Orphan Train

Orphan TrainOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another winner. Perhaps a bit too good to be true, happy-ever-after, but who cares? We all need a good Hallmark movie of a book now and then. My great-grandmother was sent to Canada at age 6 as one of the “Home Children” so this is a topic that interests me.

Book Description: Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance. Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life—answers that will ultimately free them both. Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

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The Other Typist

The Other TypistThe Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally, a book to get me out of my book slump. Well narrated, Gretchen Mol kept my interest. On the surface, this is the story of a rather sheltered woman (orphan raised by nuns) who develops almost an obsession in her friendship with an exotic and beautiful woman who joins the typists at the police station. But before too long, the listener will realize that Ruth is a very unreliable narrator. Just who is she? Who is Odalie? There is something very unsettling about her obsession. I won’t say more, except that my face to face book club had a lot to say about this book, and there were at least three different interpretations of the ending. The book has been criticized for its ambiguity, but I think that is one of the strengths of a good psychological novel. This will undoubtedly be made into a movie, and it will be interesting to see what they do with it.

Book Description: Confessions are Rose Baker’s job. A typist for the New York City Police Department, she sits in judgment like a high priestess. Criminals come before her to admit their transgressions, and, with a few strokes of the keys before her, she seals their fate. But while she may hear about shootings, knifings, and crimes of passion, as soon as she leaves the room, she reverts to a dignified and proper lady. Until Odalie joins the typing pool. As Rose quickly falls under the stylish, coquettish Odalie’s spell, she is lured into a sparkling underworld of speakeasies and jazz. And what starts as simple fascination turns into an obsession from which she may never recover.

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The House at Riverton (The Shifting Fog)

The House at RivertonThe House at Riverton by Kate Morton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My difficulties with audiobooks continues. I don’t know if it is the style of this book or my aging brain, because I did enjoy the story and the telling of it, but I had to go back and relisten to the first couple of disks and finally get a print copy to read alongside. The second half seemed to go better, and I may or may not finish reading the print copy. But that is by no means a complaint of either the book or the narrator.

This debut novel by Australian Kate Morton is an homage to Rebecca and other gothic-style romances. It would appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, and I was picturing the actors of the TV series as their counterparts in this novel as I listened. As in Downton Abbey, we see life from both the upstairs and downstairs points of view, the devastating effects of WWI on the family, and the unraveling of the social structures in the 1920s, especially for women. There are family secrets, too, which are readily guessed by an astute reader. The plot is slow-moving and drawn out. Probably the British title The Shifting Fog fits better than The House at Riverton. As a gothic novel, I expect the house to be a character in its own right, and I just didn’t feel it here. So probably 4 stars as a period piece, 3 stars for plot and development. I would like to have learned more about Grace’s life after the events of 1924 and how it affected her. As it is, this is just the confessional of a very old woman who has kept a secret for nearly 75 years.

Book description: Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline. In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they — and Grace — know the truth. In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. Told in flashback, this is the story of Grace’s youth during the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege shattered by war, of the vibrant twenties and the changes she witnessed as an entire way of life vanished forever.

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The Land of Dreams

The Land of DreamsThe Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first book in the “Minnesota” trilogy, this won the Riverton Prize for best Norwegian crime novel in 2008 and was named by Dagbladet as one of the top twenty-five Norwegian crime novels of all time. My three-star rating probably reflects my fatigue for current reading projects and book club books, and it’s time to read something just for fun! Although written by a Norwegian, the author spent two years living on the North Shore of Lake Superior. This is a brilliant evocation of the people, history and culture of the area. So 5 stars for atmosphere. The style I think is typically Scandinavian – spare, dark, and haunting. It’s as much a psychological study as it is a murder mystery. The pace drags and gets bogged down in details from time to time. If you don’t live in Minnesota, the details of history and geography could be boring. We learn far more about Lance and his conflicted life than anything to do with the murder. And, as the final line shows (“This is just the beginning, he thought.”), nothing is resolved by the end of the book. If you really, really like atmospheric noir and conflicted narrators, this is probably a great book and you’ll go on to read the other two. I want something different now.

Book Description: The grandson of Norwegian immigrants, Lance Hansen is a U.S. Forest Service officer and has a nearly all-consuming passion for local genealogy and history. But his quiet routines are shattered one morning when he comes upon a Norwegian tourist brutally murdered near a stone cross on the shore of Lake Superior. Another Norwegian man is nearby; covered in blood and staring out across the lake, he can only utter the word kjærlighet. Love. FBI agent Bob Lecuyer is assigned to the case, as is Norwegian detective Eirik Nyland, who is immediately flown in from Oslo. As the investigation progresses, Lance begins to make shocking discoveries—including one that involves the murder of an Ojibwe man on the very same site more than one hundred years ago. As Lance digs into two murders separated by a century, he finds the clues may in fact lead toward someone much closer to home than he could have imagined.

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Dead Wake

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the LusitaniaDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a presentation on Margaret Mackworth and the sinking of the Lusitania at our annual St. David’s Day luncheon in March, I was greatly looking forward to reading this. Although Erik Larson tells a good story based on thorough research, I was left wanting. I would like to have learned more about the passengers, and less about the minute by minute whereabouts of the German submarine that sank the Lusitania. This was more of a story about the two ship captains with a few asides about Woodrow Wilson and a few of the passengers. Although Margaret Mackworth was mentioned, I learned virtually nothing about her. And what about the members of the Gwent Male Voice Choir that were on the ship? It’s not a bad book but I don’t think it lives up to the author’s reputation. I shall have to try Diana Preston’s Lusitania.

Book description: On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.