Archive for June, 2007

The Sad Cypress

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

The Sad Cypress….mystery by Agatha Christie

Expertly setting the stage with a mysterious letter and an exacting description of the main character on trial for murder and then bringing the threads of the story together in a most interesting manner, the author takes us back into time and England.  The main character is a woman of great character; you really like her, yet wonder if she DID do in her young, beautiful rival for her lover’s affections.

WHO put the poison in the tea, or was it the sandwiches??????  While the mystery goes on, you learn so much more about the characters and their relationships to one another.  I loved the ending; it smacked of a real life love relationship, and a believable one.  Yet much is left to the reader’s imagination.  Agatha Christie’s mysteries are truly great reads that move along quickly and delightfully.

Joan Badie

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith

Monday, June 18th, 2007

Reviewed by Betty Tarquinto 

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive is the fifth book in a series called The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. In each novel there is always a mystery or two to be solved; however, this is not usually central to the story. It’s more often a subplot, very interesting, yet peripheral to the lives of Mma Ramotswe who runs the agency and her husband Mr. JLB Matekoni who owns an adjoining car repair shop.
 In the latest addition to the series, which does not have to be read in chronological order to be enjoyed, Mma Ramotswe is asked to solve two cases. First there are some unexplained deaths in the same bed at the same time of day in a local hospital. Also, office supplies are disappearing at a nearby printing company. For the first time Mr. JLB Matekoni takes on a case involving a cheating husband.

The appeal of this book lies in the enjoyment the reader finds sharing the lives of the characters and their love of Africa. When Mma has a problem, whether personal or professional, she has a cup of bush tea and sits outside to watch cattle, goats and children. Her days seem so peaceful. Her life is guided by the traditional values of Botswana. The book is wonderful. At times it is funny, at other times sad, but always a good read.

Recessional by James Michener

Monday, June 11th, 2007

Reviewed by Joan Badie 

Recessional by James Michener is a fascinating weave of seniors’ lives in The Palms, an assisted living, retirement apartment complex.  It also features a doctor’s story of dreams and disillusionment with the legal system and his subsequent romance with a double amputee.  Michener does his work well, as usual. 

The book is most enjoyable, yet leaves one with a tinge of sadness as “Recessional” does deal with the inevitable recessional of us all in our later years. 

Charity Girl by Michael Lowenthal

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Reviewed by Patti Brown

Charity Girl is a wonderful and sensitively written book by Michael Lowenthal.  It is a story told through the eyes of Frieda Mintz, who gets caught up in a secret hidden thoughout Would War I.  It is about Frieda’s experiences as a low paid working girl trying to find undependence only to be caught up in the moral issues of the day.

It is an eye opener of a book and holds the reader’s interest.  History buffs will find this book insightful. 

Alice’s Tulips by Sandra Dallas

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Reviewed by Betty Tarquinto

In Alice’s Tulips, Charlie Bullock has joined the Union Army leaving his young wife Alice with his austere mother.  Alice’s hardships helping her mother-in-law maintain the family farm during the war are related in letters to her sister.  At the beginning of the novel her admonition to Charlie “to promise he would come back with both his legs” foreshadows a shocking conclusion.  This book is rich with details of quilting, farming and daily life in the 1860’s.  It’s also a moving account of the struggles endured by the families of Civil War soldiers.

An American Plague: Yellow Fever Epidemic 1793 by Jim Murphy

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Reviewed by Terry Dameika

Thanks to the “Tuesday Tea with a Twist? Program at the West Deptford Library, I found myself searching out “Historical Fiction?, the topic for the May discussion program.  I pulled that subject up on the library web and was drawn to the Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia of 1793.   Since I grew up in Philadelphia, I thought it would be interesting to see how life had been in that day and if I could recognize any neighborhood areas.

The book was in the “Juvenile? section.  How difficult of a historical read could this be?  And, I’m not one to be adverse to some pictures in a book!  This one did include newspaper clippings and maps from 1793.  The book jacket stated “This powerful, dramatic account by award-winning author Jim Murphy (he’s written more than 25 books for young people) traces the devastating course of the epidemic?. 

Since Philadelphia was the nation’s capital, with George Washington as President, the author provided insight to the workings of the government and how changes were made due to the effect the epidemic had on the workings of the City.  I soon became absorbed in the medical beliefs and practices of the time and especially the conditions in the city.  I was drawn especially to the interesting newspaper clips at that time – I wondered why the letter “f? was used instead of “s? in old-fashioned spellings.  (In genuine old-style printing, it is not the letter f, but a long form of the letter s derived from handwriting styles, which looks very similar to f but does not have a complete crossbar.  It is not used at the ends of words, and in double s it is sometimes paired with a short s.  It fell out of fashion with printers later in the 1700’s.)

The spread of the disease and fear among the citizens had one immediate consequence – people began leaving the city.  Historians estimate as many as 20,000 people abandoned the city during the fever.  George Washington, his wife and 9 children went to Mt. Vernon.  When the epidemic continued, the President set a constitutional crisis in motion.  People felt that he could not legally convene Congress anywhere but within Philadelphia.  But, without Congress to pass laws and money, the working of the federal government would eventually come to a grinding halt. 

The Mayor and his family stayed as a symbolic gesture, although the Mayor held an honorary rather than active position.  The business of running Philadelphia was conducted by 12 city committee members with authority.  They would ultimately spend $37,647.19 to combat the sickness that infested their city.  The members of the committee could be held personally responsible for all this money because they had no legal authority to borrow or spend it.

I found it extraordinary that while the majority of them were not wealthy, they chose to take on the responsibility anyway.
And, the Committee got things done.  They ordered a new structure to be built to house the increase in patients – in 4 days, a house 60 ft. long and 18 ft. wide was erected, complete with 2 chimneys.  Another structure was quickly assembled to store empty coffins and serve as a morgue. 

The science of medicine at the end of the 18th century still relied a great deal on ancient myths and folk remedies.  Because of this, people did not automatically reject the opinion of someone simply because that person wasn’t a trained doctor. Remedies were used such as herb teas to break a fever, a glass of brandy to help a restless patient sleep or drops of poisonous substance (mercury) to induce vomiting.  Bloodletting was an ancient and still trusted medical practice.

The Free African Society, founded in 1787, was the first organization in America created “by blacks for blacks? to help members who were destitute and to provide care for widows and fatherless children.  These free black Philadelphians played a heroic role in saving their city.
Philadelphians believed there were problems in the water supply and, in 1799, Philadelphia had the first waterworks construction.  This was the first water system in the U.S. – the water was sweeter tasting and had no offensive odor, plus there was enough force to hose streets and docks and clean clogged sewers to alleviate the spread of the fever.

Yellow fever did strike again, 37 years later and throughout the 1800’s in major cities.  In 1848, Dr. Josiah Nott noticed that yellow fever receded after swamps were drained off to kiss mosquito infestations.  Twenty years later, Louis Pasteur isolated various bacteria, and in 1900 Walter Reed Hospital announced that “mosquitoes transmitted the disease? and even named the culprit, the female Aedes aegypti mosquite (the male species prefers plant nectar to blood).  The actual source of the yellow fever virus – tree-dwelling monkeys in Africa and American rain forests – was not identified until 1929 and a safe and effective vaccine was not developed until 1937.

Lesson learned: Don’t be adverse to books in the “Juvenile? section of the library…what’s not to like about “visuals?….read something on a topic you might not be drawn to.  Who knows, you might find it interesting, educational and a stretch.  Check out the many services our fine Library has to offer.

Duchess: A Novel of Sarah Churchill by Susan Holloway Scott

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Reviewed by Carolyn Wood

Sarah Jennings is a commoner of about thirteen years old living during the late 17th and early 18th century in England.  The work is written in first person and is full of conspiracy, dishonesty, sexual exploits and scandal that accompany the historical details of the time.  The reader gains an appreciation for the customs and limitation on particularly women during the time period.  Sarah Jennings falls in love with John Churchill, a strong-willed ambitious gentleman who rises through the ranks in support of those in power.  Sarah develops a close friendship with Ann Stuart, who becomes Queen.

While reading, I could not help noting how many pregnancies women of the era had throughout their lives.  It seems that in almost every chapter of the book a woman bears a child.  Limited medical care and disease of the era give rational for the high rate of infant mortality.  For example, Ann Stuart, the Queen, gave birth to nineteen children before the end of the book.

Sarah Jennings served as lady-in-waiting to England’s Monarchy helping James II of England to take the throne, while building personal wealth and a prestigious career for her only husband.  In the last few pages the author shares that Sarah is an ancestor of both Winston Churchill and Lady Diana Spencer.  The “surprises? seem a bit contrived, in my opinion.

Susan Holloway Scott is the author of  more than thirty historical novels and a graduate of Brown University.  I personally will read a few more historical novels before rendering a decision on this one.  My first impression is:  interesting though predictable.  

Step Back in Time with Historical Fiction

Friday, June 1st, 2007

Here are a few great titles to help you recall the good (and sometimes not so good) old days!  Join our next in person gathering on June 19, 2007 @ 10:00 am. 

Depths of Glory by Irwin Stone
Alices’ Tulips by Sandra Dallas
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
Martin Chuzzelwit by Charles Dickens
The Hornet’s Nest by Jimmy Carter
The Wedding Dress by Virginia Ellis
The Recessional by James A. Michener
Duchess: A Novel of Sarah Churchill by Susan Holloway Scott

Check out the review of The Wedding Dress below!  Even better, why not check out the book at your local library and post comments of your own on the blog!