Review: Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent

What happens to a woman’s life when she has no means of support, no one to help her, and no place to go to escape? And it’s winter in rural Iceland, 1828. Based on a historical events, Burial Rites tells the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, convicted of brutally killing two men. It’s also the story of Tóti, the young priest sent to help her prepare for her execution, and the family charged with housing her at their farm until execution can be arranged. As they live and talk with Agnes, they–and the reader–come to appreciate that her story is more than what is found in the court proceedings, and that Agnes is not just a villain, but also a victim.  Beautifully evoking a lack of choices in a bleak and cold landscape, this debut novel will make you appreciate privacy, central heating, and snowplows.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: stc

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Review: How to be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life, by Ruth Goodman

Goodman covers all aspects of a Victorian day from waking up and through the entire day as a framework to discuss 19th century British life in all strata of society. She discusses clothing, sports, entertainment, work, school, food and other topics. I found her discussion of the various Victorian recipes, medicines, cleaning product formulas and clothing that she actually made and tried out most interesting. On a more somber note, Goodman concludes that except for the upper classes, many people were underfed and hungry for most of their lives. This did improve near the end of the Victorian era when social conditions, including the rise of the labor movement, started to change for the better for the poor.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Inspector Ghote’s First Case, by H.R.F. Keating

Keating was a prolific British crime fiction writer and the author of twenty-six Inspector Ghote novels. Though titled “First Case,” this book from 2008 was the twenty-fifth written in the series. Ghote has just been promoted to the rank of Inspector in the Bombay Criminal Investigation Department and he and his wife Protima are expecting the arrival of their first baby. Retired chief of the Bombay police, Sir Rustom Engineer, asks Ghote to investigate the apparent suicide of the young wife of a longtime friend of his, English ex-patriot Robert Dawkins. Protima is not happy to be left alone so close to her due date as Ghote travels north to the Dawkins’ home but Ghote is determined to thoroughly investigate the death of Iris Dawkins. I listened to the book on CD and the narrator, Sam Dastor, a Bombay native, did an excellent job.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe, by Alexander McCall Smith

Take another trip to Gaborone, Botswana for a visit with Mma Precious Ramotswe and her newly appointed “co-director,” Grace Makutsi of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. This is the sixteenth in the series and the author has managed to maintain the quality of character, plot and writing for each installment. Long running series can make the reader feel as if the books are being cranked out only for profit after a while, but that is not the case here. This time, Mma Makutsi decides to venture into the small business world with a cafe and encounters a few bumps along the way. Meanwhile, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, husband of Mma Ramotswe is experiencing a business decline at the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors which could result in the layoff of his long time apprentice, Charlie. Read this one to find out how the friends navigate these changes in life and also manage to discover the identity of a woman who may or may not be an amnesia victim.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Saving Simon: How a Rescue Donkey Taught Me the Meaning of Compassion, by Jon Katz

I had read a couple of Katz’s books on dogs before and enjoyed them. This one is another good read. He lives in upstate New York, north of Albany near the villages of Salem and Cambridge on a small farm with a variety of animals including three donkeys. Simon, the title donkey, was gravely neglected by his previous owner and Jon and his wife, Maria, nursed him back to robust health. Jon had a difficult childhood and his various animal companions over the years have helped him to heal psychologically and to be able to reach out to others, human and animal. You can visit Jon’s website at www.bedlamfarm.com. Share this book with your animal lover friends.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: The Light in the Ruins: A Novel, by Chris Bohjalian

Vermont based, award winning novelist Chris Bohjalian tackles World War II Italy in this historical novel, focusing on the Rosati family, of “noble lineage” and owners of the Villa Chimera and the Eutruscan tombs found on the property. The Rosatis become too accommodating to the German forces in their area who are first allies and later occupiers. The story alternates between 1943 and 1955 when someone begins to kill off the remaining Rosati family members in a gruesome fashion. One of the detectives investigating the case was on the Partisan side during the war and she paid a high price for her part in fighting the Nazi forces. Bohjalian is a terrific writer and has tackled a variety of subjects in his seventeen novels. One of my book club members said historical novels are her favorite way of learning history.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: The Lacuna: A Novel, by Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver sets this novel in the mid-twentieth century. The main character, Harrison Shepherd, moves between Mexico and the United States as he grows up. While in Mexico he is employed by the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and later Leon Trotsky who has fled from the USSR after his falling out with Stalin. In the United States he is at the fringes of the 1933 Bonus March in Washington D.C. where the marchers are met with a harsh reaction by the government. Later Harrison is caught up in the net of the House Un-American Activities Committee which was investigating alleged disloyal and subversive activities by American citizens at the start of the Cold War. I found this novel a little slow starting but filled with fascinating, historically accurate details.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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