I read a bunch of good books in June, so without any delay I’ll jump right in to tell you what I thought of three of them.
The Girls in the Stilt House, by Kelly Mustian
I hardly know what to say about this debut historical novel by Kelly Mustian, a native of Mississippi. Wow! What a great book!
I’ll be careful not to give away anything about the plot. Ada is a white teen. Matilda is a black teen just a little older than Ada. They both live along the Natchez Trace in Mississippi in the early 1920s. When the book begins, they don’t know each other.
A string of ill-fated events throw the girls together in the stilt shack Ada lives in on the swamp. Both of them have secrets, some of which they don’t learn about one another until near the end of the book.
This book will keep you turning pages and yearning for Ada and Matilda to get the opportunities they deserve to have better lives. Ms. Mustian is a true wordsmith. She writes beautifully and even weaves a touch of humor here and there in this book of tragedies. She carefully crafted every sentence. I can’t wait to see what she writes for us next!
The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh
The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh was inspired by true events in Belfast during the early days of World War II.
Denise Weston Austin was one of the first female zookeepers at the Belfast Zoo. Ms. Austin took a baby elephant named Sheila out of the zoo so she could escape being killed when the Ireland government ordered the zoo animals to be killed after Germany started bombing Belfast.
Government officials feared that if the zoo enclosures were damaged in future bombings, the animals could escape and pose a threat to local residents. Ms. Austin took the elephant to her home north of Belfast!
Author Sheila Kirk Walsh took that information and more historical facts and wove a fascinating novel about a fictional character – Hettie Quin — based on Denise Weston Austin and Violet – the name of the elephant in the book.
It was a frightening time with much death and destruction in Belfast. Ms. Walsh drew on her own experience in Manhattan on 9/11 to bring to this novel a feeling of insecurity and not knowing what might happen next.
There is depth to this novel, as Hettie Quin loses much that is near and dear to her. She not only saves Violet, Violet saves her.
Charlotte McCurry read the book for the CD edition. Her lovely Irish brogue added an air of authenticity to the story.
My apologies to Ms. Walsh. I was unable to capture a clear photograph of the book.
The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang
The premise of this novel enticed me to check it out. It’s based on a real event. In 1937, during the Second Sino-China War, university students and faculty members took 500-year-old Chinese writings (“the Library of Legends”) more than 1,000 miles on foot in an effort to save them from the bombings of the major cities by the Japanese. The premise intrigued me.
What I didn’t know, was that these ancient writings were just that: legends. Some of those legends are interwoven into the book. While that fantasy element appeals to some readers, it doesn’t especially appeal to me. I’m just not a fan of fantasy novels.
That said, I enjoyed the parts of the book that described the actual arduous journey taken by a group from one university, but I found myself skipping the pages about the legends. Halfway through the book, I stopped to read reviews of the novel. Some reviewers loved it because it is a combination historical novel/fantasy novel, while others disliked it for that very reason. I’m afraid I fall into that second camp.
It is said that China was fighting two wars at the same time. They were fighting Japan and they were fighting to keep communism out of their country. The communist influence is brought out in the book.
It was definitely worth my while to read as much of this book as I did. I learned something about Chinese history. It amazes me that university students and faculty members walked more than 1,000 miles in order to save some of the most treasured Chinese writings. I had no idea!
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. Remember – you don’t have to finish reading a book just because you started reading it. That’s been a difficult lesson for me to learn. I don’t know why. That lesson finally became real to me last month when I was able to walk away from The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang. I had learned what I was meant to learn from it.
I’m listening to Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson. I highly recommend it!
I hope you enjoy your vocation or your retirement, and that you have time to enjoy a hobby.