Weekend Reads: “A Day of Fire”

A Day of Fire: A Novel of PompeiiA Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii by Stephanie Dray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was recommended by a friend and fellow author, and I’m very glad I read it.

“A Day of Fire” shows us the last days of Pompeii through the eyes of eight different characters. Each character has their own part/chapter in the book, and many of them cross over. We see people ranging from an aedile (magistrate) to a senator, a prostitute, a pregnant woman, another woman awaiting an arranged marriage, a gladiator, a soldier, and an engineer all providing their perspective on events.

I was uncertain that a collaborative novel with so many authors would be effective, but it truly was. Each part/chapter was written by a different person, but there were no continuity issues that I could find.

Each author had clearly done their homework on the class of character they wrote, getting the facts about social mores and behaviors just right.

I was genuinely impressed, and highly recommend this book to those interested in the subject matter.

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Weekend Reads: “How the South Won the Civil War”

How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of AmericaHow the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America by Heather Cox Richardson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me quite a while to finish this book; it is truly heavy reading and, quite often, not for the faint of heart.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson examines American politics, beginning with Reconstruction and up through the 2016 election, to shine a harsh light on how the right wing has used white supremacy as a weapon to gain votes. Politicians from even those early days incited violence among voters, aimed at manufactured “enemies” like people of color, women, and anyone deemed liberal.

Richardson uses the lens of history and politics to examine how wealthy white men, from slave-owning planters to the proverbial 1-percenters of today, put systems into place to protect their own interests as the expense of anyone they view as “less deserving” — those enemies mentioned above. Interestingly, across all eras, these discriminatory systems were cloaked in religion in order to make them look righteous. At no time is that more apparent than the chapters focused on the 1970s and up to the present day.

The interesting thing is that, throughout the majority of the period Richardson examines, she is able to demonstrate that the majority of people in the US did not approve of these oligarchical policies. In fact, more liberal policies have consistently been more popular. However, the 1-percenters of all the eras involved fought tooth and nail to keep their supremacy … and we see it happening even today.

This book is important: it shows how we got to this place in history. As a result, it also shows us a potential roadmap to fix the mess. Highly recommended.

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Weekend Reads: “The Midnight Library”

The Midnight LibraryThe Midnight Library by Matt Haig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This may be the best book I read all year (I’m writing this in May, so we’ll see).

Nora Seed’s life is miserable. She lives in the small English town where she grew up. She’s lost her job. She can’t get a date. She’s given up on nearly everything she’s ever tried. And so she tries suicide.

That’s when she finds herself in the Midnight Library, where she has a chance to try lives she let pass her by and, in the process, deal with her regrets.

Matt Haig creates characters to care about, with all manner of foibles. He puts them in settings ranging from Sao Paulo to the Arctic, and helps them face themselves. In the process, he got me as a reader to think about how often we as humans chase our regrets. This says a lot about the human condition.

Nora’s various life threads all teach her something important that she carries with her into every subsequent one.

The book is beautifully written, with an entirely satisfying ending — and many laughs and tears along the way. Highly recommended.

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Weekend Reads: “The Bonesetter’s Daughter”

I went into the Wayback Machine for this week’s review. I read this lovely Amy Tan novel in 2019.

The Bonesetter's DaughterThe Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ruth’s widowed mother, LuLing, is sinking into dementia. Ruth’s relationship with her boyfriend, Art, is not all it could be, and she’s feeling the burden on both sides.

Then, Ruth’s mother gives her some papers to translate into English … papers that talk about LuLing’s time living in China. Through flashback, we see what life was like for people across all spectra of wealth and privilege during the first half of the 20th century … and how many challenges were faced based on social mores and expectations.

As always, Tan’s authorial voice is entertaining, even when dealing with difficult matters. Her research is impeccable, and you can tell she cares about every character she creates. There are multiple examples of the hero’s journey in this tale, and that was interesting to realize.

This is not an easy, lightweight read. The book deals with harsh, historical realities as seen through the eyes of the characters. It’s worth the time and effort; you will learn something and be moved.

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Weekend Reads: “Trouble in Nuala”

Trouble in Nuala (The Inspector de Silva Mysteries #1)Trouble in Nuala by Harriet Steel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Police Inspector Shanti de Silva is asked to look into the beating of a worker on a tea plantation in 1930s Ceylon. As he begins his investigation, he learns that the planter, Renshaw, is not well-liked by very many people.

And then Mr. Renshaw is found dead near his offices … with the worker, Gooptu, initially being the main suspect.

Of course, things are far more complicated than they initially seem.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the historical information. We see how colonial Ceylon looked/felt through the eyes of both the British and the locals who are now under their rule — and they definitely don’t see things the same way. There is also an examination of white privilege and racism that weaves its way through the well-constructed fair play puzzle.

I look forward to reading more books in this series.

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