Book Reviews

What I’ve Been Reading: May and June Edition


One of the things I love about Amazon is that is suggests other books you might like. I have found many fascinating books through that feature that I’d otherwise never have discovered. The Believers is one such novel. The United Society of Believers, a utopian Christian group with its roots in the Great Awakening at the beginning of the 19th Century, are better remembered as the “Shakers.” Yes, those of the nifty simple furniture design. Those Shakers. As a religious group they have died out. The allowed married converts to come with their children but then all physical intimacy had to stop between husband and wife. So, when converts dried up, the group died out.

The Believers is set in Kentucky and centers on the founding of a Shaker community there. Becky and Richard are a young couple, newly married and struggling to have children. When a pastor Richard admires converts their future is set. Life in a Shaker Community, with its separation of men and women, of children from parents, is very difficult for Becky, but is whole-heatedly embraced by Richard. To tell more would be to give away the story.

Note: This book was written in 1957 and the story is set between 1800 and 1912. The attitudes expressed toward the slaves in the story are deplorable to us today, but it is important to remember that they were wildly held at the time both that the story is set and the time in which it was published.

The Believers: A Novel of Shaker Life by Janice Holt Giles—Highly recommended, but see the “Note” above.

EverythingElizabeth Buchan is a favorite of mine. Her novels of normal relationships, normal families, are so readable. This one blended two stories–one a wife in post-war Britain, one in contemporary times, both trying to have both a self and marriage. Barbara, wife of a pilot in the 1950’s, is has a life-changing experience with a younger man. Siena grabs the career brass ring and nearly loses her husband. Both women must find themselves and their marriages again. Like all of Buchan’s books this one gives the reader “ouch” moments and also moments to stop and rethink their personal beliefs. Everything She Thought She Wanted by Elizabeth Buchan.

deadErik Larson mesmerizes me with his fabulous non-fiction storytelling. Dead Wake is a page-turner of the highest order. I felt like I was truly ON the Lusitania–the prose is THAT vivid.

Not to Be Missed.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitana by Erik Larson

QuartetMost Americans can manage to recall that July 4, 1776 was the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But few Americans remember that the Constitution did not immediately follow either that Declaration or the winning of the Revolutionary War. The period of time in which  the embryonic US of A was governed by the Articles of Confederation is largely forgotten in today’s sound byte approach to the teaching of U.S. History. The Quartet is the latest installment of Joseph Ellis’s very readable history of the United States and picks up when the Articles break down. The Founding Fathers at this juncture are a little different crew. While Adams, Jefferson and Franklin are heard from it is a our Nation’s Father, George Washington and three others who form the Quartet  referenced in the book’s title. Those “others” are Alexander Hamilton, who would be first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, John Jay, a future Chief Justice, and future president James Madison. Ellis ably makes the predictable bickering among factions fascinating, clues us in to the problems the nation had even then with the issue of slavery and shows us other stumbling blocks along the way to the Constitution we have today and why the Bill of Rights had to wait a bit to come into being. This is no boring textbook–this is a political thriller. Enjoy it sooner, rather than later. The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis.

Memoirs are among my favorite books. This month I read three on the same theme: severing God. A nun’s memoir of her time in the School Sisters of Notre Dame in the mid 1940s to early 1950s, and memoirs of two amazing missionaries–both of which I wanted to read straight thru. Coming soon, the fourth such memoir–really a volume of letters, will be profiled separately. Here are the first three: Evidence Not Seen: A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles in World War II by Darlene Diebler Rose; Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman by Gladys Aylward and, the nun’s memoir, Out of the Habit: A Young Woman’s Experiences Joining, Loving and Ultimately Leaving a Convent in the 1940s by Shirley McCann. Each of these stories are inspirational and each will lift your spirits whether you are a believer or not.


I have been using the Amblesideonline curriculum to fill gaps in my own education. I grew up, mostly in Indiana, in the 1960s and 1970s. During that time Gene Stratton-Porter was out of fashion, so I’d never encountered her books. What a shame! This books if GREAT! The vivid descriptions of the plants of the Limberlost Swamp in the area of Miss Porter’s home are not to be missed. The characters she creates, Freckles and the others, are truly marvelous. This is a story that has it all: Good guys, bad guys, romance, decency, human kindness–you name it, its in her and in her in a a story you must not miss. Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter.


Finally, I wish I could rave about Peter Mayles’ debut into fiction, The Vintage Caper, but I just can’t. I loved his marvelous Provence books, but this one just on par with those. A wine who-done it that had me saying “WT?” No. Ok, if you’re stuck in an airport or something like that, then sure–read it. If you are a die hard wine-loving, wine-collecting lover of so-so who-done-it books then be my guest. Otherwise…..let’s hope he goes back to travel writing. It’s what he does better than almost anyone else.

I enjoy reading your comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s