Great Reads

Child, Lee. Worth Dying For

Lone wolf drifter Jack Reacher gets caught up in a local mess when he stops at a motel in a small, isolated Nebraska town. What starts with Reacher driving a doctor out to treat a battered wife with a nose-bleed soon escalates as Reacher finds out that the abusive husband is the scion of the Duncan clan, a local family which has the rest of the town under its thumb and has been effectively running a miniature dictatorship for decades. Everyone in the area depends on the Duncans to ship out their crops come harvest time, and the Duncans have been milking that power to the point that no one dares to speak or act against them.  No one but Reacher, that is. Former military cop that he is, Reacher has the skills and the inclination to deal with crooks like the Duncans, and when representatives of the Duncans’ OTHER clients show up to find out what’s delaying their shipments, Reacher takes them on, too.

Violent, fast-paced, and light on the moralizing, Worth Dying For is a movie-ready romp. Jack Reacher doesn’t overthink his do-gooding; he just does what needs to be done and if a lot of people get killed in the process, so be it. It’s always the bad guys who die, anyway.

RA Blog Categories: 

Stott, Rebecca. Darwin's Ghosts

After the publication of his seminal The Origin of Species, Darwin was chastised by his fellows for not discussing the many thinkers and scientists who had entertained similar evolutionary ideas and hypotheses before him. Thus, in the third edition of his work, Darwin wrote up a preface entitled “An Historical Sketch” to fill that gap. But his preface was just what he called it…a sketch, little more than a list of names with very little background or information.  Stott here remedies that lack, delving deeply into the historical record to provide brief but information-rich biographies of some of the great thinkers who preceded Darwin’s theory of natural selection. She begins with Aristotle, who, while exiled to the island of Lesbos, undertook one of the first large-scale biological surveys of the rich sea life to be found there. From there, Stott covers other such luminaries as Leonardo da Vinci; 9th century Islamic polymath al-Jahiz; French scientists Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon; Georges Cuvier; Darwin’s contemporary Alfred Russel Wallace; and Darwin’s own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, among others.  In the process, Stott conclusively demonstrates that, while evolution itself was still a controversial idea and one which ruined or nearly ruined the lives and careers of many of its early proponents, it was an idea whose time had come by the time Darwin’s book was published. His work was not done in a vacuum, building as it did on a long and rich intellectual history; The Origin of Species merely provided the most fully conceptualized theory and the only one which provided an observable, viable method by which evolution occurred—natural selection.

Fascinating, well-researched, and never dry, Darwin’s Ghosts is a treasure-trove for both those already interested in the topic and those coming to this history for the first time. Recommended.

RA Blog Categories: 

Bechdel, Alison. Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama

In the follow up to her successful memoir, "Fun Home", Alison Bechdel tackles the complicated relationship she has with her mother in this highly personal graphic novel. Juxtaposing her revelations about her mother with the theories of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott and author Virginia Woolf, Bechdel creates a multilayered account of her childhood, personal and professional life. Her interest in psychology sets the stage for a rich analysis of her dreams, therapy sessions and the personal struggle behind the book's creation.

This memoir is a compelling intellectual challenge for anyone who loves a satisfying memoir. "Are You My Mother?" is an excellent introduction into the graphic novel genre because of its rich themes. With this latest work, Bechdel proves she is one of the most talented authors in her field.

Grissom, Kathleen. The Kitchen House

When Lavinia, an orphaned seven-year-old Irish immigrant is sold to Tall Oaks plantation as an indentured servant, she must learn how to straddle the two worlds she occupies. Adopted into the loving embrace of the black slaves who work at the Big House, Lavinia is unaware of how her white skin affects her position. However, when she grows older and is noticed by the opium-addicted lady of the house, Miss Martha, her status changes, and she is sent to the home of Miss Martha's sister in Williamsburg to be educated as a proper white woman. Lavinia retains her loyalties to her black family and when she marries the new master of Tall Oaks, Marshall, these loyalties are tested. Marshall reveals himself to be a hateful and violent master, abusing both Lavinia and the black slaves on the plantation. Lavinia, who slowly looses her will to stand up to Marshall, must once again find her courage in order to save her Big House family from his destructive grasp.

Lavinia's story offers a unique perspective into the world of early 19th century plantation life. Grissom does not shy away from many of the harsh realities of that time but does a wonderful job of infusing the engaging story with emotional and strong characters.

RA Blog Categories: 

Feldman, Deborah. Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

In this debut memoir, Feldman gives readers a fascinating glimpse into her life growing up in the extremely religious Satmar Hasidic community as well as her eventual escape from that life.  The daughter of a mentally unstable father and gay mother, who also decided to leave the extremely orthodox community as a young woman, Feldman was raised by her grandparents who firmly adhered to the religious and social customs of their culture. As she grew up, she struggled with the increasing expectations of her community to marry while her only real desire was to indulge in English language literature in her home where only Yiddish was allowed. When Feldman is married to a nice Satmar boy, she believes he will be the perfect husband, one that will allow her to explore her interests which most of the community would frown upon. Unexpectedly however, their first year of marriage is a disaster; full of difficulties with their sex life along with crippling anxiety for Feldman.

When Feldman finally becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, she finds the courage to step outside her community for the first time. She aggressively pursues a college education while planning her escape from her disappointing marriage and a community where she no longer belongs.  Intriguing and extremely personal, this memoir explores the striking metamorphosis of young woman.

RA Blog Categories: 

Pages