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Song Yet Sung by James McBride

Song Yet Sung

Liz Spocott is a runaway slave in 1850 Maryland.  She is shot in the head and captured by slave traders, when she manages to escape, setting free the other captures slaves at the same time.  In McBride’s novel, we are brought into the heart of slavery, and see it in total truth.  We see that blacks could be loyal to their masters and not want to leave, and white owners who didn’t always feel as if their slaves were merely property.  McBride isn’t saying that slavery wasn’t bad, but it’s effect on everyone wasn’t as clear-cut, as we might view it today.

The character Liz Spocott is given visions (much like Harriet Tubman), but in her visions, she sees images of the future.  Just like a 21st century person seeing images of slavery, Liz cannot fully process what she is seeing, and becomes convinced that the future will be terrible for people of color.  I thought the author’s play on time and context to be especially astute as he attempts to take an honest look at slavery.

This is one of those books that I will have to go back and read again at some point.  The author weaves actual historical persons within his narrative, presenting a tale that is as colorful as it is thought-provoking.  It is one of those novels that you appreciate even more once you’ve had a chance to digest it.

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2009
384 pages

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The Apprentice: My Life In The Kitchen by Jacques Pepin

The Apprentice

The Apprentice is an autobiography of a chef who first learned to cook in his mother’s restaurant in the years following World War II in France.  Pepin eventually went out an apprenticed under various well-known chefs in that country before spreading his wings, eventually landing in the United States.  Not only was Pepin a classically trained talent, but he enjoyed stepping outside of cooking traditions.  This earned him a spot among the internationally acclaimed chefs when the “foodie” renaissance took over during the 1980’s.

His stories are wonderful!  I enjoyed learning the social as well as the technical aspects of classical French training.  The author intersperses his own recipes along with tantalizing stories (and, I admit to making his chicken in cream sauce which was marvelous!)  Pepin’s life is not only interesting, it is truly remarkable.  Great book!

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2004
352 pages

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The Twisted Sword by Winston Graham

The Twisted Sword

In honor of the new BBC series based on Winston Graham’s Poldark novels, I decided it was time to finish reading the series.  I thought I had finished it decades ago, only to find out that Graham managed two write two more prior to his death in 2003.  Lucky for me, because the 11th in the series, The Twisted Sword, was fabulous.

The book opens in the year 1815, when Ross Poldark is sent to Paris by the English government, to observe the political situation there.  The family immerses themselves in the Parisian lifestyle, excited for an Easter reunion of extended family and friends.  Then Napoleon Bonaparte, escaping from his island prison, returns to Paris and France is thrust into another war, with England opposing the returned dictator.

The Twisted Sword is a page-turner, with far more excitement and heartbreak than I would have thought possible for the 11th novel in a series of 12.  There’s never a dull moment with the Poldarks, and Winston Graham proved a seasoned novelist with a gift for storytelling.  Loved it!

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2002
645 pages

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The Rathbones by Janice Clark

Rathbones

Narrated by 15 year old Mercy Rathbone, The Rathbones is a fantastical tale of a whaling family in 19th century Connecticut.  Loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey, Ms. Rathbone takes us on a journey unraveling the mystery of her father, her family, and the polygamous secrets they hold.

While Ms. Clark’s literary eloquence is superb, I had such a difficult time with this novel.  I just couldn’t enjoy it.  The author kept the characters at a distance, and I couldn’t help but feel I was observing some sideshow attraction at an early-American circus.  I wanted to look, but then again, I kept feeling that I’d wasted my money.  It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2013
370 pages

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ATLAS by Isaac Hooke

ATLAS

ATLAS: ATLAS Series Book 1

The book could be titled “U.S. Navy Seals In Outer Space”. The first half is predictable and full of cliches. In the second half  the plot is not too bad and the characters are okay- at the level of a ‘Blockbuster’ comic book movie. I like First Contact stories and this book ends with one, with the MOTH/ATLAS’s fighting for their lives. I’m interested to see where this leads so I will probably read books 2 and 3.

C+
420 pages

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The Escape by David Baldacci

The Escape

The Escape: John Puller series Book 3
John Puller’s brother has escaped from a Military Prison in Leavenworth and only one man can hunt him down. Guess who? The story is pretty far-fetched, but the plot moves along at a good clip so you’re not left with a lot of time to wonder, “what the hell!” Both Baldacci and Lee Child (the Jack Reacher series) need to reign their plots in. The best part of these stories are the character interactions: both physical and mental, not the ‘Blockbuster’ movie plots that all but take you out of the story. That said this was a pretty good read.

B
470 pages

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