Lightning Strike by William Kent Krueger

In this prequel, 12-year old Cork O’Connor is on the cusp of young manhood . . .  As he and a friend are hiking in a remote area working to obtain Boy Scout Merit Badges, they discover the body of Big John Many Deeds, a respected Native from the nearby Iron Lake Anishinaabe Reservation.  On the surface, the death looks like a suicide, but Cork’s dad, Sheriff Liam O’Connor, is determined to find the truth behind Big John’s death.  However doing so is not easy because many of the white townspeople of Aurora, Minnesota believe that the only good Indian is a dead Indian.  In addition there is a lack of cooperation from the native people who don’t trust whites, despite Liam’s marriage to a woman who is one half Anishinaabe.  His investigation leads to one of the wealthiest residents of Aurora, who is a descendant of the town’s founder, and a young native runaway girl, and inadvertently puts Cork in mortal danger. 

This was an excellent coming-of-age story set in the stark beauty of the Boundary Waters, told with respect for the native beliefs and spirituality. 

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

This is one of the best historical fiction books I’ve read in a while!

Set in the American Library in World War II Paris, and small town Montana in the 1980’s this novel explores classic themes of hope, friendship, and love.  In 1944, Odile has just obtained a job at the American library in Paris where she meets, and befriends numerous interesting characters.  But as Paris is occupied by the Nazis and war-time hardships mount, all Odile’s relationships – with her family, her friends, and her police officer beau – are tested.  And in 1983 Montana, Lily, a misfit in her small town, becomes curious about her mysterious neighbor, Mrs. Gustafson.  Doing a school report on France finally inspires Lily to seek out the reclusive woman and she begins to learn Odile’s story. 

But the American Library in Paris is the star of this book, and Googling the REAL people mentioned by the author who actually worked there only added to the drama in this very interesting story.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

When we look at highly – uniquely – successful people, like Bill Gates, or the Beatles, and read their stories, ambition and hard work are usually highlighted.  Those factors are definitely present.  But Gladwell argues that other factors play a part, using interesting stories and anecdotes to illustrate his points.  Gladwell suggests that such things as mundane as the year or the day a person was born, where they grew up, or even family background my play a part in extreme success as well.  He doesn’t discount hard work – 10,000 hours of practice is minimum even if you’re already good at what you do.  But hidden opportunities – birth, family, connections, and history – contribute as well and Gladwell illustrates those hidden opportunities enjoyed by several highly, uniquely successful people in an entertaining, easy-to-read work. 

Rock with Wings by Anne Hillerman

Navajo police officers, Jim Chee and his wife, Bernadette – Bernie – Manuelito, are headed to Monument Valley for a much-needed vacation, and to help one of Chee’s cousins.  But they both get called back to work before they’ve had a chance to enjoy themselves.  Bernie is called back to Ship Rock, New Mexico to deal with fall-out from a drug bust she’d made – though no drugs had been found.  But for some reason the FBI is interested in her suspect.  She has other problems too:  her sister’s DUI arrest, concern for her elderly mother, and a mysterious car fire.  Chee’s work required him to stay in Monument Valley.  As he searches for a missing woman, he discovers an illegal gravesite on tribal lands, and also has to deal with the demands of a Hollywood film crew making a movie in the area.  Luckily Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn is recovering from a shooting and can provide advice to both Chee and Manuelito. 

This provides vivid mental images of the American Southwest and insights into some Native cultures and beliefs.  But it’s also a great mystery. 

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

A Hudson Literary Guild Selection.

In 1940 London, Bunty and Emmie are best friends, share a flat, and are doing their best to remain positive and optimistic despite the frequent German bombing raids in the Blitz.  Emmie dreams of becoming a war correspondent and takes a job at a subsidiary of “The London Evening Chronicle” that turns out to be typing letters for the “Woman’s Friend” magazine’s advice columnist, the formidable Mrs. Bird.  Mrs. Bird has a strong sense of what is, and what is not appropriate for publication, convinced that times haven’t changed since she began writing her column in 1911!  Emmie reads the desperate pleas from readers grappling with issues that fall into Mrs. Bird’s reject stack, issue that involve UNPLEASANTNESS.  Some of these include physical relations, illegal activities, politics, or the war, and as she reads, Emmie begins to not only feel sympathy for the writers, but also begins to secretly respond to some of their queries.  Things come to a head when Bunty is severely injured in a bombing, and Emmie’s activities are discovered by Mrs. Bird.

This is a charming story of a young woman trying to follow her dreams despite almost overwhelming odds against her.  It’s a story of quiet heroism, carrying on with one’s life despite daily fear.  And, in some respects, it’s a glimpse into how everyday women’s magazines both reflect and interpret current times. 

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Former publisher, Susan Ryeland, has come back to England, from the Greek island where she and her long-time boyfriend run a small hotel.  Her journey is at the request of a couple who think she can help find their missing daughter.  The young woman, manager of the hotel owned by her parents, disappeared after reading a mystery, “Atticus Pund Takes the Case,” loosely based on a murder that had occurred at the hotel some years previously.  And, the hotel owners believed that because Susan had worked with the now-deceased author in readying the book for publication, she might be able to shed some light on their daughter’s disappearance.  Their reasoning was that their daughter had been heard to say, “They convicted the wrong man,” after reading the book, right before she disappeared.  Susan’s mission was to talk to all the principals from the original murder, only thinly disguised in the Pund book, and try and figure out where the missing girl is, if she’s even still alive.  Though clues abound – not that I caught any of them – Susan finds herself to be a target of violence.

This was a twisty-turny very enjoyable tale. 

That Summer by Jennifer Weiner

When I first picked this book up, I was somehow expecting a light romance type of story.  Perhaps it was the idea of summers on Cape Cod . . . But the book wasn’t as light as I’d anticipated.

Instead the author tells two stories from alternating points of view, and time.  One is of a woman who seems to “have it all:” a good-looking successful husband, a budding business and an independent daughter who, though she has been kicked out of her private school, is quirky and independent with some unique interests.  The other story is of a woman struggling to build a life for herself after she was raped at a summer party on the beach while she was still in high school.

But this is not a dark story, or a light romance.  Instead it’s a story of women finding their true selves, while also learning to believe in themselves.


American Eclipse

I actually read this in 2017, but skimmed it again recently for Book Bingo. 

This is an easy-to-read, non-fiction account of the many scientists who were determined to experience, and study, the totality of the total solar eclipse that was visible in the American West on July 29, 1878.  The nation was beginning its path toward industrialization, but the West was still frontier, undeveloped and dangerous.  (The Little Big Horn battle had been only two years before the events in this book.)  Some of the scientists who arranged Western expeditions to study the eclipse were Thomas Edison, Maria Mitchell (Astronomy Professor at Vassar) and contingents from Princeton and the US Navy.   The story is full of excitement, wonder, danger, and ultimately for those who experience totality, an opportunity to grasp the majesty and power of nature. . . Excellent!

Do I Know You? by Sarah Strohmeyer

A super-recognizer is a person with an extraordinary ability to remember faces.  Jane Ellison is one of those people and works for Homeland Security at Boston’s Logan Airport.  One day she sees the woman last seen with her sister, Kit, who disappeared eleven years ago.  The woman is Bella Valencia, part of a super-rich family coming home from South America for her wedding.  But Jane calls her out –hoping to find answers with regard to her sister’s disappearance.  Unfortunately Jane’s effort to have TSA detain Bella result in Jane’s humiliating termination from Homeland Security. 

Later, Jane and her boyfriend vacation on Cape Cod, conveniently the same week as Bella’s wedding, considered the wedding of the decade.  But Jane’s efforts to find out the truth about her sister lead her to question everything she thought she knew – including her ability to recognize people – and ultimately puts her in mortal danger from an unexpected source.  Excellent!

I Can Make You Thin by Paul McKenna

This book outlines a weight loss system involving self-hypnosis (CD included!).  This simple system suggests that we can lose weight by eating only when we’re hungry.  Oh, if it were only that simple!  But according to McKenna’s plan, weight loss IS just that simple.  His plan emphasizes visualization techniques and re-learning to truly listen to your body’s messages about needing food.  McKenna offers tips on overcoming emotional eating, making exercise easy, and reprogramming yourself to resist – reject – cravings.

This is an easy-to-read self-help manual.  Ask me in three months whether I think it’s effective!  : )