Monday, September 21, 2020


To some extent, I feel reluctant rating and reviewing this book. I'm not the intended reader, although various people recommended it in a historical fiction workshop I attended. His advice and discussions feel a bit superficial, including warnings about not using anachronisms and the general writing tips -- "Always double-, triple-, and quadruple-check your prose to be sure you haven't gotten carried away by the action and written sentences like these ... 'He saw Cherokee warriors coming out of the corner of his eye.'" I also found myself skimming over all the promotion of his books and those of his wife, Dark Rain (e.g. "[It] formed the basis for my second historical novel, Follow the River, which has been in print since 1981 and has sold one and a half million copies"). He also insists on the limitations and fallibility of internet information and research; and while I don't take anything I find on wikipedia, for example, as gospel, his views seem a bit eccentric for the present day. I feel as though the author is kind and well-intentioned, but this book wasn't quite what I was hoping for. (less)


I read this compelling, engaging book in one day. Born with ocular albinism, resulting in him having red eyes, young Sam Hill is bullied and tormented as a child but, with the support of his two friends and his extraordinary parents, he grows up to be a generous, evolved ophthalmologist who travels the world helping others. This would be a 5-star read for me except that I felt the ending was just a tad too tidy and picture-perfect. Also, the line from the bully's cruelty to his monstrous parents (and Sam's "big heart" and his loving parents) is drawn a little too sharply for subtlety. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the read. 

I was surprised that Dugoni is actually better known for his bestselling mystery novels. I read around that genre pretty widely; how the heck have I missed those? I'll be looking for them next because he is a wonderful storyteller. I recommend.

Richard Powers, THE OVERSTORY

This Pulitzer-prize winning novel is part epic and part fable, though it begins with what I'd characterize as a series of short stories about different families in which a tree has some significance. It's about trees, yes; but it's also about how humans have mistakenly come to see ourselves as the central figures in our narrative. Trees have lives and ways of communicating among each other that we are only beginning to understand ... because we're not looking and listening properly. So much has already been written about this book that I'm not going to try to explain it. But it's a bighearted, ambitious book, very well-written, and it shifted the way I look at the world. I'd recommend to anyone. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020



This compelling story was completely new to me, for I'd never heard of Virginia Hall, an American woman who served as a spy in WWII. Generally I appreciate books that recover women's history, as so many stories about WWII focus on men's heroics. And Hall was extraordinarily brave, putting herself back in France to work with the Resistance when she knew her portrait was circulating among those who'd capture and torture her. I thought Pearson did well exploring Virginia's youth and the accident that she refused to let limit her; I felt outraged for Virginia as the Foreign Office rejected her applications, largely based on her sex. Pearson explores the politics of the different intelligence agencies (section D of the Foreign Office vs. Special Operations Executive) and sustains the historical context without going into detail about WWII history that most of us know (the invasion of Austria ... Poland ... etc.). The section on Vichy France is very well done and, as it falls within Virginia's purview, contains more specifics--I learned a great deal (again, I was outraged by much of it!). Pearson also shares some of the details of Virginia's training for going undercover in France--for example, how when startled from their beds, they were taught to jump up and scream "Nom de Dieu" instead of "Bloody hell!" At times her synopses left me wishing for more detail ("Virginia was now working almost nonstop. There were agents in need of money, contacts, or a shoulder to lean on. There were RAF pilots, anxious to return to the fighting, who needed safe transport back to England...."). But overall a quick, engaging read that provides a window into a world. Readers who like Susan Elia MacNeal's (fictional) Maggie Hope books and Elizabeth Wein's CODE NAME VERITY, will probably find this book provides an interesting viewpoint.

Thursday, September 3, 2020


As a child I had read Lewis's Narnia books; and as an adult, I had seen the movie *Shadowlands* and read a portion of C.S. Lewis's *A Grief Observed,* his meditations after the death of his wife Joy from cancer. So I knew the basic story of their love affair, which is heartbreaking and--in both those works--told with restraint, eloquence, and deep feeling. This book, BECOMING MRS. LEWIS, aims at following in the tradition of recent books about women who are married to famous men--e.g. The Aviator's Wife (Lindbergh), The Paris Wife (Hemingway) and Lady Clementine (Churchill)--but whose stories have been elided by history. I love that sort of feminist recovery project, but to succeed that sort of book needs to provide fresh and meaningful insight into the events or into the woman's subjectivity. It pains me to write a poor review, but although many other readers loved this book, it disappointed me, in nearly every way.

Being written in first person, from Joy's perspective, the book sets up the expectation that we will be privy to Joy's intimate thoughts, but the events of her first marriage and divorce are presented in sometimes tedious detail and with shallow psychological insight (as when she asks her friend, "How did we both fall in love with and marry alcoholics? ... Was it something in our childhood?"). Further, at the top of each chapter is a couplet from one of (the real) Joy Davidson's sonnets that she wrote while falling in love with Lewis (whom she called Jack). These couplets are lovely, evocative tidbits that stand in contrast to the uneven prose and dialog within the chapters. Callahan has Joy speak in trite metaphors such as: "This river ... It's very much like life." And their love affair feels predicated on the craving for admiration and the sort of push/pull characteristic of immature romance; Joy says, "I imagined a few opening lines for the moment I saw Jack." She says to her son, "Look at the moon and know that I'll be looking at it too. We will be under the same stars and the same sky." I must admit, that passage felt to me a little too close to the song "Somewhere Out there" from the animated classic *An American Tail*. ("Somewhere out there beneath the pale moonlight/Someone's thinking of me and loving me tonight ... And even though I know how very far apart we are/It helps to think we might be wishin' on the same bright star...")

The book I think Callahan could have written more successfully is the one that begins to emerge in her epilogue--her discovery and research into Joy and Jack's love affair. That is, I'd have relished reading *why* she was so fascinated by their relationship and how it related to, or informed her own life. Perhaps it could be a twinned narrative, like *Julie and Julia*, for example, moving back and forth between the two stories. I think that could have been a compelling, intimate book.