It has been a long time since we have seen her, but Caroline joined us in October. So nice to get caught up with her. Barbara found her email in time and was able to join us as well. Core members Peggy, Cynthia, and Coleen & David rounded out the participants.

On to books…

Coleen was thoughtful enough to email me the list of books she and David have read, along with pocket reviews, so let’s start with them.

Dead Red by Tim O’Mara. Former police officer in Brooklyn turns to teaching high school after a serious accident. Also, an occasional freelance detective, usually involved due to a personal connection. This particular installment is notable for a shout-out in the acknowledgements to former independent bookstore owners Cheri and Acia from Mysteryscape. Good stories, well written.

The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes. Set in 1920s England. Woman murdered in a train car (classic locked room setup). Based on a real family in England from the era. Entertaining. Written by niece of Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame.

Murder on the Rocks by Karen McInerney. Woman sinks her life savings into buying a bed and breakfast on an island in Maine. Then an (evil) developer decides to build a huge resort right next door. Developer gets murdered. She must solve the murder since she is the main suspect. Lightweight, but entertaining.

Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Locke. Black Texas Ranger solves crimes set along US Highway 59 in East Texas. Several social issues involved including interracial relations, biker bars, music, and how things that happened decades ago can boil up in the present.

Ride a Pale Horse and Message from Malaga by Helen MacInnes. Often called the Queen of the Spy Novel, MacInnes has written books set in the approach to WWII through the Cold War. These two are Cold War era books. I always enjoy reading her books.

The Dry by Jane Harper. Set in a small agricultural town in Australia during a drought. Man returns to town to attend the funeral of his childhood friend. While there, he is asked by the friend’s father to investigate his son’s death. While doing so, he is also drawn into solving the death of another of his childhood friends that happened decades ago. Good book. I will read more by this author.

Lockdown by Peter May. Main character is a police detective in London assigned to a murder case on his last day on the force. In solving it he must work around all the restrictions imposed due to a pandemic! Written years ago, no one would publish it until now. Decent story. Not his best, but an okay read. I would recommend his China series. He has several other series I haven’t read.

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer. An adult thriller by the author of the Twilight series. This has a fairly decent story line. Main character is a woman recruited by some unidentified agency of the government to develop and eventually use chemicals to assist in interrogations. She figures out that she knows too much about something and goes on the run. After several years, she is offered a chance to come in out of the cold if she does one more job for them. Complications ensue. To me, this is a book that should have been about 40–50% shorter. Too many words for the story. Reminded me of Dickens — paid by the word. She needed a good editor.

David read the fourth book in the series of Harry Turtledove’s seven-book saga about an alternate history where the Earth is invaded in 1942 by lizards from the star Tau Ceti. Colonization: Second Contact moves us from 1942 to 1960 when a truce with the Lizards has divided Earth’s habitable surface into Lizard and human controlled territories. The invasion occurred in 1942, but a wave of colonization ships arrives in 1960 with millions of Lizards waking from their cryonic suspension to occupy our world. Himmler has replaced Hitler, and the Reich controls France. Various world capitals have been destroyed by nuclear weapon attacks by both humans and Lizards. We follow multiple characters. One fun part is that youth growing up their entire lives with Lizards on Earth now emulate them by shaving their heads, wearing minimal clothing, and using body paint to signify what military rank they’d like to be if they were a Lizard soldier. And of course, they speak Lizard to be “hot.”

David’s other book was picked off the library shelf after seeing a PBS special about Armistead Maupin, gay author of Tales of the City. Mr. Maupin grew up in a southern conservative family proud of their Civil War heritage. He interned with Jesse Helms and met President Nixon at the White House. Of course, his family couldn’t accept him for being homosexual. A similar story is told by Garrard Conley in Boy Erased. Mr. Conley was also given a first name to celebrate the family southern heritage in a Missionary Baptist family in a small town in Arkansas. His father was planning to be a minister, and Garrard tried having a girlfriend, and everyone assumed the cute couple would soon be married. It wasn’t going to work out. Without providing many details, in 2004 Garrard was sexually assaulted by a male friend in college, who also called the Conleys and outed their son. Mrs. Conley began a frantic search for cures, thinking maybe testosterone shots could cure Garrard. Eventually, they enrolled Garrard in a program called Love in Action to essentially de-program their son. Isolated in classes where he had to trace sin back through his family tree, trying to find alcoholism, promiscuity, gambling, drug use, gang activity and failing to do so, he endured months of mental anguish until breaking down in front of his mother to such a degree that she knew she had to pull him out of the program before he harmed himself. There isn’t much resolution in the autobiography although later his father did at least hope he would find happiness somewhere. Mr. Conley teaches English literature in Sofia, Bulgaria now.

Caroline used BookBub to download samples of several books to read on her phone, including Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, Nothing was the Same and Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide (which she read in its entirety some years ago) by Kay Redfield Jamison, Dream Psychology by Sigmund Freud.

Ever the artist, Caroline also read Chagall by Chagall by Marc Chagall, Van Gogh’s Van Goghs by Richard Kendall, and PICASSO: Masterworks (Masters of Art) by Daniele Boone.

Caroline was particularly intrigued by Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character by Kay Redfield Jamison. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Jamison, the author of An Unquiet Mind, examines the life and work of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Lowell, bringing her expertise in mood disorders to bear on Lowell’s story, illuminating the relationships between mania, depression, and creativity.

Peggy got the discussion started with The Lantern Men, by Elly Griffiths, a mystery that makes use of forensic archeology. This is a topic I have been interested in; Peggy gives it a recommendation. Peggy has also been reading Anne Perry, A Question of Betrayal, an MI6 suspense story set in 1930s Europe. Intriguing. Finally, she read Ring of Fire IV, part of an anthology series of alternative history.

Nathan recommends The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. He found it both timely and challenging.

Other books Nathan enjoyed were Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Guitar Zero by Gary Marcus, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Conner.

Peggy just turned 70; happy birthday, Peggy! She has also completed her early voting, which you can do in Missouri if you are 65 or older. Early voting takes place at the Kansas City Election Board office at Union Station. She said the lines weren’t bad at all.

Peggy recommends Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump by Peter Strzok, the agent who opened the FBI investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference. When he, Peter Strzok, had already spent more than two decades defending the United States against foreign threats he had seen more than enough to convince him that the commander in chief had fallen under the sway of America’s adversary in the Kremlin. Strzok constructs an account of foreign influence at the highest levels of our government and poses the question, “When a president appears to favor personal and Russian interests over those of our nation, has he become a national security threat?”

Peggy also recommends All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny, the latest (book 16) in the Chief Inspector Gamache series.

Other Peggy reads. Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary by Timothy Snyder, Disloyal by Michael Cohen, and The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves.

Cynthia has a new granddaughter, Isabella Rose Heller, lovingly referred to as Bella.

Cynthia managed to find time to read The Case of the Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Mystery by Nancy Springer, the first in a series of Enola Holmes mysteries. Cynthia actually read two versions of this book: one a comic book with wonderful watercolor illustrations and the other the actual novel. She also read The Twisted Root by Anne Perry but found it derivative of previous Perry novels.

Cynthia does recommend Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace by Miroslav Volf, which poses the question that in an increasingly graceless culture, where can we find the motivation to give? And how do we learn to forgive when forgiving seems counterintuitive or even futile? Thought provoking.

I just returned from working on the census in Birmingham, AL, so didn’t get much read. I’m a little more than halfway through The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero who Infiltrated Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather. This is the story of a thirty-nine-year-old Polish resistance fighter named Witold Pilecki, who in 1940 left his family and volunteered to intentionally let himself be captured and sent to a new camp called Auschwitz. His mission was to report back to the underground on what was happening there and organize an internal resistance. Bravery is such an inadequate description of what he was able to accomplish. Not only that, but he was also able to escape Auschwitz in late 1942, at a time when the genocide there was in full fury.

If you would like to join us in our literary chat fest, please email me so I can add you to the invite list for the November Book Lovers SIG. ~Brad Lucht