We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates is the story of a family of six whose lives take a disastrous turn after the only daughter, a junior in high school, is raped by a boy who is a year older and her brother’s classmate.

Told years later by her younger brother, the story portrays the profound effect the rape has upon every family member individually and collectively.

The rapist denies his evil deed and is never charged or prosecuted. This ends-up destroying the entire Mulvaney family.

Oates is a well-known gifted writer who doesn’t sugarcoat the issue. This is a heartbreaking novel with a message. It’s a tragic tale worth reading.

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Run For Your Life

The Paragon Hotel by Lindsay Faye is a recent novel which took me by surprise. The author used this fictional story to draw a parallel between two dark organizations which didn’t appear similar to me. In this story, we find a young woman of Italian heritage traveling cross country from New York to Portland with two slugs in her gut. On the train, she encounters an African-American porter who safely delivers her to a “blacks only” hotel thereby saving her life.

If that isn’t strange enough, the plot is about to get even more incredulous. Flipping between then and now, the author fills-in the back story on the woman from New York with the moniker of “Nobody” and her new heart-throb Max, the porter. And then an orphan melato child disappears from the Paragon Hotel. Now, hotel patrons are searching the woods for the missing boy and the Klu Klux Klan is after the African-American search party because, Portland doesn’t take a liking to blacks in their town! That’s not even mentioning a menacing police officer, illegal drugs and alcohol, or the male cross-dresser!

I’m beginning to feel like a barker at a carnival about now. Oh yes, there’s one of those in the story as well. In my opinion, there are many, too many, side shows inhabiting this action packed novel. It made my head spin because it encompassed numerous disparate themes which I had difficulty connecting.

The thing is, I kind of enjoyed the book because there’s a noir flavor to it. The main character Alice is a wise-cracking mafia snitch. Even with two recently removed slugs, she reminded me of Dashiell Hammet’s character, Sam Spade.

This story failed to awaken any emotions in me, but does have its merits. I’d love to hear feedback from anyone who has read The Paragon Hotel. The jury is still out here!

Please note, I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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Tunnel Vision

Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis is a novel I picked-up at library sale. It’s publication date of 1924 and recognition of the author’s name convinced me it was a worthy addition to my library. Lewis was offered a Pulitzer Prize for his work on this novel, but surprisingly, he refused it.

What is not surprising is that Lewis wrote a medically themed book because several family members were doctors. Lewis drew upon his familiarity with the subject to craft this novel about a man whose interests and education lead him to become a country doctor. Newly married Arrowsmith encounters difficulty in the establishing himself until he loses a young patient already beyond help at his arrival. Surprisingly, his heroic attempt to save the child’s life ends-up working in his favor. Time passes and a dissatisfied Arrowsmith decides to move to greener pastures. His true passion lies in scientific research which leads him to a more lucrative position. Here we find him in foreign lands fighting an epidemic as well as his desire to discover a cure for the plague. Strict scientific protocol requires Arrowsmith to vaccinate some, but not all patients. He isn’t bothered by this; giving insight into his convictions as a research scientist whose adherence to the rules of research supersede the urgency of saving lives.

There’s much more of interest in Arrowsmith’s life which has more lows than highs. He is a reclusive man continually fighting to pursue his passion for scientific research in a world where he is misunderstood by the vast majority of people in the medical field.

This novel is slow moving, but an interesting character study of a man in conflict with the world in which he resides. I am surprised it was nominated for a Pulitzer, but it was written in very different times. If you enjoy the work of Sinclair Lewis, science, or medicine, I imagine you will appreciate this story. I think it is interesting.

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War, What is it Good For?

I recently completed two books which shared an historical connection Flyboys: A True Story Of Courage by James D. Bradley and The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan. The first is non-fiction and the second, fiction, but both take place during World War Two in Asia. One in Japan and the other in China.

Flyboys is a remarkable book about the courageous men who took to the skies in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Their ultimate target: Japan.

Tan’s novel is about a young woman in China who marries a brutal man who abuses her beyond words. The Nanking Massacre perpetrated by the Japanese, occurs in this story. Although the main characters are not present during it, they are fortunate not to have been. The plot is mainly about unequal cultural norms in China with regards to men and women, but the ongoing war with Japan figures heavily in the story.

Flyboys is the true story of pilots and their crews who were captured and murdered most horrifically while in captivity on small islands inhabited by Japanese military personnel. Truly, this book is not for the faint hearted. Cultural beliefs figure prominently and as an American, I was sickened. My heart broke for our POW’s and their families who anxiously awaited news of their beloved sons.

In both books we experience the horror of World War Two in the Pacific. We also learn about ideological differences among nations, their leaders and the people they govern. That, I think, is most important if we are ever to live in harmony and peace on this great planet we share.

I highly recommend Flyboys because it is well-written and researched. As stated earlier, it is not an easy book to read because of war atrocities graphically described in it. Until I read this book, I thought the dropping of two atom bomb’s ended World War II in the Pacific, but came to discover the US continued to drop napalm bombs on Japan even after the atomic ones.

The Kitchen God’s Wife is a good fictional novel by an author whose work I enjoy and recommend.

I come away from both books with increased knowledge and understanding and I am grateful.

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The Pioneers by David McCullough is a new release by one of my most admired historian writers. This book is derived from actual accounts originally written by people who were early settlers of the newly acquired purchase of territory bordering the Ohio River. This occurred in the late 18th century.

The diary of the daughter of Ephraim Cutler provides rich first-hand accounts of the many tribals and tribulations experienced by her family. The book contains much more than the Cutler family history. McCullough expertly weaves many stories into theirs. Johnny Appleseed, President John Quincy Adams, and Aaron Burr are only a few of the many recognizable figures in the story. There are indigenous Indian tribes included. Before being forced out, it was originally their land which the settlers came to clear and inhabit. Towards the end of the book, the Underground Railroad comes into play.

There is much history to be learned here and unfortunately, it’s not a happy tale for the native people of our country. The author doesn’t take sides, but rather recounts the history of the settlers in the Ohio Territory.

Overall, I enjoyed the latter part of this book. I greatly anticipated its publication, but came away disappointed. I don’t think this is one of McCullough’s finest efforts. Historically, the book has merit. I did acquire knowledge so I am recommending it to those interested in gaining knowledge of that period of our history.

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Thanks Mom

Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts has been patiently waiting on my to be read pile for years. In honor of all mothers, I’m happy to report I finally read it!

This collection of stories about a variety of historical women who walked with and influenced other great individuals was interesting. I learned many tidbits of information previously unknown and that’s a good thing! Although I found this book slow moving and not fully what I anticipated, it honors women who, like countless others, rose to the challenging roles placed before them and gave their all; women like Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Deborah Read Franklin, Eliza Pinckney, Catherine Littlefield Green, and Esther DeBerdt Reed. These women and others may not be familiar, but they made a difference, made sacrifices, and ultimately left their handprints on our nation in its early years.

I recommend this book in honor of the mothers who went before us, the mothers of today, and future mothers. Whether great or small, what you do, and the love you give, matters more than you know. Happy Mother’s Day.

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What Jackie Said

The Editor by Steven Rowley is a recently published historical fiction novel in which a young author named James Francis Smale finds himself sitting in a conference room at a major New York publisher. Nervous and curious, he is about to receive a shock. When the door opens to reveal Mrs. Jackie Kennedy Onassis who informs him she has read a draft of his book twice and intends to edit it prior to publication; he embarks upon a life-altering journey.

This, like Rowley’s previous novel, is clever and humorous while at the same time emotional, as it deals with love and loss. It’s a quick moving story with a number of surprises. That, I enjoyed. In fact, for awhile, I wished Smale was a real character who wrote a real book about his mother!

What perturbed me was what I thought were unnecessary, graphic homosexual encounters peppered in the book. They didn’t make the story any better. This reader could have done without them.

With that exception, I liked this portrayal of a man’s relationship with his famous editor and his quest to make sense of his life.

Please note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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