The Bookends with Pan and Becky: A Beautiful Work In Progress by: Mirna Valerio

This is a non-fiction book about Mirna Valerio. What you would picture if I told you the author is an avid long-distance runner? I bet that the picture in your mind does not match what the author looks like. Mirna is a plus size woman and does not have the typical svelte runner’s body. She is often incorrectly labeled and judged by society. However, she has logged some serious miles in her running shoes. This memoir takes us on her journey from an out of shape teen that a doctor labeled obese, to her first attempts at running, and then her journey to become an ultramarathoner.

Becky: I don’t read non-fiction very often but this book was highly recommended and I have seen Mirna’s picture in ads so I had to check this out. I must post a warning that she uses some colorful language. It is somewhat often and might offend some readers. You don’t have to be an avid runner to enjoy this story. It was inspiring to hear her journey and how she embraces her large stature. She didn’t let anything get in her way once she committed to a running challenge. Pam, I didn’t realize until I started reading but Mirna is a model and ambassador for Skirt Sports, a company you recently became an ambassador for. Were you already familiar with her and her journey?

Pam: I have been following Mirna’s story and journey recently. She is very inspirational as a runner and as a Skirt Sports ambassador. As I have been struggling with injuries and health issues, which have derailed some recent goals, I felt very connected to her story. She speaks very honestly about challenges, inspiration, and successes. This helped me put my struggles into perspective! Did you find her story interesting?

Becky: Nonfiction can be frustrating because the story often jumps around instead of following a timeline. That was challenging in this story and I felt lost a few times but my book has about a dozen post-it-notes sticking out because she has some really inspirational thoughts and quotes. What inspires me the most is that she is plus size and feels 100% confident! I wish that more women, including myself, felt that beautiful with our imperfections. Have you looked at her blog or facebook page?

Pam: I have checked out her facebook page followed her as she prepared for a race recently. I was fortunate to hear her speak recently at a retreat in Boulder. She was very inspirational and delivered a great message to a room of women that were all shapes, sizes, and abilities. I completely agree with you about women following her lead and loving ourselves where we are. I love that she is always focused on becoming healthier, not for appearance, but for quality and longevity of life. I struggle with self confidence and body image issues, so this book was a welcome message. What did you think about her stories of the world of ultra running? Isn’t it amazing?

Becky: We should define ultra running for those that are not familiar with this growing sport. It is any distance beyond 26.2 miles, which is a marathon. I am a reluctant runner and can’t imagine running a full marathon let alone a 50K. Yet, her stories inspire me to try something that is beyond what I would normally accomplish. As she wrote, I felt that if she could do it, then why couldn’t I? She commits to a race and then trains like a madwoman. I am amazed and astonished by those that participate in these races! Do you think that you have to enjoy running to like this memoir?

Pam: I think anyone could relate to this memoir because of the inspirational message. We could apply her persistence to any goal in our lives. Mirna is also a teacher and was working at a boarding school while writing her memoirs. It can be extremely challenging to fit in training with work, family, and day to day commitments. As she trained on and around the grounds of the school, do you think she was an inspiration to her students?
Bekcy: I’m sure that she was an inspiration to both the students, and staff of the school. About halfway through the book she includes a few letters from previous students that mention the impact she had on their lives. That’s amazing! Pam, I’ve never mentioned it but you inspire me with your desire to compete in a 50K. While I’m plugging along on the treadmill, completing less than a 5k, I often think about your commitment to training and it keeps me going. Mirna mentions that training can take over your life. She would wake up at 5:00am to start training and often do a second workout in the evening. Do you agree that fitting in the necessary training to be successful consumes your schedule?

Pam: That is so nice, Becky! Your support means a lot to me! I do agree that training can take over your life. Before suffering an injury during training earlier this year, I was also running twice a day to try to get enough miles in around my schedule. I typically get up at 4:15 am to get my workout done before heading into work. Although this sounds extreme to some, it allows me to stick to a schedule and not have training derailed on a busy day. This schedule also allows me to be available for after school sports/activities. I look forward to continuing to follow Mirna’s adventures and enjoy the inspiration she brings! Join us next month as we head in a completely different direction and discuss “Next Year in Havana” by Chanel Cleeton.

Check out some other books we recommend in,
The Bookshelf
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris. Is Grace’s marriage perfect, or a perfect lie?

The Bookends

The Underground River
By Martha Conway

May Bedloe is separated from her cousin, Comfort Vertue, when their steamboat sinks on the Ohio River in 1838. Everything they own is lost and May must search for Comfort among the survivors. May and Comfort have been traveling and working together as Comfort acts and May creates costumes for her cousin. By the time May locates her cousin, Flora Howard (a noted abolitionist) has convinced Comfort to give lectures for the anti-slavery cause. May finds work on a floating theater that cruises between northern and southern states. As May becomes a part of the theater family, she is drawn into a scheme to ferry babies of slaves across the river to freedom. May must try to balance her feelings for her new family with her dawning understanding of the situation and her ability to help people, although it comes with great risk to all.

PAM This book sounded very interesting and I was compelled to read it. There are many different angles to this story and I was drawn in immediately. Did you feel the same? Was the author able to bring you into May’s story?

BECKY A riverboat theater is a creative way to look at helping the slavery situation in the southern states. I was drawn to the story and the topic, but the first half of the book is focused on May discovering a new way of life after separating from her cousin Comfort. The title had me expecting the book to be focused on the slavery topic more than a character’s story. Maybe that’s why I struggled warming up to May. She was blunt and lacked some common social skills so it was hard for me to embrace this character. What did you think about this serious seamstress?

PAM I also struggled to connect to May’s character in the beginning. Her lack of social skills made it hard for her to make friends and even communicate with others in a time where women were expected to exhibit specific behaviors. May struggles to find a job, as she turns off prospective employers with her straightforward manner. She stumbles across a floating theater that has lost a key member to the same riverboat accident that May escaped. Here, she finds a job opportunity and a home. What did you think about this floating theater?

BECKY At the beginning of this story, the picture that I had in my mind of the floating theater just didn’t make sense so I googled some images of old floating theaters. Wow, was I surprised to see just how large these vessels were. The production must have been quite a sight to see for these small towns on both sides of the river. The movement between the North and South provided a perfect opportunity for this storyline. May has always been in her cousin Comfort’s shadow. Her life has been focused on providing Comfort with all of her needs and she received little appreciation for her dedication. May’s new job on the theater allows her to shine and be valued for the individual talents she brings to this troupe. After being so unappreciated in the past were you surprised that May went to warn Comfort of threats made against her because of her public speaking on abolition?

PAM It did not surprise me, since May seemed to be a very loyal person and still seemed to care for Comfort. However, her feelings for Comfort were complicated. On one hand, she cared for her and worried about her. On the other hand, she did not want to fall back into their normal pattern of Comfort belittling her and teasing her if May received any attention. This contradiction was apparent when May went to warn Comfort. I felt this was such an issue for May because she was finally given the opportunity to make friends and shine in her own way. Did you feel this internal struggle with May during this part of the story?

BECKY I’m not sure that I saw it as a struggle as much as I had the impression that May was a bit of a loner and was familiar with Comfort’s actions towards her so she gravitated toward that type of love. I feel that May felt obligated to Comfort and didn’t seem to be angry by her cousin’s actions. Yet, being on her own has given her a chance to see her beauty and talents, through the eyes of others so it was a blessing to be cut loose from the controlling cousin. After this meeting, May accepts the invitation to help with the abolition party. Did you find this storyline exciting and believable?

PAM First, I just have to mention how much I love the way you described May’s ability to “see her beauty and talents.” What a lovely way to express that we all have our own talents, but we don’t always recognize them! Although there were certain coincidences in the story and some eccentric characters, I did feel that the story was believable and had some excitement built in. The time period, alone, carried such dangers and challenges depending on where you were and with whom you were talking. Were you worried that her decision to join the cause would destroy her new relationships?

BECKY Yes! However, I was more concerned that she was involving and putting others in danger that didn’t sign up for this risky proposition. Especially Hugo the owner of the boat and theater. She was dabbling in a situation that had deadly consequences. Speaking of Hugo, what did you think of this budding romance?

PAM This was a great part of the story! May was able to find someone that appreciated her. She didn’t have to try to be someone she was not, but could be herself. Hugo and their budding romance were a large part of what made this theater a true home for May. This was one of my favorite parts of the story. After all of the time spent doing everything for her cousin, it was May’s turn to focus on herself and her relationships. Would you read another book by this author?

BECKY This story was missing some depth for my taste but she has three other novels and they look interesting so I would possibly consider reading her work again. It’s time to move on to our April pick which will be The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash. A historical fiction novel set in 1929 during the beginnings of the fight for union support in factories.

The Bookends

Finding Gobi
By Dion Leonard

This is a nonfiction story about Dion Leonard an accomplished ultra marathon runner. While competing in a 155 mile race in China he meets and falls in love with an unexpected running companion. His wife is not upset, as his new love is a scruffy little dog that is a mighty runner. She is named Gobi for the Gobi Desert and becomes a celebrity as she follows Dion during a good part of this race. Dion quickly decides to bring Gobi home to the UK but things don’t go as planned. This little stray will take Dion on a course that will be harder than an ultra marathon as he battles foreign language barriers and government regulations.

BECKY This is our first non-fiction story in quite awhile. I saw the cover of this book and thought it would be a fun read. I had no idea that this was a popular story. Were you already familiar with Dion and Gobi’s story?

PAM I was so excited to read this book! I had recently seen a small piece about this story on a running website. This book mixes two of my favorite things: dogs and running. Before Dion met Gobi, I had struggled to connect with him. Did you find his voice a little brusque at the beginning of the story?

BECKY He does seem like a very serious, matter of fact, kind of man and that did impact the beginning of the story. However, during the book he shares some of his past and that helped me to connect to him. What I found amazing is that he hasn’t been running very long. He started running in his late 30’s and was competing in extreme running competitions soon after that. You are an avid runner so did this story connect to you on an athletic level when he spoke of the terrain or conditions of racing?

PAM I was also interested in his success after coming into the sport in his late 30’s. This type of story always amazes me, because I can’t imagine having the ability to run these extreme distances! I found his descriptions of his preparation for and execution of his races intriguing. His determination and drive to compete made his connection with Gobi even more special. Were you surprised that such a little dog could keep up with Dion during his ultra in China?

BECKY Absolutely! I have two dogs about the same size and there is no way they could keep up with even an average runner. Animals, dogs in particular, in China do not have the elevated social status like an American pet would. This dog did not seem to come from a home where he was fed well and took daily walks so it’s all the more amazing that he was so strong and healthy. There is a point in the book where Gobi and Dion are separated. A local group searched tirelessly for him and a Crowdfunder account (similar to Go Fund Me) was well funded by people from all over the world. Were you amazed at how many strangers were willing to help Dion find his companion?

PAM I was completely amazed and thrilled by the help he received by complete strangers! The lengths that Dion, his wife, and so many others went to in order to locate Gobi and get the little dog to a new home were amazing. Dion’s wife, who is also an ultrarunner, was very supportive in his quest to bring Gobi home. Were you surprised by her level of understanding and patience?

BECKY Absolutely! He went to great lengths and expense to locate and then move Gobi to the UK. I don’t think that many partners would be as supportive. Have you watched any Youtube videos or interviews with Dion and Gobi? Read the book first but you can lose a whole afternoon if you start watching news clips about these two. There is something really special about the two of them and it’s easy to see why the world fell in love with their story. Did you hear that it might be made into a movie?

PAM I had not heard that, but I think the story would make a great movie (especially for runners and dog lovers!). I have not watched any Youtube videos about Gobi, but plan to after your suggestion! As I was reading this book, one of my students sent me a link to a video about a very similar story. This video is amazing, as the story is incredibly touching and the video clips, music, and interviews are wonderful. The video is about a dog named Arthur and the Swedish adventure racing team that found him while in the middle of the world championships in Ecuador. The heartwarming story can be found on ESPN.com: SC Featured: A dog’s remarkable journey to find a home. While Arthur was able to get to his new home with much less trouble than Gobi, there are many parallels to these stories. Becky, do you think these strong immediate connections with Gobi and Arthur are uncommon and unique?

BECKY What a great video, and another amazing story. This month is the first time that I’ve heard of stories like this. It’s possible that there are a hundred more like it but I would imagine that it is an uncommon occurrence. I find it interesting that such devoted and focused competitors are distracted from their goal by a stray dog that they hardly know. The connections were made quickly and the men were fiercely committed to adopt and save these dogs . Both are wonderful stories for animal lovers. Pam, please tell us what we will be reading for March.

PAM Next month we will discuss the Underground River by: Martha Conway.

The Bookends

Before We Were Yours: A Novel
By Lisa Wingate

Rill Foss and her siblings are ripped from their family and the magical life they had living on the river. They find themselves thrown into Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, where they must try to survive and stay together.

Avery Stafford seems to have a perfect life. She is being groomed to take a senate seat her family has held for generations, she is a successful attorney, and she is engaged to a handsome man. However, she puts her life on hold and heads home to help her father navigate his political life as he struggles with health issues. Avery meets a woman in a nursing home that will change her life, as well as her perspective on her life. As Avery works to solve the mysterious connection between this woman and her family, she will be forced to face hard truths that may threaten her high profile family.

This book is based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy and some famous families all over the country.


PAM: The fact that this book is based on a true story is truly heartbreaking. We meet Rill Foss and her family in 1939, as her mother faces a difficult birth and must be taken to a hospital for emergency medical care. Rill and her siblings are taken from their boat (The Arcadia) and find themselves in Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. They are told that if they are good they will be taken to their parents, but the older siblings begin to see through this lie quickly. Rill was so young to have the job of trying to keep her family together when she had no control of their futures. Did your heart break for this little girl?

BECKY: Oh, this story stayed in my mind long after laying the book down. My grandfather grew up in an orphanage and he wouldn’t discuss his experience there. This book gave me a picture of what he might have endured and it is absolutely disgusting that this story is based on an actual account in history. Rill was a likable girl that came to life for me as I was reading this story. It was hard to forget that it was just a character in a book. The story that is set in 1939 revolves around people that are poor and taken advantage of. The other side of the story is based off a very wealthy political family. Do you think that the author was successful in blending those two opposites into one cohesive story?

PAM: I do believe that the author was successful in bringing such different points of view together. I am with you, Becky. I could not stop thinking about this story. Thinking about my own children and the bonds I share with them made this story painful. The other side of the story, which follows a wealthy and political family, was sad for other reasons. Although the family had plenty of money, the lost family and connections with loved ones were just as painful. What I found most frustrating and sad was that there were human beings who felt that they had the right to pass judgement and change (ruin) lives based on stereotypes and misconceptions. Do you think these people reasoned that they were saving these “river rats” or do you think they were simply blinded to the tragedies by money made in this scheme?

BECKY: I would like to think that Georgia Tann thought she was saving souls but I could not find evidence to support that thought. It was gruesome yet fascinating to dig deeper into the background of this story. She made a great deal of money during this time and had many key people help her manipulate the system. Between 1924 and 1950 she is thought to be responsible for over 5,000 children being displaced from their original families. It is believed that no less than 100 children died in her care from abuse, neglect or lack of medical attention. Thankfully one curious social worker helped stop her deplorable actions. I could go on and on about this curious situation but I should get back to the review. Do you think that some of the adopting families knew that Georgia Tann was a dirty businesswoman or was she an expert at deception?

PAM: I believe she had to be an expert at deception to have gotten away with her actions for so long. However, I imagine that some families that adopted the children in her “care” noticed things out of the ordinary. Perhaps they told themselves they were saving these children and giving them a better life or were so desperate for children they were willing to turn a blind eye. Rill and a younger sister were adopted by a couple that had lost children and were struggling with their situation. They adopted the younger sister, then later brought Rill to their home. This was a complicated situation for Rill and her feelings of obligation towards her family. How did you feel when Rill was reunited with her sister?

BECKY: This was a bittersweet situation. Rill’s sister was younger and it appeared as if she easily moved on from her recent kidnapping, and separation from parents and siblings. She was flourishing under the care of her new family. However, Rill was less comfortable conforming to the change. It was a blessing that they were no longer in the horrific orphanage but distressing to know that the family was separated and experienced unforgettable loss and pain. What did you think about the ending and would you recommend this story?

PAM: I enjoyed the way the different times were brought together to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together. I also appreciated the determination of the siblings and their honor of the family ties. I would recommend this book to others as a great (but very sad) story, as well as an opportunity to acknowledge the history that this story revolves around. As we close this chapter, where are we headed next month?

BECKY: We will be reading a nonfiction book called Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard. It’s a story about an ultra marathon runner and a little dog that was found in the Gobi desert.

The Bookends

The Lost Letter: A Novel
By Jillian Cantor

This historical novel, which spotlights love and survival, is inspired by true resistance fighters in World War II. We begin in Austria in 1938, as we follow Kristoff who is a young apprentice to a master Jewish stamp engraver. He begins to fall in love with Elena, the engraver’s daughter as the country is forever changed by the Nazi forces. We jump to Los Angeles in 1989 and get acquainted with Katie, a journalist going through an unwanted divorce and coping with her father’s declining health. Her father’s love of stamps and the collection he leaves to her brings her into the mystery that unites both places and times.

PAM I was intrigued when I read the cover of this book at our local library. As I began to delve into the story it proved to be a good pick and I couldn’t put it down. We begin in Austria, then quickly transition to Los Angeles as the author works to unravel the mystery from both ends. Were you lost in this story, Becky?

BECKY I really enjoyed the two storylines and different characters. The author seamlessly wove the different timeframes together for a beautiful tale that kept me intrigued. Did both stories come alive for you, or did one shine brighter than the other?

PAM At the beginning, I was more captivated by Kristoff’s tale in 1938. However, as the stories began to come together I was equally invested in both parts. The story begins as Kristoff begins work as an apprentice for a famed Jewish stamp engraver in Austria. Were you as intrigued as I was about this art? I had never learned about this art and enjoyed the descriptions of the process.

BECKY It was fascinating to learn more about the history of stamp making and collecting. I never really put much thought into that little square until this story. I had no previous understanding that the placement and intricate details could send a message to the recipient. The 1938 section will introduce you to the Faber family. We hardly get to know this family and the apprentice, Kristoff before their life is quickly altered by the German takeover of Austria. I am always amazed when I hear about resistance workers and their absolute dedication to their cause. Do you feel like the author created a vivid scene for this terrifying time in history?

PAM The author certainly illustrated the uncertainty of the time and how the people of Austria had little to no control in their lives. As events led to the separation of the family, there were no guarantees of reunion or safety. Elena was very passionate about the resistance and continued to push the limits, while Kristoff was a reluctant accomplice. Did you feel their different levels of commitment were due to their backgrounds and the fact that Elena’s family was Jewish?

BECKY Elena was more personally invested in the crusade due to her heritage but I think that it was ultimately her personality that drove her dedication to the cause. She was bold and fearless while Kristoff was led by love and in my opinion a bit of manipulation. However, they both risked their lives with the choice to alter the stamp making process. As we move over to the 1989 storyline we meet Katie. She is rediscovering her life as a single person and trying to manage her father as his memory deteriorates. Unsure what to do with her father’s impressive stamp collection she takes it to an appraiser to see if he has anything of value. An unopened letter, with an interesting stamp is among the collection and will tie these two timeframes together. Would you have been tempted to open the envelope and read the contents?

PAM I would have been so tempted! But, I loved the determination Katie found when she decided to try to find the intended recipient of the letter. She is struggling after her divorce and as she deals with her father’s deteriorating memory. Katie works for her ex-husband and must deal with this awkward situation on a daily basis. She feels stuck and is unable to move on and reclaim her life or find a new path. Did you feel that this letter and her mission to deliver it helped her find some of her self worth after the loss of her husband and her father (at least as she had known him)?

BECKY Katie is a journalist writing movie reviews. This is an easy job and below her level of experience but she is not ready for yet another change. Finding this letter was more than the desire to solve a mystery, it was tied to memories of her father and her childhood. I believe that it helped her find focus and anchored her while her life was spiraling out of control. Which eventually gave her some self worth and the strength to take the next step in her life. What resonated with me after reading this book was how much communication has changed. The author mentions in the Author’s Note that concentration camp prisoners were allowed to send and receive mail. When is the last time you wrote or received a letter? Texting, tweeting and email have taken over our communications. It is a quicker way to deliver information but I wonder if our older community feels the loss of connection due to our technology dependency. This was a wonderful book and I highly recommend this story to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. Join us next month as we read The Christmas Angel Project by Melody Carlson. A small book club is struggling with the loss of one of the members. Her last Christmas gift will challenge each lady to grow in ways that will change them forever.

The Bookends – October 2017

in a dark, dark wood
By Ruth Ware

Twenty-six year old Nora receives an unexpected invitation to an old friend’s hen do ( a British bachelorette party). Nora hasn’t spoken to Clare in ten years so ignores the email for a few days. Why would Claire, a childhood friend include Nora in her prenuptial party? Nina, a mutual friend is the only other familiar name on the list and the two make a pact to attend this event together. After hours of driving to the countryside, they arrive at a modern glass walled house in a dark wooded area. The cell reception is poor, there is no internet or landline and the other guests seem to feel equally uncomfortable. Forty-eight hours later Nora wakes up in a hospital bed. Badly bruised and bloody, with no memory of what happened.

BECKY Reese Witherspoon is developing this book into a movie. How do you think this story will play out on the big screen?

PAM I had not heard about this becoming a movie! With the quirky characters and the dark twists and turns, this could be great on the big screen. When Nora makes the decision to attend the hen, she leaves her quiet and orderly life behind and delves back into the drama that she left many years ago. She hopes to determine why Clare would want her to attend the hen when she has not been invited to the wedding. Nora is nervous about seeing her old friends and meeting new people and struggles with her past. Were you able to relate to Nora as the author introduced the reader to her?

BECKY Nora was an interesting character. From the beginning we see that she is a bit of a recluse and prefers her quiet lifestyle. There is also a hint that she has some baggage from the past. As interesting as this sounds I didn’t connect to her quickly. I think that this will play out much better in the theater with an actress to give us some visual connection to this character. However, as the story progresses I found myself connecting to her and caring about her story. Yet I couldn’t understanding her desire to go away for the weekend to celebrate with someone she hasn’t spoken to in ten years? Maybe a lunch but a whole weekend! The story slowly unfolds as we meet a curious group of ‘friends’ that share this weekend celebration. Do you feel like all the characters were developed well or was it just the top few?

PAM I completely agree, Becky! I felt that it wasn’t very plausible that a recluse like Nora that had put her past behind her would agree to this weekend with new and old acquaintances in a place she had never been. There was not as much character development as I typically like in a story, especially for a couple of the new acquaintances. Do you think the author did this purposefully to try to create a feeling of unease and mystery for this suspenseful story?

BECKY It’s possible that was the author’s intent but it missed the mark for me. I enjoyed the book but I did not find it to be a scary story, as Reese Witherspoon suggests. It was a good mystery and once again, I think that with the right acting it could play out very well in the theater. The first chapter starts out with Nora in the hospital with no recollection of the weekend. Did the beginning pull you into the story?

PAM I was quickly pulled into the mystery, although I struggled to connect to Nora and felt that parts of the story weren’t very plausible. I still found that I wanted to unravel the story and discover what really happened that night. I agree with you, Becky. I would not call this a scary story, but a mysterious one. Did you feel that the beginning, with Nora unable to remember, added to the air of mystery?

BECKY I like that we didn’t go through a few chapters of fluff to lead up to the inevitable discovery of a murder mystery. However, with that style of writing we miss out on some character development. It could have been accomplished in the alternate chapters that focus on the past but the characters stay one dimensional. It is a good, quick read but it didn’t keep me up at night to finish the last few pages like The Black-Eyed Susans, by Julia Heaberlin. Ruth Ware has a book that is recently released, would you consider reading this author again?

PAM I would consider reading another work by this author if the story line grabbed me, but with the understanding that I probably wouldn’t be seriously invested in the characters. We will explore another mystery next month, but one that is sure to take us on a very different journey. Jillian Cantor takes us back to 1938 and 1989, as we unravel the mystery of an old love letter that connects generations in her book, “The Lost Letter.”

The Bookends

The Vanishing Year
By Kate Moretti

Zoe Whittaker appears to be the star in her own Cinderella story. She went from sharing a small apartment and shopping at thrift stores to a sleek Tribeca penthouse and designer clothes. Henry Whittaker, a Wall Street tycoon swept her off her feet and brought her into his world. Now, Zoe is separated from her previous life (and friends) by miles, as well as circumstances. But, Zoe’s secrets are coming back to haunt her. Five years ago, Zoe ran from her previous life and created a new life in a new place. Now, the danger that caused her to flee is close and she must decide who she can trust as secrets are revealed.

PAM I found this story as I browsed the new fiction section of our library. It sounded like an interesting and suspenseful tale! We meet Zoe as she is heading an elite event for a philanthropic organization in the city. Right away, we find that she does not feel a part of this life and is nervous about her past. Becky, what were your first impressions about Zoe?

BECKY I quickly liked this character. She was easy to connect to and I enjoyed how her story is revealed. She is currently living what appears to be a perfect life. We quickly see that maybe everything isn’t as beautiful as it first appears. Do you like the pace of this story and the style of writing?

PAM The story gets moving quickly and we begin to see troubles in Zoe’s life. I did like the writing style and the way the author reveals pieces of the mystery, but keeps the reader guessing how pieces fit together until the end. Zoe feels grateful for her new lifestyle, but we begin to see that she has very little freedom. Did you feel she was more accepting of this because she had gone through such hard times growing up and was comforted by the offered security?

BECKY I suppose that her past could have played a part in the seduction of this wealthy lifestyle. However, I think it’s more likely that she was slowly seduced, and controlled by Henry. I think that it was easy to put her guard down and enjoy all the pleasures that her new lifestyle provided without realizing the isolation that came with his love. She didn’t see that her cash allowance or the watchful eye of Henry was a prison. What did you think of Henry when we are first introduced to him? Did you think he was her knight in shining armor?

PAM I had a bad feeling about him from the beginning. There was always an edge to him or a condescending comment aimed at Zoe. When we come into the story, we are already seeing some issues in the relationship. When do you think she began to realize that it wasn’t all perfect?

BECKY I like how this character was developed but there was a bit of a disconnect for me regarding how trusting she was in this relationship. Zoe had a challenging childhood so I found her immediate dependence on Henry to be unlikely. I would have expected her to be more scrappy and guarded instead of blindly being lead by this man. However, she began to question her marriage when she accidentally sees Henry while he is working out with a beautiful woman. He is an expert at manipulating the situation but she began to start putting the puzzle together after that. Along with the marriage came a seriously devoted housekeeper, Penny. She is in charge of everything in the home from decorating to selecting dinner. Did you like the development of this character that was cold with Zoe but intensely involved in all aspects of this home?

PAM The development of this character certainly added to the unease and feeling that something was not right in Zoe’s home. The coldness that Zoe received from Penny and the brush off from Henry when she tried to discuss the situation helped to make Zoe feel isolated. Adding to her isolation is the distance that has been created between her and her friends. Zoe was working at a flower shop when she met Henry and was very close friends with one of her coworkers. She hasn’t seen any of her friends in quite some time and begins to try and connect with the friends that she left behind when she married Henry. They are reluctant to accept her after her abandonment of them. How did you feel about these three characters?

BECKY Those relationships were realistically portrayed as she delt with friends that felt abandoned. Zoe had to deal with hurt and betrayal as she mended those relationships. It also gave us a glimpse into Zoe’s past as she reconnects to her old lifestyle. There is more to this story but we are avoiding a few topics so we don’t give too much away. Do you think that a book club would have interesting discussion or is this more of a book to read on a beach vacation?

PAM I think there are some deeper topics that would drive a book club discussion around this story. I know I had some questions that would be fun to discuss in greater detail! We will go in a completely different direction with our next book: The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. Join us as we discuss a 104 year old woman, Ona, and the boy that reignited her interest in life.

The Bookends

The Second Mrs. Hockaday

By: Susan Rivers

Seventeen year old Placidia Fincher lives a privileged life with her family. She is a tomboy that has a love for horses, especially the wild ones. Major Hockaday comes by her father’s property to buy a mule and Placidia is attracted to this rugged older man. He feels the same and the two are quickly married and she leaves everything behind to start a new life on a 300 acre remote farm far from her family. Just days after becoming husband and wife, the major is called back to the battlefield. Young Placidia is left with the Majors young son and more responsibility than she has ever had. By the time he returns two years later, his young bride is accused of adultery and infanticide. Placidia refuses to talk about the accusation nor defend her herself. What happened during those two years?

BECKY This Civil War story is told completely through correspondence and diary entries. For the most part the letters are conversations between Placidia and her cousin Mildred. We do get quite a bit of information but they are the only characters we get to know for awhile. What did you think about this style of writing?

PAM I typically like this style of writing, but I did find it a bit cumbersome at the beginning. However, once I became more familiar with the characters and the time frame of each letter, I was able to see the connections and the story began to fit together. I felt that it frequently took me a bit to catch on to what the author was implying in different social situations and relationships. I wondered if it was the language the author used. Did you find that, as well?

BECKY Absolutely! I had a hard time following this story and I often wanted more information than what was provided in a letter. This style also didn’t paint a vivid scene in my mind. I usually have a very good picture of the characters and the setting, but this book was like watching a black and white television show. The story however, although it took awhile to develop, was quite interesting. The reality that women were left with the heavy responsibility of taking care of property, farm animals, servants and often children, gives a different glimpse into the realities of war. Do you think that the author was successful, using this style of writing to show how grueling that time was for Placidia and women in general?

PAM I agree that the story developed and drew me into the interesting mystery. Although it took a while to see the entire story and get a feel for the characters, eventually the author did portray the difficulties women faced during the war. Also, the author offered a glimpse into the social order, where women were considerably lower than men. This became even more of a challenge when a woman was in charge of her land and the people working it and had to deal with the men in town and on neighboring farms. Did you find this frustrating, as Placidia worked as hard as any man?

BECKY For me, it was more upsetting to read about men benefiting from a woman in such a desperate situation. We are introduced to a few unsavory men that took advantage of the environment the war created. She really had no means or experience to effectively protect herself and that was something that I hadn’t thought about before. Not only was she physically vulnerable but her livestock and stored food supply were equally at risk. What I found most intriguing in this story is the servants she interacts with. I had a better picture of these individuals than the two main characters. Did you find that storyline interesting?

PAM I agree, Becky. I also had a more complete picture of the servants, than the two main characters. The storyline of the servants connected many pieces, as we were able to see the interactions between different families. The servants were often temporarily moved to different families and homesteads when there was a need. This allowed us to discover information that helped to piece together the story of Placidia. She would not have been able to withstand the period of war without her servants by her side. Although, some were loyal and some were definitely not. Were you able to have a better understanding of this story through these relationships?

BECKY Some gave more light and understanding to this story than others. I would have loved hearing more from their point of view as the story moved along. With the correspondence style of writing this wasn’t possible but I did enjoy that some of those stories come to life as we move towards the end of the book. There was so much to address in this story with loss, forgiveness and the conclusion of the mystery. Did you like how this story came to an end?

PAM I had mixed feelings about the ending of the story. Ultimately, it was what I would consider a happy ending. However, the events and hurt that had occurred throughout the story were hard to completely wipe away. As we approach the end of the book, some of the characters’ children discover certain truths that had been meant to rest forever. This causes much discussion in the families. Did you feel that it was better to learn the truth, even though it changed perceptions or is it sometimes better not to know?

BECKY That’s an interesting question. I enjoyed the truth and how it was revealed. If it wasn’t presented then I think I would have felt cheated and assume a second book to follow. I can’t say that I would have been interested in a second story but I did want to know what happened to that baby and this marriage. I think it’s time to say goodbye to this story and move to The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti. Zoe is living a lavish lifestyle but her secret past is sneaking up on her. Will her previous life be revealed or will she be able to lock it safely away?

The Bookends

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

By: Fredrik Backman

Elsa and her granny are inseparable. Nobody understands Elsa the way her grandmother does. She is often called different and faces bullies every day at school. At night, Elsa escapes into her grandmother’s fairy tales. Everyone thinks her grandmother is crazy, but she is Elsa’s only friend in the world. Elsa embarks on a great adventure when her grandmother dies and leaves letters that must be delivered to many people she wronged. Her life will never be the same.

PAM I was drawn to this unique story idea and completely lost when I realized this was the same author that wrote “A Man Called Ove.” I loved the quirky characters in that book and was not disappointed in this story. I was quickly pulled into this story with its very eccentric characters. Elsa’s grandmother made me laugh from the beginning. Did you find yourself drawn into this tale from the beginning?

BECKY I did not immediately connect to this story. There is little background preparation before the story starts so I floundered for a bit. The characters throughout the book are enjoyable and well developed. I just would have liked a bit more explanation of the fantasy part of the book so that I could have appreciated the magical essence of this story from the beginning. What is created later in the book is a sweet story so it was worth the initial confusion. Granny tells Elsa fairy tales and has created an imaginary place called Land-of-Almost-Awake. They access this land via the wardrobe in Granny’s apartment and travel to the various lands by riding cloud animals. Was it just me or would you have liked to see at least a map at the beginning of the book to set the stage for the Land-of-Almost-Awake?

PAM I would have loved to see a map with all of the different lands Granny created! This would have been a great visual for the different stories, as well as characters. Granny is very different than other adults that Elsa knows. We come to learn of many interesting stories about Granny and her experiences as we travel through this story. Do you think this helped form the unbreakable bond between granddaughter and grandmother?

BECKY Elsa is only seven when her grandmother passes away so I think the multiple stories that are revealed to her definitely helped etch Granny’s character in Elsa’s young mind. Before passing away, Granny has written several letters of apology to various people. Elsa embarks on something like a scavenger hunt to deliver these letters, and ultimately learn more about her Granny and the people that live around Elsa. Was there too much going on in this story or did you like the flow of the story?

PAM There was definitely a lot going on with the story and it was like jumping on a fast moving train at first. However, all of the pieces began to make sense and fit together as the story continued. So, although if felt very scattered initially, I loved the way everything tied together with Granny’s fairy tales. Elsa is bullied by other students at her school and her grandmother was always her biggest advocate, coming to her defense in meetings with the administration. Was this storyline about bullying challenging to read and did you worry that Elsa’s mother was not as strong of a defender for her?

BECKY Poor little Elsa was often cornered at school by bullies. It wasn’t graphic but it sure tugs at the heart strings when you read this story. For example, “Like many children who are different, she’s good at running.” That is just upsetting to read. I didn’t dislike her mother but she wasn’t one of my favorite characters. She had a lot going on in her life and although it’s not an excuse I could identify with not having enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. Her executive job keeps her busy and she doesn’t have much time to actively parent Elsa. She also has a new marriage and is soon to deliver Elsa’s half brother (whom Elsa calls Halfie). I think that she relied on Elsa’s grandmother without realizing that Granny was starting to lose her mind and that Elsa really needed her mother. Unfortunately, Elsa also has a distant relationship with her father. What did you think about this quiet man?

PAM At first, her father’s attitude toward her really upset me. However, as we continue through the story, we are given the opportunity to understand him and his feelings about his daughter. It took me a while, but as secrets unravel, I came to appreciate this character and his love for his daughter. There are many eccentric neighbors in Elsa’s building that are involved in Granny’s tales. One of my favorites is a large animal called a wurse. Elsa discovers this creature from the fairy tales after her granny passes away. She saves this creature and quickly finds a friend that is loyal and gives her the support she has never found in a friend. Did you love this friendship between Elsa and the wurse?

BECKY I agree that this was a sweet friendship but it too was a bit confusing. I believe that this creature was a huge dog that belonged to her grandmother (although it lived in an apartment and ate chocolate). When you read this book you have to embrace that it is told from a seven year old’s point of view and there is a great deal of imagination employed throughout the story. If you can do that then I think you would enjoy this story. It’s time to say goodbye to Elsa and crack open our next book set in 1865. Next month join us as we discuss The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers.

The Bookends

Breakthrough

By: Michael C. Grumley

A group of marine biologists are conducting amazing research with dolphins, Sally and Dirk. The team is making great strides in translating the language of dolphins, which will change our understanding of this amazing animal forever. Meanwhile, something unexplainable is happening around the world. Naval investigator, John Clay, is tasked to solve the mystery when one of the strange events involves a nuclear submarine. As these two seemingly unconnected groups come together to solve the puzzle, they realize that the world is in danger and it is up to them to save millions of people.

PAM Becky, this book was different from anything we have read in some time. Many different storylines converge into one as we follow this story. I especially enjoyed the dolphins and the connection between them and the group researching their language. Did you find this part of the story intriguing? Did you find it plausible?

BECKY I think dolphins are amazing creatures and the idea of communication with them seems plausible. However, in this story the computer quickly allows the humans to talk clearly with these two dolphins. I did not find that believable but this is a science fiction story so it works. The storyline that I enjoyed most was the research team in the Antarctic. They were studying the Rhonne Ice Shelf and I could hardly put the book down during one section of the story. If this became a movie I would go just to see how they would reenact this part of the book. The idea of a huge section falling into the ocean and creating a tsunami was fascinating to me. What did you think about this small part of the story?

PAM I agree with you about this part of the story. I also found it very interesting. Honestly, I enjoyed the different story lines and the different types of science represented. The idea of the tsunami was terrifying, but their solution was creative to say the least (I wonder if it would really work). The character that led the research trip to the Antarctic was a woman that had not been taken seriously by some of the people in power in the country. She was determined to gather evidence and prove her theory to be accurate. In order to do this, she gathers a team of researchers and heads into the inhospitable environment of Antarctica. Did you admire her drive to find the truth? Or did you find this trip to be a bad idea?

BECKY I loved her drive and spunk. The trip was dangerous and put her team in a treacherous situation, but the research was necessary to complete and it made this storyline very exciting. We also get a glimpse into how our government might handle a danger that could potentially kill millions. Telling the truth could cause a panic of epic proportions so, is keeping it a secret a better choice? Did you feel like the government officials were realistically represented and how did this part of the story make you feel?

PAM I’m sure there would be disagreement among the people involved. I also feel that the difference in opinion between the scientists and elected officials would occur, as they have different information and different perspectives. One of the officials was very demeaning and dishonest. He made me very mad! Ultimately, his decisions (that he was not cleared to make) led to incredible danger for many. He also was disgusting in his behind the scenes manipulation. I kept hoping that his true character would be revealed to all. Did you feel the same about this character?

BECKY I completely agree with your feelings about this man. There was nothing likable about him but I enjoyed the chaos he caused in the story. The author did a fantastic job creating a character that stirred such emotion in the reader. When I started this book I didn’t realize that it is the first book in a series of four. Did you enjoy this story enough to continue to read the whole series?

PAM I enjoyed the connection with the dolphins enough that I plan to read the next book in the series. It will be interesting to see where the story goes from here. You know how much I love stories with animals as main characters! Are you planning to pick up the next in the series?

BECKY This is not the type of book I would usually pick but I really enjoyed it and will read at least one more in the series. I hope that a few of the characters return in future stories. I appreciate that the author completed this story and did not leave unresolved cliffhangers so you were forced to buy the next book. Were you satisfied with the resolutions to the different storylines?

PAM I completely agree! I love when an author organizes a series in a way that allows a reader to read one or all and still get an entire story. I did feel that the storylines were resolved completely, but I hope to gather a little more information about a few of them in upcoming books! We will be reading a very different genre next month. Join us as we discuss All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker. We will be introduced to a tragic story of a teenage girl that suffers a brutal attack and is given a drug to erase her memories of the assault. The author takes us through the challenges this teenager faces, while the reader unlocks the mystery of the crime.