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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Booth by Karen Joy Fowler

    Like the author, I am often intrigued to learn the backstory and family history of people who kill. Why do they kill and what skeletons in their closet could possibly cause such violence. Fowler creates a remarkable novel of both facts and fiction about the family of the infamous John Wilkes Booth. Here is my book review Booth by Karen Joy Fowler.

    The Booth Family

    You are half way through this novel before John Wilkes Booth is even born. Though he will be a character in this book, the real story is much, much broader. Fowler looks at the instability of patriarch Junious Brutus Booth, the sad and sorrowful life of Mary his wife and their ten children.

    The story, though told from the view point of most of the individual family members, is notably narrated by eldest sister of Wilkes, Rosemary or Rose. Surprisingly, Fowler has the least amount of information to draw from in history about Rose. So most of the details about her invalid and spinster life is fictional. But as the eldest sister, she makes a perfect guide to chronicle her unique and tragic family.

    Family Ties

    If John Wilkes Booth was crazy, he came by it through his mercurial father. The siblings often in competition, both feared and loved their father, who was absent for long periods due to his life as a Shakespearean actor. Three of the brothers; Junius, Edwin and John would all become actors with Edwin being considered one of the premier actors of the era.

    The trials and tribulations of this family make a great story, long before anyone shoots Lincoln. Extreme poverty to wealth and prosperity are combined with unfathomable loss of of children and property, alcoholism and rivalry, illegitimate accusations, polygamy, egos and family love and regret. It’s all there to taunt the remaining family after Wilkes pulls the trigger.

    This is a fantastic novel about characters lost in history due to the vitriol that surrounds the most famous of them. Thank you for reading my book review Booth by Karen Joy Fowler.

    *****Five stars for Booth by Karen Joy Fowler.

    Read last week’s book review Horse by Geraldine Brooks

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Horse by Geraldine Brooks

    Yes this book is about a horse. In fact a real historical horse. But it is about so very much more. At the heart of this book, it is a story about racism in America past and present. I really loved it. Here is my book review Horse by Geraldine Brooks.

    Personally I am not a horse person, and the horse portrayed in this book called Lexington is not an animal I was familiar with. But if you are a horse person you might be aware of the historical lineage of Lexington. That in itself was a fascinating part of this book, but not the most fascinating to me.

    This beautiful novel follows three different storylines all connected to the Horse. First we meet Jarret in 1850 Kentucky. A Negro slave who becomes the groom to a bay foal. This relationship will form the base of the novel and follow Lexington and Jarrett and their owners through record-setting races, unimaginable profits and into the US Civil War.

    Next we meet Martha Jackson a New York City art gallery owner whose mother was an accomplished equestrian but died after a mishap on a horse. Martha becomes enamored with a painting that seems so familiar and yet how could it be?

    Finally, Washington DC 2019. Pre-pandemic and we meet Nigerian born Theo an art historian and Jess an Australian born scientist at the Smithsonian. Jess and Theo are unexpectedly thrown together when Theo finds a piece of artwork in a rubbish pile.

    I really enjoyed Brooks’ ability to connect multiple story lines to Horse – Lexington – both through amazing historical research as well as brilliant fictional development to build the plot. Throughout the book you will find both real life historical figures entwined with fictional ones, both human and equine.

    Using a thoroughbred horse to teach us lessons in racism is a brilliant play by Geraldine Brooks. I loved it. And learned a lot. Thank you for reading my book review Horse by Geraldine Brooks.

    *****Five stars for Horse by Geraldine Brooks

    Read last week’s book review Bewilderment by Richard Powers here

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Bewilderment by Richard Powers

    My first time reading Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Powers. His latest novel was definitely bewildering. Here is my book review Bewilderment by Richard Powers.

    Astrobiologist Theo is raising his unusual son Robin alone, after the somewhat mysterious death of his activist and biologist wife. The near future world they inhabit is a complex planet suffering from devastating climate change, ecological demise, and a tyrannical and egotistical President. Hmmm. Where have we heard this before?

    Robin is a troubled but talented boy, trying to understand the death of his mother, while worrying incessantly about the expiring planet. Theo decides to enroll Robin in an experimental treatment to help the angry child. The treatment is neurofeedback using corded memory patterns from his dead mother.

    The treatment turns Robin around, and in fact brings out his artistic and intellectual genius. Until the spiraling world means budget cuts and Robin no longer can receive the treatment. The boy begins to slip.

    This story has multiple themes of love and commitment, both to family and the planet and how choices and ignorance can kill not just the earth, but families, futures and everything we take for granted.

    It was truly bewildering. Thanks for reading my book review Bewilderment by Richard Powers.

    See last week’s book review French Braid by Anne Tyler.

    ****Four stars for Bewilderment.

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky

    History on the Half Shell

    Mark Kurlansky is a journalist who has worked as a correspondent all over the world. He also has written numerous books with vast and interesting themes. My husband read his book Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (published 1997). And then we both read Salt: A World History (published 2002. Fascinating. And now we found this book, while perusing the gift shop at the tenement museum in New York City. Here is my book review The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky.

    Why Oysters?

    Even if you aren’t a fan of oysters on your plate, you might still enjoy how this unique book takes the reader through hundreds of years of region we know today as New York City. The history of the shellfish is a marvelous vehicle to use to tell a historical tale.

    When the Dutch arrived the 1600’s the oyster was something they fed on both out of love and need. But long before, the Native’s also ate the mollusk, though more for enjoyment than sustenance as it takes a lot of oysters to create enough calories to sustain a man.

    As the city grew, so did the piles of left over shells, and it took more than a hundred years before any kinds of conservation efforts began. Of course the early settlers did not understand the important role the oysters played as a filtration system for clean water. By the time environmental awareness began in the 20th century the Hudson River and New York Harbor were a polluted mess and the oysters were gone.

    Delicious and Educational

    Kurlansky creates a book filled with cultural, culinary, religious, theatrical and historical information, including some fun recipes, as he guides the reading through the Big Oyster – History on the Half Shell.

    ****Four stars for The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky. I hope you enjoyed my book review The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky.

    See last week’s review of The Codebreaker by Walter Isaacson.

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson

    Jennifer Doudna is The Codebreaker. Walter Isaacson is the renowned author who can take her story and put it in lay terms we all can understand. Here is my book review The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson.

    The full title of this book is The Code Breaker Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing and the Future of the Human Race. My friend who is a librarian recommended this book to me. I listened to it on audible on a road trip. Though I might have gotten lost if I had been reading instead of listening to this book, which takes the reader through a fascinating history of gene editing. But I loved it as an audible book. Jennifer Doudna, Nobel Prize winner, along with a wide cast of other characters, are the brilliant and captivating scientists whose work has thrown open the door to gene editing.

    The decades of research and discoveries Doudna and her team, and many more teams around the world have done leading up to the current pandemic, were instrumental in developing tests for Covid. Their work will continue to impact the human race forever.

    Isaacon, whose list of books about intriguing people includes Steve Jobs, Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, da Vinci and others, is a talented and compelling writer. His knack for taking a difficult and deep subject and creating words and voices that are understandable and engrossing for the average person is remarkable. Everyone can learn something from The Code Breaker while realizing the human side of beguiling and competitive scientific developments.

    I learned so much from this book.

    *****Five stars for The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson. I hope you enjoyed my book review The Code Breaker by Walter Issacson.

    Read last week’s book review Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt.

    Check out our Reading Year In Review here for 15 of my favorite books of the past year.

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

    I had heard that this book was about, and from the point of view, of an octopus…but I didn’t know anything more. I assumed it was going to be about the life of an octopus in the sea. No. It was more about friendship and family. Here is my book review Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt.

    Remarkably Bright Creatures is the first book I’ve ever read where one of the main characters is an octopus…a remarkably bright Giant Pacific Octopus named Marcellus. Living in a small aquarium in a fictional small town in Washington State, this remarkably bright octopus just knows things about people…

    He knows how lonely and sad Tova Sullivan is…the woman who is the after hours janitor at the aquarium. Marcellus figures out that much of Tova’s loneliness is because of the death of her son under mysterious circumstances thirty years ago.

    Marcellus begins a quest to unite Tova with a special person…someone who can lift Tova out of loneliness and help make her golden years have true meaning. Someone she doesn’t even know exists. Marcellus knows, and it is his dying wish to make Tova happy.

    Van Pelt’s debut novel is a sweet and sentimental look about life and all its tragedies, and how sometimes the key to happiness is standing right in front of us.

    I hope you enjoyed my book review Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt.

    ****Four stars for Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt.

    Read last week’s post Reading Wednesday Year in Review with my top 15 books of my reading year.

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    Reading Wednesday

    Reading Wednesday Year In Review

    As you likely know if you have been following all these years, I track my reading year from July to July. Nothing fancy, just keep a little tally in my notebook of all the books I read. This year I read 80 books, and today I will share with you some of my favorites, once again, for Reading Wednesday Year In Review.

    Over the past year I have written 52 book reviews, pulling into reviews my favorites of the 80 books. Sixty of the 80 were read on my kindle, five were traditional books, while 13 were audible books we listened to on road trips. Some of my top books of the year were on Audible…a fantastic way to enjoy a book while driving.

    My Top Fifteen

    So today I will share with you my top 15 of my Reading Wedensday Year in Review, beginning with my top five in order;

    1. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doer – This remarkable book is either loved or hated, but for me, it was one of the most beautifully written, uniquely plotted, and astonishingly creative books of the past several years. I admit, if you can’t spend the time really digging deep to understand the complicated plot, (which jumps from medieval times to the distant future) you might not like it. It is not for the faint of heart. But it took my breath away and it is my favorite book of this year. This is a story of how life goes on.
    2. Trust by Hernan Diaz – Like Cuckoo Land, Diaz is brilliant in plot development of Trust taking multiple complicated storylines and weaving them beautifully into a book I could not put down. The story of early 19th century Wall Street is written in several different styles, and it adds to the fun and intrigue of this great book. This is a story of things aren’t always what they seem.
    3. Project Hail Mary by Anthony Weir – to be honest I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book. Generally I’m not a Science Fiction reader, but Weir’s story of a space mission to save the Earth had me falling in love with the characters (both human and not) and enjoying every aspect of this fun and exciting adventure story. This is a story of friendship and heroes.
    4. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabelle Wilkerson – last year one of my top books was Caste by Isabelle Wilkerson. When I learned she had an earlier book, I really wanted to read it. In this story Wilkerson’s vast research and interviews bring to life in the pages what it was like for the black population in the American South in the years after the Civil War. She follows a handful of real people as they make the life changing decision to leave the racially toxic southern states for points north and west. It’s a brilliant book that every American should read. This is a story of America’s racial tension then and now.
    5. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel – Mandel’s Station Eleven was one of my favorite reads of 2018, and once again she captivated me with Sea of Tranquility. It’s another story of alternate realities, looking both forward and back and ultimately leaving the reader wondering about their own daily reality. Is what we do and see each day real? Or is it all an illusion. This is a story about time and place and the human experience.

    And Ten More I Loved

    In no particular order, these ten more I recommend very highly;

    1. The Bonesetters Daughter by Amy Tan – This is a story of family and how cultural misunderstanding can lead to a life of sorrow. Sweet.

    2. The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton – This is a story of what some people will do for fame. Intense.

    3. So Brave Young and Handsome by Leif Enger – This is story about the early 1900’s in the United States and coming to terms with aging and choices we have made. Sentimental.

    4. The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn – This is a story of WWII and brave females who changed the course of the war. Exciting.

    5. The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz – This is a story about writers, plots and psychotic people in our midst. Jaw Dropping.

    And these too…

    6. Playing With Myself by Randy Rainbow – This book is about more than a comedian and satirist – it’s about growing up, coming out and love that binds through thick and thin. Heartfelt.

    7. The Candy House by Jennifer Eagan – This book is about a near future life where the internet rules our thoughts and memories. Creepy.

    8. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrel – This book is about the power men (husbands, fathers, lovers) had to make women disappear in the early 20th century. Horrifying.

    9. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – This book is a classic American novel about a young girl coming of age in tenement in Brooklyn in the early 1900’s. Wonderful.

    10. The Maid by Nita Prose – This is a book about a quirky and lonely young women who finds adventure as a maid in a swanky hotel. Hilarious.

    Go Read a Book and Explore a New World

    Thanks for reading my Reading Wednesday Year in Review. I always welcome book suggestions, and I hope some of these make their way onto your reading list. Reading, like travel, is a door to understanding the world. Go read a book.

    See all our book reviews from the past year on our Reading Wednesday list here.

    Some more suggestions for you here from Goodreads.

    Next Wednesday we will be back to our weekly book reviews.

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