Welcome to my blog where I share book reviews
and life along the winding road

Friday, March 23, 2018

Carnegie's Maid by Marie Benedict

Carnegie's Maid by Marie Benedict is an interesting look into the life of Andrew Carnegie and his family from the view of a fictional lady's maid.

There are mixed reviews of Carnegie's Maid on Goodreads and while I liked the idea and the historical setting for the story, I found a lot of the story about Clara (the maid) to be unbelievable. Her vocabulary and knowledge of how to take care of a lady seemed improbable for a poor Irish farmer's daughter and taking the place of a woman with the same name also seemed highly unlikely. Still, it was an interesting look at the Carnegie family and their rise to fame.

From the cover:
Clara Kelley is not who they think she is. She's not the experienced Irish maid who was hired to work in one of Pittsburgh's grandest households. She's a poor farmer's daughter with nowhere to go and nothing in her pockets. But the other Clara Kelley has vanished, and pretending to be her just might get Clara some money to send back home.
If she can keep up the ruse, that is. Serving as a lady's maid in the household of Andrew Carnegie requires skills she doesn't have, answering to an icy mistress who rules her sons and her domain with an iron fist.  

Friday, March 16, 2018

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

In Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson gives an in depth look at a corrupt and unfair judicial system, where one person was sent to death row even before his trial, a teenager was sentenced to life imprisonment as an adult for a non violent crime and despite evidence to the contrary, numerous witnesses showing he was innocent, and a jury that requested only life imprisonment, a man was sentenced to death.

My only brush with an unjust system was for a traffic violation in a southern state. Despite being stationary at a stop sign, I received a speeding ticket. I contested the case in Municipal court, showed the judge a picture of the stop sign which also clearly showed a church and the address shown on a placard for the church (same as the ticket). The officer admitted I had stopped at the stop sign.  I expected the judge to dismiss it, but instead he allowed the police officer to change the address on the ticket and confiscated my "evidence" which he said was for court records! This brush with the law cost me $150, others, mostly from poor families, are losing their lives.

Bryan Stevenson has been on a crusade with the Equal Justice Initiative to make changes for prisoners one at a time finding that despite following the letter of the law and correct procedures, his appeals are turned down, evidence is suppressed and abused children are incarcerated in adult prisons. One fourteen-year-old boy, George Stinney, was executed within ninety days of his arrest. He was arrested after admitting to seeing the murder victims when they asked him for directions. Although there was no written confession or evidence of a confession, the police declared he had confessed to both murders (the murder weapon was so heavy it would have been impossible for him to life it). His family packed up and left town after receiving death threats. George was left alone to face his death.

Bryan's final comments are: "Walter McMillian's case taught me that the death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in this county is, do we deserve to kill? . . . Walter had taught me that mercy is just when it is rooted in hopefulness and freely given. . ."

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lethal in Old Lace by Duffy Brown

Duffy Brown books never disappoint and Lethal in Old Lace is another gem. She has plenty of quirky characters and over the top situations to keep the reader absorbed in southern charm along with a curious mystery.

There are two social functions in Savannah guaranteed to get people talking: weddings and funerals. And just as consignment shop owner Reagan Summerside agrees to marry the hunky Walker Boone, her neighbors, sisters Annie Fritz and Elsie Abbot, step up their business as professional mourners. They are so successful that the Sleepy Pines Retirement Center has hired them as a part of their retirement package. But the celebration over good business is cut short when the residents at Pines suddenly begin dying at an alarming rate. And the sisters are the first suspects.

Note: I received the book in exchange for an honest review which did not influence my opinion.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Girl of His Dreams by Donna Leon

This is the 17th book in the Guido Brunetti series (there are 27 so far) and although, like all the books in the series it was enjoyable, I found it a little lacking in the usual intricacies of Donna Leon's books. I did find it helpful to have a map of Venice in the front of the book which I hadn't noticed in others.
Donna Leon is so knowledgeable in the workings of the Italian government offices, subterfuge and bribery and peppers her books with little known facts. Children under the age of 14 cannot be prosecuted so children are often the ones who rob and commit acts of burglary. Most of these in the book were orchestrated by Gypsies.

From the cover:
One cold and rainy morning, the body of a gypsy girl is found floating in a canal. It looks like the girl may have fallen from a nearby roof while fleeing an apartment she had robbed, but no one has reported a missing child or the theft of the gold ring she carries. The novel explores the people and cultures at the margins of Italian life, the secretive world of the Romani people, scores of thousands of whom exist both inside and outside of society. Brunetti finds himself struggling with both institutional prejudice and entrenched criminality as he attempts to solve the crime.

Friday, March 2, 2018

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

A Fatal Grace is the second book in a Three Pines Mystery by Louise Penny. I have mixed feelings about the the mystery. While Louise Penny is a wonderful writer and I loved the twists and turns, I was a little confused by the backstory. It has been sometime since I read Still Life so wasn't sure if the references to the "Arnot case" was something the reader should have been familiar with or if the story was being held back and would be revealed later in A Fatal Grace. Also, the appearance of Agent Yvette Nichol, and her motives that were hinted at, were never actually revealed at the end. While I understand that there are some things that carry on from book to book in a series, I didn't like that there were a few mysteries that weren't tied up at the end.

From the cover:
Welcome to winter in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, where the villagers are preparing for a traditional country Christmas, and someone is preparing for murder.
No one liked CC de Poiters. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover; not her pathetic daughter - and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death.
When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Surete du Quebec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he's dealing with someone quite extraordinary. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood (the author of Handmaid's Tale) is a prolific writer and has an impressive list of novels and poetry.
Oryx and Crake is the beginning of a dark trilogy which shows a futuristic view of the downside to genetic modification both of plant life, and animals/humans. In an interview Ms. Atwood states that everything in her books is about something that has happened somewhere. I wonder about the creature developed that sports tentacles ending with chicken breasts and only a mouth to take in nourishment. As it has no eyes, no brain and feels no pain it is not protected by the animal cruelty laws. Then there are the pigoons that grow quickly and develop multitudes of internal organs that can be harvested. Yes, there are clinical trials for this!!

From the cover:
As the story begins Snowman, the narrator, is sleeping in a tree, wearing a dirty old bedsheet and mourning the loss of his beautiful and beloved Oryx and his best friend Crake. In a world in which science-based corporations have recently taken mankind on an uncontrolled genetic-engineering ride, he now searches for supplies in a wasteland. Insects proliferate and pigoons and wolvogs ravage the Pleeblands, where ordinary people once lived, and the compounds that sheltered the extraordinary. The narrative shifts to decades earlier. How did everything fall apart so quickly and why is Snowman left with nothing but his bizarre memories?

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is my favorite read so far this year. Lisa See takes us into a remote Chinese Mountain Village and shows us life of the Akha people living in a region amidst tea trees in southern China. But for Li-yan that life changes when a stranger appears, a tea buyer, who introduces them to a different way of life. Li-yan is herself already slowly rejecting the Akha customs by going to school and becoming educated. I won't spoil the story by adding any more details and I recommend that you don't read the cover blurb and let the story unravel as you read the novel.

Along with the story, Lisa See introduces the reader to Chinese customs, changes in government policy which affect Li-yan's family and spiritual rituals undertaken. Many of the laws were slow to reach rural mountain villages and it was 15 years before the Akha families found out about the Chinese one-child policy. But the Akha had their own barbaric rules and twins or children born less than perfect were considered rejects and were killed.
The Akha people are very spiritual and very superstitious. Their "week" is twelve days, each one named after an animal. The men must be able to recite their genealogy going back to the first man Sm Mi O (60 generations)

Note: If you're a hosting a book club, I found a delicious recipe for Hummingbird cakes.