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September Reading Recap

September was a great reading month for me, but I didn’t get in much blogging time. The books were all good, so I can’t not write about them. Hence, this quick recap.

What I read:

Young Adult Trilogy

The Outliers Trilogy by Kimberly McCreight. This series first came onto my radar through Cynde, owner of the Book Club Bookstore and More, who’d been recommending it to me since I met her a few years ago. When Cynde asked me to moderate Kimberly’s event for the release of the final book in the trilogy, I said yes and finally got to reading.

The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight (WildmooBooks.com)Book 1: The Outliers
Pub date: May 3, 2016
Format read: digital edition
Source: bought it

Synopsis: Set in Massachusets and Maine. Wylie’s Mom recently died and then her best friend Cassie, who she’s been on the outs with, goes missing. Jasper, Cassie’s boyfriend, who Wylie never really liked, team up to try to find her. Wylie’s father’s psychological research plays a role and it turns out there’s more danger than just the questionable group of people Cassie has gone off with. Wylie comes to understand she has powers that others don’t.

My thoughts: It took a while for the pacing of this book to find its footing, but at about the halfway mark or so it really takes off.

The Scattering by Kimberly McCreight (WildmooBooks.com)Book 2: The Scattering
Pub date: May 2, 2017
Format read: digital edition
Source: bought it

Synopsis: The mystery deepens about who wants what, and more players enter the field.  Wylie and Jasper are still teamed up and trying to figure out what’s going on and who to trust. The scope of what’s at stake and whose involved grows. Wylie is working to understand and use her new found powers and Jasper is spiraling with guilt over what happened in Maine.

My thoughts: This one is my favorite book in the trilogy. It ends with a great cliffhanger. I’m glad I could jump into the third book and not have to wait a year for it to come out!

The Collide by Kimberly McCreight (WildmooBooks.com)Book 3: The Collide
Pub date: July 3, 2018
Format read: digital edition
Source: bought it

Synopsis: Wylie is out of the detention center and is now teamed up with her twin brother, Gideon, who has struggled with his father’s research findings and his sister’s abilities. Jasper is off at college, trying to understand himself and do the right thing. No one is safe and trusting the wrong person is a matter of life and death.

My thoughts: The shit hits the fan in this final book. The pacing is fast and there are some holes in the plot–it seems instead of a trilogy this could have been a series with a couple more books to iron things out–but I was happy to read on to see how things would end up. This trilogy brings many contemporary issues into play — gender disparity,  scientific findings, government corruption, religious extremism, and more.

My friend and Book Cougars cohost Emily also started reading the trilogy and we ended up moderating Kimberly McCreight’s event together. One thing Kim talked about at the event is how the 2016 presidential election impacted the trilogy. You can watch our event here on YouTube.

Historical Fiction

The Book Cougars were invited by Bank Square Books of Mystic, CT to moderate a historical fiction panel at the Mohegan Sun Casino. Of course, we said yes! Here are the four books I read for this event. I’m happy to say I really enjoyed all of them.

Carnegie's Maid by Marie Benedict on WildmooBooks.comCarnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict
Pub Date: January 16, 2018
Format read: Audio version
Source: bought it

Synopsis: Clara Kelly travels alone from Ireland to American in search of a better life. She stumbles into the position of becoming Andrew Carnegie’s lady’s maid. The two women both come from humble beginnings. Mrs. Carnegie isn’t easy to please, but Clara figures out how to help her employer and help herself to succeed in her new position, one that is above her station. Of course, she can’t help but fall in love with her mistress’s elder son, Andrew Carnegie.

My thoughts: Those interested in Carnegie’s life have long wondered why he switched gears in mid-life from focusing on amassing wealth to giving it away. Speculation is that some personal relationship and/or love interest impacted him. This novel is a “what if” answer to the mystery. The novel is told from Clara’s perspective. I found myself curious about and rooting for all of the major characters in this novel.

There’s a scene between Clara and Andrew where they bond over the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning that sort of swept me off my feet. Along the way Benedict drops in information about why the Irish were facing such hard times back in Ireland, Carnegie’s background and business dealings, as well as his efforts during the Civil War, some of his personal life, and what Pittsburgh and life was like there for different classes in the second half of the 19th century.

The audio version was very well done by Alana Kerr Collins. Her Irish and Scottish accents were a pleasure to listen to. This is an aside, but there was one sentence where she attempted a German accent that was so bad it was funny. It sounded like a Transylvanian vampire trying out his Jersey Shore accent. I had to rewind and listen to it twice it cracked me up so.

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer on WildmooBooks.com

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer
Pub Date: May 16, 2017
Format read: Audio
Source: bought it

Synopsis: Neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato starts experiencing “empathic vision” while operating on patients. She feels what’s going on in their bodies. Beatrice was orphaned at a young age and raised by her older brother who became a medieval scholar. After he passes away, Beatrice inherits his home in Siena as well as his scholarly projects. She takes up his research, falls in love with the city, and accidentally time-travels back to 1347. She knows the plague will soon arrive yet can’t help falling in love with both the way of life she’s dropped into and a man who is marked by a vengeful Medici.

My thoughts: The beautiful hardcover of this book caught my eye at the bookstore shortly after it came out and it had been on my TBR. It was a coincidence that I decided to listen to this book on audio after having listened to Carnegie’s Maid, another audiobook with European accents. As someone who has never studied Italian, it was a beautiful experience to listen to Cassandra Campbell’s performance and hear the Italian names and places pronounced correctly. Also like Carnegie’s Maid, this novel includes a bit of a historical mystery. Scholars have wondered why Siena was hit so hard by the plague and why it never regained its glory. The story Winawer creates as a possible answer is intense and believable. Coming in at 16 hours, 12 min this audiobook was a commitment. (The paperback is 448 pages.) If you’re into historical fiction of this time period, you’ll love the detail. I was intrigued by the 14th-century storyline and how Beatrice navigated both her new time period and travel between both worlds. 

Solemn Graves by James R. Benn on WildmooBooks.com

Solemn Graves by James R. Benn
Pub Date: September 2, 2018
Format read: Paper
Source: review copy

Synopsis: Billy Boyle is a U.S. Army detective who has been assigned to investigate a murder in a French home just a month after D-Day. The Nazis, who had been using the home as headquarters, have just fled and while the locals were happy to see the Americans coming, the power vacuum creates new dangers as some take advantage of the chaos to settle old scores. Battle lines are precarious and various French resistance groups fight among themselves, taking out their frustrations on their own citizens, particularly on women. There are mixed messages and/or lies coming from every direction that Billy has to try and sort out. Add to this a young woman who doesn’t speak but who was seen at the murder scene covered in blood and the older mistress of the house who is known to be an effective member of the resistance. 

My thoughts: This is the 13th Billy Boyle World War 11 Mystery. I’ve been intending to try this series for years now and am so glad to finally do so! (I bought the first book in the series the night of the event at Mohegan Sun, so I can now start at the beginning.) For being the 13th book in a series, Solemn Graves is full of freshness and energy. Benn does an excellent job of balancing all the familiar visuals of the European front (think GIs riding around in jeeps through the French countryside) with characters that come off the page like real people. He also doesn’t provide a simplistic portrayal of the French citizenry, either. There was fighting between the resistance groups and some men who couldn’t or didn’t fight in the war joined resistance groups to avoid being taken to Germany as slave labor. I’d also never heard of The Ghost Army, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, whose mission was to find ingenious visual and auditory ways to deceive the enemy. Artists, actors, set designers, and engineers were recruited to use their imaginations and ingenuity to psych out the Germans. The mystery itself is good and deeply rooted in the time and place, creating an atmosphere I could feel.

The Masterpiece by Fiona DavisThe Masterpiece by Fiona Davis on WildmooBooks.com
Pub date: August 7, 2018
Format read: Paper
Source: review copy

Synopsis: Historical fiction focused on the lives of two women from different time periods whose lives revolve around Grand Central Terminal. In 1928 Clara Darden is an illustrator and teacher at the Grand Central School of Art. She’s struggling to make ends meet, facing discrimination as a woman and as an illustrator, which is considered a sub-art form compared to painting. Fifty years later, in 1974, Grand Central is no longer a shining place of activity but a dark and dangerous place people only use for transportation, if they must. Virginia Clay is a recently divorced single mother of a teenager trying to make ends meet. She’s happy to land a job in a rough economy that is not friendly to women but embarrassed by it at the same time. She stumbles upon the abandoned and long-forgotten art school and her life is forever altered when she finds a painting that speaks to her.

My thoughts: I saw Fiona Davis last year at an event at a local bookstore when her prior book came out. My wife and I purchased her first novels at that event but I’ve yet to read them (The Doll House and The Address). I was excited to hear she’d be on this panel and couldn’t wait to read The Masterpiece because I love Grand Central. I seriously enjoyed this book. It was cool to read a book that was like a double historical fiction novel. I found myself enjoying both sets of characters, those from the 20s as well as those from the 70s. It’s a peek into the art world, from the perspectives of artists, collectors, and admirers. The rise of Clara’s career as an illustrator was exciting. And the history about Grand Central’s rise from its darkest days is fascinating. Did you know that Jackie Onassis Kennedy was instrumental in helping save the building when developers wanted to tear it down and build an ugly 1970s skyscraper on top of it? This novel left with me a sense of hope. Not that there’s necessarily a happy ending for everyone, but its a reminder and affirmation of how important it is to have a sense of purpose in your life.

You can watch the Book Cougars conversation with Melodie Winawer, James Benn, and Fiona Davis below. Unfortunately, Marie Benedict wasn’t able to make it to the event at Mohegan Sun due to a family emergency.

 

 

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5 replies

  1. I’ve seem The Masterpiece around but for some reason haven’t read a review. This definitely makes me want to read it. Thanks!

  2. I love Grand Central too, and its preservation a testament to the fact that people do get things right sometimes. The novel sounds like a fascinating way to explore that history.

  3. A busy month… like you I just don’t seem to have the time to fit in reviews

  4. I was so sad to miss the panel! I actually had it on my calendar but we ended up being triple booked that weekend. Davis is an interesting writer, I read The Address and felt she did a better job writing the apartment as a character than she did some of the characters. I’m glad you enjoyed the one you read!

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