The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel (Books to Read During a Pandemic, Part 19)

Hilary Mantel is an impressive writer and she proves this again in The Mirror and the Light, the last book in her series on Thomas Cromwell. It was such a strange experience to move from a very negative and antagonistic view of Thomas Cromwell before I started this series to that of being sympathetic to him and mourning his inevitable death under Henry VIII. That Mantle was able to evoke such emotions and inspire sympathy for such a man is truly a sign of a good writer!

In this last book of the series that began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, we find Cromwell at he peak of his power and influence. After his efforts to find a way for Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn and then devising a path to annul the marriage to Anne and execute her for infidelity, Cromwell arranges for Henry to marry Lady Jane Seymour. Although the marriage seems to be a pleasant one, it is short lived as Jane soon dies in childbirth. Soon the political machinations on who the king should marry begin again, and Cromwell is in the thick of it trying to stop the Duke of Norfolk among others from getting the upper hand. Meanwhile he begins negotiating for the hand of Anne of Cleves, an alliance that would give Henry a more powerful position visa vis the Emperor and the Pope.

What is unclear during this time is whether Cromwell simply lets down his guard because he believes his relationship with the King makes him invulnerable or whether he has simply become less able to read the complex desires of the King. In either case he clearly misjudges the animosity that he has created among the noble class, with his meteoric rise to power, wealth and influence and he is soon fighting for his life.

For those who love history these books are a wonderful exploration on the limits of power and the ways in which we lie to ourselves about the evil we do. Mantle’s Cromwell is both enigmatic and vulnerable. He desires power, but he dislikes its use. He seems bold and fearless in his actions and yet he regrets the things he does. Mantles’ Cromwell is much more complicated and nuanced than the Cromwell I learned about in history class and I think when we can see historical figures in a larger context and with more nuance we are more likely to see ourselves in the mirror.

Brenda’s Rating: ***** (5 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to Sharon, Marian and Keith.

Book Study worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format.

 

 

 

Posted in Books to Read During a Pandemic, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Spiritual | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Second Sleep by Robert Harris (Books to Read During a Pandemic, Part 18)

Robert Harris is an author that never fails to inform and entertain me. He is known for his historical books, like Imperium, which is about ancient Rome or Fatherland, which is about Nazi Germany, but The Second Sleep shows a new side to Harris as this is a completely fictional book and not based on any particular historical time or historical figure. Yet Harris’ skills of making his characters come alive, and his attention to detail and context are fully utilized, making this a truly enjoyable read!

Christopher Fairfax is on his way to a remote village in Exmoor to conduct the funeral service of Father Lacy, a fellow priest. Lacy had been in this remote parish for many years and although there had been some small little scandal and a whiff of heresy early in his career, Lacy had quietly and diligently served his parishioners. Fairfax, who has never yet conducted a funeral service himself was surprised when the Bishop tasked him to do this but feels a sense of excitment to be finally be able to do the work for which he has been called.

When Fairfax finally arrives at the village, wet and cold from the rain, he is invited by Agnes, Father Lacy’s, housekeeper, and her daughter Rose to stay in in the vicarage until he has performed the service for Father Lacy. His room is Father Lacy’s study and soon Fairfax is examining strange artifacts, of glass and bones and other items as well as Lacy’s diaries. Fairfax soon realizes that Lacy was involved in deeply heretical activities, excavating and collecting artifacts from ancient times and that his death may have been somehow related to these activities.

Trying to find out more about Father Lacy’s activities, and the mystery surrounding his death, Fairfax enlists the help of Lady Durstan and Captain Hancock as well as Agnes and Rose. But each step forward in trying to solve the mystery, creates more internal conflict for Fairfax as he wrestles with how the truth he is uncovering directly contradicts with church doctrine and all he has been taught about the past.

Gripping, with many surprising and twists and turns that keep you glued to the end, this is just the beginning of a new series by Harris so stay tuned for the next installment!

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out 0r 5 Stars)

Recommend this Book to: Marian, Ken and Keith

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Adventure, Books to Read During a Pandemic, Fiction, Mystery, Series, Suspense | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon (Books to Read During a Pandemic, Part 17)

As I have mentioned previously, I have been very reluctant to read any books by new authors during this pandemic, sticking instead to those who I know are reliable. But recently, either because of Amazon’s seductive emails offering discount prices or because I am getting bored, I have been reading a few new authors. Amy Harmon is one of them and her book, What The Wind Knows makes me glad to have stepped  out of my comfort zone and tried something new!

Anne Gallagher, an author who lives and works in New York, has just lost her grandfather. He had promised that one day he would take her with him back to Ireland, the land he had left when he was eighteen. But somehow the right time never seemed to arrive and now that he has passed away, it is clear that she must take his ashes back to his village in Ireland and scatter them on the lough nearby.

When she arrives in the small village she is amazed at how much she knows about the village from the stories her grandfather told her. Soon after she settles in, Anne takes a small rowboat out onto the lough to scatter her grandfather’s ashes. The day is bright and sunny but a heavy fog seems to move in over the water and soon Anne can’t see anything. Just when she is about to panic she hears voices and sees another boat coming towards her. When she cries out, one of the men sees her and shoots and the next thing she remembers is being hauled to shore by a man she does not know and a boy who looks vaguely familiar. Wounded, she is taken to the manor house she remembers seeing before, but the house looks newer and is furnished quite differently. By the time she fully regains consciousness, she realizes that she has somehow slipped back in time to the Ireland of 1921.

Because she looks exactly like a woman named Ann Gallagher, who went missing in an uprising five years earlier, people just assume that she has returned to take care of her son who had been taken in by Dr. Thomas Smith, a friend to both Anne and her now dead husband. Not knowing how she managed to slip back in time to 1921, or how to get back to her own time, Anne tries to fit in as best she can and tries to keep the secret of her identity.

But theIreland of 1921 is a dangerous place, with calls for change to self governance and independence from England. Thomas is caught up in the political upheaval, and Anne gets caught up in it too, but she knows things she should not know and her seemingly prescient warnings soon bring suspicion and questions from Thomas and the leaders of the Irish uprising. As her feelings for Thomas and the young boy who regards her as his mother deepen, Anne realizes that she must decide whether to give up on returning to her old life and instead risk everything on a new life and a love she thought she would find. But is that a choice that is hers to make? Only the wind knows.

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian, Lauren and Sharon

Book Study worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Adventure, Books to Read During a Pandemic, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Romance | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Poppy War and the Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang (Books to Read During a Pandemic, Part 16)

Over the years I have read many fantasy books but I have never found a series that uses Asian history to such good effect as The Poppy War series by R.F. Kuang. Using 12th century China as a back drop, Kuang creates fascinating characters, includes magical and shamanistic powers and creates a world that is filled with intrigue, betrayal and danger.

Rin, is a war orphan from a impoverished district of the Empire. So it is a complete shock to everyone when she passes the Keju, the test that is given in order to gather the best and brightest to study at The Academies. That she was accepted into Sinegard, the elite military academy in Ninkan, is even more impressive. But sometimes even our dreams contain bitterness and Rin soon finds that her darker skin and lack of family connections, money or power, put her at a distinct disadvantage among this elite group of students.

Isolated and alone, Rin begins to regret the honor of attending Sinegard, until one of her teachers expresses an interest in her and under his tutelage she discovers vast sources of power within herself. As she focuses on her new powers and begins to understand their vast and lethal potential and their place in the shamanisitc traditions of her people, Rin understands both the burden and potential in this gift from the Phoenix god.

Her power, though is not just her own, and Rin must contend with various powerful forces who want to use her for their own political ambitions. Additionally, Rin herself becomes afraid of the power that she holds and her inability to control it safely and as a result becomes dependent on opium as a way to manage her power. As Rin negotiates the political minefields that surround her, she must also learn who to trust and how to trust in herself.

Kuang is skillful in developing both the the characters, and the plot lines in unexpected  ways. Rin is a flawed hero, a reluctant actor on an unfamiliar stage. She becomes a leader, but does not know how to lead, and she is constantly afraid of her power and her inability to control it.  Yet she is brave, and kind, and she remembers what it is like to be poor and have no power and those lessons stay with her and help guide her along this treacherous new path. For those of us who are not familiar with 12th century Chinese history, the myriad twists and turns of political power and treachery all add to the complicated and suspenseful plotllines. The final book in this series is coming out in November and I am really looking forward to see how this story ends!

Brenda’s Rating:****(4 Out Of 5 Stars)

Recommend these books to: Lauren and Ken

Book Study worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format.

 

 

Posted in Adventure, Books to Read During a Pandemic, Fantasy, Fiction, Series, Suspense, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Books To Read During a Pandemic, Part 15)


Young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist, lives in a rambling old manor house with her father and two older sisters, their mother having passed away quite tragically when Flavia was quite young.  Their father, dealing with both the loss of his wife and the downturn of his financial fortunes after WWII, is mostly absent minded or neglectful of his children, while still trying to maintain some semblance of the family’s past glory and influence.

So when Flavia finds a bird with a postage stamp pinned to its beak, she is intrigued, but it never crosses her mind to enlist her father’s help. Then just a few hours later when she sees a man sprawled in the garden and sees him take his last breath, she is both appalled and delighted, because finally she has a murder and a mystery to solve.

Using her bicycle and her knowledge of the village Flavia quickly begins gathering information about the stranger who died in their garden. However, it soon becomes clear, that someone else is involved and seems to be trying to frame her father for the murder. Will Flavia be able to reveal the identity of the real murderer before it is too late?

This is the perfect book to pick up and read when you can’t stand another minute of the news! Flavia is a spunky, energetic and funny narrator, full of wonderful insights and yet innocent and childlike in many ways. Her passion for science and her belief in justice despite the rather toxic sibling rivalry with her sisters make her a complicated yet empathetic character. Like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Flavia, although considerably younger, is a keen observer of people and village life and Bradley uses those observations to carefully reveal each clue to this well-crafted mystery. Bradley has written a whole series starring Flavia de Luce so that means there are many hours of good reading ahead!

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to? Marian

Book Study Worthy? Sure!

Read in ebook format

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Books to Read During a Pandemic, Detective novel, Fiction, Mystery, Series, Suspense | Tagged | 2 Comments

Agent Running in the Field by John Le Carré (Books To Read During A Pandemic, Part 14)

John Le Carré has not lost his touch! This was a fascinating inside look into what it means to be a spy in the time of Brexit and Trump. As always, Le Carré creates characters that are interesting and complex and his plot lines are satisfyingly twisty and exciting.

Agent RunningNat, at 47, has had a satisfying, if not stellar career at MI6. After returning to England, having served years abroad, Nat has been tasked with heading up a small branch operation of London General called The Haven. It is a posting that one might expect when being put out to pasture; a nice quiet job to end a career. The people at The Haven reflect the fact that they are no longer on the frontlines and are just going through the motions.

Except for Florence. Florence is young, committed, driven and on a mission.  She has befriended a Russian oligarch’s mistress and is hoping that through her they can finally turn the oligarch, mine him for information and use him against Putin.

Nat, who worked in the Russia section for many years supports Florence and her initiative, shepherding her proposals through the labyrinth of MI6 bureaucracy and hopes that they will approve the mission and thereby turn his own career around.

In the meantime, Nat begins to get reacquainted with his family, reconnecting with his wife Pru, a barrister of some repute and his wonderful but difficult daughter. He also now has time to indulge in his other passion; badminton.

At his club, he meets a young man named Ed, who challenges him to play several matches. Nat is good, but Ed is a challenge and soon they are playing regular matches every Monday after work. Over beers, after their match, Ed and Nat slowly get acquainted. Ed works for some media company and although he is intense and socially awkward, Nat finds himself drawn to Ed and his idealism.

But is Ed who he says he is? Because suddenly it is innocuous, inconspicuous Ed who is drawing Nat, Florence and even Pru into a world of political intrigue and danger.  It will take all of Nat’s intelligence and covert operations experience, the support and cooperation of his wife, Prue. and his ability to gain Florence’s trust to get them out of this mess alive and without serious criminal implications.

This is the first novel I have read in which Trump, Brexit and other current events played a prominent role in the story. It is strange to see how our current reality looks when you read about it in a novel;  the chaos, the loss of American influence, the pettiness of Trump and how that trickles down through diplomatic channels with our closest allies. But Le Carré weaves these political realities into the storyline seamlessly, and that reality gives added credence to the entire plotline. He is able to hit that sweet spot between being exciting but not sacrificing character development for thrills.           Le Carré is truly a master storyteller!

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 Out Of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marain, Keith, Sharon and Ken.

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format from the Public Library.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Books to Read During a Pandemic, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Spy/Covert Operatives, Suspense, Thriller, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Transcription by Kate Atkinson (Books To Read During a Pandemic, Part 13)

Kate Atkinson is a good writer. She knows how to tell a good story, to form complicated and unexpected plot lines and create characters with depth and feeling and whose lives you care about. If you have not yet made her acquaintance, then you are in for some good reading, if you just haven’t read this book, then you need to get on it right away!

Juliet Armstrong was 18 when she was recruited by MI5. It was 1940 and everyone knew war was coming, they just didn’t know when.  At first Juliet didn’t really even know she was working for MI5, she was just transcribing audio recordings, but slowly she realized that the people who met with the undercover MI5 agent in the apartment next door were pro-German fascist sympathizers and as the weeks and months went by she began to understand that MI5 was monitoring these groups to make sure they were not agitators or spies. The work was tedious, hour after hour of mostly meaningless conversations that needed to be typed and then reviewed by her boss and then sent on into some file cabinet in MI5’s headquarters. Oh, there were a few moments when she was able to be more than a glorified typist, but in the end, when the war ended, it was a relief to put this part of her life behind her.

Ten years later, Juliet sees someone on the street who looks exactly like the MI5 agent whose voice she had transcribed over and over again and the memories of that time come flooding back. She now works as a producer of children’s radio programming at the BBC. Occasionally, over the years, she has been  asked to to do some small favors for MI5, but mostly she has been retired from that line of work. But the reappearance of that man triggers both fear and curiosity in Juliet and over the next few days she begins to realize that it was not a coincidence at all.  As Juliet tries to uncover what is happening, she realizes that although another war, dangerous and deadly, is being fought behind the scenes, her actions in the past might be more consequential than she could have ever imagined.

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 Out Of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian, Sharon and Keith

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format

 

 

Posted in Books to Read During a Pandemic, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Spy/Covert Operatives | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Books to Read During a Pandemic, Part 12)

When the current pandemic arrived, there were many “what to read in a pandemic” lists that circulated. Almost of all of them included this book by Emily St. John Mandel. It has taken me awhile to get up the nerve to read a book about a pandemic in the middle of a pandemic, but I finally did it and you should too!

51VY9i6ckiL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_This a story of intertwining lives, the courage and resilience it takes to  survive and a reminder that art, music and history are  the ways we remind ourselves of who we are.  Engaging but thoughtful, humorous yet profound this is a book that makes you grateful you read it.

On the night that the world ended, Kirsten Raymonde was waiting in Alex Leander’s dressing room for the cue to go on stage. Leander, a famous Hollywood actor, was playing King Lear and Kirsten, along with two other young girls were playing the ghosts of King Lear’s daughters, flitting and moving across the stage as Alex, as Lear, brooded on what his life had become. The end of the world came swiftly that night. Alex, on stage, collapsed midway through the play and although a man in the audience tried to save him, Alex was gone. By the end of the week many more had died in the pandemic that enveloped the world and in a month the power grid, electricity and the internet were gone and the world as they knew it had ended.

Fifteen years in the future, Kirsten is a member of a traveling band of musicians and actors called the Traveling Symphony.  Traveling in a small convoy of old trucks pulled by horses and mules, this small itinerant band goes from town to town, performing classical music and Shakespeare. Kirsten remembers little of that night when Alex died on stage, but she still has the comic books he gave her before going on stage. Entitled Station Eleven, it is a graphic novel about a space station in a post apocalyptic world. Somehow those books, drawn and written by Alex’s first wife, have become an important connection, a lodestone, to a life she barely remembers.

Interweaving the stories of Alex Leander, his best friend, his first wife and even the man who tried to save him on the night he died, we begin to see the the inexplicable and strange twists of fate that connect these individuals even now in a world that is struggling to be reborn.

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 Out Of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian. Lauren, Sharon and keith

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Educating Myself About Racism (Books to Read During a Pandemic, Part 11)

As a white woman I have been trying to educate myself about the inherent racism that is a part of our culture and society. As a third culture person (someone who grew up overseas and was immersed in a different culture for their formative years) it has been difficult for me to claim the racism of a culture I do not yet, even now, fully claim as my own, but from which I have benefited from immensely. Since I grew up overseas I am also aware that racism is not just a problem here in the US but it is a human problem, with racism appearing in many different forms throughout the world.

Racism, as we have seen in the past 11 days since the senseless and brutal murder of George Floyd and before that the deaths of many other black people at the hands of police or vigilantes is a systemic horror that must be exposed and excised from our society. Many of us who are white have had our head in the sand for far too long and in order to move forward we must own up to the benefits and the privilege that flows from this racism while opening our hearts and our minds to the harm, trauma and oppression of racism and the way it distorts and makes a mockery of our claimed values of equality and justice for all.

The following books are some that I have found helpful on my journey to understanding more fully how racism has played such a huge role in our society and the consequences of its unfettered and systemic toxicity on our black and brown sisters and brothers.

It is important to start at the beginning and hear the story of one of the last slaves who came to the US. Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo.” by Zora Neale Hurston is a chilling account, in his own words, of one of the last slaves brought into the United States. Eventually freed after the Civil War his life was forever changed by his experience. It will also forever change the way you think and feel about slavery and its dehumanizing effects.

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is a novel that follows one woman as she tries to escape the south and to find freedom. Her harrowing escape and Whitehead’s use of a real underground railroad as a metaphor for the escape routes slaves had to use to find freedom is memorable and thought provoking.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty is a complicated and cynical. In a town where the “haves” and “have nots” are clearly delineated by the color of their skin, our narrator decides to make changes by using unique and controversial tactics like re instituting slavery and segregation to bring about change for his black community. Winner of the Man Booker Prize this was a challenging and thought proviking book!

Greg Iles’ Natchez Burning, The Bone Tree and Mississippi Blood (The Natchez Burning Trilogy) is one of the most disturbing portrayals of systemic racism I have read. A mysterious series of crimes, corruption and murder consume the city of Natchez while its prosecutor tries to bring those who are instigating this criminal activity to justice.

These are just some of the books that have been a part of my own education. The NY Times just published An Antiracist Reading List which has more great books that I will be putting on my reading list!  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/books/review/antiracist-reading-list-ibram-x-kendi.html

If you haven’t yet begun your own antiracist education, I hope you will join me!

If you have already begun I hope you will share with us the books that have been most meaningful to you!

 

 

Posted in An Antiracist Education, Books to Read During a Pandemic | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Storyteller’s Secret by Sejal Bedani (Books to Read During a Pandemic, Part 10

Courage. Strength. Resilience. These are all words we are hearing more and more these days, but what they mean can look so different in different circumstances. Badani seems to instinctively know that and in this quiet but powerful book, she gives us many different examples of what it means to be courageous, strong and resilient.

After her third miscarriage, Jaya assumes that she and her husband will just try again, but this time her husband is reluctant and questions whether having a child is really all that important.  Shocked and devastated by his apparent indifference, and the fault lines it reveals about their  marriage, Jaya, persuades her editor to let her do a story about her family history and runs away to India.

Once Jaya arrives in the small village where her grandmother, Amisha lived, she is greeted by Amisha’s servant Ravi and is taken to the small home where her grandmother lived. Initially, Jaya is charmed by village life, with its simplicity. values and traditions but as Ravi begins to tell stories of her grandmother and the complicated and difficult life she led, Jaya realizes that there is a dark side to village life which caused her grandmother to make difficult choices which caused the deep rift and alienation between Jaya’s mother and her grandmother.

As Ravi tells the story of her grandmother, Jaya begins to realize that courage, strength and resilience can come in many different forms, and begins to understand that she too, must find those characteristics within herself and move forward in he own life.

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Lauren, Marian, Sharon and Keith

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format.

 

 

Posted in Books to Read for an Alsakan Cruise, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Prize Winner | Leave a comment