Category Archives: Historical

Books from the New York Times Best Seller’s List January 2014

  How Lucky You Can Be by Buster Olney

Where can you find a good book when you are looking for one?  The library has hundreds of books, but which one should you choose?  One option is to read reviews (like this one) or to wander through book lists, like the New York Times.  This will give you a good idea of what books are being read and enjoyed by others.  Our club decided to pick books from some of these lists.

​The book How Lucky You Can Be was written by Buster Olney, an ESPN announcer.  It is subtitled “The Story of Coach Don Meyer.”  Coach Meyer is the most famous coach that you never heard of… but other basketball coaches around the country know about him.  He devoted himself not only to his teams but also to teaching the art of coaching to anyone interested in the game he loved.  This is much more than a sports story.  It is the story of a dedicated man who at times neglected his family to achieve greatness in his field, passing the legendary Bobby Knight in career wins with over 903 victories, the most by any coach in history at that time.  It took a tragedy for him to express the love he had for his family — wife, children, and his players.

​ Don Meyer had been a college player at Northern Colorado and a head coach for years at David Lipscomb College and Northern State University.  His success was tremendous, but this story really begins on a lonely stretch of two-land road in South Dakota.  While leading a caravan of cars, taking his players on a team-building retreat, Meyer fell asleep at the wheel.  His car veered into an oncoming tractor-trailer truck.  The Coach was crushed, and it was feared that he would die from his injuries.  At the hospital, doctors prepared his wife because they were certain he would not make it through the surgery.  After five hours, Meyer survived but lost part of a leg, his spleen, and had numerous other injuries.  Meyer said that the accident was the best thing that could have happened to him.  He equated it with an angel providing him with a message.  The doctors found that Meyer had terminal cancer.

​ The story describes how this driven coach, who did not want to give up coaching basketball, rose to face the greatest challenge of his life.  He reassessed his life and his relationships.  His three adult children describe the changes that he under went.  Meyer now expressed himself, particularly his emotional self.  He did not hold back telling his children, his wife, or his players how much he loved them.  This tragedy actually has made their family even closer.  This is the story of a man who’s belief in God, his religion, his family, and his team— both coaches and players– gave him the strength to come back to coaching and to fight the lose of a leg and the cancer.  This would be the toughest battle of his life.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly, not only for basketball fans, as an inspirational story of a man fighting to overcome tremendous odds.  (5 of 5)

Other books from book lists rated by different club members:

Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Part love story, part meditation on finding spiritual peace in the midst of crisis.  It is a beautifully written, tender and passionate story of a man trying to put his life in perspective.  (4 of 5)

  Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss

A funny, informative nonfiction book with excellent examples of misused punctuation. (5 of 5)

  The Hundred Year-Old Man by Jonas Jonasson

The story spans the 20th century with a character similar to Forest Gump.  (4 of 5)

 The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Multiple story lines and strong women tell the story of World War II.  (5 of 5)

    Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Thought provoking historic novel about women being held back by authoritive men.  (4 of 5)

     Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Published in 1932, a thought  provoking novel anticipates developments that have profoundly changed society.  (4.5 of 5)

 The Christmas Train by David Baldacci

This tale shows how we do get second chances to fulfill our deepest hopes and dreams, especially during the season of miracles.  (5 of 5)

 God is not Mad at You by Joyce Meyer

A book that explains the relationship between God and man.  (5 of 5)

     Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews

‘Tis the season to be jolly – a funny novel with a heroine who rounds up stray animals of all sorts as well as a killer.  Duck the Halls! (5 of 5)

    Nighttime is My Time by Mary Higgins Clark

A riveting novel of psychological suspense that depicts the mind of a killer. (4 of 5)

The Club Members rating these books:

Pat Gombita, Mona Herrell, Pat Kuna, Lee Ann Schrock, Julie Shultz, Bill Simmons, Deb Stewart, Barb Swanson, Linda Troll, Patti Tullis and Rae Ann Weaver

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Adult Non-Fiction, Biography, Crime, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Historical, History, Humor, Inspirational, Inspirational, Murder, Mystery, Personal Insights, Religion, Sports, Sports/Entertainment

The Distant Hours

By Kate Morton

Published by Washington Square Press

Copyright © 2010

 

“The Distant Hours” is not only a great title for this book, but for all of Morton’s work. She excels at haunting her pages with imagined lives and visions from England’s Victorian and post-Victorian past. In reading this story you’ll find out what the distant hours are, and you’ll begin to see how relevant it is Morton’s writing.

 

Edie Burchill has always felt a bit disconnected from her parents and from her extended family. Her parents seem the practical sort and her mom’s family is the brash and crude sort with a chip on their shoulder for any who they perceive to look down their noses at them. Edie; however, is bookish and a bit of a dreamer. She longs to be closer to her family, especially her mother, but their differences make it hard to cross the chasm.

 

When Edie’s mother receives a letter that had been lost in the post for decades, and she sees her mother’s dramatic reaction to its contents, she must know more. And even though her mother stonewalls her at every turn, Edie slowly uncovers her mother’s past which includes her rocky relationship with her family and her days as a child evacuee from London during World War II when she spent a glorious year in the English countryside at Middlehurst Castle with the Blythe family. So in addition to uncovering her mother’s history she also unravels the secrets that waft in the air and seep from the stones of Middlehurst Castle. Edie learns of the personal heartaches of the twins, Percy and Saffy, and of their little sister Juniper Blythe. She is eventually entrusted with two horrible secrets that have their roots deeply entrenched in Edie’s favorite book “The True History of the Mud Man,” which just so happened to be written by the Blythe sisters’ father, Raymond.

 

As I’ve mentioned in a previous review, I absolutely love Kate Morton’s writing! The way she descriptively creates a setting and a mood is just phenomenal. And her acumen with character development keeps the story riveting. Her characters motivations and secrets are never presented entirely upfront; she slowly feeds you what you need to know about a character until you have a much more complex person that what you started with. In this story Percy and Saffy Blythe, the twins, are perfect examples of this. They are each initially described as the opposite side of the same coin; one the picture of strength and purpose and the other weak and motherly; however, by the end of the story these notions are nearly turned on their side.

 

Having read “The Forgotten Garden” and now “The Distant Hours,” I’ve really begun to hone in on Mortons’ forte as a mystery writer. She excels at writing the decades and even centuries old imagined cold-case. She knows how to dig from the present to the past, how to make family research look exciting. While she is not the first to write these types of stories it works now more than ever as people are becoming more and more interested in the uncovering of family history. The interest is not just in one’s own family history, but the histories of famous people and of complete strangers.

 

If I had any criticism at all, it might be that on rare occasions what is presented in a flashback chapter might be just as interesting if discovered in the present. This of course may take a little from the character development that I gushed about earlier. To be completely honest though, “The Distant Hours” was just so thoroughly engrossing that few negative thoughts popped into my head.  If you have yet to read a Kate Morton book then “The Distant Hours” is a great place to start.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Drama, Europe, Family, Historical, Murder, Mystery, Psychological, Romance, War, Writers

The Scarlet Pimpernel

By Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Copyright © 1905

The French aristocracy is headed to the guillotine at the end French Revolution and the only one willing to save them is the Scarlett Pimpernel.

After the French Revolution royalty and nobility are being sent to the guillotine daily, but no European country wants to step in and stop the madness. But there is one man who will risk his neck for these aristocrats and he is known only as the Scarlet Pimpernel.

At the beginning of the story the Scarlet Pimpernel has confounded the murdering French Revolutionaries at every turn sneaking condemned men, women, and children out of France and over to England right under their captors noses. So the French Republic Government sends it’s Chief Agent of the Committee of Public Safety on a mission to England to root out the identity of the Scarlett Pimpernel and to ensnare him on French soil to have him killed. This agent,  Citizen Chauvelin, enlists the aid of a former acquaintance, French expat, and high society darling of fashion Marguerite by black mailing her. Marguerite has no idea who the Scarlet Pimpernel is but she is mildly infatuated with him. When she does find out who he is she will fall madly in love with him, but will it be too late to save him?

The Scarlet Pimpernel is obviously a historical novel set in the 1790’s. While the story contains historical figures, it is obvious that the author was on the side of the Aristocracy and that history is not as much of a concern as is telling a good story. In that Orczy does a wonderful job. Though it really doesn’t come as much of a surprise who the Scarlett Pimpernel turns out to be it is still a great tale with mild intrigue, daring-do, and romance. Having read some of Alexander Dumas works, which center in and around this time period and which are generally long, highly-detailed stories, I found this book to be an extremely easy read in comparison and in general quite fun to read. This book was originally written for an adult audience, but today it translates very well as a classic for youth to read as well.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Adventure, Adventure, Classics, Classics, Europe, Historical, Historical, Romance, Romance, Young Adult Fiction

Snow Falling on Cedars

By David Guterson

Published by Harcourt Brace

Copyright © 1994

San Piedro, Washington is a sea worn island of tall wild cedars and well tended strawberry fields. These things in addition to the islands weather, isolation, and confinement mold the personality of its residents. “Snow Falling on Cedars” is at once a romance, mystery, and historical drama that, for some, will elicit reflection and strong emotions.

Hatsue and Ishmael grew up together on San Piedro Island, and slowly a secretive and complicated relationship developed between them. In the 1930’s and 40’s interracial relationships of any kind were publicly difficult. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and thrust America into World War II any naïve hopes that Ishmael or Hatsue had of making a life together shattered.

Over 10 years later, the two are thrust back into contact. Ishmael now runs the small town newspaper that his father started and he is covering a rare event in Amity Harbor, a murder trial. The defendant is Hatsue’s husband Kabuo Miyamoto; he is accused of killing another man, a former friend, over the ownership of his parents’ old strawberry farm.

The start of Kabuo’s trial coincides with a massive snowstorm which incapacitates the town. However this storm is also going to lead Ishmael to a fortuitous discovery and a moral dilemma. Will he want to share what he learns?

David Guterson has written a story of love and war, and pride and prejudice, that is at times ethereal and then plummets to the harsh and occasionally indelicate.  His descriptions of San Piedro and its surrounding waters are heaven like for anyone who can visualize them – misty and green, white and windy, and the occasional sun dappled strawberry field. These scenes are contrasted against flashbacks of a dead man at sea, an autopsy, war time in the Pacific and European theaters, Japanese interment in American, and the prejudices that existed on both sides.  In addition there are unnecessarily descriptive sex scenes (which rarely ever add anything to a good story) and the possibly necessary, however unenjoyable, profanity laced wartime conversations.

The author adroitly tells his story in and out of flashbacks which would normally turn me off, but he fills them with such meaningful detail that you can’t help but to see the point and the beauty of it. In this way he rounds out so many characters; it is actually difficult at times to tell who the main characters are. He spends so much time with so many characters expressing their physicality, motivations, idiosyncrasies, relationships, and etc. “Snow Falling on Cedars” is just an extremely well crafted story filled with repression, anger, and desire that captivated my attention.

 

1995 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

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Filed under Historical, Murder, Mystery, Psychological, Romance, Strong Sense of Place, War

Death Along the Spirit Road

By C.M. Wendelboe

Published by Berkley Trade

Copyright © 2011

Manny Tanno has a nice FBI Academy position in Washington D.C., but every now and again he gets pulled from the classroom to work a case, and it is usually on the Rez. Why does he get picked for the reservation cases? Because, Native Americans on the reservations don’t trust the federal government too much, so the FBI likes to take advantage of Manny’s Heritage as a full blooded Oglala Sioux.  Manny was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and served there as a tribal cop before joining the FBI.

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is aptly described as a place of despair trying to lift itself into dignity with the construction of a resort that will bring much needed money to the tribal coffers and thus to the community. However the high powered real estate tycoon in charge, Jason Red Cloud, has been murdered in a most native style – he is found dead on the reservation with a war club in his head. Manny’s Supervisor has decided to send him back there to solve this murder case. Quite a few problems stand in his way though, many in the community don’t trust or like him because he works for the government now, his contact with the tribal police is an old high school nemesis who is trying to make him look bad, he isn’t ready to revisit his family history (his brother was sent up for a dishonorable murder from back in his American Indian Movement days), and he has multiple people trying to kill him. Manny is going to have to uncover an intricate web of murder, deceit, and greed that goes back decades and will culminate when he finally finds Red Clouds Killer.

“Death Along the Spirit Road” is pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect much when I began this book, but when I heard comparison’s to Tony Hillerman I thought I should check it out. And Almost out of the gate you begin to see the similarities between the Manny Tanno and Willie With Horn combination and Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee; The older experienced officer who isn’t happy being back on the rez working together with the younger officer who is embracing his heritage.

Comparisons aside though, Wendelboe’s mystery is entertaining. It is packed with action and intrigue, and it leaves you guessing to the end when the truth is revealed because of one seemingly innocuous clue. While hand to hand combat and gun play don’t seem to be Manny’s forte, as his many injuries attest to, he has a way with interrogations that to me were funny, if not ingenious. “Death Along the Spirit Road” is a solid first effort with a couple of bumps but mostly triumphs, and if it is any indication of things to come I will be looking forward to the next installment.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Crime, Historical, Mystery, Native American, Strong Sense of Place

The Winter Ghosts

The Winter Ghosts

By Kate Mosse

Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Copyright © 2009

It is April of 1933 and Freddie, an Englishman, is in Toulouse, France looking for a man who can help him translate a very important letter. However, it is not what the letter says that seems to be important, but how he came across this letter.

When Freddie was a teenager he lost his brother George, a soldier during World War I. Freddie went many years trying to cope with this loss, but in 1924, on his 21st birthday, he snapped. He ended up spending a few months in a sanatorium to regain his physical and mental health.

Fast forward to 1928; Freddie finds himself driving through the French Pyrenees to meet some friends at a resort. He drives into a snow storm and ends up in an accident. He stumbles his way into a local village looking for assistance. He finds an inn where he is welcomed hospitably and invited to a local celebration. While there he meets the beautiful and delicate Fabrissa. From that point on Freddie and Fabrissa’s lives are entwined in a way that is too difficult for anyone to believe.  This chance meeting will not only change Freddie’s outlook on life, but also change the outlook of an entire town.

Mosse has written a moving book about loss and grief in the wake of war and tragedy, and an oddly tragic love story that spans centuries. While our protagonist feels he has nothing to live for, his happening upon this village and Fabrissa helps him (albeit too simply) to come to terms with his loss, and he feels the strong and overpowering urge to find Fabrissa again and repay her kindness.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Europe, Historical, Paranormal, Psychological, Strong Sense of Place

The Riesling Retribution

The Riesling Retribution: A Wine Country Mystery

By Ellen Crosby

Published by Scribner

Copyright © 2009

When one thinks of wine country, one thinks of France, Italy, and California. But the truth of the matter is, where ever man has lived he (or she) has attempted to grow grapes and make wine. Having worked in a local Pennsylvania winery, having made wine myself, and having lived in the south for 10 years the setting for Ellen Crosby’s Wine Country Mysteries is easy for me to get into and follow. But don’t worry it’s not a book filled with too much technical jargon, and where she does use it she explains the meaning. For the average reader this is useful information.

In this installment Lucie Montgomery and Quinn  Santori are getting ready to harvest the Riesling grapes for their signature wine, but they are having problems galore.

While Lucie is out in the fields a tornado comes through and rips up some of the new vines. It also rips up something else unexpected, a skeleton. The local police feel that it was probably a family member who committed the crime.

Also ever since Lucie hired a new winery manager, Chance, things have been going wrong. Equipment and wine has gone missing, they can’t find good help, and expensive tanks of wine have been ruined. Quinn, the winemaker, has just about had it with all the nonsense and is about ready to go to blows with chance.

And then the Montgomery estate is hosting a Civil War Reenactment that just doesn’t seem like its going to go off with out a hitch and boy is it a big hitch.

To top it all off there is the continuing romantic tension between Lucie and Quinn. With all this you won’t be able to put down the book without wanting to know what happens next.

This book is what many might call an easy read but with a rich set of background characters, a familiar yet beautiful setting, and engaging plots it sucks you in and is very enjoyable. With every installment of this series you get to know the Montgomery’s and the town of Atoka a little better. It is definitely worth a read on a rainy day.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Food, Historical, Mystery, Strong Sense of Place