Saturday, November 26, 2016

The long promised and late delivered book post:

It's been awhile since I did a book post, even though I promise one in just about every post this year.  My apologies.....just that: an apology, no excuse.

I read a lot.  Last night I finished my 59th book of 2016.  Much of what I read is well covered in popular fiction and nonfiction categories, but I do read some little known items that I come across.  It seems that it would be good to share with you some of those little known works so you can ferret them out for yourselves.

First on my list of little known but well loved books from this year is The Bowl With Gold Seams (Amazon link) by Ellen Prentiss Campbell.  This book piqued my interest when a fellow book club member recommended it because it is a piece of WWII historical fiction that takes place about 40 miles from where I grew up.

The Bedford Hotel located in Bedford Springs, Pa. is the setting for this re-imagination of actual events during WWII when a down on it's luck historic hotel was used first as a training facility for inductees into the navy, then later as an internment camp for the Japanese Embassy delegation captured during the fall of Berlin.

The story is told by Hazel Shaw, an imagined woman from Bedford Springs as the country entered WWII.  As a recent high school graduate, her clerical skills gain her the position as secretary to the man placed in charge of the hotel's internment activities by the State Department.  During that time Hazel's father dies, and she is widowed when her high school sweetheart husband is killed in the war. In her emotional turmoil she befriends one of the Japanese families interred at the hotel and mentors their adolescent daughter.

Much later when faced with a moral dilemma as a head of Quaker academy, she attends a conference and meets the woman she had supported as an adolescent.

The bowl with gold seams which gives title to the book refers to a piece of kintsugi pottery, which is porcelain bowl intentionally broken then mended with a golden glue.  The resultant piece is revered as more beautiful and more valuable than the original....what is broken becomes more beautiful.

Hazel has a such a bowl on her mantel in her adult home, it's provenance provides the story of Hazel's involvement with the Japanese family.  It also serves as a metaphor for one of the many themes in the story.

The language is beautiful, the complex characters are well drawn with keen psychological insight. And the story reveals to us a forgotten chapter of WWII history.
The Bedford Hotel is a real place, closed for about 30 years, it is now reopened as a luxury hotel.
I'm surprised that this book has not received more attention.

Second on this list is Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash (link to Washington Post review).  This is the third Ron Rash book I've read.  His writing is placed firmly in southern Appalachia and his use of language invites you to be immersed in this world.

Above the waterfall is the pristine place where the treasured and dwindling brook trout live.  The primary characters in the novel are Les, a soon to be retired small town sheriff, and Becky, an emotionally damaged park ranger.  The chapters alternate between the two voices, with Becky's chapters being closer to poetry than prose.  They are two lonely people, struggling to deal with haunted pasts.

The story is a bit of a "who dunnit" when the waters above an elite resort are poisoned, killing the environmental disaster as well a financial one for the resort.  Entwined in the story is meth addiction & production, elder & child abuse and neglect, coming to terms with one's past, suffering and redemption.

I admit to reading this story about the same time I got sucked into the Longmire series on Netflix.  Les and Walt Longmire share similar characteristics including a receptionist/dispatcher named Ruby.  I haven't read any of Craig Johnson's Longmire series so can't compare the writing between the two authors.

The third book, Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert, is historical fiction and is likely to be eclipsed by the recent nonfiction release Eleanor & Hick by Susan Quinn.  I haven't read the latter, so can't offer a fair comparison.  What I can say is that this is a story worth knowing about.  First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was an amazing lady who did an enormous amount of work in the area of social justice during her husband's political life and after his death.  Her relationship with Lorena Hickok, as well as other questionable intimate relationships outside of her marriage, reveal a woman who was emotionally starved most of her life.  That she exhibited such strength and character in her public life is truly amazing to me.

The next book I would recommend is a National Book Award Finalist, so does not fit my little known category.  But it is certainly one of my best loved books:  News of the World by Paulett Jiles (link to NYT review...which references Ron Rash..imagine that!)  I'll spare you my review.  But I will tell you that I was thoroughly charmed by both Captain Kidd and little Johanna and found myself cheering them on through their adventures across Texas.

In case you are wondering, the 59th book completed last night was The Wonder by Emma Donaghue (link is to my LibraryThing review)


  1. Thanks for the recommendation on Bowl with Golden Seams. I haven't heard of it but have read a number of books on the Japanese internment on the West Coast. One I still remember well is a nonfiction called Gaza Gaza Girl Goes to Camp written recently by an artist who was interned. She includes images of some of her art. I just added your book to my GoodReads "to read" list - thanks!

  2. Another nice list and just at the right time. Could I be finishing up on every one of the Robin Hobbs fantasies? Why yes, I could be. ;-)
    News of the World sounds right up my alley. The interview on NPR last weekend piqued my interest in The Underground Railroad too.
    Happy holidays Valerie!

  3. I love book recommendations! And my Mom grew up just east of Bedford in Everett, so there's a geographical connection, too. She graduated from high school in 1946, so would have been more-or-less aware of what was happening then - I look forward to asking her about it.


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