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Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict

Historical Fiction, 2020

 Historically anchored, author Marie Benedict immerses us in Clementine’s thoughts and feelings by choosing first person voice.  We discover her fight for women’s vote, her tireless work to improve conditions during London’s blitz, how she edited her husband’s speeches and negotiation strategy.  I was especially fascinated in the meeting with Eleanor Roosevelt and how it influenced Eleanor’s work in America and beyond.  But what motivated Clementine Churchill?  Was it love or ambition? No matter how you answer that question after reading the book, you will know more about the woman behind one of the leading political forces during a volatile time in world history.

 
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Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan

Historical Fiction, 2021

This is the little known story of the sinking of the steam ship Pulaski on its fourth journey 180 years ago. The Pulaski loaded 186 passengers for the two-night trip to Baltimore.  Often called the Titanic of the south, 128 adults and children lost their lives either in the explosion or from taking one of the 4 not so seaworthy life boats or not surviving the 5 day float without food or water before they found land. Only 58 survived.  The story itself draws you in, but Patti Callahan does more.  She builds a believable contemporary story around the historical one that helps readers take an even deeper look a “surviving survival.” She handles her alternating contemporary and historical seamlessly and with helpful storytelling movement. Her writing is rich and textured but not overdone. This book shares an inspiring story to remind us that we are not pawns of fate but the sum of the choices we make no matter what tragedy comes to change whatever we expected.

 
 
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The Artist's Way  by Julia Cameron, Non-fiction, 2016

 

Julia Cameron is a respected screenwriter but is just as respected for her work in helping creatives develop their artistic side. She writes about it from the belief that God is the first and great Creative who has endowed all of us with a creative center. The Artist’s Way is a 12 week recovery initiative for any creative. Don’t think you can up your creative game just by reading this book. She requires that we commit to key weekly and daily practices.  She shares exercises and tasks that either uncover what blocks creative or helps draw it out.  I don’t think I have ever been as challenged or inspired! 

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In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick, Non-fiction, 2000

 

Most know the story of Moby Dick the giant sperm whale and  the mad revenge of Ishmael against the mammal.  Few know the true story of the sinking of the whaleship Essex by an attack by a whale who could have been Moby Dick’s relative.  Nathaniel Philbrick writes a page-turning, hair-raising retelling of this story that is brilliant.  He not only tells the story brilliantly, he laces it with historical and scientific fact so seamlessly, you never skim past it. Spoiler alert:  the 20 men who left the sinking ship in 3 whale boats must make repulsive choices to stay alive for 90 days and only a few survive.

 
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Jennifer Chiaverini has always written stories with history.  Now she delves deeper to tell even more history with her story.  Based on the true story of Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, born a slave who built her dress-making business so that she could buy her freedom.  Her work was so good, she became the preferred seamstress for the elite of Washington D. C. When the Civil War split the country, Elizabeth or Lizzie as she was known, stayed and became the personal seamstress and trusted friend to Mrs. Lincoln.  While it reads like a biography, it is an engaging read, especially when it tells the heartbreaking story of what happens when a publisher convinces Lizzie to tell her story.   

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini, Historical Fiction, 2013

 

Margery Benson knows more about beetles than the children she teaches in London in the 1950’s.   She had almost forgotten her dream to find the gold-winged beetle her father had told her about until a humiliating classroom experience helped her re-imagine her life with an expedition to New Caledonia to find the elusive golden beetle. What follows is a story about an unexpected friendship between the staid and reserved Miss Benson and the blond-haired beauty Enid Pretty she hired as her assistant.This was the most enjoyable read I’ve had in a long time.   Rachel Joyce knows how to take you on a journey and fill it with heartache, humor, and hope. If you need a page-turner that will keep you guessing  about what these ladies will do next, this your next read.

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce, Fiction, 2020

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Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall, Fiction, 2019

Two couples and their faith journeys intermingle to bring each person to new understandings in the middle of what life throws at them.  They meet in Greenwich when the two men are called to co-pastor the Third Presbyterian Church. It’s not the unusual storyline that drew me. It was Cara’s writing and her fierce, cliché-free writing about faith journeys.  The book caught my eye when Jenna Bush Hager called it a favorite.  Don’t expect the storylines to finish like well-tied bows.  Expect to learn something about authentic faith and the processes that grow them.

 
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Unmute by Lauren Sergy, Non-fiction,  2021

Lauren Sergy, a communication and public speaking specialist, has written a humor-filled and tremendously helpful book on Zoom conferencing.  She covers everything from how to establish good eye contact, select simple backgrounds, how to address crosstalk and keep Zoom meetings pointed and productive. I learned so much and enjoyed the humorous way she presented it.  If Zoom is a part of your business life, this short read is a must.

 
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The Great Alone by Kristah Hannah, Fiction, 2018

A family of three decide to start over in a remote part of Alaska where nothing they learned in any part of rustic America defined success.  But running away only hides dysfunction for a a while.  When the PTSD Vietnam vet continues to explode with anger and his wife continues to excuse and rationalize his abuse, daughter, Lenny, is caught in the love-hate triangle of dysfunction become more dangerous than anything Alaska could offer. The story Hannah tells is a page-turner of danger, desperation, first-love, lost hope and reclaimed dream.  This book drained me in a way that good writing and exceptional storytelling does.  It will always remind me that aloneness is a bane or a blessing, depending on what you don’t want to face.

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Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks, Short Story Fiction, 2017

While we know Tom Hanks as an Oscar winning actor, he adds intelligent writer to his biography.  Tom uses his love for typewriters (he collects them) as the common thread.  But the typewriter is only a walk-on character because the stars of each story are the people. Tom takes simple people and builds a complex and layered story with unexpected beauty.  There is a reporter on assignment, a young boy who gets an airplane ride, a divorcee in a new neighborhood, a time traveler, and much more. I listened to the audio version whichTom narrates..  But I also plan to read them one day because I want to appreciate the skill by which these were written.