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May Reviews Chat’n’Chew


Welcome to the books our Chat’n’Chew book group discussed in May 2024. Hopefully, one book will appeal to you. Our next meeting is scheduled for June 26th from 12:30 to 2:00 in person in the Ellsworth Room. If you choose, you can also join us through Google Meet. Register through the calendar and you will be sent a link to connect for that day on Google Meet. We invite all those passionate about books and reading to join us. We have lively discussions on what we have all been reading the past month. Finally a reminder; We will not be meeting for two months in the summer. We will meet on September 18th, after the summer break.

Haunting at Holkham by Anne Glenconner Drawing on her life experiences, the author, Lady Ann Glencommer (Coke), relates a historical mystery story. Some of this story is true, including biographical information about the author’s childhood. This historical novel is set in two timelines (1950 and 1943) during and just after WW2 at her family’s ancestral estate in England. It is hard to know where Lady Anne’s reminiscences leave off and where the fiction begins. When you come from a family who have been English aristocrats for over 500 years you have a lot of family stories and history to tell. When her grandfather died in the early 1950s, she returned home to Holkham Hall, Norfolk, England, and helped her family pick up the pieces. Her grandfather has been found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs at the ancestral home with a valuable necklace in his pocket. Anne is not convinced it was an accident and is determined to find the truth. As Anne looks back at her past, she realizes that much of what she saw as a child and suspected may be caught up with this 1950 mystery, and the book switches between the two periods. This book is intriguing, and full of twists, turns, and shocking moments. 

The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes with an afterword by Walter Mosley 

This is the story of Hugh Densmore, a young doctor with an internship at U.C.L.A., who is determined to find the truth. In the summer of 1962, he was driving through the New Mexico desert to a niece’s wedding in Phoenix. Against his better judgment, he picks up a young girl hitchhiking in an isolated spot, and this one act and his life is never the same. Eventually, this leads him to be suspected of murder because after he lets her out at the Phoenix bus station, she is found murdered and thrown into a canal. The autopsy also uncovers that she has had an abortion, but this is not what has killed her. In Hughes’ book, the protagonist is always good, always trying to do the right thing, innocent, well-meaning, responsible, moral, and brave. All the good people are good, and all the bad people are simply vile. The Expendable Man, although written in the 1960s, is pertinent to today’s treatment of the disenfranchised by the police. The fact that the main character, Hugh, is black, isn’t revealed at the story’s beginning. The book will keep your attention until the end. It is also quite a feat for this author, a white woman, to write from the perspective of an African American during the Civil Rights era and do it well. 

Door to Door Bookstore by Carsten Henn 

Here is an international bestseller first published in Germany and translated into English. The novel revolves around seventy-two-year-old bookseller Carl Kollhoff, once a full-time employee at City Gate Bookshop, but now whose responsibilities are limited to a special book delivery service after hours. He delivers individually packaged selections to his customers at their doorstep. He considers his customers, mostly loners like himself, to be his friends and has developed a special rapport with most of them. The premise of this novel is wonderful and would appeal to book lovers and those who enjoy books and anything about books. One day, as he’s making his rounds, he’s approached by a nine-year-old girl, chatty and inquisitive, who eventually accompanies him every evening and becomes something like a friend to him. Sometimes friends and family are found in the most unexpected people. This book might also make you recall the book A Man Called Ove. This is a beautiful novel about the power of books and how friendship can change and impact lives. Worth reading.

The Daughters of Yalta: The Churchills, Roosevelts, and Harrimans: A Story of Love and War by Catherine Grace Kat

This is a non-fiction work that focuses on three daughters who attended The Yalta Conference in 1945. The Yalta Conference occurred right before the end of World War II when the US, Britain, and the Soviet Union gathered to discuss how the world would operate after the war, in peacetime. Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin attended. The three daughters were Sarah Churchill (daughter of Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill), Anna (daughter of the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt), and Kathy Harriman (daughter of the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union). You will learn something about each of these daughters. It was great to obtain a view of each of these famous men through the eyes of their daughters. You learn what happened at this conference, what was decided, and what the young women did and thought while their fathers were in the many meetings. The book is well-written and researched. It reads like a novel.

A Life in Light Meditations on Impermanence by Mary Pipher

Mary Piper, the author, is a psychologist in this work of Nonfiction. This combination of memoir and life coaching results in a book that provides a memoir of an interesting life and provides lessons and advice on dealing with the impermanence of life situations. This tender story recounts lessons learned from ordinary moments in life. This reader loved her descriptions of nature and loved that she read great books throughout her life. Her reflections on the different stages of life are priceless. You learn that everyone’s story matters. The author recommends that you adjust to the natural changes in your life as people enter and leave. The book is well-written and a fast read. For many people, this might be the right time to read this. Honest, vulnerable, and inspiring.

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

This is a perfect book to read for the summer, as well as a nice introduction to the writing of Colson Whitehead, one of the most acclaimed authors in America presently. Sag Harbor is one of his early books and feels very autobiographical. This is a coming-of-age novel. In it, a young black man learns to navigate himself through a predominantly white high school and a mostly black upper-class summer resort. He learns much about himself and others. There is a timeless quality and sense of innocence in this exploration of juvenile adventure and search for identity. The relatively segregated community of wealthy professionals is free from the racism and pressures to succeed that they face in their private schools in New York City. The main characters, Benji and his brother are trusted to fend for themselves during the weekdays when their parents stay in the city. They have freedom of movement with their bikes and the occasional car of an older friend. In between working part-time at a fast food joint, they spend their time at the beach, exploring, going to parties or movies, and just hanging out. Quite an enjoyable read and a look back at a coming-of-age summer.

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman

This is a mystery series set near Boston. It has Agatha Christie vibes. The book is set in the early ’60s in a small Massachusetts town near the ocean. The Jewish community is trying to acclimate to a new rabbi. He’s not what they were hoping for, a sporty, sociable figure who would represent them stylishly to the wider community. Robert Small at first glance appears, as a very young, rumpled, and possibly inexperienced rabbi. Your first impression though is a combination of an absent-minded professor and Sherlock Holmes because he’s very smart. The writing is charming, and the relationship between the Jewish rabbi and the Catholic chief of police, as well as the relationships of the leadership in the local Jewish temple, makes a platform for some very interesting explorations of faith, culture, and ways of thinking without getting too deep. 

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

This true story is set in Maine. The story is about Christopher Thomas Knight who at 20 years old, walked into the woods and never came out until he was caught at 47 years old. He lived in the Maine woods for all of those years in a tent in bad weather and good weather. He devised an ingenious campsite that was hidden behind boulders and surrounded by dense trees. For reasons Knight himself never fully articulates, he abandoned civilization for a hermit’s life. The only thing he did wrong was burglarize summer cabins in the surrounding area. He took any kind of food to survive, watches, books, supplies, and clothes. He loved to read. Because of his burglaries, he was put in jail. Knight’s ability to survive for so long at the edge of civilization in such a hostile climate testifies to his amazing abilities and perseverance. The author Finkel, Interviews Christopher from jail. In this book, are also examples of other hermits throughout history, and some relevant research from psychologists and sociologists. When Knight was caught, he confessed right away about stealing and said he was sorry for it. He had 1000 burglaries throughout his life. All he wanted was to live alone in the woods and survive. He never hurt anyone and he never damaged anything. This book will amaze you.