I picked up this book at the library because of how much I enjoyed Cold Mountain, also by Frazier. The title character was the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Both books portray the end of the civil war. This story is told by an African American who visits Varina long after the war, in Saratoga Springs. He was rescued by Varina when he was a child being beaten by a shopkeeper for vagrancy. Varina took him in and kept him with her own children until her party was captured by the Yankees. They were trying to make their way to Florida and from there, on to Cuba. I found the story somewhat hard to follow since it doesn’t flow from beginning to end but goes backwards and forwards to cover most of Varina’s life, at least from her teenage years to old age. I had never even heard of her although I of course assumed that Jefferson Davis had a wife and children, since most men of his time, especially elected officials, did. She was quite remarkable in her own right, if this story is to be believed. While not written as non-fiction, it draws on facts, how much is real and how much invented we do not know from this tale alone. I was struck again, as in the prior book Cold Mountain, at the breakdown of society in the aftermath of the war, how it was impossible to tell where anyone’s loyalties lay. How desperate most people were and yet how willing to risk their own lives for a principle many still believed in. Despite the confusion of the time-line I enjoyed the book very much and look forward to the next title by this author.
I could not resist. Although I have not read a lot of the original Agatha Christie novels, the David Suchet ‘Poirot’ films are at the top of my list of mystery favorites. Hannah has the permission of the Christie estate to revive the character and has written others in the series as well. This story begins with four different people receiving a letter supposedly from Hercule Poirot himself, each being accused of murdering a man who everyone thought had simply drowned while taking a bath. He was elderly and frail and the inquiry returned a verdict of accidental death earlier in the year. So why would someone send these letters to the recipients, all but one of whom did not know the deceased? Poirot considers the question at a cafe where he has ordered a specialty of the house, a slice of cake with layers colored like a checkerboard. He cuts each colored layer in two and then in two again, the four quarters, representing each of the accused murderers. Are they working in pairs or are they all on their own? Is one of the squares the real murderer or are all of them innocent? In which case, why send the letters in the first place? The novel is very well done and I hope to find time to read others in the series.
The new book by the former President and Patterson is of course a thriller. I’m not usually a fan of this type of work, it goes too fast for my taste. I like novels that are more complex but for what it is, it was a good tale. It kept me guessing until the end. A bit far fetched, or at least I hope it is. The President has to go under cover to save the country from cyber crimes so devastating that the United States would be reduced to decades of poverty, its infrastructure destroyed, and possibly all out class warfare. He knows there is a traitor in his cabinet but he doesn’t have any idea of who it might be. The attackers are part of a jihadist group but they can’t do it alone, which means that some state government is involved. I hope that since the former President is writing about this type of scenario, steps have already been taken to prevent the disaster he describes in the book. Worth the read, you’ll be finished in no time.
I have to admit that I love horses although I don’t ride and am not what you would consider a ‘horse person’. I think they are beautiful animals and sometimes watch westerns more for the horses than for the cowboys. This little book was so touching, about the trainer, Hirsch Jacobs, and his ability to see in many horses, and in Stymie in particular, the problems that were preventing them from being successful on the track. Jacobs, while still a young boy trained racing pigeons from his rooftop but once he was introduced to horses, he never looked back. His theory that ‘a horse wants to run’ was proven over and over again as he became one of the most successful horse trainers of the twentieth century. Until I picked up this book I had not heard of him or Stymie but to those who followed racing at the time, he was a household name. ‘Out of the Clouds’ refers to Stymie’s preferred racing method, which was to come from behind, out of the clouds of dust kicked up by the horses ahead of him. I really enjoyed this book, a heartwarming story.
This is a story about the Cooke family, who raise a chimpanzee named Fern along with the narrator of the book, Rosemary up until they are both aged five. The father is a research scientist studying chimp behavior and they live in a farmhouse where they are assisted in taking care of Fern, as well as documenting her every move, by a team of graduate students. Mom and older brother Lowell make up the rest of the family. The story starts in the middle, when Rosemary is in college, about to see her older brother Lowell for the first time in years. Lowell has become something of a black sheep while advocating for animal rights. Most importantly Rosemary wants to find out from Lowell exactly what happened to Fern, who was taken away one day when Rosemary was a child. She suspects that the story he has told her about Fern being taken to a chimp colony is not true, but she has no idea of how bad the truth really is. Let us just say that mistakes were made and that Rosemary must make some tough choices when she finds out what really happened.
While the story tells a lot about chimpanzees and the work that has been done researching their behavior, it is also about a family, a brother, sisters, mom and dad, and how their lives unfold.
Theo Bailey, the son
Farid Laghari, the father, son of B.B. Laghari, a judge and tribal leader in Lahore, a Pashtun
Sonia Bailey, the mother who is Polish by ancestry and American by birth, but who, upon marrying Farid, is accepted into the family household and becomes a Pashtun as well.
Cynthia Lam, the language expert working at NSA
The good son, Theo Bailey, is in the army but exactly which branch is hard to say. He goes into places like Afghanistan and Pakistan because he speaks the languages, grew up there, in fact, before his family moved to the US, where his father teaches in Washington DC, and his mother is a writer. The book opens with Theo getting a call from his mother, Sonia, asking him to tell his father that she is leaving the country. This sounds benign but the reason she is asking Theo to relate the news is that she is going back to Lahore, and there is a fatwah out against her which means that going is extremely dangerous. Theo is upset and tries to talk his mother out of going, but it’s useless to try to change her mind and she boards the plane despite his protests. Sonia was born in the US to immigrants from Poland. They work in the traveling circus where Sonia learns to ride the elephants and horses and becomes skilled in handling a deck of cards. All is well until Sonia’s mother is killed by tiger, her father falls ill and finally, the owners of the circus sell out without paying the troupe. Sonia uses her skills as a card dealer to throw blackjack games in Atlantic City to her handler’s favor, until he gets too greedy and ends up being beaten after a winning night. Sonia grabs a suitcase full of cash and heads for NYC, where she meets Theo’s father, Farid, who falls in love, marries her and takes her back to Lahore to the house of his father, where she becomes Muslim, bears Theo and two daughters, and a few years later, goes on her scandalous trips around the Muslim world disguised as a boy. No one would’ve known except that she writes a book about it which is published in the States and becomes very popular. Meanwhile, back in Lahore, the head of the clan, BB Laghari is killed in a bomb attack on his automobile and Theo’s two younger sisters are killed as well. For a long time Sonia believes that Theo was killed as well, but as it turns out a boy from the neighborhood had jumped up on the bumper as it drove by and it was this boy who was killed in the explosion and fire, and not Theo. Sonia has a nervous breakdown and goes into therapy in Zurich, where she becomes a psychiatric therapist herself.
Going back to Pakistan becomes necessary when Sonia has helped to organize a peace talk that includes a wealthy American, a missionary couple, a German, a couple of Muslims, who all meet at a hotel, but then travel to one of the houses belonging to her husband, Farid, which is in Taliban controlled territory. At first everything is peaceful but before they can reach the house their bus is attacked and all of them are taken hostage by rebel forces. They are told that each time the United States attacks and kills a Muslim in Pashtun territory, one of them will be beheaded as revenge. Sonia begins interpreting dreams for some of the captors and is beaten in public on her back and the soles of her feet until the women of the village shame the me into stopping. To punish her further she must choose whoever will be the next victim and does so by having each one draw cards.
There are other aspects to the story, another adopted son, Wazir, who grew up with Theo but who disappeared during the fighting in Afghanistan. And in order to get the US to go in and rescue this group of hostages, Theo, his father and his sister-in-law in Lahore begin communicating on cell phones about nuclear weapons materiel going missing in the area. They are betting on the NSA eaves dropping on their conversation and the calls are quickly picked up by an ambitious analyst named Cynthia Lam. Theo makes plans to go back to Pakistan as a Pashtun in order to find mother.
The plot in this novel has lots of nuances; there’s a lot going on and for the most part, none of it is good. I have to admit that it was tough reading for a while because everything that happens is ghastly, both the past history of the lives we are reading about, and the prospect for a happy ending after the peace-talk group is taken hostage. Nothing much in the first part of the story will prepare you for the ending and there are several quick turns to negotiate along the way. I very much enjoyed this book and hope to read others by the same author soon.