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Ethel Rosenberg:  An American Tragedy by Anne Sebba, 2021, Non-fiction 

I found this book from a non-fiction book list on a book reader’s blog I follow.  I read the book to find out why it was an American tragedy and what would cause a woman and mother to put her family at such risk.  An award-winning journalist, Anne deftly tells the Rosenberg story that took place in the height of Cold War paranoia. She carefully documents the sad truth that Ethel’s execution was based on her brother-in-law’s perjury and represented a miscarriage of justice.  The story reveals one of America’s worst moments and reminds us how fear can become more important than truth.


I, Judas by Taylor Caldwell and Jeff Stern, Biblical Fiction, first published 1977 

I knew Taylor Caldwell from Great Lion of God (Paul) and Dear and Glorious Physician (Luke) which I devoured as a young adult.  I. Judas surprised me on one of my email book lists, and I picked it as a good read in preparation for Lent.  The language is somewhat dated but the intricate web of possible connections between Judas and Pilate, the Sanhedrin, Jesus, and the disciples is very plausible.  Told first person from Judas’ perspective, rooted in it is an interesting and timely read considering flawed factions and misguided zeal today. 

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers, Nonfiction, 2019 

What an interesting book I would never have read without its placement on my Book Club’s list!  While I vaguely remember that coffee was discovered when goats returned to their giddy newborn antics after eating certain bean, I didn’t remember this happened in Yemen.  At the beginning, the book feels like it is an immigrant story, then morphed into a page-turning survival story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali trying to get the first Yemen coffee beans to America in the middle of civil war.  Put this book of perseverance, initiative, high-drama and unbelievable success on your Must Read list!


The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray 2021, Historical Fiction

Dray takes Lafayette’s French chateau as the connection of  three women in three different historical periods.  Adrienne is the political savvy and unfailing wife of American Revolutionary hero and subsequent leader in the French Revolution we simply know as Lafayette. Beatrice Chandler is an American socialite who becomes the driving force to transform the deserted chateau into a home for orphaned or displaced children of French WWI’s military families. Marthe Simone is a French teacher and hopeful artist who is drawn into Nazi resistance in an unexpected intrigue. As the threads of these three women’s pursuits are woven together, we learn more than most of us knew about the great love story and the personal cost of the Marquis de Lafayette and his contribution to American and French democracy. A fascinating and often gripping read.


Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, 2020


Katherine May widens our understanding of “wintering” to mean a season of isolation, intense growth, or life change.  She urges us to embrace rather than resist the winter season in life.  Illustrations from extreme winter Nordic communities share interesting insights.  However, be aware that this author leans toward an existentialist, secular, new age mind set.  Still, I picked up some interesting ways to “winter” for growth and self-care.


Don’t Overthink It by Anne Bogel, Nonfiction, 2020 

This book as bee on my TBR list since I heard the author on a podcast. With simple principles, personal illustrations, and all too familiar examples of daily overthinking, Anne leads the reader to better decision making without second-guessing everything.  She’s pointed, practical, and principled.  She talks less about productivity and more about removing stress and adding more joy to everyday life.  Side note:  She’s also the author of the very popular book selection email The Modern Mrs. Darcy and a podcast interviewing authors from a variety of genres. Check out her website

East of Eden by John Steinbeck, Fiction, 1952 

Pulitzer Prize winner John Steinbeck set out to recreate a story paralleling the story of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. That’s what interested me.  Steinbeck weaves a tangled plot involving two brothers Aaron and Caleb and their choices.  As he chronicles a slow, desperate, and often depraved unraveling, he shows how individual choice determines destiny more than fate.  Themes range from love, betrayal, identity, and what happens when love is withheld. The story is as brutal as it is masterful, but be warned; it isn’t for the faint of heart. 


The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff, Historical Fiction, 2007, Book 1

Just married Emma begins her new life as the Nazi’s invade Poland. When her husband joins the resistance movement, German-speaking Emma is secreted out of her Jewish ghetto to Kradow and given a gentile identity. She become personal assistant to the Kommandant.  His interest in her is more than professional and leads Emma to make choices her Jewish faith did not prepare her for. What follows is a story of intense drama, loss, love, betrayal without losing hope.

The Diplomat’s Wife by Pam Jenoff, Historical Fiction Book 2, 2008

This story is a spinoff of Jenoff’s first book about Emma and the Kommandant.  Marta was a friend of Emma, also serving in the resistance.  While the war is over, espionage is not.  Through a heart-breaking sequence of events, Marta finds herself pregnant and alone in London after the war.  When a job for a British diplomat opens, she takes it.  But there is more to her job than translating reports.  Another page-turner, Marta also must make choices without knowing their outcome.  What ensues is a story of twists and turns and surprises that makes for a fast and memorable read.


The Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michelle Richardson, 2022, Historical Fiction

When Honey Lovett’s parents were arrested because blue-skinned people were forbidden to marry to eradicate this genetic abnormality, Honey was on her own. Honey survived barely until she was hired for the same job her mother had, taking library books to the people of Troublesome Creek.  When the legal and social system sought to steal Honey’s independence and place her in a reform facility, Honey would fight the most important opponent to her life: containment of her strong and competent spirit. This book is more than a celebration of the pioneer spirit, it is a rich ovation to the human spirit.


The Wonder Years by Geraldine Brooks, Historical Fiction, 2002

When the plague invades the English village of Derbyshire in 1666, the village self-quarantines to stop its spread.  As the pestilence reaches into every family to change lives forever, Anna Firth leads us through a story of devastating loss from an uncontrollable enemy. This is a dark story of death compounded with its uninformed search for answers from all the wrong places.  While it is based on the true story of Eyam, the truth of it shares little comfort until the very end.  Choose this story for its historicity and emotive writing and you won’t be disappointed.

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All She Left Behind by Jane Kirkpatrick, Historical Fiction, 2017

Jenny Picket knew the healing power of oils and herbs, but she really wanted to be a doctor.  However In 1870 in Oregon, only a few women were accepted into medical school. A difficult marriage, becoming a mother, and trying to hold her family together destroyed any hope of becoming a doctor.  Then , in an unexpected twist, Jenny not only finds love again but also an open door to her dream.  However, to embrace them both, she had to let go of the preconceptions that held her captive.  Based on a true story, just like the many other stories Kirkpatrick weaves, the story will leave you with indefatigable hope


Love’s Sacred Song by Mesu Andrews, Biblical non-fiction, 2012

I returned to a Mesu Andrews’ novel for an easy read on a recent trip.  It is the story of Solomon and his Shunamite wife. I was attracted to the storyline Mesu created using Arielah, a shepherdess given to Solomon as a “treaty bride” and becomes the love of his life and the inspiration for Song of Solomon.  At the heart of all Andrews’ novels is her extensive research. It was an intriguing read that sent me back to scripture more than once.


Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith, Fiction.  2002

This was my second read for a recent trip.  Alexander McCall is the author of the popular “No. 1 Ladies Detective Society” stories.  In this early installment, the still-new entrepreneur Precious Ramotswe accepts a marriage proposal with a very original engagement present.  We shadow Precious and her secretary, Grace, as they solve cases that have emotionally trapped their clients.  With an emphasis on ethical choices and a large dose of common sense, you may agree with me, could use a No. 1 Detective Society where we live!

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, 2022, Fiction (Pulitzer Prize Winner)

This is a magnificent, arresting, depressing, brutal read that loosely parallels the Dicken’s story of David Copperfield.  Damon Fields is quickly nicknamed Demon and Copperhead comes from his red hair.  Nothing goes right or easy for the boy born to an addicted teenage mother in Appalachia.  When his mother dies, he struggles in the broken foster system.  Then, Demon discovers opioids and finds escape as well as community. How he finds his way through is the only redeeming quality of this slide through darkness.  This book is not for everyone.  The language, sex, and depravity is unrelenting. But Kingsolver is the heroine of this story—making us see the underneath of a world we don’t want to see and doing it with an eloquence that is as stunning as it is tragic.


The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese, Historical Fiction, 2023

I was mesmerized by the intricacy of A Cutting for Stone and feared this new book might not hold the standard.  But I was wrong.  Covenant is a well-crafted weaving of a generational story that takes place in India.  Here is what Amazon editor All Woodworth describes it: “the novel follows three generations of a family that are bound by a uniquely disquieting truth: in every generation, at least one family member will drown. And, because it’s Verghese, it’s not just a humble story of life and death, it’s a resounding and astounding, intimate and expansive, story of how cultural, social, and racial politics play out in the lives of wives, doctors, artists—many of whom are orphans—striving to find home and purpose in a world that is ever-shifting and ever-dangerous. The Covenant of Water is an entirely magnetic read that you won’t want to end.” 


Hamnet by Maggie O’Ferrell, Historical Fiction, 2020

Hamnet is the story of the 11-year-old twin who dies too early in England in 1580.  What is notable is that the name Hamnet was used interchangeably with Hamlet and his mother is the Anne  Hathaway, wife of William Shakespeare, though she is called Agnes as it was found in her father’s will.  O’Ferrell uses sparse historical details and casts a story about grief and loss and the possible artistic fodder it became for a young playwright in London.  But it is more than a historical piece of fiction.  Her prose is mesmerizing.  Her weaving of the minimal details into a magnificent and heart-wrenching story is phenomenal.  


Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt, Fiction, 2022

This is a book about unlikely friendship, an unsolved mystery, and unmet needs.  How it involves an octopus named Marcellus, is the genius of this story.  Through the deft writing and creative storytelling of Shelby Van Pelt, this debut novel was satisfying, intriguing, and sensitive.  Tova cleans the aquarium at night and talks to the ever-listening-always silent Marcellus.  When  a fall keeps Tova from work and a young man appears at the aquarium looking for work and his father, another unexpected friendship emerges that will change both their lives.

Jacqueline in Paris:  A Novel by Ann Mah, Historical Fiction, 2022  

When Jackie Bouvier traveled to Paris to in 1949 to take her junior year of college abroad, she entered a year that would become one of the most formative years of her life. Using extensive research and interviews, Ann Mah reconstructs an emotional history of this year that was a year of freedom and all things French. It was a time of CIA spies, jazz clubs, museums, theater, and the threat of Communism everywhere.  This one year shaped her, matured her, dazzled her, and may well have been the best year of her popularized and tragic life.  Note:  I listened to this as audio book and didn’t have to struggle with all the French phrases.


The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece by Tom Hanks, Fiction, 2023 

I have already decided to read anything Tom Hanks writes.  I like his detailed style and the pictures his words draw for me.  He uses an overwhelming cast of characters that admittedly, are hard to keep straight.  They include a returning WWII flame-throwing soldier, a young super-hero cartoonist, and movie people of all kinds and status.  What I enjoyed the most was his behind the scenes look at movie making.  And if you get the audio version as I did, Tom Hanks, himself, narrates his own story!


The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff, Historical Fiction, 2021 

Two young women in Krakow, Poland find themselves irrevocably linked during the German occupation of their homeland.  Sadie was a Jew whose family had gone into hiding in the sewer.  Ella was living with the only family she had left, a stepmother, who entertained Germans and not only socially.  When the two girls met by accident at the sewer grate, they formed a friendship that would put each in danger while at the same time saving them in strange and unexpected ways.  Pam Jenoff is a good storyteller whose stories haunt and inspire.

A Long Way Home by Lynn Austin, Historical Fiction, 2022

Two women, American Penny and Jewish German Gisela find their lives connected in this story of the effects of WWII and the way it changed and re-directed lives. Penny learns about the devastating war effects as her best friend, Jimmy, returns broken and in a deep and noncommunicative, suicidal depression. Penny embarks on a mission to find out what buried story has ravaged the mind of her friend. In the process she uncovers a story that brought Giesla and Jimmy together in mutual survival. What I appreciated the most from this book is the way Austin addressed the unanswered questions about how God could allow such inhumane brutality against the Jews. While no answer will ever settle the question, Austin makes crucial points I will not forget.

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff, Nonfiction, 2011, Pulitzer Prize

I read this book to prepare for our upcoming Nile River cruise through Egypt. This book didn’t disappoint. She lived as Queen of Egypt for 20 years, was a shrewd political player and not against using every advantage of her beauty and reputation to get what she wanted. It is true that she had romantic relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony with children to prove it.  However, here relationship often appeared as political as they were romantic. She was a woman before her time, with wealth and clout and saavy. After reading the historical account, I wonder why anyone thought her story needed any upgrades!

Ethel Rosenberg
I, Judas
Monk of Mokha
The Women of Chateau Lafayette
Don't Overthink It
East o Eden
The Kommandant's Girl
The Diplomat's Wife
The Book Woman's Daughte
The Wonder Years
All She Left Behind
Love's Sacred Song
Tears of the Giraffe
Demon Copperhead
The Covenant of Water
Remarkably Bright Creatues
The Making of Anothe Major Motion Pictue Masterpice
Jacqueline in Paris
Th Woman with th Blue Star
A Long Way Home
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