The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson – Book Review

I found this to be an intriguing book from the get-go. The novel follows the life of Kitty Miller as she goes about her days as a spinster bookstore owner trying to reconcile her life as an unwed woman in 1962. Even though Kitty is worried about the future of her bookstore; tangling with co-owner and best friend Frieda regarding the best course to take, Kitty seems to be mostly happy with the life she’s living. This is when she begins to have dreams in which her name is Katharyn Andersson, she’s married to Lars and mother to triplets, one of whom has Autism.

As the book begins to unfold, the mystery of exactly what is going on deepens. Almost every night Kitty dreams of Katharyn and her world, dreams that are so real, once she’s awake and Kitty again; she almost believes the dreams are real. These dreams have a hypnotic effect on Kitty due to the fact that they reveal themselves to be the life she always wished she had.

I won’t go into too much detail, since I want you to read the book for yourself. However, Swanson brings up many topics for us to ruminate on. What is “reality” and do we always “know it when we see it”? What about the life Kitty always envisioned for herself? Was that what she really wanted, or what she was told to want? Can grief affect our minds so profoundly that we create an alternative world? I found myself thinking about these and other questions in the weeks after I finished the book. I highly recommend this novel. It was a well-written book that caused me to think long after turning the last page. Well Done!

Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon – Book Review

First of all, I need to say that I’m in the middle of reading this series, but because this is an ongoing series, I’ve decided to go ahead and review it. These books have everything that I like in novels. They are well-researched, historically accurate (for the most part), have good character development, and plenty of plot twists.

One of the many things that I like about these books is the interesting take on Scotland, England and the U.S. The oppression that English rule brought to Scotland was well-researched and portrayed quite believably. (There were valid reasons for the recent vote in Scotland to break-away from the U.K.) I really enjoyed the time-traveling, and how the standing stones factored into this.  The few things that I really didn’t like about these books are the historically accurate attitudes about, and treatment of, women.  These can be hard to read, and uncomfortable to think about.  That being said, I think they are also important to be portrayed in an accurate way, since that way we hopefully will avoid ending up in the same place.

The original characters of Claire Beauchamp Randall and Jamie Fraser are wonderfully written, and endlessly interesting due to the historic events that surround them. These books are detailed in a variety of ways including history, medicine, social norms, etc. They are a world unto themselves, and it’s a pleasure to visit there.

I highly recommend this series. I must say that I have not seen the T.V. show regarding these novels; however, I have heard good things. If you enjoy being submerged into another world, these are the books for you.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain – Book Review

This novel is the fictional story of Beryl Markham, the first female licensed horse trainer in Kenya, and the first person to ever fly east to west from Africa across the Atlantic solo. McLain concerns herself with Beryl’s early life on her father’s ranch in Kenya; through her early relationships until the flight across the Atlantic.

If you are looking for any compassion or reflection on the treatment of Kenya and it’s inhabitants by the whites who settled there with the express purpose of taking everything they could get, you won’t find it in this book. However, if you want to understand the callous disregard for a country and it’s people, that is related in spades. The attitudes of the while settlers are reflected in their actions throughout this novel without becoming part of the narrative; however it is not reflected upon by a single character.

If it sounds like I didn’t like this novel that is not true. I really liked the portrayal of Beryl as a strong woman who lived the way that she wanted, conventions be damned. This novel introduced me to a real person who lived by her own rules at a time when women were expected to simply marry and live for their family. I am definitely going to go ahead and real Beryl Markham’s own book West with the Night as soon as I can get a copy of it.

I do recommend this book, as its main character is such a strong female role model. The book also brings up a lot of food for thought regarding the treatment of countries and people by invading outsiders. Making one think is always a good quality in a book.

Coming of Age at the End of Days by Alice LaPlante – Book Review

This was a novel that grabs you by the throat, shakes you and forces you to have not only an opinion, but a reaction. The main character is Anna, a teenager who is struggling with depression. Her family tries to help her, but as in the case with many people suffering through mental illness nothing they do for her helps.

Her suffering leaves her vulnerable to the son of the new family down the street who invites her to his church. Anna, whose feelings of depression, have already left her vulnerable to end-times beliefs, is enthralled with the teaching of this cult; not only does she follow the teachings, but she turns on her own family accusing them of being sinful. She is more than willing to give up her own free-will to follow the sermons this “church” advocates.

I must say that I found myself irritated with Anna on numerous occasions during the reading of this book. However, I never once considered putting the book down to stop reading it. I loved how LaPlante took on the psychological issues involved in these doomsday cults, and turned a light on the belief systems they teach.

This is a novel that I highly recommend for a variety of reasons. One of these reasons is that these doomsday cults are very widespread and their popularity is rising; but also, how the theme of mental illness is portrayed here. This is not an easy-to-read book; but is a good book that explores many of the issues that are relevant today.