Saturday, March 12, 2022

I have Moved to Wordpress

 I have left Blogger and moved my blog to WordPress. So, to continue to receive my posts, please head over to The Literate Quilter at

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang

I read this book in two days. Qian Julie Wang captured my heart with her beautifully written memoir of growing up as an undocumented immigrant. I was heartbroken by the racism and disconcern that left her family in dire poverty.

Her parents were educated professionals in China, her mother a math professor and her father an English literature professor. In America, they worked as menial laborers. In China, Qian was a fearless, intelligent, tomboy. In America, her teacher accused her of plagiarism, unable to accept her gift with words.

Qian's father had believed in the myth of American freedom. In China, he was punished for independent thinking. He left his wife and child for America, and it was years before they could join him. 

Fear of being discovered kept them caged in poverty. When Qian's mother gains a degree, she can\'t work without proper paperwork. 

Qian did not see the 'beautiful' country for a long time. The trauma of her childhood haunted her. When her family relocates to Canada, their lives improve. They were welcome. They had free health care and found appropriate work. Qian received a good education that prepared her for Swarthmore College and Yale Law School.

As a girl, Qian found solace in books. "I read until my loneliness dulled, and I felt myself to be in the good company of all my vibrantly colored, two-dimensional friends. I read until excitement replaced hopelessness," she writes. She bristled when a teacher pushed her to read 'boy' books as more 'worthwhile' than the stories of girl's lives. She found role models such as Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg who taught her that you did not have to be a white male to succeed.

Their family trauma began in China during the Cultural Revolution when her father was a small child who observed his brother arrested, his parents beaten. At school, he was berated and tormented.

"Half a century and a migration across the world later, it would take therapy's slow and arduous unraveling for me to see that the thread of trauma was woven into every fiber of my family, my childhood," Qian writes.

Qian dreams of a day when all people are treated humanely. She writes so others know they are not alone and they can also survive and even flourish. I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased. 

Beautiful Country 
by Qian Julie Wang
Doubleday Books
Pub Date September 7, 2021
ISBN: 9780385547215
hard cover $28.95 (USD)

from the publisher

An incandescent and heartrending memoir from an astonishing new talent, Beautiful Country puts readers in the shoes of an undocumented child living in poverty in the richest country in the world.

In Chinese, the word for America, Mei Guo, translates directly to “beautiful country.” Yet when seven-year-old Qian arrives in New York City in 1994, she is overwhelmed by crushing fear and scarcity. In China, Qian’s parents were professors; in America, her family is “illegal” and it will require all the determination and small joys they can muster to survive.

In Chinatown, Qian’s parents work in sweatshops and sushi factories. Instead of laughing at her jokes or watching her sing and dance, they fight constantly. Qian goes to school hungry, where she teaches herself English through library books, her only source of comfort. At home, Qian's headstrong and resilient Ma Ma ignores her own pain until she's unable to stand, too afraid of the cost and attention a hospital visit might bring. And yet, young Qian, now acting as her mother's nurse, her family's translator, a student and a worker, cannot ask for help. The number-one rule in America still stands: To be noticed is to risk losing everything.

Searing and unforgettable, Beautiful Country is an essential American story about a family fracturing under the weight of invisibility, and a girl coming of age in the shadows, who never stops seeking the light

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy


Last year I read Charlotte McConaghy's debut novel Migrations which I absolutely loved. Her new novel Once There Were Wolves deals with similar themes of ecological destruction and a young woman determined to restore the balance of nature. I also found it darker, more suspenseful, delving into the basic questions of human nature. 

The opening sentence is horrific, an introduction into Inti's experience of mirror-touch synesthesia, and throughout the novel this device takes readers into the physical experience of violence, and also love

Inti and her twin Aggie grew up with separated parents, their mother a cop in Australia while their father lived a sustainable life in Canada. Their dad taught them how to live in harmony with nature. Their mother taught them that every person is a potential threat. 

Inti has a condition in which she can feel in her body what she 
observes happening to others. When Aggie marries a man who abuses her, and Inti does what she must to protect her sister. Aggie never recovers.

The Scottish ecosystem in crisis, with deer destroying the vegetation, Itni is part of a team reintroducing the deer's natural predator--wolves. It had worked in Yellowstone National Park. If you want to save the planet, you have to start with the predators, Inti explains.

They want to fear the wolves because we don't want to fear each other.~from Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

The Scots hunted out the wolves hundreds of years ago to protect their grazing sheep and out of fear. But Inti knows that humans are the real killers. Even in remote Scotland, Aggie lives in terror. 

Inti and the local cop Duncan begin an affair; both are damaged souls with dark secrets. "Death gets under your skin," Duncan says; "you carry it with you." Like Inti, he has seen the violence men can inflict on women. 

Inti makes enemies as she clashes with the locals over the wolves. When one goes missing, the wolves are suspect. And over time, Inti and the cop Duncan are also implicated. 

The wolves must kill to survive. And sometimes, humans must do the same. 

McConaghy's vivid descriptions bring to life the beauty of nature and the wolves, and the destruction humans inflict on nature and each other.

I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

Once There Were Wolves
by Charlotte McConaghy
Flatiron Books
Pub Date: August 3, 2021
ISBN: 9781250244147
hardcover $27.99 (USD)

from the publisher

From the author of the beloved national bestseller Migrations, a #1 IndieNext pick, a gorgeous and pulse-pounding new novel set in the wild Scottish Highlands.

Inti Flynn arrives in Scotland with her twin sister, Aggie, to lead a team of biologists tasked with reintroducing fourteen gray wolves into the remote Highlands. She hopes to heal not only the dying landscape, but Aggie, too, unmade by the terrible secrets that drove the sisters out of Alaska.

Inti is not the woman she once was, either, changed by the harm she’s witnessed—inflicted by humans on both the wild and each other. Yet as the wolves surprise everyone by thriving, Inti begins to let her guard down, even opening herself up to the possibility of love. But when a farmer is found dead, Inti knows where the town will lay blame. Unable to accept her wolves could be responsible, Inti makes a reckless decision to protect them. But if the wolves didn’t make the kill, then who did? And what will Inti do when the man she is falling for seems to be the prime suspect?

Propulsive and spell-binding, Charlotte McConaghy's Once There Were Wolves is the unforgettable story of a woman desperate to save the creatures she loves—if she isn’t consumed by a wild that was once her refuge. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

My Blogger Blog is Ended; Long Live My WordPress Blog!

I appreciate all my Blogger followers over these thirteen years. But, I have left Blogger and moved my blog to WordPress. So, to continue to receive my posts, please head over to The Literate Quilter at

In 2008 I wrote my first posts. (Some have been deleted.) I wrote about books I had read and quilts I was working on, vintage finds and travels and outings.

In 2014 my husband retired and my son told me about ways to obtain galleys for review. I joined NetGalley, and now 623 book reviews later I am 'frequently approved,' an Amazon Top 1000 reviewer, and have social media friendships with lovely folk across America.

Thank you for making my blog a success. Help me kick start my new blog by following me!


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Tooth of the Covenant by Norman Lock


I hope to expose both the moral horror and criminal injustices of the age and to speak to their persistence in our own. ~Norman Lock interview

As a genealogist I have uncovered things about my ancestors that were meant to be kept secret, things no one ever talked about. 

There are the usual crimes--sneaking out of Russia to avoid serving in the Czar's army, marriages soon gone sour and the divorces never spoken of, children born out of wedlock. And some that are disturbing, like a beloved grandparent who admitted to a crime and was jailed, which was kept secret from his children.

I found the newspaper articles, first downplaying that anything would come of the charges, then his admission of guilt, then the ad where my grandmother sold off furniture. She moved the children to her parents home and they never knew their father spent three months in jail. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne's ancestor's sins were not hidden. They were in the history books. His great-great-grandfather John Hathorne was a Puritan judge in Salem, Massachusetts, who sent women and girls to their deaths, accused of witchery. To disassociate himself from this heritage, Nathaniel changed the spelling of his name.

Tooth of the Covenant, Norman Lock's eighth book in his American Novel series, places Nathaniel back in time, planning to arraign his ancestor and prevent the deaths. Framed as Nathaniel writing a story, using the persona Isaac Page, his journey through time alters his perception.

Salem in 1692 was a dangerous place. Isaac/Nathaniel uses his woodworking skill acquired at the failed idealist Brook Farm community to earn his bed and board on the fringes of Salem.

He drinks at taverns where men ignore the 'one and no more' mantra of the Puritans, and dangerously discusses theology condemned by the Puritans. Married in his own time, Issac/Nathaniel finds himself attracted to a pretty indentured servant. 

As Issac delays his mission, his resolve weakens, and fatally, he is able to see through the lens of the past and becomes allied to his detested great-grandfather.

We can judge the past, and yet we cannot escape it. We carry the prejudices and legacy forward, sometimes unthinking, sometimes purposefully. Our legacy insidiously skews our world view, distorts our perception.

"What are we if not our stories," Hawthorne/Lock writes early on, and he ends, "If there is witchery, it is in the stories that we tell, their power to enthrall, transform, uplift, and corrupt. A scarlet letter or a great while whale--what are they if not figures in a tableau behind which lie truths that can crack the foundation of the world and let the angels or the devils out into broadest day!" 

The American Novel series enthrall us as they break open the veneer of righteousness we sometimes claim for ourselves. We miss the log in our own eye when we think only of the sins of the past, for the past remains with us. 

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Tooth of the Covenant
by Norman Lock
Bellevue Literary Press
Publication July 6, 2021
Trade paper
ISBN: 9781942658832
Ebook US $16.99
ISBN: 9781942658849

From the Publisher

Best known for his novel The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne was burdened by familial shame, which began with his great-great-grandfather John Hathorne, the infamously unrepentant Salem witch trial judge. 

In this, the eighth stand-alone book in The American Novels series, we witness Hawthorne writing a tale entitled Tooth of the Covenant, in which he sends his fictional surrogate, Isaac Page, back to the year 1692 to save Bridget Bishop, the first person executed for witchcraft, and rescue the other victims from execution. 

But when Page puts on Hathorne’s spectacles, his worldview is transformed and he loses his resolve. As he battles his conscience, he finds that it is his own life hanging in the balance.

An ingenious and profound investigation into the very notion of universal truth and morality, Tooth of the Covenant probes storytelling’s depths to raise history’s dead and assuage the persistent ghost of guilt.


Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Nature of Small Birds by Susie Finkbeiner

 It's the nature of small birds to sing their little hearts out. And it's the nature of God to hear them.~from The Nature of Small Birds by Susie Finkbeiner

The Nature of Small Birds is a quiet, gentle book, the kind of read that is a comfort and a respite. Susie Finbeiner has created a family that is not always perfect, but is able to love perfectly. 

It is the story of 'hippie' couple Bruce and Linda and their three daughters Sonny, Mindy, and Holly. Readers meet the couple in 2013, in Bruce's voice, and in 1975 narrated by Linda, and in 1988 through Sonny's eyes. Each narrative voice is distinct.

Central to their story is Mindy, who Bruce and Linda adopted through Operation Baby Lift at the end of the Vietnam War. We know what she experienced by her early fearfulness, and we understand the love that surrounded her by her growth and happiness. 

Over 3,000 Vietnamese babies and children were brought to America. Some were left at orphanages because their family was unable to care for them; the parents never approved their removal. 

Adopting a Vietnamese child in 1975 created strong reactions in friends and family and even strangers. The pain of losing sons in the war was still raw and visceral. Bruce had lost a brother in the war, and his mother had a difficult time accepting Mindy.

Now grown, Mindy is exploring how to find her birth mother in Vietnam, supported by her family.

If all I've done with this one life is to be a son, husband, brother, dad, grandpa to these remarkable people, that's good enough for me.~from The Nature of Small Birds by Susie Finkbeiner

My favorite voice was Bruce, whose reflections on life, family, and aging are beautiful. I also loved Linda's recollection of early motherhood, so like my own. Sonny's life in 1988, filled with malls and Cyndi Lauper and movies like 'Big', made me recall the world I knew when our son was born. 

The story is set in a Michigan 'Up North' setting, on the "pinkie knuckle" of Michigan.

I received an ARC from the publisher through LibraryThing. My review is fair and unbiased.

The Nature of Small Birds
by Susie Finkbeiner
paperback $15.99ISBN: 9780800739355
ISBN: 9781493430468
Pub Date: July 6, 2021

from the publisher
In 1975, three thousand children were airlifted out of Saigon to be adopted into Western homes. When Mindy, one of those children, announces her plans to return to Vietnam to find her birth mother, her loving adopted family is suddenly thrown back to the events surrounding her unconventional arrival in their lives.

Though her father supports Mindy's desire to meet her family of origin, he struggles privately with an unsettling fear that he'll lose the daughter he's poured his heart into. Mindy's mother undergoes the emotional rollercoaster inherent in the adoption of a child from a war-torn country, discovering the joy hidden amid the difficulties. And Mindy's sister helps her sort through relics that whisper of the effect the trauma of war has had on their family--but also speak of the beauty of overcoming.

Told through three strong voices in three compelling timelines, The Nature of Small Birds is a hopeful story that explores the meaning of family far beyond genetic code.
About the author
Susie Finkbeiner is the CBA bestselling author of All Manner of Things, which was selected as a 2020 Michigan Notable Book, and Stories That Bind Us, as well as A Cup of Dust, A Trail of Crumbs, and A Song of Home. She serves on the Fiction Readers Summit planning committee, volunteers her time at Ada Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and speaks at retreats and women's events across the country. Susie and her husband have three children and live in West Michigan.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Cape Doctor by E. J. Levy

I read this novel in one day.

It was a windy, gloomy day. But that is not why I read it in one day. I read it in one day because I did not want to stop reading. 

I loved the narrative voice, the feeling of being transported back several centuries, the knowing wink to the style of the early 19th c in lines like "No one who had ever seen Margaret Brackley in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine (or so Jane Austen might have written of her..."

I was interested in the questions the narrator struggled with, about choice and chance, gender identity, the gap between male and female autonomy and self-determination.

Which of us is undisguised, after all? Which of us reveals himself truly to the world. ~from The Cape Doctor by E. J. Levy


The Cape Doctor is based on the true story of a woman who posed as a man to gain an education and become the first female doctor. She performed the first recorded, successful Cesarean operation.
portrait of Dr. James Barry, inspiration for The Cape Doctor's protagonist

Levy's character is inspired by the historical Barry, but Levy gives her own spin to the story, concentrating on the feminist issues. Her Dr. Perry lives as a man, but identifies as female. (Another character is hermaphrodite, which some believe Barry was, while others believe Barry was transsexual. Those controversies do not affect my reading of this novel, as this is historical fiction inspired by true events, and not a biography.) 

Under Levy's hands, the imagined character Margaret Brackley becomes Dr. Jonathan Mirandus Perry. She tells her story of transformation from a subservient and invisible female to an authoritative and competent professional man of society.

In dire poverty, Margaret's mother sends her to beg aid from her uncle. There, she meets General Mirandus, who takes an interest in her brilliant mind. After her uncle's death, the general sends her to be educated in Edinburgh's esteemed medical school with plans for her to become his personal physician in Caracas.

Margaret cuts her hair and binds her breasts and dons a boy's clothing. She learns to lower her voice, to change her actions and her attitude, to mimic. She learns how to masquerade, how to pass.

As Dr. Perry, she becomes a successful army doctor in Cape Town, with at least one young lady falling in love with her.

When her true sex is discovered, she has a love affair and must chose between love and her career, and more importantly, "the right to think and speak and move as I chose, not as others bade me. To experience life on my own terms."

I thought of Mary Wollstonecraft, another brilliant woman who was also against marriage, whose love affairs were scandalous.

As a first-person narrative in the style of the early 19th c, Margaret/Perry speaks to issues of identity and freedom, often in pithy epigrams. And most are quite timeless. Including, "You can judge a culture by its medicine, by how it teats is most vulnerable--the ill." 

It is interesting to learn that the Cape Doctor is the name for a strong wind that today blows away the pollution over Cape Town and provides waves for perfect surfing, but which was believed to also blow away bad spirits, healing the town. And that fair weather comes after the blow. 

I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

The Cape Doctor
by E. J. Levy
Little, Brown and Company
Pub Date  June 15, 2021
ISBN: 9780316536585
hardcover $28.00 (USD)

from the publisher

A "gorgeous, thoughtful, heartbreaking" historical novel, The Cape Doctor is the story of one man’s journey from penniless Irish girl to one of most celebrated and accomplished figures of his time (Lauren Fox, New York Times bestselling author of Send for Me).
Beginning in Cork, Ireland, the novel recounts Perry’s journey from daughter to son in order to enter medical school and provide for family, but Perry soon embraced the new-found freedom of living life as a man. From brilliant medical student in Edinburgh and London to eligible bachelor and quick-tempered physician in Cape Town, Dr. Perry thrived. When he befriended the aristocratic Cape Governor, the doctor rose to the pinnacle of society, before the two were publicly accused of a homosexual affair that scandalized the colonies and nearly cost them their lives.
E. J. Levy’s enthralling novel, inspired by the life of Dr. James Miranda Barry, brings this captivating character vividly alive.