ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Cozy Mysteries, History, Mystery, Romance, Suspense, Women's Fiction, Young Adult

October Reads 2022

OK, this turned out a bit blurry! Sorry about that…

The facts are these: sometimes I’m in a reading mood, sometimes I’m in a blogging mood. Lately I’ve been in a reading mood! A lot. I will highlight a few from this month’s literary adventures.

Best Thriller: Daisy Darker, by Alice Feeney. Yes, this extremely popular book lives up to the hype, even though it was nothing like what I expected. In true Agatha Christie fashion, a group of dysfunctional relatives gather at Grandma’s house for a weekend. Many go in, but few go out. All seen through the eyes of 13 year old Daisy. Great writing with a surprise ending. Recommended! (Some language.) 4.5/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Classic: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, by R.A. Dick. I only recently discovered that one of my favorite classic films was first a book. And it was great! There are definitely some differences, as to be expected, but I really enjoyed this as original source material. It was fun to watch the movie again after reading it. 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Cozy Mysteries: Send in the Clowns/Watching the Detectives/Cold as Ice, by Julie Mulhern. These are books 4-6 in the Country Club Murders series and they are just as fun as the ones preceding them. If you’re looking for a smart, escapist series, this is a great one! The writing is terrific and you’ll love the main characters, the headstrong Ellison and Detective Anarchy Jones. 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Romantic Comedies: Pumpkin Spice and Not So Nice AND The Accidental Text, both by Becky Monson. They’re clean, there’s depth, and they tug at your heart. Pumpkin Spice and Not So Nice is a companion book to Jennifer Peel’s The Pumpkin and the Patch (which I read last month and loved.) The Accidental Text is about a twenty-something young woman who has recently lost her mother. She texts her mother’s phone number, pouring her heart out, as a way to deal with her grief. What she doesn’t know is that the number has already been given to someone else. I really loved this one. I recommend both books for a combination of clean, light romance with a splash of emotion. 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Clean Romance: Mulberry Hollow, by Denise Hunter. This is an author whose work I want to pursue more. I just finished this book yesterday morning. It’s proof that you can have a romance with attraction, emotion, tension, and a satisfying story without steamy scenes. It could be marketed as a “Christian Romance,” but the Christian aspect is pretty minimal. The main characters, Avery and Wes, felt so real. I loved the privilege of looking into their lives. 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Steamy Romance: Yours Until Dawn, by Teresa Medeiros. To be clear, I don’t go looking for steamy books. Sometimes, like in this case, the steam shows up halfway through the story. But, despite the blush-worthy scenes (which just about hit my steam limit) this is a fantastic historical romance. A young woman is employed to care for a recently blinded soldier. He’s cantankerous, demanding, and stubborn. She is undaunted, but also a bit mysterious. Then there’s a shocking twist I never saw coming (and I’m usually pretty good at predicting twists.) Again, there are some R-rated steamy scenes. I really wish there was a sanitized version because this is one of the best stories I’ve ever read. 5/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Young Adult: Not If I See You First, by Eric Lindstrom. Another blind protagonist, high school junior Parker Grant is snarky, a runner, and bluntly honest. She’s high maintenance and she knows it. She also has a fierce love for those who stood by her in her darkest hours (literally) when she lost her sight at age seven. Navigating a new normal after she is orphaned, Parker must deal with her relatives, the drama of high school, and her own heart. The author does an amazing job writing the character of this complex girl. I was completely immersed in her world. (Some language.) 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Fiction: Take Me With You, by Catherine Ryan Hyde. I love books that pair unlikely adults and kids together. Catherine Ryan Hyde is a master at this kind of story. Here we have a divorced science teacher who goes on a cross-country road trip, grieving for a son who recently died. While getting his RV serviced, he strikes up a conversation with the surly mechanic, a single father of two boys. When the mechanic reveals that he’s off to serve a prison sentence, he pleads with the man to take his sons on the road. It’s unusual, heartfelt, and keeps your attention. I recommend it. 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

The other 4 Star books are also worth your time, but these are the ones that affected me the most. Now, what will November bring? I have a few reads mapped out, but only time will tell!

Biography, History, Nonfiction, Series & Collections

Alan Turing, by Hourly Histories

After watching The Imitation Game again, I felt like it was time to learn more about Alan Turing, one of those essential people in history whose story was suppressed for decades after his death. In doing so I happened upon the Hourly Histories series.

These books, which focus mostly on war and film figures of the 1940s are truly excellent. In about 80 pages they describe much about the subject, getting to the heart of what made them who they were and the importance of their contributions. I’ve read a few others and was equally impressed.

Like many geniuses, Turing was a brilliant man with a tragic life, but as the father of the modern computer–upon which we all rely–his name needs to be known and recognized.

Hourly Histories books will interest a variety of readers of different ages. They would make great additions to a classroom or home library and digital versions are available to borrow if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription.

8.5/10 Stars

Biography, Black History, Entertainment, History, Nonfiction

Mobituaries, by Mo Rocca

You might recognize Mo Rocca and wonder where you’ve seen him before. It could be on The Daily Show or CBS News Sunday Morning. Maybe you’ve heard his unique voice on NPR. He’s a very smart, Harvard-educated, somewhat caricature-ish person, a description I think he would embrace. Funnily enough, I first saw him as the dimwitted newscaster, Ted Willoughby, on The Good Wife.

So imagine my surprise when I was browsing podcasts, looking for something that didn’t have an “E” for explicit language attached to it, and found that Mo (short for Maurice Alberto) hosted a show called Mobituaries. I listened to the episodes on Lawrence Welk, Audrey Hepburn, Marlena Dietrich, the Bunker Brothers (the original Siamese twins,) and a few others that escape me at the moment. They were clean, they were entertaining, and they were really interesting. When I found out he had a book that delved even deeper into these “great lives worth reliving,” I did what I rarely do…I actually bought the book.

Mo has vast interests, but his favorites are pop culture and US presidents. He also likes people who were the first to do something (Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks were preceded by others, who knew?) and famous siblings (Billy Carter, we hardly knew thee…) There are those famous people who died the same day, one always eclipsing the other (Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett both died on June 25, 2009. You can guess who took “center stage.”) There are also those people for whom the term “disambiguation” was created. (I’ll give you a second to look it up.) I’m talking about Audrey Hepburn vs Katherine Hepburn, Joan of Arc vs Joan Van Ark (do people really get those two mixed up?) and the whole Andrew Johnson/Andrew Jackson/Stonewall Jackson confusion. Honestly, distinguishing the difference between any of those people is not something that has ever kept me up at night, but it’s still fun.

There are places in the book that, admittedly, I skimmed. Some chapters are identical to their podcast counterparts. Some just didn’t interest me. The more I read, the more I realized that this would make the ideal “bathroom book.” That’s the book you put on the back of the commode where you and your guests can read whatever chapter they prefer when they need a little extra time to do their business.

If I had to choose between the Mobituaries podcast and the book, I would probably choose the podcast for two reasons. 1. It’s more succinct. The book gets a bit wordy. 2. Just to hear Mo’s voice. There is no comparison. Still, it’s a fun read, probably a good gift for certain history buffs, and a great literary addition to your bathroom.

8.5/10 stars

Here is a fun interview Mo does with Trevor Noah talking about Mobituaries, the book:


This is a Book for People Who Love the Royals, by Rebecca Stoeker

OK, perhaps we should clarify: this is a book for people who love learning about the royals. Some are more (or less…ahem..Andrew) lovable than others. The “Meghan and Harry” interview on March 7 probably attracted a lot of new converts to the subject of British Monarchy, its history, and its relevance (or not.) This is the book for them–a book for curious beginners who want to know more.

The monarchy’s history is not delved into deeply, but enough to pique the reader’s interest. It mostly focuses on the current, living Mountbatten-Windsors. (This is the name adopted when Queen Elizabeth married Prince Philip. It was first used in 1973, more than twenty years into their marriage. When William and Harry were in the military they adopted the last name “Wales,” but it was used only temporarily. For instance, Harry’s son is named Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. One of the perks of being royal is you can choose your own surname.)

Each member of the current family is profiled, as well as their respective spouses. The line of succession (something touched upon in the M&H interview in regards to titles/security) is also mentioned.

The book is both fun and interesting if you’re new to learning about the monarchy, but very “Royalty 101” if you already know a lot about the intricacies of the family. (For instance, do you know who Princess Alice is? She’s Prince Philip’s mother and she is FASCINATING–but you won’t learn about her in this book.)

Keeping in mind that it is for beginners, 9/10 stars.

Faith and Religion, History

Repicturing the Restoration, by Anthony Sweat

Anthony Sweat is one of my favorite Latter-day Saint speakers at BYU Education Week and as a podcast guest. A very knowledgeable professor, I’m constantly amazed at the vastness of the information he knows about the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ancient Biblical history, and about the scriptures themselves. He’s also an artist, so I was excited to see his paintings and read about why he chose the subjects in his newest book, Repicturing the Restoration.

He chooses subjects that are not the most obvious, using angles and lighting in his paintings which continue that theme. I love the painting called Purgatory, which shows Joseph Smith and his faithful wife, Emma, in a dimly-lit room, lit only by fire in the fireplace, while he explains to her the principle of plural marriage. Her body language emits tension while his shows pure weariness.

Purgatory, by Anthony Sweat

It is powerful, accompanied by the artist/scholar’s explanation of the principle’s history and why he chose to portray the moment in this way.

Although I bought the digital version of the book, would make a beautiful coffee table book in hardback form. Page after page is both informative and thought-provoking. If LDS church history is something you are interested in, I recommend it highly. It is currently available in digital form only on Amazon and digital and hardback form at

9.5 out of 10 stars

Biography, Black History, History, Nonfiction, Young Adult

The Life of Frederick Douglass, by David F. Walker

For the second time in two weeks I am completely bowled over by a book I discovered accidentally. I have so many thoughts right now…

With so much racial unrest happening I feel that one of the things we need to do is get at the core–its history and its reasons. Obviously, there is no one alive right now who can tell us what it was like to be a slave in the United States during the 1800’s, but when you read Frederick Douglass’s own words, you get pretty close.

I learned so much about this important historical figure who I thought I already knew. When I read about Harriet Tubman and the early suffragettes, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass is always mentioned. But until now, I did not know his personal history.

In this powerful book you learn about his entire life, from birth to death: his boyhood, his mother, his escape, his wife and children, and, of course, his determined quest to help abolish slavery.

Although it was not the custom at the time, Frederick Douglass purposefully looked into the camera when his picture was taken. He felt it showed his humanity and resolve.

This particular screen shot is one of many quotes by Douglass that made me realize the amount of guilt he often felt. Throughout his life he dealt with much internal conflict, always wondering if he was doing enough to help the slaves and always putting pressure on himself to be an example of dignity. He felt great responsibility to show others that a (former) slave is a person with intelligence and emotion, not just a piece of property to be bought, sold, and abused.

I highly, highly recommend this graphic novel to adults and young people. (Probably a mature 10 years old and older.) Although it chronicles an era of the past, its themes are still relevant. Mostly, that while many agree that change needs to happen, they differ on how to achieve that change. Until that question is resolved, how can things be different?

10/10 Stars

This book is available on, or perhaps your local digital library, which is where I found it. Just look at these amazing drawings by David F. Walker:

History, Nonfiction, Speeches

The American Spirit, by David Mccullough


We are all part of a larger stream of events, past, present, and future. We are all the beneficiaries of those who went before us–who built the cathedrals, who braved the unknown, who gave of their time and service, and who kept faith in the possibilities of the mind and human spirit. —David McCullough in The American Spirit

When I read the work of a writer as gifted as David McCullough, I fear I will not be able to express myself as he deserves in my review. Many feelings are coursing through me as I put his words through the filter of recent world and national events.

In the wake of George Floyd’s recent death at the hands of Minneapolis police, there has been a lot of talk about racism, to be sure, but there has also been a lot of talk about American history. It is said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. How do we learn about it? By reading it. There is so much to know and so many facets.

I was, of course, familiar with David McCullough. As someone who loves documentaries, he is a fixture on PBS, narrating countless stories in his grandfatherly voice. But McCullough is also a renowned American historian and prolific author, winner of the National Book Award, two Pulitzer Prizes, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has made it his life’s work and personal crusade to humanize historic icons of the past and bring unsung contributors of our nation to the forefront. (Benjamin Rush is my new historic interest.)

It wasn’t difficult to decide which of David McCullough’s books to read first. While visiting our local digital library site, The American Spirit was the only one readily available (I put holds on several others.) But, as so often happens when I read an author for the first time, it was providence that this would be the first of his books I would experience.

This is what you do with his writing. You don’t just read it. You experience it.

Unlike his other books, which are mostly about prominent figures in American history, The American Spirit is a collection of speeches that David McCullough has given over the years. Many are to new college graduates, some are at events commemorating anniversaries (of Congress, the White House, the 250th birthday of the Marquis de Lafayette, etc.) But before you groan at the word “speeches,” let me assure you that these are each mini works of art. They are vibrant. They inspire. They provoke. They motivate and they elevate.

History’s greatest enemies are those who distort, deny, sugar-coat, reimagine, and try to erase it. McCullough does none of these things. That level of honesty is not only refreshing, but vital. Despite our many flaws and struggles, America has a lot about which to be proud. I found this comforting, especially in the midst of recent events. We also have a lot we need to change. But let’s change things for the future without denying the past. Learn from it. Read about it. Improve upon it.

9.5/10 Stars

Black History, Children, History, Nonfiction, Poetry, Young Adult

A Wreath for Emmett Till, by Marilyn Nelson


This country we love has a Janus face: one mouth speaks with a forked tongue, the other reads the Constitution.

Let us first define what a Janus face is: cb922372af7ff4692a4ccfe77b79d2bbAmong other things, Janus was the Roman god of duality. And while America represents the Land of the Free for some, it is still a land of hypocrisy, fear, and double standards for many. The last couple of weeks have been a painful, shameful reminder of this.

I happened upon the poetic prose of Marilyn Nelson completely by accident this morning on my local digital library site. I was quickly intrigued by her beautifully expressed story of Emmett Till. For those unaware, Emmett Till was a 14 year old black boy who was lynched and murdered in 1955 for whistling at a white woman. His killers were never brought to justice. His mother, Mamie, who lost her husband 10 years before in a controversial hanging, courageously displayed her young son’s mutilated body in an open casket at his funeral. If the law would not prosecute those responsible, she would do it in her own way.

In this sonnet, A Wreath for Emmett Till, award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson speaks for the young man who could not speak for himself and for his brave mother, thrust into the spotlight after his killing. Everything is said with sorrow, with love, and with heart-felt apology. I can hardly do it justice:

Screen Shot 2020-06-10 at 9.32.58 AM

Nelson’s style lends a power that makes mere storytelling inadequate. While probably targeted for young readers, teens and adults will also appreciate this quiet treasure. And, although a quick read, the message lingers long after that we, as humans, still have a long way to go.

9.5 Stars


History, Nonfiction

Slave Stealers, by Timothy Ballard


Remember these words: Operation Underground Railroad. Visit their site, donate to their cause, and find interviews with their founder, Tim Ballard.

If you feel like modern-day heroes do not exist anymore, look no further. They do.

Timothy Ballard was working as a special agent for Homeland Security when he was inspired to take a very brave step: leave a secure government job and start a nonprofit. Why? Because a government agency has restrictions that a nonprofit doesn’t.

Since 2013, Ballard and his organization have recruited former police officers and agents to rescue thousands of trafficked children around the world. Not only do they rescue them, but they house them in aftercare facilities to help them get the psychological, medical, and emotional help they need to heal, and to gain skills and education so they can proceed with their lives. When possible, they reunite them with their families. No matter what, O.U.R. stays in touch with all of the kids they rescue. And let’s define “kids.” These trafficked children could’ve ended up in that terrible situation at any age, from infancy to their teens. Some were sold by their very own families.

It’s as heart-breaking as it sounds, but it is something about which we need to be aware. After all, change doesn’t happen when we’re comfortable. In case you’re nervous, know that Tim Ballard is very good at shielding his readers from the “worst of the worst,” while still reminding us of its existence.

Meanwhile, he also spends time writing about the life of a Civil War era slave named Harriet Jacobs–her escape attempts, the abuse she endured, the unfairness that abounded in her life, and her minor triumphs. That time period is getting further and further away. It needs to not be forgotten.

Slave Stealers should be required reading for everyone, especially for those of us who enjoy Life’s everyday comforts and luxuries. The accounts will both outrage you and make you grateful. It will make you feel like you want to do something, even if it is just donating to O.U.R., supporting those heroes who risk their lives to save these kids from hell on earth.

9/10 Stars

Biography, History, Nonfiction

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris


Stories of love, discipline, generosity, and resourcefulness that were born out of the Holocaust never fail to amaze me. But because of the atrocities of the time, I usually prefer to learn about them in a documentary. It’s much easier for me to devote an hour or two to this cruel period than several hours reading about it. Knowing this about myself, I began The Tattooist of Auschwitz with caution. Seeing the word “survival” on the cover also helped me. Whatever darkness endured by the main character it would ultimately be about…survival.

Armed with this knowledge and drawn in by Heather Morriss’s high-quality writing style, I began the story of Lale, a Jewish Slovakian man in his twenties who went to Auschwitz when concentration camps were still in their infancy. Quickly promoted from the assistant to the main tattooist responsible for carving thousands of permanent numbers into inmates’ arms, he was given access to more areas of the camp, afforded extra rations which he usually shared, and even came face to face with the “doctor of death” himself, Josef Mengele.

Through Lale’s eyes we are given a glimpse into the abominable creativity the Nazis used for dehumanizing those who crossed their paths. Any wrong move–or no move at all–brought death. The alternate side is how the craftiest and luckiest (often a factor) inmates survived from day to day, submissive on the outside, powerfully resolute on the inside.

This book reads very smoothly as we live through Lale’s three years at the hands of such doom. Every day could be his last. But, like other inspiring stories from this time, he triumphs again and again, helps many others, constantly dodges death, and even finds love.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a phenomenal book that deserves its many accolades. It is only graphic in its honest portrayal of events but never more than necessary. I appreciated that. There are also a few f-bombs, but I allow rare leniency on this because of the setting’s intensity.

Highly, highly recommended for mature teens and older. This would make a terrific book club selection or just for individual reading. It is uplifting in ways you would never expect but most importantly–it will change you.

A worthy 10/10 Stars


History, Nonfiction

The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore

radium girls

If you’ve never heard of the “radium girls” and their sensational trial in the mid 1930s, you’re not alone. Until reading this book, neither had I. But it is a piece of history that needed to be told.

After Marie and Pierre Curie discovered Radium in 1898 it became the “wonder element.” Radium was put into face creams and lotions, people drank radium-infused water, and its glowing properties were put to use in special paint at the Radium Dial Company in New Jersey. “Fortunate” women were hired to paint over numbers on watches worn by American GIs fighting in WWI. Later, radium watches and clocks were sold across the US.

Example of a radium clock

The highly trained women who painted the dials made more money than most in the workforce. They could help their families and still afford expensive clothing. Others longed to follow in their glowing footsteps. That’s right, the dust from the workroom clung to them, making their glowing figures instantly recognizable as they walked home each evening.

Speed was of the essence and these women kept up, 6 days a week, long hours every day. Paid by the unit, they were trained to use the “lip, dip, paint” method, a quick way to give the brush that perfect point necessary for such delicate work.

But over time the radium worked its way in deeper than the women’s skin and hair. A toothache here, a painful hip there, a sore arm, and worse. Much, much worse. Radium poisoning was making its appearance, starting slowly until it could not be ignored.

Radium Girls tells the story of these women and what they endured physically, emotionally, and financially as their health issues began dominating their lives. Eventually their illnesses forced the medical community to connect the dots and someone needed to be held accountable. So began the lawsuits against Radium Dial, who, for years, stubbornly refuted all accusations.

The book is important and I’m so grateful to finally know of this segment of history, one you would never learn about in school. These women’s suffering cannot be overstated, as you read believing…hoping…knowing that surely the company will be made to pay, right? Sometimes the company’s reactions were so, so frustrating.

A very impressive recounting of the events and, although long in coming, the vindication these women deserve.

9/10 Stars

June 2020 Update: This morning I learned that Radium Girls has been made into a film, set to release last April, but delayed due to COVID-19. This is a story that was crying out for more attention. I hope the film does it justice. More info is available HERE.



Fiction, History

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford


My poor heart is sentimental

Not made of wood

I got it bad and that ain’t good.

–Duke Ellington, 1941

Few things delight this reader more than becoming emotionally invested in a book that turns out to be even better than I could’ve hoped. In turn, few things frustrate me more than reading about a shameful time in US history that is rarely taught in schools. That is what happened to me while reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford.

The story centers on the innocent friendship of Henry Lee and Keiko Okabe. It is 1942, Seattle. The only two Asian students “scholarshipping” at an all-white prep school, they meet by working side-by-side in the cafeteria but soon become inseparable. As a child of the 1970s and 1980s, some of my best friends were Japanese and I respected them immensely, but 1942 was a very different time. Even Americans of Japanese-descent were regarded as the enemy. Henry’s father feels this hatred especially personally, having arrived alone in America years before at age 13 from China, orphaned by war with Japan.

Like young children today, Henry and Keiko see their similarities more than their differences, and Keiko’s educated parents are likewise enlightened and inclusive. Henry’s father, however, cannot and will not see anything redeeming in the Okabes. To him they are mere representations of the people who slaughtered his family.

Fast forward to 1986. Henry is 59 and a recent widower. The nearby Panama Hotel has just been sold and, like a dusty time capsule, its basement is full of items once belonging to Japanese families nearly 50 years before. Items they could not carry to internment camps. Items they meant to retrieve after the war was over. Items they never saw again.

Suddenly, memories of the past are thrust to the present.

Through the wide eyes of young people whose childhoods are systematically being robbed, we see the harsh realities of war on the American home-front. But this is different than watching fathers and brothers enlisting and not coming back. This is watching families driven from their homes and businesses in ways that seem decidedly un-American. And yet, it happened.

Despite reading some mixed reviews on Goodreads and a self-imposed hesitant start, I started devouring this book more and more. Besides falling in love with Henry’s developing courage and Keiko’s sweet innocence, I began to recognize the value of a book like this. It is important. Denying history does not erase it. If anything, it creates the danger of repetition.

There are so many potential discussions with this book (making it the top book club selection of Fall/Winter 2009-2010.) It’s a treasure. You will remember it and its characters for a long time.

9.5/10 Stars


History, Nonfiction

Life Below Stairs, by Alison Maloney


Even though it has been two years since it’s been off the air, I’ve been mourning the completion of Downton Abbey lately and will probably re-watch my DVDs soon. In the meantime, Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants has been a fun, quick, informative read.

The whole idea of an upstairs/downstairs lifestyle is very foreign and outdated, but still fascinating. Until reading this book, it never occurred to me how the lack of modern appliances necessitated large amounts of servants in houses that were almost kingdoms unto themselves. However, just like when reading about famous frontiersmen and women, I was reminded that everything took longer in a time when there was no electricity, no washing machines, dishwashers, and often–no indoor plumbing.

I have new appreciation for shows such as Downton Abbey because of the nuances in servants’ characters: the obvious hierarchy among those below stairs, the fierce protection of their jobs, the back-biting and work politics , the sleeplessness, the importance of character references, and the huge amount of rules and restrictions.

And yet, for many, it was either a tireless life in service or abject poverty.

For a poor and unskilled person, but one with great personal potential and a high work ethic, going into service was a terrific opportunity. And, unlike today’s minimum wage jobs, service provided room and board and sometimes, a chance for advancement.

It makes one stop and think how many people today would leap at such a chance, despite the hardships.

This book reads almost like a interesting text book. It is very well organized and uses great “word economy.” There is no fluff, just an outline of the way things used to be in a time now gone. If this is a period in history that interests you, I recommend it.

9.5/10 Stars

Biography, Children, History, Nonfiction, Young Adult

Terrible Typhoid Mary, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

bartoletti-terrible-typhoid-maryWhen I was an elementary school student in Southern California and discovering for myself which books I enjoyed, I often gravitated towards biographies. Some of my favorites were biographies on Helen Keller, Annie Sullivan, Harry Houdini, and Harriet Tubman. I still remember the covers of each of those books, all of which were worn with use. (In fact, the Helen Keller biography still sits in the bookcase next to me, as do many other childhood favorites.)

I mention this because I know that Terrible Typhoid Mary, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, would’ve been added to the group. It’s exactly the kind of biography I would’ve read again and again. Not only is it a fascinating true story, but it’s also extremely thorough, and written so well that everyone involved is brought to life. The reader is immersed in colorful descriptions and an interesting cast of characters, who just happen to be real people. (Dr. S. Josephine Baker, one of the first female doctors in the United States, is also prominently featured.) We can just imagine the increasing rage building on Mary Mallon‘s face when Health Department employee, George Soper, finally tracked her down and tried to explain that she was a carrier of Typhoid and was making others ill. We can also imagine the scene where she chased him–and others after him–out of her kitchen with knives and a few choice words.

Mary Mallon’s story is captivating for many reasons and the author covers them all. As the first “healthy carrier” discovered (but not the last,) many important human rights issues are brought to the surface. Did the government have the right to arrest and quarantine Mary when, technically, she had not broken any laws? Did it have the right to insist that Mary give samples of her blood and bodily waste? Were Mary’s stubbornness and violent temper the reasons she was singled out and forced into decades of isolation? Could her situation have been avoided?

The historical period of this real-life drama created other dilemmas. There were hoards of new immigrants flooding into New York City at the time. Sanitation was becoming more of a challenge as population increased. Indoor plumbing, daily baths, and sewers were not yet the norm. The idea that microscopic germs cause disease was also extremely new. (Vaccinations were even newer.) Germ theory was a difficult concept to explain and a source of skepticism among the masses.  And Mary Mallon, a proud, hard-working Irish immigrant who worked her way up the domestic ladder to become a cook for elite families, refused to hear that she wasn’t clean and that she had infected the households who ate her meals. But where do her rights begin and end? Doesn’t the Health Department have a responsibility to stop the spread of disease and prevent an epidemic?

Adults, young adults, and elementary school children will enjoy Terrible Typhoid Mary. It’s the perfect marriage of writer and subject. Teachers and home-school parents will also appreciate the author’s comprehensive bibliography, a terrific example of citing primary and secondary sources that could even be used in a separate lesson. As a biography for school-age readers, this one is as good as it gets.

A well-deserved 10/10 Stars

Fiction, History

Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks


Once again, I had spoken too freely. I seemed too dense witted to learn the simple lesson: silence was a woman’s sole safe harbor.

These are the profound words of Bethia Mayfield, the voice in Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks. Profound, because they sum up the expectation imposed upon Puritan women in the 1600’s. Be seen, not heard. Be dutiful, modest, productive, obedient, submissive, and grateful.

And what of happiness? Happiness was a luxury. Life at that time was about attending to basic needs: food, shelter, clothing. Intellectual pursuits were reserved for males, and on “the island” described in the novel, a few males of the Wampanoag tribe as well. Caleb, for whom the novel is named, is one of them. Although a supporting character, some of the questions he asks and the identity he adopts makes the reader re-examine which people are savage and which are truly educated and dignified.

Hardship permeates throughout. The white men and native people try to coexist, but an undercurrent of determined hostility lingers. The word “sonquem” is used frequently. The best definition I could find of “sonquem” was “conquered.” In the novel’s context, the English buy or take land from the sonquem, the conquered people.

This is a novel which requires attention and commitment. The language is elevated, yet lyrical, and through Bethia’s eyes we come to understand that she is much more than what she shows others, and certainly much more than they acknowledge.

The characters experience great losses, disease, racism, indentured servitude, and public humiliation. At a time when most were endeavoring to be as Christian as possible, compassion and mercy were virtues rarely called upon. However, despite the bleak setting, we also see characters experience self-realization, regret, and love.

As the reader, I was motivated by Bethia’s fortitude and creativity during extreme trials of all varieties. At the end of the story, she calls Caleb a hero. In her eyes, perhaps he was. I think her modest nature and humble upbringing prevented her from realizing all that she accomplished, which you will see when you enter her world. I’m happy I did.

8.5/10 Stars