River of Dust by Virginia Pye….

Featured

River of Dust@EllenWeeren or @AReasonToRead

Reading this book was a special treat for me because I had the chance to meet Virginia Pye before I read her novel – even got me a signed copy, I did. And, by the by, she is delightful.

This historical novel is set in Northwest China in 1910 and chronicles the lives of a missionary couple whose young son, Wesley, is kidnapped by nomads right before their eyes.

Some reviewers have called this a “dark” novel but I disagree. I think it’s a beautiful (albeit sad) telling of what might happen when parents who, for what they believe is the greater good, willingly expose their child to dangers he would not have experienced otherwise.

It’s a story about birth and loss and guilt and trying to start over under impossible circumstances. It’s the ultimate test of faith –  not just in God but also in the ones we love – it’s the slow unraveling of reasonable madness.

I simply loved it!

The idea of using China as a backdrop for her novel came to Virginia from her grandfather’s journals detailing his time there as, you guessed it, a missionary. She has said the similarities between this story and her grandfather’s end with the setting.

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres but the books usually take so long to read. Virginia, however, wonderfully and concisely captured the essence of the time and place, making River of Dust a fairly quick read – and yet, it’s still compelling. I kept wondering what I would do in those circumstances.

I never came to an answer.

This is a story that will stay with you for a long time.

virginia pye2

 

 

 

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton….

Featured

I loved this book – the secret keeper kate morton

The Secret Keeper – by Kate Morton.

Loved it!

The story opens with 16-year-old Laurel sitting in a tree house, where she witnesses her mother stab a stranger in the chest and kill him.

Yep, it’s good right from the beginning.

This is what Kate Morton’s website tells you about the story…

1961: On a sweltering summer’s day, while
her family picnics by the stream on their
Suffolk farm, sixteen-year-old Laurel hides out
in her childhood tree house dreaming of a boy
called Billy, a move to London, and the bright
future she can’t wait to seize. But before the
idyllic afternoon is over, Laurel will have witnessed
a shocking crime that changes everything.

2011: Now a much-loved actress, Laurel finds herself overwhelmed by shades of the past. Haunted by memories, and the mystery of what she saw that day, she returns to her family home and begins to piece together a secret history. A tale of three strangers from vastly different worlds–Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy–who are brought together by chance in wartime London and whose lives become fiercely and fatally entwined…

I can’t comment too much on the plot because – alas – this is a book about secrets and how they unfold. The last secret totally surprised me. Yea!

The plot does jump back in forth between the past and the present as it introduces us to Laurel, Vivien, and Dorothy.  They are three fascinating women connected in ways that only Kate Morton can imagine. Thankfully she shares the threads that weave them together with her readers in a beautiful tale of womanhood and motherhood – of independence and interdependence.

This is a story about dreams and decisions and who our mothers were before we got the chance to meet them.

Fabulous!

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff…

Featured

This historical fiction called The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff is an excellent book club book. There’s lots of layers for dicussion – polygamy, parenting, religion, and murder. It’s all there.

The storyline bounces back and forth between modern-day, where BeckyLyn has just been arrested for her husband’s murder – and 1875, where Ann Eliza Young recently separated from her husband Brigham Young.

The book is probably longer than it needs to be and the dense build up of the historical conflict for women in the Mormon faith is a little overdone – we get it – being the 19th wife would come with some complications. But overall the book is very interesting and, as I said, opens up a lot room for book club talk.

There are some surprises in the book also – a big plus for me.

My book club is made up of women so our discussion focused a lot on trying to understand how women can tolerate being one of so many wives. We didn’t really understand how it makes sense – although we did get perpetuating the “way it’s always been”.

At one point, one of our members asked the group to imagine having 19 husbands. Holy smokes. No thank you.

 

 

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain…..

Featured

(There is always the chance that a any book discussion might reveal too much about an unread story – if you haven’t read the book and want to, you might want to wait to read what is written here – just in case.)

The Paris Wife is a novel but, in the epilogue, Paula McLain tells her readers that she tried to mirror the true story of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, as much as possible. The story takes us through the first marriage of Hadley and Ernest and their exciting beginnings in Paris.

The story is very well-written and the characters are entertaining. Wonderful literary personalities like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald dance across the pages. We learn about Paris in the 20’s and the artists who journeyed to the city to hone their talents with like-minded souls. And we learn, maybe a little too much, about the famed Ernest Hemingway.

There is a lot to really like about this book, however, the story is just sad. Hadley tells us in the beginning that things won’t work out – but I wanted to believe I read it wrong – that I had confused myself with the silly truth of it all. But she did tell the truth and so the whole journey has a melancholy overlay that never dissipates.

Reading this book is a bit like watching sugar dissolve in clear water. There is the promise of sweetness, but we realize the crystals can  mostly only sink, their load too heavy for the frigid water to gracefully absorb it. In the end, we are just left with a cloudy, murky mess.

If you are mad at your spouse, wait to read this book. Otherwise, dive in. You’ll will be glad you read it.