Tuesday, April 07, 2015

10 Books on Tuesday

It's been awhile since I've posted about books and Carole has provided the opportunity to catch up on that with the last 10 books read.

With the start of WWI being 100 years ago, it seems that WWI related books abound.  I started reading a lot of WWI nonfiction back in August 2014....I guess you could call it commemorative reading.  Since then it seems like WWI books are chasing me down.  The first 5 books on my list fall into that category:

1.  An Officer and A Spy by Robert Harris is an historical fiction account of the Dreyfuss Affair in France from 1894 through about 1905 in the voice of Colonel Piquard.  Piquard gained a post as the head of military intelligence as a reward for his participation in the court martial of Alfred Dreyfuss.  Once inside the intelligence machinery, he doubts the validity of the evidence used against Dreyfuss and believes that he has found the real spy who gave information to the Germans.  The story is critical in understanding anti-semitism in France and Germany at the end of the 19th century.  It also helps the reader to understand how the Franco-Prussian War in the 1870's was never really resolved and provided tinder to fuel WWI.

2. Dead Wake by Erik Larson is a narrative nonfiction account of the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915....the 100th anniversary of the sinking will be on May 7.  If you're familiar with Larson's work (Devil in the White City, In the Garden of the Beasts, Thunderstruck....)  this work does not deviate from his excellent research and story telling.  I found it engrossing to read about what was going on in the German submarine, the British Intelligence Service, the White House of Woodrow Wilson, as well as on the Lusitania.

3. Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear is the first Maisie Dobbs mystery that I've read.  The mystery series is shaped by the aftermath of WWI.  Maisie is part psychologist, part investigator who has her own business as a detective in London.  This story had me hooked and I went back to read the first in the series:

4. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear.  Not sure how this series has been around for 10 years before I found it.  The author's relationship to WWI can be read about here.  I like the writing and the attention to detail (dress, cars, living arrangements) that are true to the era.  This would make a great BBC mystery series...think Downton Abbey costuming.

5. Mr. Mac and Me by Esther Freud is the story of 12 year old Thomas Maggs, a boat drawing son of a pub owner on the Suffolk coast of England.  One day a mysterious figure in a dark cape, smoking a pipe, appears on the beach and Thomas begins to spy on him.  That figure is Charles Rennie Mackintosh, or Mac as he is referred to in much of the story.  Just as friendship begins to emerge between Thomas and Mac, war is declared with Germany.  The story is one of the homefront during a brutal war told from the eyes of a 12 year old boy.  It provides an oblique view of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and is fueled by the fact that he did spend time in this region during the time period covered.  I'm a fan of "The Mackintosh Style" which is what drew me to the book.....and there I was right back at WWI.

6. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast is a graphic novel by the New Yorker cartoonist that tells the story of dealing with her aging mother and end of life issues.  Well done but not a happy story.

7. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.  This was recommended to me by a friend who is dealing with a brain tumor.  I am so glad that I read it and have pushed my husband into reading it as well.  PBS did a Fronline episode with the author.  I highly recommend both.  Again, not happy reading, but a good conversation starter for some very difficult topics.

8. Lila by Marilynne Robinson  This is the third of the Gilead series of stories by the author, but it is very good as a stand alone novel.  Lila is a character that appeared in the previous two books, but very little about her is revealed in those books.  This story is entirely about her.  The story begins with a young child who is locked out and crying on a front porch when a woman comes along and snatches her away.  The child is Lila, the woman is her rescuer, Doll.  The two become attached to a group of migrant workers who struggle through the dust bowl and depression until times become too hard for that group to hold together.  By then Lila is an adult and sets out on her own finding day labor where ever she can.  While living in an abandoned shack she meets Reverend John Ames, a much older man.  A complex love story ensues.  Beautifully written, slow and painful at times, it is well worth the praise it has been given.

9.  Burial Rites by Hanna Kent.  I don't remember how I came across the book, but it was a great find.  The story is based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir who was convicted of killing her employer in Iceland in 1828.  While awaiting execution orders to be ratified in Finland, she is interred on an isolated farm with a family who serve as her death-row custodians.   As part of her confinement, Agnes is to have spiritual direction of a clergyman.  This is a reluctant young pastor whom she has requested.  I loved the story and the textile processing tidbits added to my enjoyment.

10. Montana 1948 by Larry Watson  Told from the viewpoint of (yet another) 12 year old boy, this beautifully written novel tells the story of a year in the life of a Montana sheriff's family that would forever change their life and their relationships with their own family. The story is told through the eyes of the sheriff's son as he remembers events later in life.  It deals with bigotry, injustice, and the misuse of power by the privileged over less fortunate people.  It is really more of a novella and  was originally published in 1993, but is our book group discussion book this week.

So, those are my most recent 10 books.  Am looking forward to clicking around to see what others are reading.


  1. I found Being Mortal a contemplative, thoughtful, and necessary read and will have to search out the Frontline episode. I also loved Burial Rites, and will add Dead Wake and Lila to my list based on your excellent recommendations. Thank you!

  2. I love Maisie Dobbs, there is a new one out that I can't wait to read. I did not care too much for her book the Care and Management of Lies. Just didn't get the point of it.

  3. THANKS FOR your thoughts and reviews. I might check out Dead Wake for my husband to read.

  4. I completely agree with you about Burial Rites! It was so struck by the sparse, stark, austere setting and was amazed that the family could survive those conditions. Great read!

  5. As always Valerie, SUCH a heavy reading for the most part. :-) I've read Maisie Dobbs and my mother loves the mysteries. Dead Wake is on my Kindle. Otherwise I'm being a serial reader of Paul Doherty mysteries right now. A guilty pleasure and not too heavy at all.

  6. Great list! I wish I had read Being Mortal, or that it would have been available, when I was caring for my mother at the end of her life. I've heard of Maisie Dobbs - want to follow up on that. I bought Dead Wake at Costco and I just started Burial Rites this morning! I'll come back to this list - thanks!!


tie in the loose ends...