that’s all we can handle. Over and over we have commented, “He could be writing this today!”

His grasp of theology and his ability to illustrate it is phenomenal.  I have come away with new understandings of the Garden, Gethsemene, the Cross, Redemption Life, and so much  

more.  Even though our version of this book is in original and very archaic language, there is something solid about it.  The language reminds us that it was written many years before we were born; but the principles as more current than any of our most popular Christian writers.

We’re not quite halfway through.  The journey is enlightening, convicting, securing, and takes us to Truth about Christ the way any Christian writing and preaching should.

I Also Read:

My Utmost For His Highest

by Oswald Chambers

Unlike The Place of Help, this is 365 daily readings.  Many will give you pause to think about God's irreplaceable love for you and your response to Him.

The Library Book

by Susan Orlean

Nonfiction, 2019


I can’t remember who recommended this book, but I am glad it found its way to my must-read list.  It is one of the most detailed, interesting, complicated, informative, and well-organized nonfiction books I have read.  The story reviews the historical tragedy of the mystery  of how the 1986 Los Angeles Library and 700,000 books were incinerated.  With information she gathered from interviews and documented research, Orlean to retells the step by step story that led to the fire, including the actions of the only suspect of the deliberate act.  However, along the way she tells the history of the Los Angeles library as well as the history of libraries as a permanent fixature in every major city in the United States.  I found the process for restoring books as interesting as trying to get into the mind of a suspected pyromaniac. 

In these days with closed libraries, this book has made me even more anxious to return to my local library and be mesmerzed by the rows of books and the millions of hours of reading enjoyment I can enjoy.


by Julian Fellowes

Fiction, 2016


I am not usually ahead of literature-to-film production, so I don’t know how I did it this time.  I was looking for an escape-read at the beginning of our shelter-in-place and had placed Belgravia by Julian Fellowes, the author of Downton Abbey, on my to-be-read list.  I checked out an audio digital copy and began listening.  Not long into my read, I recognized what made Downton Abbey such a hit.  Julian Fellowes knows how to write British soap opera for the sophisticated.  It was another story of inheritance interrupted, secrets, family dysfunction, marriage based on social standing, and the stark division between the upstairs family and downstairs servants.  My husband and I took advantage of a free trial of Epix, the cable network that produced it.  I was glad I had read the book first.  It helped keep the characters straight in the summarized version for television.  But we were not disappointed.  Though Belgravia is not as involved and deeply layered as Downton Abbey, it is every bit a successful peek into British Victorian life with all its affected angst and etiquette.


The Housemaid's Daughter

by Barbara Mutch 

Fiction, 2010

Story once again uncovers the perspectives, emotions, and divisions that result from a forced view about humanity that God never intended.  Told through the eyes and voice of Ada, daughter of a housemaid in South Africa, the story uses her devotion to the Harrington family in a way that leaves her and the child she bore as pawns in Apartheid.  History tells one story, but people take the story deeper.  This is a must-read for anyone who wants to know more than history can tell.

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War:  

How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18

by Joseph Loconte

Nonfiction, 2015


While this book shares details about the friendship between Tolkien and Lewis, it goes farther.  The author shares how World War I informed the writing of both men.  By reviewing the attitudes and experiences the war brought to early 1900 in Great Britain and reconstructing battles both men would have fought, Loconte draws haunting parallels to war scenes in both men’s writing.  He takes the camaraderie of men and war and demonstrates where it shows up in the friendships in the worlds of Hobbits and Narnia.  But the unmistakable gift of the war to Lewis was the way it prepared him for an end to the war he fought against Christianity.  If you have read the Fellowship of the Ring books and traveled to the metaphorical world of Narnia, this is a book you should consider.


Wild Bird

by Wendelin Van Draanen

Young Adult Fiction, 2017

I obtained this book through a teen free summer book program called Audio Sync, available by link or through many libraries.  This book explores the story of Wren, a teenager who loses herself in a family move, becomes rebellious, finds the wrong friends, and dabbles in activities with bigger consequences than her adolescent brain can understand.  Her parents take drastic measures to send their “wild bird” to a wilderness Utah desert camp for troubled teens.  It is a raw but hopeful story of transformation.  If you want to understand how a “good girl” unravels and finds her way back, this is a good read for you.  I especially enjoyed it as an audiobook.  The narrator was eerily believable.  

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

by Patti Callahan

Historical Fiction, 2018


Author Patti Callahan was destined to write this book.  While she was not the first to fall in love with C. S. Lewis writings nor the first to try to write about how an American woman, Joy Davidman, with two young boys became the wife of Lewis, she was the one who wanted to tell Joy’s story. She was also the one who wanted to protect a love story that has the thumbprint of God all over it.  Using newly found letters (Lewis always destroyed personal letters so they would not come back to bite him), Callahan has written a transporting story of two people who found each other in time to change the rest of their lives. To learn that Joy Davidman earned a masters from Columbia University at 20, published an award-winning book of poetry at 23, helped Lewis write Till We Have Faces, tells me this was more than a love story, it was a marriage of mind and soul as well.  If you are a lover of C. S. Lewis, don’t miss this read!

The Remarkable Ordinary

by Frederick Buechner

Religious Nonfiction, 2017


I’ve been listening to people who are well-read in Buechner’s published works.  I thought it was finally time for me to read one.  I chose this book for its title.  In this time of change and isolation, I thought having vision for the ordinary as remarkable would be a good thing. While it wasn’t the book I thought it would be, it did meet my goal.  I learned of the great wounds in Buechner’s life which helped me understand why ordinary life was an extraordinary gift.  As a notable American writer, Pulitzer Prize finalist, Presbyterian minister, novelist, essayist, and theologian; he is someone a Christian reader should know about. The Remarkable Ordinary  is part memoir and part spiritual formation in which he asks us to listen to our own life as he shares stories about his own.  There may be better books to learn about Buechner, but for me, this was a good place to start.


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by Betty Smith

Fiction, 1943

When a book transports you to a different time, slips you into a slice of life that you could never know without the word upon carefully chosen word to tell it; that is the magic of story.  Such is the gift and legacy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  In some ways, Francie Nolan is every girl with dreams, but because she lived in Brooklyn in the 1900’s before the first World War, it is a story that captures the American Dream in its early, hopeful, and undefiled innocence.  It is the story of family and struggles and coming together and losing so much you think you can’t survive even when you know you will.  The dream, like the tree the family planted in their tiny patch of inner city, thrived as a reminder that pluck and persistence is more important than circumstances.

The Pharaoh's Daughter

by Mesu Andrews

Fiction, 2015


We know the Bible stories from the perspective of the lead characters God calls and shapes.  But what would happen if we saw the same story from the perspective of a key secondary character.  This is the gift of research specialist and amazing storyteller, Mesu Andrews.  The Pharaoh’s Daughter tells the story of Moses from the perspective of the one who found him in the Nile and raised him as her own.  While she fills in gaps with her own, satisfying what-if details, she has also linked some fascinating details from the biblical genealogy.  For example, she draws the two midwifes, Shiphrah and Puah, into the heart of this story in remarkable ways. 


I was introduced to this prolific biblical fiction writer when I attended my first Oregon Christian Writer’s Conference. Her workshop on research was phenomenal.  The first book I read was award-winning Love Amid the Ashes, told through the eyes of women in Job’s life, including Job’s wife.  This is my second book by Mesu Andrews, but it won’t be my last.