Read: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

newsI received an e-copy of this book from the publisher for review.

I previously read Lighthouse Island by the same author, which I loved. That is a very different story. Whereas News of the World is set in the 19th century, Lighthouse Island is a dystopian novel set in a near future. I loved both novels equally. Jiles is a great writer who knows how to tell a good story.

A seventy-year-old man, Captain Kidd, a reader of news who travels around the country to earn a living, is asked to deliver a ten-year-old girl with her aunt and uncle, 400 miles away, after she had been stolen, and then rescued, from the indians. The girl, Johanna, feels indian, after having spent four years there, and will not comply to the rules of civilized society. Their journey is full of adventure and dangers.

The story is totally captivating. I enjoyed reading this so much! The slowly evolving relationship between the captain and Johanna is interesting to follow. We are told the story through the eyes of Captain Kidd and so we have no first-person knowledge of what is going on inside Johanna, but from the way she acts it becomes clear that she becomes attached to the old man. And the old man, who initially thought of her as a burden, becomes attached to her as well, and starts to doubt whether Johanna is really better off with her uncle and aunt.

A beautiful story about an old man and a young girl, traveling in a hostile world.

The publisher says: “It is 1870 and Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forging a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.”



Read: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

commonwealthI got an e-copy of this book from the publishers for review (via Edelweiss).

My opinion: Written as well as always, but not half as good as State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (which I loved). The story follows two families who intermarry (i.e., the mother of one family marries the father of the other family) and out of necessity need to deal with each other. We follow some of the family members in the next five decades. There’s also a secret that involves the children of both families. This is slowly revealed during the story.

This novel reminded me a lot of Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread which also follows a family throughout the years – and there’s a secret too. Because of the jumps through time and the different characters that were followed – rather than sticking with one or two – this story felt a little disjointed. I read it with interest but I was never hooked.

The publisher says: “One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.”


Read: Family Tree by Susan Wiggs

familytreeI got an e-copy of this book from the publishers for review (via Edelweiss).

The publisher says: “Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes. Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Los Angeles home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child. But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a yearlong coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she’s lost.

Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned judge. And with the discovery of a cookbook her grandmother wrote in the distant past, Annie unearths an age-old mystery that might prove the salvation of the family farm.

My view

A fun read—I love reading about cooks and cooking—but also rather messy. The story jumps back and forth from the current time to the past quite a bit.  Quite early on in the story, because of what the stories in the past focus most on, it becomes clear what we can expect to happen in the current time. When this indeed happens, finally, it’s not much of a surprise, and it’s also more or less the end of the book. I had hoped to be able to read beyond what I was expecting to happen, but there wasn’t much more.

The main subject was whether you should follow your dreams to every price. How far do you go when you have a chance to fulfil your greatest dream but have to give up something else that is very important to you too? What do you do? This comes back a few times, but with Annie, the protagonist, it becomes a bit tedious. Still, this was an important and interesting topic: not fulfilling your dreams seems like such a shame, but fulfilling them while giving up other aspects of your life might be a bad choice as well.

So, it’s an interesting read, especially for the dilemmas that Annie and some of the other characters have to deal with. An easy-going story that concentrates a lot on family, love, and, of course, cooking.


Other books I read by Susan WiggsThe Apple Orchard


Read: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

The publisher says: “Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.”

I thought: Beautifully written story of two sisters and their descendants, spanning two centuries. Because every chapter is about a new generation, it’s more a collection of short stories than a novel. Of course, the stories of each line of descendants does continue over the generations, but it did feel a bit disjointed.

The descendants of one of the sisters stays in Africa while the other line is sold into slavery and ends up in America. The stories seem very realistic. Interestingly, the descendants who stayed in Africa are not necessarily better off than those sold into slavery.


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