Burr by Gore Vidal (1973)

I remember hearing about Burr in the early 70s (when it was first published) from the author himself on the Tonight Show.  I thought it sounded interesting, and certainly as Gore Vidal spoke about it I was intrigued but somehow I never got around to reading it until recently after watching Hamilton on the Disney station.  I thought the musical excellent but with a rather one-sided view of the events and characters.  I’m not  a huge fan of thick historical novels — I tend to read them slowly in order to absorb all the information, keep the characters and timeline straight, and line everything up with what I know or what I want to check on from other sources.  But after the musical, the time had definitely come.

Aaron Burr

Vidal’s portrayal of Aaron Burr was extensively researched over about a decade and gives a very different picture of a man condemned in his time and by history for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel in a secluded spot in Jersey; duelling was illegal at the time.  A statue of Hamilton was erected on the spot and he was basically canonized while Burr was vilified although it was a fair duel and fought over a serious outrage.

Famous Duel

The story of Burr is being told by a young law clerk, one Charles Schuyler, in the offices of Burr & Sill beginning in the year 1833 as Burr, age 77, was about to embark on a second marriage.  Schuyler tells the events himself from this point on but engages Burr in his reminiscences of past adventures in the Continental army, legal battles, his love life, politics, land speculations, his time as Jefferson’s vice-president and, of course, his infamous duel with Hamilton.  Surprisingly, Burr appears to have no rancour toward those who have thwarted his ambitions, slandered him, or rose above him through infamy but gives a straightforward, witty retelling of events with great aplomb and often nostalgia.  Certainly, he lived in exciting times and knew all the major players of the founding of the United States of America.

Burr’s (or Vidal’s) views on John Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson are quite different than what are those commonly held.  An interesting article about Hamilton and Burr can be found here and in part says:

the problem is that in schools in many countries the past is whitewashed, simplified, sanitized and condensed to become just a series of meaningless dates . . .

Certainly, Burr, in this instance, is seen to esteem his nemesis Hamilton higher than those generally considered the great founding fathers.

Gore Vidal 1925-2012

While it took me longer than usual to digest this book, I think that was more due to lack of reading time rather than it being hard to get through.  Schuyler’s activities as a potential contributor to various magazines and pamphlets and his attempt to draw information from Burr in order to establish a parental connection between Burr and future president Martin Van Buren contribute greatly to the colour of the times and the events are well told and not difficult to follow.  This is the first of a 7-volume series, Narratives of Empire that covers from 1771 – the early 1950s, but it’s a great place to start especially if you’ve seen Hamilton.  A thoroughly enjoyable read.  * * * * *

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Cozy Read Wednesday: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

The Bride Test is a fun, cozy read that I whipped through in no time at all.  Khai Diep has been diagnosed with autism and asperghers and that means he processes his feelings differently than most people.  He, however, thinks he’s “defective” and has decided to stay completely away from women.  At 26, he has yet to have a girlfriend and his mother, Cô Nga is getting worried.  He should be married by now.  So Cô Nga goes to Vietnam and interviews prospective brides for Khai.  She finds the perfect girl.

Esme Tran is a single mom cleaning toilets in a hotel to support her daughter, mother, and grandmother.  The same hotel where Cô Nga is interviewing potential wives for Khai.  Esme sees them one after the other come running into the washroom in tears.  When an older lady, clearly a Vietnamese American, comes in to relax for a few minutes, Esme ends up receiving a most unusual proposition:  come to California for the summer and marry my son.  In her one room home, Esme’s mom convinces her that this is an opportunity she can’t afford to turn down.

When Khai finds out what his mother has done, he goes along with it, determined that it will not work and his mother will finally stop trying to set him up.  She promises.  For Esme, she is determined to try to make it work for her daughter’s sake.  The ensuing difficulties are sometimes humorous but sometimes heartbreaking, for Esme especially as she takes courses, works part time in Cô Nga’s restaurant, and tries to figure out how to reach the heart of this handsome, unusual young man.

A very fast read full of compassion, humour, empathy, cultural and culinary settings, and most of all, romance.  A joy to read. * * * * *

Other books by Helen Hoang:

The Kiss Quotient

The Heart Principle

Love Challenge

Kissing Lessons

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Be a part of Cozy Read Wednesdays — leave a comment with a link to your own review of a cozy read!  Love to know what you’ve been reading!

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Mystery Monday Meme: The Fix by David Baldacci

Today’s Mystery is the third in Baldacci‘s The Memory Man series and the first I’ve read.  It can easily be read as a standalone but now that I’ve read it, I want to go back and read the first two as Decker is a fascinating character.  I’d like to know more of his background and how he ends up working for the FBI in Washington, D.C. from starting out as a cop in Burlington, Ohio.  In this mystery, he’s part of a team working on cold cases but just as that’s about to change, Decker is witness to a murder/suicide right outside the Hoover Building as he’s heading into work.

Since Decker is a witness, he and his team become part of the investigation despite being warned off by DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) agent Harper Brown.  In addition to team head Bogart and another longtime agent Mulligan is Alex Jamison, a former journalist and Decker’s partner and one of his best friends.  Melvin Mars is his other best friend and Decker’s team is responsible for his release from prison (in a previous book) after 20 years inside for a crime he hadn’t committed.  With the huge settlement Mars received, he’s had Alex find him a property in an area where occupants might need a helping hand — she is to be landlord while Decker takes on security.  They occupy the top floor with separate sleeping arrangements but a common living area and an office for each of them.  It seems the perfect set-up until complications arise with one of the tenants.

Walter Dabney seems to have the perfect life: mansion in an elite area, self-built company dealing with government contracts, devoted wife, grown children, and no apparent connection to his victim.  Anne Berkshire, substitute teacher and volunteer at a hospice, was perhaps in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Until the team tries to look into her past.  Something, many things, don’t add up.

Decker’s “special talents” arising from a football injury are caused by synesthesia and hyperthymesia — he sees death as the colour blue and he can’t forget anything.  For him, even things from the far past that he’d rather forget are seen by him as if they’ve just happened.  A mixed blessing in his line of work.  He’s not the same person he was before, social skills are lost, empathy is almost non-existent, and at times, he’s not sure who he is.

Baldacci is a master of suspense.  With few clues, dead ends, inexplicable contradictions in lifestyle, unexpected enemies, subterfuge, safe rooms, lack of cooperation, a second murder, a little boy dying of leukemia, kidnappings, and construction fraud, the murder/suicide makes no sense until the very end.  A definite page-turner with many surprises along the way.  And is it possible that Decker might be starting to forget small things?  Looking forward to reading the first two books in this series soon and following the rest of it.  The Fix is a thoroughly enjoyable read.  * * * * *

Other books in the Memory Man series:

Memory Man – book 1

The Last Mile – book 2

The Fallen – book 4

Redemption – book 5

Walk the Wire – book 6

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If you, too, are a fan of mysteries, I hope you’ll not only enjoy my Monday posts but will contribute by publishing your own Monday Mystery, mention my meme, then come to my blog, comment on your mystery (or mine) briefly, and include the link directly to your mystery review.  You can also copy my MMM badge to your post or your sidebar.  (Links to books are Amazon affiliate links!)

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The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

The Shadowy Horses is a modern-day historical fiction mystery set in north-western Scotland.  It takes place mostly at an archaeological dig which, in addition to the mysterious title, was a huge draw for me.  When friend Adrian Sutton-Clarke encourages archaeologist Verity Grey to leave London to interview for  a job with eccentric archaeologist Peter Quinnelle, she is drawn by her sense of adventure and the opportunity to be involved in an exciting new venture.  When she arrives at Quinnelle’s remote site, she is surprised and thrilled to learn that he believes he has found the burial site of the lost Ninth Roman Legion.

Her first indication that something might be off is when she is settling down her first night at Rose Cottage and Peter’s tomcat, Murphy, hisses at something unseen outside her window.  Before long, Verity is involved in second sight, fabricated evidence, sabotage, romance, and a ghostly Roman sentinel who is either protecting the burial site from the intruders or protecting some of the intruders from an unknown danger.

I especially enjoyed the archaeological dig activity and descriptions, the state-of-the-art lab set up in the former stables, and all the historical information thrown in.  Kearsley is a former archaeologist herself and the authenticity of her writing is obvious.  The descriptions of the Scottish moors and the Scottish country way of life were interesting and fun. I surprised myself by enjoying the paranormal parts of the story, too, and am hoping for a follow-up of Robbie’s character in another book by Kearsley.  This is the first book I’ve read by Susanna Kearsley but she has a more than a dozen to her credit so chances are I’ll be looking to read another. * * * * 1/2

Other books by Susanna Kearsley:

Bellewether

A Desperate Fortune

The Firebird

The Rose Garden

The Winter Sea

Every Secret Thing

Season of Storms

Named of the Dragon

The Splendour Falls

Mariana

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The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Book of Longings was selected for our in-house book club to read and I heard good things about it from friends who had read it but I personally have read or heard nothing else about it.  As I usually enjoy well-researched biblical fiction, I bought it and read it over several days.  It has the potential, I think, to be controversial and possibly has been in various media but, as I have stated, I would be totally unaware of that.  I came to it with no bias.

This is the story of Ana, daughter of Matthieas, head scribe and counsellor to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea.  She grew up in a grand house in Sepphoris in the first century with her parents, her adopted brother Judas, and later, her aunt, Yaltha, her father’s sister, who came to them banished from her home in Alexandria by her older brother, her only child taken from her, after being accused of poisoning her abusive husband .

From the beginning, Ana has had an aptitude for languages, writing, and studying.  She has begged her father to have a tutor after teaching herself Hebrew and has studied the stories of matriarchs in the scriptures and written them out on “scrolled papyri, parchments, and scraps of silk” which she treasures in a carved cedar chest in her room.  Telling the stories is her longing from deep within; it is her talent.  It is a talent her father indulges and her mother despises.  In an attempt to turn Ana from these activities, a playmate, Tabitha, is brought into the home in whom Ana at first sees nothing they share.  However, they do eventually find a common ground and form a firm friendship.  A friendship which will turn them both into outcasts of sorts.

Ana’s life is told in 5 sections.  It begins in Sepphoris from 16-17 CE when her aunt, Yartha, has come to stay with them and opens Ana’s mind with her stories of Alexandria and of a Jewish community of philosophers called the Therapeutae.  A brief encounter with Jesus in the marketplace where her parents are selling her into an unwanted marriage with a man she loathes begins a connection that becomes a part of her longings.  Kidd uses the biblical story of Jesus saving a woman from stoning as the means of Jesus rescuing Ana from a violent crowd which then results in Jesus asking for her hand in marriage.

The story continues with Ana’s life with Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth from 17-27 CE, a time of great happiness despite a spiteful sister-in-law, disapproving brothers-in-law, and for a long while, an inability to obtain materials with which to write.  Also, as the oldest son, Jesus is often absent finding work in order to support the family.  Ana is reunited with Tabitha who has found refuge with Jesus’ friends in Bethany, Mary, Martha, & Lazarus.  Eventually, Jesus is certain of his call to the ministry and Ana, who hears Herod is after her, accompanies her aunt to Alexandria where Yaltha hopes to find her missing daughter.

Kidd’s research seems to me flawless and her story very compelling.  It contrasts Jesus attitude towards women with the common culture of the times and his relationship with Ana is touching, full of compassion.  The confusion of the many gods and temples in Alexandria and the one God of the Jews must have been a very real one for young women just as the conflicting purpose of Jesus’ mission with that of the Zealots of whom his brother-in-law here was very real.

I had a bit of a problem with the portrayal of Jesus as not being aware of his divinity and being unclear of his calling for a time and also of having no recognition of John the Immerser as his own cousin.  But as Kidd says in her Author’s Note,

It was clear to me from the beginning that I would portray Jesus as fully human. I wanted the story to be about Jesus the man and not God the Son, who he would become.

and keeping in mind that this is a work of fiction, I’m willing to allow a little latitude.

suemonkkidd-1The story of Ana continues 30 years beyond the life of her beloved husband to when she is now the leader of the Therapeutae where she retreated after the crucifixion.  It is told briefly, with sensitivity and joy.  The story of Ana is told with exquisite writing and great detail as to the historical facts and the cruel treatment of women as chattels and sex objects to be abused and denied freedoms and education.  It is a journey of triumph over obstacles and oppression for the women and an imagining of the very human side of Jesus of Nazareth.  * * * * *

Other books by Sue Monk Kidd:

The Secret Life of Bees

The Mermaid Chair

The Invention of Wings

Traveling with Pomegranates

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter

Firstlight

When the Heart Waits

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Cozy Read Wednesday: Willow Brook Road by Sherryl Woods

This week’s cozy read is one of Sherryl WoodsChesapeake Shores novels, Willow Brook Road.  The two main characters in this romance are Carrie Winters, a confident, career-focused young woman who seemingly had it all — glamorous career, exotic life in Europe, gorgeous fashion icon for a boyfriend — only to have her heart broken and return to her family roots to refigure where her life was going, and Sam Winslow, a newcomer working as a web designer for the local newspaper and suddenly thrust into fatherhood due to the car crash that killed his sister and her husband, leaving 6-year-old Bobby in his care.  Despite getting off on the wrong foot, they are destined to draw sparks of a different kind.

In a town designed by her grandfather, Carrie is surrounded by O’Briens who all wish her well and can’t keep their noses out of her business. She enjoys caring for her own nephew and other wee family members and begins to think her future might lie in that direction.  And she loves little Bobby.  Other relatives seem to want to mother him as well which complicates things between her and Sam.  He, on the other hand, could use some help with parenting and rules and safety but sometimes bristles when others try to do just that.

Lots of interesting sidebars about opening a daycare, interaction between the extended family members, and some home decorating (which I really enjoy).  A character-driven cozy read you’re sure to enjoy by an author who never disappoints.  * * * * 1/2  

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Mystery Monday Meme: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Today’s Monday Mystery is The Guest List . It’s not very often I see books advertised on television but I guess coming up to Christmas it becomes the thing for some sellers/publishers to do. That’s where I first heard about this book and Lucy Foley, author of several books none of which I had read.

The premise is an elite wedding in a remote setting, an island off the west coast of Ireland with a tragic history and an old castle referred to as The Folly.  The bride, Jules Keegan, has a successful magazine start-up and the upscale image to go with it.  The groom, Will Slater, is the smooth, handsome star of an overnight adventure/ survival TV show.  The bridal party arrives the day before but the story starts at the reception following the wedding with a waitress in shock after discovering a body.

This is not your usual murder mystery nor is it told in a straightforward fashion. It is carefully crafted, moving back and forth between the wedding day and the day before (though not in a confusing way as in some newer novels I can think of) and told by several members of the group of first arrivals: the bride, the groom, the bridesmaid (bride’s half-sister), the wedding planner, the best man (Johnno), and the wife of the bride’s oldest friend who’s referred to with the belittling phrase “the plus one”, Hannah. It’s Hannah who walks the tightrope between all the tense relationships and tries to help Olivia, the bride’s half-sister and only bridesmaid in whom she recognizes warning signs of a disaster waiting to happen.

There is no search for the killer, no following of clues, no uncovering of motives because while a body is found at the very beginning, the identity of the victim is not known until almost the end of the novel. Instead, the secrets are uncovered slowly through the stories and observations of the narrators and eventually several members of the party are revealed to have reason to seek revenge for a past injury.

While this is an interesting departure from the usual mystery story, it took me a number of chapters before I decided whether I liked it or not. Very few of the characters were likeable. Many were into drugs and used foul language, were verbally abusive to each other, were bullies, and the comparison (used in the book) to Lord of the Flies was all too apparent. The bride’s parents are divorced, the father in his 5th marriage and neither parent had given her much attention growing up. Her younger sister has left university mid-year, tries to avoid everyone and cuts herself where it won’t show. The bride manipulates her oldest friend and alienates his wife. The groom is too smooth and had only attended the posh school because his father was headmaster. He seems to have “gotten away with” many indiscretions in the past and has an odd relationship with his old school chums who all have ritualistic ways of celebrating. Only Hannah and Aoife (no idea how to pronounce her name) seem to have their heads on straight and try to keep things smooth between all parties.

However, the isolated setting with its high cliffs, whispering caves, stories of bodies disappearing into the bogs, and the small graveyard that is being protected by the wedding planner, all add to the macabre atmosphere and as the story progressed and especially as Olivia’s recent history is revealed, the pace picks up and curiosity takes over. The number of people who would have cheerfully killed the victim by the end is surprising and the actual murderer is not the person arrested which makes for an interesting ending. Well written, worth reading, and I’ll probably end up reading another of Lucy Foley’s books. * * * *

Other books by Lucy Foley:

The Hunting Party

Last Letter from Istanbul

The Invitation

The Book of Lost and Found

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If you, too, are a fan of mysteries, I hope you’ll not only enjoy my Monday posts but will contribute by publishing your own Monday Mystery, mention my meme, then come to my blog, comment on your mystery (or mine) briefly, and include the link directly to your mystery review.  You can also copy my MMM badge to your post or your sidebar.  (Links to books are Amazon affiliate links!)

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On My Bookshelf: Catching Up

I’ve been away from my blog for quite some time now — moving, renovating, illness, have all played a part. While I’ve been reading fairly regularly, the writing has not kept pace. I’m hoping to get back in the swing soon and am trying to start up with the backlog of books I’ve enjoyed over the past three years. Some, I will have to almost reread to remember what they might be about but I’m planning on giving it my best shot. Here are some of the books I’ll be writing about soon, I hope.

This of course depends on whether or not I can figure out this new WordPress version which is nowhere near as easy to navigate as the old one I am used to. New is not always better. Hoping you’ll hear from me again soon,

Miss M.

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The Roll of the Drums by Jan Drexler

While I have enjoyed a number of stories set in the Amish culture, The Roll of the Drums is the first book I’ve read by Jan Drexler.  It is a story I would classify as a cozy romance although it is also historical fiction set in 1863 and is an interesting exploration of faith being challenged in difficult times.  It is book 2 in The Amish of Weaver’s Creek series and I received a free copy of this book from Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review.

Amish minister Gideon Fischer, his wife, and four children were left with next to nothing after the Yankee soldiers came through their small community.  Then when the army forced him to use his wagon to help carry their supplies, he was caught up in the war and all its violence even though he was a pacifist.  Arriving home after several months, his flock had dispersed and his confidence and faith were shattered by the brutality of war he has been exposed to.  He was determined to head to Ohio, as far away from the war as possible to start over in a safe place.  His wife, Lovinia, was very ill and for her sake, they stop in Weaver Creek to let her rest in the welcoming community there.

Ruby Weaver has always been a bit too strange and independent for an Amish woman and her only friend is her younger sister Elizabeth.  She has moved into Elizabeth’s cabin while her husband Reuben is off fighting in the war, helping her with the chores and helping to keep the cabin in shape and the garden going.  She, too, is carrying a secret she struggles with and feels she must continue unmarried and is content with that.

When the Fischer family arrive, Ruby becomes fast friends with the dying Lovinia who extracts promises from both Ruby and Gideon that they will marry and raise her children together.  This is a promise they both find next to impossible to comply with.

There are secrets and jealousies in the community and as the war threatens their peace once more, Gideon questions his faith and calling.  How do they stand up to the raiders and keep the conscience of their beliefs?

This is an interesting look at Amish beliefs in the face of circumstances that would try to force them to turn their backs on the tenents of their faith.  It deals with coping with grief for both adults and children and the way that hidden sins fester and destroy peace of mind.  It also looks at relationships within families and how war changes people.  It is the journey of faith through trials and a seeking for God.  I would certainly read more by Jan Drexler and give this 4/5 stars.

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A Harvest of Thorns, by Corban Addison

A Harvest of Thorns is a story based on recent events in the garment industry where modern day slavery, life-threatening working conditions and serial rape exist across the globe.  It begins with an electrical fire in a fashion factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh where workers on the fifth floor break through the bars on the windows to escape the fire only to jump to death or fall to irreparable bodily damage.

When the news footage of 14-year-old Sonia lying on the ground outside the factory clutching a piece of clothing to her face with the Piccola label clearly visible, the high echelon of Presto corporation in Arlington, Virginia, want to get to the bottom of how it could happen that a red-listed company would be manufacturing their clothing line.

Searching for the truth, senior vice-president Cameron Alexander teams up with a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, Joshua Griswold, to follow leads involving corruption, deception, and intrigue not only in Bangladesh but in factories in Malaysia and Jordan, and also within Presto’s global corporate headquarters in Virginia.  When Josh’s wife, Madison, and father-in-law, Lewis Ames attorneys at law, slap CEO Vance Lawson with a $50M lawsuit on behalf of garment workers in three countries claiming malfeasance, it is a suit that could set a precedent for American culpability in factory disasters in 3rd world countries.  But then things take an unexpected turn when it comes to trial.

Corban Addison is described as “an attorney, activist, and world traveller . . . a supporter of human rights snd social justice causes around the world” and each of his four novels deal with these issues in some way.  They are eye-opening and thought-provoking and if that isn’t enough, they are well-written and compelling.  This is his fourth novel and I intend to read all of them.  * * * * *

 

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