Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Find in catalogThis is a hard book to read. Not for the language; which  is rich and full and doesn’t fail in its desire to bring to mind a given scene in meticulous detail and imagery. Not for the weaving of the stories of the intertwined lives of the inhabitants of the small east Texas town of Liberty. Not for the poverty of means, but for the inability to look beyond one’s own existence to that of others, mired in unexamined history and tradition. The willingness to inflict unspeakable cruelty on folk, especially the very young, who are so terribly vulnerable. For those who manage to endure the journey there is a sense of returning rightness and realization of the goodness in the world that is possible.

It was worth it.

For all the tea in China by Sarah Rose

Find in catalogChina had the best tea; India grew opium. The British empire engaged in the commerce of both but wanted more. So England used trading ports ceded to it after the first Opium War to smuggle tea plants out of China to be grown in India, using newly devised “terrariums” as conveyances. The growth of this tea industry led to improvements in shipping (tea clippers then steamships through the Suez Canal); the discovery of how the Chinese could fire its porcelins at high temps that could hold boiling water; the boiling water used for tea (but not for coffee)could kill cholera that spread easily in crowded urban settings; the sugar that came from the Queens holdings in the Caribbean could be used to sweeten and add calories to the tea consumed by workers, who previously drank beer on their breaks. This and its mild stimulant effect was an aid to the efficiency and safety of the worker. And so one thing leads to another in a most unexpected way. The historical narrative draws the reader in and sustains interest through out the book. A most satisfying adventure.

Heaven is For Real: a little boy’s astounding story of his trip to heaven and back by Todd Burpo

This was a great read — encouraging, fun and real.

Reviewed by Susan

Iron Lake: a Cork O’Connor mystery by William Kent Krueger

This is the first of a series featuring ex-Sheriff “Cork” O’Connor, set in a very small town in rural Minnesota near the border with Canada. The brutal murder of the town’s influential Judge leads Cork, called upon by the mother of a youth who disappearance coincides with the death of the Judge, into a series of adventures in the frozen north. The cast is enriched by the local Ojibwe Indian tribe, with whom Cork shares a bloodline, as he simultaneously juggles the investigation and his own personal challenges involving the on-again off-again relationships with his wife and children, from whom he has separated. An absorbing read; briskly paced with a cast of interesting characters. Makes me look forward to further adventures with this character.

Reviewed by Susan

Out of Eden: an odyssey of ecological invasion by Alan Burdick

A year after the tsunami in Japan debris is washing up on the shores of the west coast. Why should we be concerned?

Alan Burdick is a science writer who writes for the general audience. This book is about the unintended consequences of accidentally introduced organisms. He starts with a brown tree snake which inadvertantly was introduced in the island of Guam by hopping a ride on a plane. Since it has no natural enemies in Guam, it proceeds to decimate the bird population, who heretofore had no natural enemies. The plunging numbers of birds allows populations of insects and smaller creatures upon which they fed to suddenly explode, creating problems all down the line. Organisms arriving on ocean flotsom can bear troublesome consequences. Fascinating read and very topical.

Reviewed by Susan

Mockingbird: a portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields

Really a fascinating read on the life of the shy and unconventional lady who was awarded the Pulitizer Prize for her first and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. After deciding to not follow in the footsteps of her father and sister in a law career; this “tomboy” left her small hometown in Alabama for the big city of New York in the 1940’s while still in her early twenties. She wanted to be a writer and did it her way. Of equal interest to me was the portrait of the rural south which gave her life and was inextricably woven into her book; as well as descriptions of the artists’ life in New York in a time of exciting creativity. I would highly recommend this enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Susan

Angela’s Ashes: a memoir by Frank McCourt

I really like this book because it is rags to riches.  With all odds against him, he succeeds!  Plus the audio book has the author as narrator, the best way to narrate a book.

Reviewed by Susan

Delia’s Tears by Molly Rogers

I recently finished, Delia’s Tears by Molly Rogers and was so moved and interested in the book that I wrote to Molly. I wanted to know more about her and her writing. I was inspired and informed and felt contemplative. I posted on FaceBook, tweeted and I think I may have posted on LinkedIn. I liked the book in a way I have not liked a book in my past reading. Mainly I read fiction with occasional nonfiction if the subject is related to art or self-reflection.

I told Molly that as a woman from immigrant German heritage, who grew up in southern Indiana during the first years of integration and I learned more from her book than I had imagined. I let her know I talked about it with my friends here in Oregon, several times because I kept thinking about the book and what it was telling me. I wrote to her about the impact on my understanding of race and US history with her carefully researched book about slavery and the ideas that held slavery in place in the US. And pleasantly Molly replied, “Thank you for your message – for taking the time to write and for your kind words. It means a lot to know people are not only reading Delia’s Tears, but getting something of value from the experience. Researching and writing the book certainly taught me a lot about the US – not only its history, but also why things today are so messed up, at least in part. Treating race as a clear and fixed biological category did not end with slavery.”

My entry into Delia’s Tears was spurred not by history, but by the hook of photography. The discovery of the forgotten daguerreotypes’ pulled my interest. Having worked as a photographer, studied the history of photography and loved the art of photography, I was drawn to the photograph on the cover. And I was rewarded as the reading was a wonderful, painful expansion and opening to ideas that bridged the gap of my Indiana history classes in the 50’s and 60’s and the reality of the legacy of slavery into today’s USA/world.

I learned and felt I understood as best I can what happened in my country in its beginnings and how those facts have come to be part of today. I highly recommend this book for adults and young adults.

Reviewed by Susan