Rowayton Library
January 2014              Reviews by Rowayton Library's Reader Advisor, Ruth Freeman

Come in from the cold and snuggle up with a good book...

 

 

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve is a bit slow moving. The WWI background is interesting but the plot line is a tad thin. The characters are well developed and she manages to create an atmosphere of suspense around the arbitrary and clearly unfair marriage and divorce laws of that time. Fans of the author will enjoy it.

 

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A Thousand Hills to Heaven by Josh Ruxin is a really interesting memoir. An account of his family's life in present day Rwanda, it combines on the ground reporting on working and living in Africa with opinions on the role of foreign aid and growing a business. He started out setting up health clinics and ended up running a restaurant in the capital of Kigali. Rwanda's tortured history is always in the background but the book is positive and hopeful about the future of the country. 

 

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Growing a Feast by Kurt Timmermeister is the follow up to 'Growing a Farmer'. It picks up the story on the same Vashon Island, WA farm, now largely dedicated to small batch fine cheese production from his herd of Jersey cows. The centerpiece of the book is the preparation of a multicourse meal he is planning for twenty people. It is fascinating to look over the chefs' shoulders as the animals are butchered, vegetables chosen and delicious dishes created.

 

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is a dazzling book. Theo Decker is thirteen when we first meet him coming of age in New York City. It has a very broad sweep, covering art, music, urban life, friendship, and survival under difficult circumstances. There are lots of threads that tackle some of life's biggest questions, with sometimes shocking results. It's a daunting 800 pages, but mesmerizing, beautifully written and vastly entertaining. The beautiful, haunting painting by Fabritius plays a pivotal role throughout the book.

 

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The Wind is Not a River by Brian Payton is set around a little known battle in WWII in the Aleutian Islands, the last few of which were occupied by the Japanese. John Easley, a journalist searching for his lost brother, goes on an epic journey and quickly drops out of sight. His wife Helen, using a travelling USO troop production as cover, goes in search of her husband. A gripping story about the horrors of war, no matter how small the scale. Lots of historical detail lends the story real gravitas.

 

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The Last Dead Girl is Harry Dolan's prequel to his clever mysteries set in Ann Arbor. This book takes place in Rome, New York where the author grew up, so there is a strong sense of place. Jana Fletcher meets her end in the first few pages, leaving unanswered questions that pile up quickly. David Malone was briefly her lover and finds himself enmeshed in the effort to find her killer. Well drawn characters and excellent, inventive dialogue make this an exceptional book.

 

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Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson is a memoir of her life as a military wife, and too quickly widow. The child of a widow, she is uniquely positioned to describe the dark times that descended when her husband Myles is killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq. Theirs was an unlikely love on the surface as they were quite different. Riveting and painfully honest, this is a sorrowful but ultimately positive memoir of a young woman empowered to do what she wanted with her life by the love of her husband.

 

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The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry features collected works arranged thematically. The poetry speaks volumes about the misery of trench warfare. 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the onset of the "war to end all wars" so they are well worth reading. Some of the writers are well known names, some surprises (Rudyard Kipling wrote poems after his only son was killed in 1915), and some are anonymous. All are deeply affecting.

 

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A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith has a fascinating, little known historical backdrop. It is based on the Gold Star Mothers - a government program during Hoover's presidency that sent mothers of sons killed in WWI to the cemeteries where they were buried. The book follows a group of fictional mothers, anchored by Cora Blake, who hails from Maine. The group's background is diverse but they are united in their sadness. Accompanied by army handlers conscious of the publicity value of a smooth tour, there are somewhat predictable upsets along the way. Occasionally the writing gets s a bit clunky but the story is gripping and you cannot help but root for the mothers, most of whom are not seasoned travelers. It takes place in 1931, making the scenes of the devastation still remaining in France very sobering.

 

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Ian Rankin hits it out of the park again with the latest Inspector Rebus, entitled The Saints of the Shadow Bible. Rebus is back in the force, demoted but still formidable. A cold murder case finds him tangling with his nemesis Matthew Fox from the Complaints, as well as his original co officers from thirty years ago. Rebus has to navigate shifting loyalties and the added challenges of a current case that involves the children of political heavyweights. Highly recommended for snappy dialogue and world weary but dead on commentary about both privilege and pain.

 

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