Review of “The Orphan Mother” by Robert Hicks

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Having not read The Widow of the South, I was concerned that I may have difficulty following  along with The Orphan MotherThankfully, it is easily read as a stand-alone novel and I’m now inspired to read The Widow of the South. 

Mariah Reddick is the former slave to Carrie McGavock. Since becoming a free woman, she has established herself as a competent and respected midwife to the women of Franklin, Tennessee. Her grown son, Theopolis, is a cobbler with political aspirations.

Theopolis had told her it gave him comfort to think that he, a Negro, might soon be sitting in the legislature with his feet up on the rail and voting according to his own instincts and philosophies.” 

Though the Civil War is over, racial prejudices violent crimes against former slaves and free black men and women, especially those who rocked the political boat, are widely and publicly tolerated, condoned, and even encouraged by the men to whom they become a threat. When Theopolis tells Mariah he is going to give a speech in the town square, Mariah is fearful that Theopolis will fall victim to these men as a result of his courage and bravery. Her worst fears are realized as Theopolis is murdered before he has the opportunity to address the crowd. In the mayhem and chaos, a white grocer is also killed.

The Army is sending troops to keep the peace and investigate the events of the day. But as Mariah comes to the realization that they are being sent primarily to investigate the death of the grocer, she become singularly focused on finding her son’s killer/s on her own.

“”I will find out. I ain’t gone stop’. Mariah had not known this until she said it. But now she knew she would go on just as she formed the words.”

Along the way, Mariah becomes close with a man named George Tole. ‘Tole’ is new in town and has a difficult and troubled past. Tole is broken man; he’s seen and done more than he can cope with in the war and has turned to the bottle for consolation. He is now doing his best to become a better man. As the two grow closer, we begin to understand them on a deeper level.

Robert Hicks has written a book that beautifully illustrates the strength a mother is able to summon in the name of avenging her child’s murder. Mariah is a force. She does not have time to indulge in her grief. She’s a woman on a mission.

There were times in this book when I, expectedly, felt saddened, angry, and ashamed at the culture of racial prejudice and violence. However, I found the overall messages of strength, dignity, and perseverance to be encouraging.

At its heart, this is a book about love, loss, and coming to terms with the truth. I was especially touched by the epilogue. I think Theopolis would have been very proud of his mother.

4.5/5 stars

Many thanks to Grand Central Publishing for proving a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Review of “The Last Days of Night” by Graham Moore

 

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I do not care so much for a great fortune as I do for getting ahead of the other fellows.  – Thomas Edison

Until I read this book, I had an impression of what it would have been like to see the night lit for the first time. It was terribly romantic. It was surreal, ethereal, and peaceful. (Sort of like this book’s beautiful cover.) There were scientists and engineers of all sorts slapping each other on the back, congratulating themselves on their enormous contribution to mankind.  Thomas Edison was one of these scientists, of course, and he was a jolly good fellow. He lead this collaboration of gifted men with the grace, elegance, and credibility only natural born leaders of that period possessed.

It seems I was mistaken.

Graham Moore’s  latest novel, The Last Day’s of Night, is the story of the War of Currents. Though it is a work of fiction, the majority of it is historically accurate and all of the characters did exist including Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, George Westinghouse, and Westinghouse’s attorney, Paul Cravath. Paul, a fresh-out-school attorney in is mid-twenties is hired by Westinghouse to defend him in a law suit Thomas Edison has brought forth demanding the outrageous sum of one billion dollars.

Paul is a thoroughly likable young man who quickly finds himself in over his head. He is, however, determined to win at all costs. He is ambitious, driven, and singularly focused. As time goes on he morphs from naive rookie to shrewd, calculating, savvy attorney. But that’s not to say there aren’t a few SNAFUs along the way… (Though I’d never heard of him, he is apparently quite well-known in the legal world. In fact, the firm he eventually started is still in existence and continues to use the Cravath Sytem which has been credited with changing the way lawyers practice and law firm are structured.)

This book is more intriguing that I could have imagined. All of the same components of modern corporate conflicts and greed existed then. And these scientists we’ve come to hold in such high esteem where not exempt from engaging in all manner of unscrupulous behavior in their quest to be the first and best. From patent infringement to character assassination, from corporate espionage to arson, nothing was off limits.

The author tells this story in such an amazingly engaging, page-turning way that I was fully entertained while being educated. That, I think, is the pinnacle of happiness for those of us semi-obsessed with historical fiction.

There is already a movie in the works. Moore has done the adaptation. My expectations are admittedly very high after having seen The Imitation Game which he adapted from the book Alan Turing: The Engima  by Andrew Hodges.

5/5 stars

Many thanks to Random House for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review of “Stranger, Father, Beloved” by Taylor Larsen

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The book begins with Michael seeing his wife, Nancy, talking to another man at a party. He decides that this is the man who should be married to Nancy. He promptly begins working on his plan to make this man Nancy’s new husband.

This is a strange book in the sense that a decent writer (clean, articulate language, etc.) has written a bad story about mostly bad, unlikable characters. My instinct about twenty per cent through the book was to put the book down, mark it DNF, and move on with my life. I didn’t do that for two reasons. The first is that it’s a fairly short book and I knew it would only take me another day or two get through. The second is that I appreciated the author’s writing style enough that I kept hoping that the plot would change, that something would happen to make it a more pleasant to read. Sadly, this did not happen.

We learn that Michael has some behavioral health issues. He suffers from a neurotic paranoia that has been difficult for him to mask/control for most of his life. He also has some other issues but I don’t want to give too much away. These issues, however, do not explain why Michael has such utter contempt and disrespect for women. With the exception of his precious mother, that is. I found his personality to be offensive and didn’t feel it had anything to do with his legitimate diagnosis. He was simply a thoroughly unlikable man.

As for the other characters, I found most of them to be very stereotyped and one-dimensional. Nancy is too timid, too self-sacrificing, too compliant. NO ONE is that nice, that wholesome. I understand that she feels a little inferior because of her lack of education but it was all too much. John, the would-be husband, is too pure, too salt of the Earth.

1.75/5 stars

I would like to thank Gallery Books for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.