Commitment

08louisa-cover-articleinline.jpgLouisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams by Louisa Thomas is a fascinating history about John Quincy Adams wife. I applaud the author for her diligent, insightful research into the life of a truly extraordinary woman who by this account, had little conception of her role in the history of our country. Having read biographies about John and Abigail by other authors, this book was of great interest to me. I did not know very much about their son and his life.  I gained a great deal of knowledge by reading this book.

Even though this book is about Louisa, it is also about her husband John Quincy and their children because volumes of their letters and books survived providing intimate insights into their lives.

This is so much more than a story about a former First Lady and her husband, it is the history of our nation in the years after its founding and prior to the Civil War.

Because John Quincy and Louisa represented a new nation in European countries during the time of Napoleon, we also gain insight into world history during that era.

Louisa Adams outlived her husband and all but one of her four children. Her father was an American and her mother English which made her an unlikely partner for the son of John and Abigail Adams.

I believe Louisa Adams was a woman who lacked a sense of self-worth even though her contributions were many and her sacrifices great.

This book is so well-written that I will remember what I learned from it for a long time to come. Please, if you are interested in history, read this book. It is outstanding!

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Madman

51-cyjy9xql._sy400_.jpgThe Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory is a riveting historical fiction about Henry VIII’s final queen Kateryn Parr. Widowed twice before she caught the eye of the king, Parr was deeply in love with another man and had no desire to marry Henry who was twenty years her senior, but the king’s desire could not be refused.

Based in fact and fiction, the story portrays Queen Kateryn as a woman of deep faith and strong convictions. Dressed in the royal gowns and jewels of her ill-fated predecessors, Kateryn takes her place beside the mercurial tyrant Henry and grits her teeth. She learns to hold her tongue the hard way; never knowing when and if the axe will fall on her own head. Unlike her predecessors, Kateryn developes a relationship with Henry which lasts until his death.

The title appears to be taken from The Taming of the Shrew and in some ways, reminded me of it. In this novel however, both king and queen are manipulative. It’s difficult to identify a victor.

Throughout the story, the king is unwell making him a difficult person to contend with. Earlier injuries in his life are not mentioned which are believed to have caused his erratic behaviour and failing health. During the first part of the book he is almost portrayed as someone of sound mind. As the story goes on, it becomes clear that he is mentally unsound.

This historical period has always fascinated me. With the exception of lengthy discussions on religious doctrine, I enjoyed the book immensely.

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Revenge

002529.jpgThe Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova is a long, complicated novel. I say this because the beginning of the story focuses on a male artist living in the present who is arrested after attempting to destroy a painting in The National Gallery of Art. After finishing the book, I came away believing the story was more about the psychiatrist who is trying to treat the artist. There are many stories and lives both past and present which collide in this story.

Robert Oliver, the mentally disturbed artist, is infatuated with a female artist who lived in France during the Impressionist era. Dr. Andrew Marlow paints in his spare time. Oliver’s ex-lover Mary is an artist. The 19th century female artist is in love with a much older man…another artist. On top of that, Oliver has an ex-wife and two small children. She is not an artist.

These people are just the tip of the many voices and plotlines in this novel. More than once I fought with myself as to whether or not to stick with this book. There is so much to follow and in different eras no less! I love the many art references because I love Impressionist art. However, I could have done without a good deal of it. I wondered if the author’s choice of Marlow for the doctor’s name was her way of hinting that he possessed the instincts of a detective.

I am glad I stuck with this novel. The payoff came at the very end, but it was worth the wait.

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Forgiveness and Love

isbn0446531030.jpgThe Miracles of Santo Fico by D.L. Smith is a novel about a remote Tuscan village inhabited by a collection of apathetic people whose lives and hearts are stagnant until the unexpected return of a former resident named Leo Pizzola.

Little in the tiny town has changed since Leo left. After living in Chicago for a number of years, he journeys home with the intention of selling his ancestral farm only to use the proceeds to leave again for good. Despite his desire to avoid his past, his arrival is met with antagonism by an old flame and elation by an old friend. Unable to shake loose of these ties, he becomes embroiled in old get rich quick schemes involving unsuspecting villagers and tourists — one of whom is the elderly pastor of the church which contains a miraculous fresco and withered fig tree rumored to have been visited by St Francis of Assisi.

I found the message of this novel beautiful, inspiring, and healing. It renewed my faith in the miraculous and reminded me that even the most mundane occurrences become miracles when perceived with gratitude and love.

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And You Are?

51encbbw7bl._sy400_.jpgThe Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine by Alex Brunkhorst is a novel I discovered in the books on cd section of our library. Published in 2015, I am surprised I never heard of it!

This is a fast-paced story written in the first-person which I found refreshing. So many books I have recently read bounce from one person to the other and I really enjoyed that this book didn’t do that. It was so easy to follow!

In this tale, a young journalist named Thomas moves to Los Angeles to work on the LA Times after being accused of plagiarism while working for the Wall Street Journal in New York. Hoping for a new beginning, he settles in and on one of his first assignments meets and interviews a wealthy daughter of a belated movie mogul
Lilly is well-connected, takes a liking to Thomas, and he is off and running from one star-studded event to another. Before long, he encounters a blonde beauty playing tennis alone on one of the estates and he is instantly love struck. This meeting leads Thomas on a life-changing hunt to discover who she is and how she came to be secretly cloistered on the estate of a famous director.

I enjoyed this noir tinged story very much. It is beautifully descriptive and heart warming. It made me feel happy! I hope you will read it and feel the same way!

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The Instigator

41j0v-yyful._sy400_.jpgThe 100 Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Swedish author Jonas Jonasson is a comical romp through time and politics as told by a fictional, unpretentious centenarian named Allan.

As the story begins, it is the 100th birthday of Allan who resides in a nursing home in Sweden.  However, Allan wants nothing to do with the party in his honor. Instead, he decides to escape and, as the book title conveys, climbs out his bedroom window, goes to the train station, steals a suitcase, and a wild adventure beyond belief ensues.

Over the course of his journey, Allan shares his amazing experiences with many famous people around the world with whom he interacted during the course of his lifetime. His stories are so unbelievable that you almost have to laugh.

I would classify this novel as farce. More than one person recommended it to me. I wouldn’t say it’s anywhere near being one of the best books I’ve ever read, but I did enjoy the way the author wove political history into the story of this man’s life making him the unsung man behind the scenes. It is very clever. I was disappointed in the ending of the story as it seemed repetitious to me. I think that overall it is an entertaining story.

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Stepping-Up to the Plate

51dcdt61ral._sy400_.jpgChasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain’s Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour by Richard Zacks is a well-researched, in-depth book about the famous author’s financial problems which precipitated a speaking tour around the globe.

I have always been a Twain fan.  He was so talented, clever, and humorous. This fine book provided me with a fresh look at his true nature. Based on Twain’s proactive response to his lacking business acumen and financial woes, his honorable reaction to the situation is inspirational. There is much to learn here. With innumerable current financial failures, this is a timely book with an insightful message. I recommend it!

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