The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, 4/5 stars, 341 pages, 2021

In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture on the New York society scene and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps build a world-class collection.

But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white—her complexion is dark because she is African American.

The Personal Librarian tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths to which she must go—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.

I’ve always loved libraries. Since I was young and my mom used to drop me off for a few hours to now as I volunteer with the Friends of the Library, libraries have always been a comforting space. This book of historical fiction is based on Belle da Costa Greene, the woman who became JP Morgan’s personal librarian who curated his collection and looked after it after his death.

Did I mention she was Black but passed for White in high society and to Morgan himself? What an amazing story to tell!

I love Marie Benedict’s stories about overlooked women in history and I especially love that for this one she had a co-writer, Victoria Christopher Murray. In the letters at the end of the book Benedict explains why she wanted a woman of color to help her get this story just right. And I love the friendship that was formed in the writing of this book.

If you like historical fiction and intriguing women don’t miss this one.

Homeschooling Happenings – Mexico

Today we finish up our time in Mexico. Last week we studied the country as a whole and this week we concentrated on what’s going on at the US-Mexico border and its history. These are a few of the books we liked this week.

The Other Side: Stories of Central American Teen Refugees Who Dream of Crossing the Border by Juan Pablo Villalobos. 160 pages, 2018, 4.5 stars. This is labeled as a teen book, but most could be shared with younger kids. So important for kids(and adults) to understand the why of the kids that are coming.

Hear My Voice: The Testimonies of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States compiled by Warren Binford. 96 pages, 2021, 4 stars. So many things I loved about this picture book. I loved that each page was illustrated by a different artist with Mexican ties. I loved that it was told in both English and Spanish. I loved the additional information at the end, along with questions and ways to help.

Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border by Mitali Perkins and Sara Palacios. 40 pages, 2019, 3 stars. A more upbeat story for younger kids about a one day event between San Diego and Tijuana where families on different sides of the border can come together. Fictional story about a real event.

Travesia: A Migrant Girl’s Cross-Border Journey by Michelle Gerster and Fiona Dunnett. 72 pages, 2021, 3 stars. It’s listed for teens, but I think mature 10-11 year olds could also read it. This was about actually coming across the border, with the afterward telling how it changed their family.

We watched videos, read different viewpoints, and had a writing assignment for the week. I wish we’d had time to delve into it further.

A few excellent reads

City of Thieves by David Benioff, historical fiction, 4.5/5 stars, 258 pages, pub. 2008

This novel takes place during the Siege of Leningrad during WWII. I probably wouldn’t have picked this up on my own, but I bought it as a blind date book at a fundraiser. I’m so glad I did!

This coming of age story about the friendship between Russians, one a young looter and the other a seasoned soldier, is riveting. Lev and Kolya are sent out in search of a dozen eggs for the wedding of and official’s daughter. I’m not a huge fan of WWII fiction, but the siege of Leningrad books always fascinate me. The inhumanity up against real people and their will to live is always a story worth reading.

It’s at times harsh, crude, and absurd. I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it!

I listened to the audio and picked up the book to read the parts I wanted to think about a little more. The cannibal scene alone will have your heart racing.

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka, 4.25/5 stars, thriller, 323 pages, pub. 2017

The Last Place You Look is set in the Columbus area, so that was a big draw.

Roxane is a private investigator dealing with grief and a drinking problem. This is not unique in this genre, but the addition of her relationships with both men and women added a new layer to her personal story.

She was hired to get her client’s brother out of jail and she’s pressed for time because he’s set to be executed in two months. When she starts nosing around the problems with the local police begin.

This was a fast paced mystery with a flawed lead character and dysfunctional family and I liked it I see that this is the first of four books (so far) about Roxane so there’s hope for her yet.

Dark and Shallow Lies by Ginny Myers Sain, 4/5 stars. YA, 432 pages, pub. 2021

This was a fun, swampy, mystical thriller. Eleven teens bound together in the Louisiana bayou town known for its seers and those with special powers. When one of them disappears the one who got away, Grey,, comes home to find her.

The audio performance was great and I really liked it. It’s not a planned series, but I can see another book being written about these kids.

A couple of books worth mentioning

I’ve been so out of sync this summer that I’ve neglected talking about books that should have been mentioned. I’m hoping to get back on track in the next few weeks, but Jason just threw a mini-vacation to NYC for the two of us into the mix, so don’t hold me to that 🙂

The Airship Pirate by Minerva Pendleton, 85 pages, 2022

How fun is it when you know the author of a book before said author writes the book? I’m lucky enough to know Minerva Pendleton, aka someone I know whose name is not really Minerva, and they are fabulous people.

Verity Wheelwright lives a life of luxury but boredom. She is the only daughter to the widowed Lord Wheelwright, and he keeps her in his manor on New Lutetia, where she meets with tutors to learn classical literature and music. Verity craves adventure and often escapes to the pages of livre rouge—cheap, paperback books with crimson covers that contain sordid tales of lust and adventure. When New Lutetia is invaded by the infamous airship pirate Cavalier Eli Callahan, Verity is forced to make a choice. She can run and hide, or surrender herself in exchange for the safety of her city, but at what cost?

Verity is a pampered lady who longs for more excitement in her sheltered life. One day that excitement arrives on her doorstep with the arrival of pirates who whisk her away aboard their airship. Can she trust the captain of the ship, the renowned Eli Callahan, to keep her safe while awaiting the ransom? Does she even want to be kept safe?

I really liked Verity, Eli and his first mate Screw. There were even some spicy bits if you like that sort of thing in your romance (and who doesn’t?).

This was a short read, only 85 pages, and my only complaint was that I wanted more.

The Precious Jules by Shawn Nocher, 350 pages, 2022

This ARC was sent to me months ago and forgotten about and misplaced by no fault of its own. The premise of a daughter who isn’t the norm being shipped off appealed to me. It felt personal.

After nearly two hundred years of housing retardants, as they were once known, the Beechwood Institute is closing the doors on its dark history, and the complicated task of reassigning residents has begun. Ella Jules, having arrived at Beechwood at the tender age of eight, must now rely on the state to decide her future. Ella’s aging parents have requested that she be returned to her childhood home, much to the distress of Ella’s siblings, but more so to Lynetta, her beloved caretaker who has been by her side for decades. The five adult Jules children, haunted by their early memories of their sister, and each dealing with the trauma of her banishment in their own flawed way, are converging on the family home, arriving from the far corners of the country—secrets in tow—to talk some sense into their aging parents and get to the root of this inexplicable change of heart. from Goodreads

Precious Jules is the story of a family. The Jules family is picture perfect, but one of the children has live at Beechwood Institute since she was 8. Now the parents want her back and the girl’s caretaker says no. The rest of the kids, all five of them, come home to convince their parents to leave their sister with the caretaker.

It’s a great examination of what’s good for the family isn’t always the best thing for any one of the individuals. The secret guilt, the alternate realities, the vilifying, and the eventual acceptance make for some thought provoking stuff.

There were a lot of characters. My biggest problem was keeping track of all of the characters and their past and present stories. It was a lot. I think there were 10 characters who each had a chapter from their point of view. I wish there had been less so that I could have been drawn into the story a bit more.

June Stats and Favorites

I finished 10 books this month, The Bat by Jo Nesbit isn’t pictured because it was an audio. I don’t remember the last time I liked all of my reads so much. 6 of the 10 were sent to me in exchange for a review, so most of these are new and for the first time in forever, no library books!

You can see my 3 favorites, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them! And honestly, from the time I took these pics this morning to the time I’m posting this I already would have changed one of my favorites 😆. Just add them all to your list.

I’ve read 166 books of my 300 goal so I’m on track.

What was your favorite book this month?

Ghost Games by Brooke Mackenzie

Ghost Games by Brooke Mackenzie, 4.25/5 stars, 264 pages, 2022

Do not play these games.  This is the standard Internet disclaimer given to anyone who wishes to summon the supernatural through a potentially dangerous ritual or game.  

But how scary can a game really be?

As it turns out, games can be terrifying. GHOST GAMES is a collection of short horror fiction intended for adults (but appropriate for young adults), in which the female main characters throw caution to the wind, play a game, and summon an entity.  What happens next will make you think twice before riding in an elevator, looking in a mirror, or soaking in a bathtub. There are seven fictional stories—each one devoted to a specific game—and one non-fiction story, in which the author describes her real-life encounter with an evil spirit after playing with a Ouija Board.

The stories in GHOST GAMES thrill with satisfying scares, and tap into each character’s internal psychological struggles as the motivation behind wanting to escape reality. The reader develops a relationship with the characters, making each of their experiences all the more harrowing.  While the stories themselves are fiction, each of the games they describe has a life of its own on the Internet, and several forums are filled with firsthand accounts of bold (or foolhardy) players who played the games with terrifying results. 

from bamackenzie.com

Ghost Games by Brooke Mackenzie is a spookily great collection of fiction stories based on known and searchable urban legends. Not that you need to search because at the end the book she includes the rules for each of the games and where they came from.

I’m not a ghost seeker, but I flew through these eight fun and eerie stories. I’d never heard of these before, but some of you probably have. The Elevator Game, the Three Kings Game, the Closet Game, Bloody Mary, the Telephone Game, the Bathtub Game, the Hide-and-Seek Game and the tried and true Ouija which I have tried with no success.

I really loved these stories and think even those who get spooked easily will love them too. I’m not sure I can even pick a favorite, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch. The protagonists were all women living an upper midclass lives, a choice the author purposely made. The women in stories ranged in age from teens to 40’s.

I want to thank TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour and Brooke Mackenzie for sending me a copy of the book. I’m excited to see what you write next!

The Craigslist Incident by Jason Fisk

The Craigslist Incident by Jason Fisk, 4/5 stars, 218 pages, 2022

In The Craigslist Incident, Edna Barrett takes an advertisement out on Craigslist: I’m an 18-year-old female and I want to take a hit out on myself. Joe Dolsen, a 20-year-old who has suffered from periodic blackouts his whole life, answers the ad. What would bring two people to such ominous points at such young ages, and will they actually go through with it? from Goodreads

“Women Seeking Men: I’m an 18-year-old female and I want to take a hit out on myself.”

You know from the first page that it’s going to be a wild one. Edna’s father killed himself when she was a teen and she had a hard time adjusting, getting into fights and writing disturbing poetry for class assignments. Joe, raised by a religious fanatic mother who thought his blackouts were a sign from God, had his own violent tendencies. They had been failed by the system and/or their parents.

I really felt for both Edna and Joe and their struggle to make their way. Edna’s depression and the way that adults failed her, except for her mother, was an easy thing to believe because we’ve all seen it happen. One bad decision at 18 and her life goes off the rails.

This book reads fast and really showed the mental health crisis many are facing in this country firsthand. I really liked it, especially the unexpected ending.

I’m on a book tour for The Craigslist Incident today. The author was kind enough to mail me a copy. Thanks TLC Book Tours and Jason Fisk

This Week -A tough one

It’s been a week of unsettling news and I’m still feeling very sad about Friday’s Supreme Court news. I don’t think the government has a say in ANY health decisions made between a woman and her doctor. And as someone who had a miscarriage at 6 weeks I can say that my experience reinforced my view that conception may mean possible life, but it doesn’t mean baby. I can’t believe we’re at a place that if my miscarriage happened now it would be considered suspect.

On a positive note, Jason and I went out to an actual restaurant without the boy for the first time in over two years last night. We ate outside which is really what I’m comfortable with at this point. We made it to the bottom of the strawberry daquiri 🙂

Gage finished up his third week of camp with his fourth starting tomorrow. This week he’ll be going with two friends and we’re going to carpool! As a stay at home mama I’m usually the one to trek the kids around if necessary, but this week those working moms have insisted on covering 3 days. I am grateful.

Books finished

To Marry and to Meddle by Martha Waters, 3.5/5 stars, 336 pages, 2022

Lady Emily has spent her life being perfect so that no touch of scandal could touch her cash strapped family. Lord Julian Belfry needed this pristine reputation to bring respectability to his theatre. It was a marriage of convenience. Will these two, both looking for acceptance from their parents, fall in love along the way? It is a romance after all!

My favorite character was Cecil, the kitten who brought bloodshed to their wedding night 😽. This is book 3 in the Regency Vows series and can be read alone, as I did. But I do wish I’d read the first two so I could have spent more time with Emily’s friends.

Read Dangerously: The Submersive Power of Literature in Troubled Times by Azar Nafisi, 4/5 stars, 256 pages, 2022

Read Dangerously: The Subversive Power of Literature in Troubled Times by Azar Nafisi is pure delight for lovers of literature and its power of illumination. My book club read her bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran, a few years ago and I loved it for all that I learned about Iran. In this book,as an American citizen now, she takes on current America.

What’s missing in our current discourse? Nuance and empathy. These are things that you can find in great literature, especially those books that go against the norm and force you to think about what’s being said. She takes on politics, democracy, freedom, and Trump by analyzing some of the greats like Morrison, Baldwin, Atwood, and Plato.

It’s a book to be loved by anyone who has spent time reading literature. I mostly listened but had my hard copy handy to mark up thoughts I wanted to revisit. She’s got some powerful stuff in here.

There are 5 sections and in section 3 I was so moved that I put one of the books she talked about, Places & Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning by former marine Elliot Ackerman, on hold at the library. He writes fiction now, but this is his memoir.

This was in my latest #gettbr box and it was just what I needed. It’s not an easy read, but one I’m glad someone chose for me.

I talked about Remember Whose Little Girl You Are by Ellen Nichols for a TLC Book Tour here.

On the Screen

We watched two little known movies this week.

I LOVED The Devil All the Time on Netflix.

American Hangman was interesting, but had some problems for me.

We’re in the middle of the mini-series, The Night Manager and are really liking it.

Plans for the weekend

Yesterday was so busy so I promised Gage a quieter day today. We’re going to visit a few houses on the Parade of Homes and he’s got to visit a home to get directions for his next pet sitting/plant watering gig.

What’s up in your corner of the world?

Remember Whose Little Girl You Are by Ellen Nichols

Remember Whose Little Girl You Are by Ellen Nichols. 4/5 stars, 129 pages, 2022

Remember Whose Little Girl You Are captures the flavor of the Deep South like no author since Eudora Welty or Flannery O’Connor. Ellen Nichols captures the tenor of small-town Southern life in the fifties and sixties, with its vicissitudes and hilarity. One is captured with her openness and drawn deeply into the dialogue-so much as to, according to one reader, sometimes feel guilty of spying.

Read it and see if you want those times back-or are just relieved they’re gone.

Remember Whose Little Girl You Are is a memoir of growing up in the South during the 1940s-60s as a preacher’s kid. Ellen Nichols tells her stories with an intimacy that make you feel like you’re sitting around the kitchen table with a girlfriend.

I loved her stories from her early childhood best as she moved every few years with her family, but her college years had the added layer of the civil rights era protests that she participated in in both small and large ways.

A fun southern memoir that is brief enough to be finished in one sitting.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me and Claire McKinney PR for the book and 🧦.