Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mini-Book Reviews of Recent Reads, Including the Tragic, the Ridiculous, and the Sublime

The Peabody Sisters of Salem by Louisa Hall Tharp was a 1950s book I picked up after reading Erika Robuck's House of Hawthorne last year.

The Peabody sisters included Sophia, who married Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mary who married Horace Mann, and Elizabeth who brought kindergarten to America. The women had great intellect and drive and allied themselves with the movers and shakers of their time. They hobnobbed with all the Transcendentalists--Alcott, Emerson, Thoreau.

All three sisters worked in education at some time, with Elizabeth involved with Alcott's school before starting her own. Mary made herself a pillar for the work of Horace Mann until he gave up and married her. Artistic Sophia was subject to migraines until her marriage to Hawthorne. Mary and Sophia both idolized their husbands, totally supporting their work. Elizabeth was also the first women publisher in America, and quite formidable in her work for her pet causes.

Tharp's writing shows great scholarship and knowledge. Yet the book is highly readable and sometimes funny as Tharp is not above witty jabs at the sisters' expense. We are left with an impressive view of these women in all their glory and foibles.

The Other Joseph by Skip Horack was a book I won in a give-a-way from The Quivering Pen blog. At age nineteen Roy Joseph's older brother was lost in Operation Desert Storm, his parents were killed in a car accident, when a neighbor girl befriended him and they fell into bed. It earned Roy a felony conviction. At twenty-nine he works on an oil rig with a dog his only friend. Then he hears from a teenage girl who claims to be his brother's child. He sets off on a quest to learn more about his brother and to claim the only family he has left. The story is sad but compelling as we root for Roy.

License to Quill by Jacopo della Quercia is a free e-book I received through NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. The book does not fit into any one category: William Shakespeare is asked to be a spy for the crown. He is to infiltrate the terrorist group led by Guy Fawkes while they are planning the Gunpowder Plot to bomb Parliament. He meets W and secretary Penny who equip Will with remarkable devices. Meantime Christopher Marlowe, whose death was staged, is living a proliferate life in Italy until he is sobered up to play his part. Zany, over-the-top, and yet infused with a knowledge of the life and times.

St. Martin's Press
paperback $16.99
Publication December 2015
ISBN: 9781250059659

The Luminaries by Elizabeth Catton was my new book club's choice. The Mann Booker Prize winning novel was not well accepted by the other readers who complained of a lack of clear plot, likable characters, or compelling story line. I liked it. Set in 1866 in New Zealand's gold fields, a place where men and women come to start new lives, hopefully as rich men, the book is a mystery and a love story--although that is not clear until near the end. I appreciated the exploration of the perception of truth, character, and justice as shifting according to personal view. Some day I will reread it with special attention made to the astrological structure of the novel. It is not a book for those who like light entertainment. You will think.

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