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Tête-à-Tête by Hazel Rowley

The subtitle is The Tumultuous Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Long as it is, the title could use another word in there somewhere. I would suggest “creepy.” While I learned a great deal about the work of these two brilliant public intellectuals of the 20th century, the book focuses on their unusual relationship and their connections to others, especially...

Robert E. Lee and Me by Ty Seidule

Ty Seidule’s premise, that the lie of the Lost Cause perpetuated from the end of the Civil War is a reflection of White Supremacy that infects the whole country, is not a surprise or new idea. What is different is that a military historian at West Point who grew up in the South idolizing Robert E. Lee has described his beliefs and his coming to understand the facts and reject the myth. As...

River of the Gods by Candice Millard

Years ago I read books about the discovery of the Blue Nile and the White Nile by Alan Moorehead, a great biography of Henry Morton Stanley, and a biography of Richard and Isabel Burton. It was interesting to revisit the European discovery of source of the White Nile and that dramatic struggle between Richard Burton and John Speke. The recent book by Candice Millard is good, but left me more...

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty

I have read two of Bernard MacLaverty’s books, one in the pre-blog days (Grace Notes) and The Anatomy School and am very much a fan of his work. This one from 2017 is also worthy, if you can manage the bleakness. An older couple, Stella and Gerry, are preparing to leave their home in Glasgow for a short trip to Amsterdam. They were from Northern Ireland and had left to escape the Troubles...

Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez

This is a debut novel by a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a classmate of my friend’s daughter. While that influenced me to pick up this book, it was already on my radar, especially after seeing Ron Charles’s review in the Washington Post. When we meet Olga, she is an over-the-top wedding planner for the super-rich, charging high prices and finding ways to scam...

The Ride of Her Life by Elizabeth Letts

This book was recommended by Dorothy and it gave me hours of pleasure as I listened to it. Annie Wilkins found herself in dire straits financially in the mid-1950s, having just recovered from a serious illness, and was told by her doctor that she would no longer be physically fit to run her farm. She had no family and he suggested she give up the farm that had been in her family for three...

Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurain

This little treat of a book opens with the arrival of a flying saucer near the Chateau Saint-Antoine vineyard in 1954 which transformed that year’s ordinary Beaujolais into an extraordinary wine. The vintner was never able to reproduce such a remarkable vintage again. Then we cut to 2017 in an old building in Paris where because of unusual circumstances four people celebrate when one finds...

Ghosts of New York by Jim Lewis

I’ve just finished a book that will be in my favorites list this year, perhaps at the very top. I found it in the NYT list of 100 notable books of 2021. The aspect of the book that I loved most was the web of connections among the characters that becomes apparent as you read the vignettes. The connections often are fleeting and not always key to the plot. For example the book begins by...

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

Years ago someone told us about the wonderful JP Morgan Library and Museum in New York and we visited it several times, including once for a midday music performance. So, when I read about The Personal Librarian, a fictional book about Belle da Costa Greene, the long-time librarian hired by J.P. Morgan to help catalog and build his collection of rare manuscripts, I didn’t hesitate. The non...

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

This novella is small, but powerful and unfortunately, it’s timely as well. It is set in 1985 and though times are hard in Ireland, it’s almost Christmas and folks are in a happy mood. The central character, Bill Furlong, has quite the backstory, and is surely facing a difficult economic future. His mother became pregnant while working in the household of Mrs. Wilson, the wealthy...

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