The Book Mark

Books that make the grade.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep


One  category of my book challenge is a book that will bring you joy. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep (A) by Joanna Cannon seemed like an unlikely choice but I was very happily surprised to be able to place it there.

The story follows the events of one Avenue in a community in England, one particularly hot summer . A neighbor has gone missing. Wherever she has gone she has taken neighborhood secrets with her; secrets that could impact many lives.

Grace and Tilly are best friends and each summer they undertake “an adventure”. Distressed by the fact that Mrs. Creasy is missing, the girls attend Sunday services paying extra attention to the Vicar’s sermon. He tells the congregation that God is everywhere and that once you find Him everyone will be safe. The Vicar quotes the bible by saying “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one form another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” Gracie believes she and Tilly must find God in order to bring Mrs. Creasy back and keep everyone else safe.

As they set out on their adventure, the girls witness many things; things that give the reader pause. Some of their conclusions about life are laughable (hence the joy); others are complicated and certainly can be applied to our daily lives. It’s difficult separating the sheep from the goats. How does the Shepherd even decide?

I took away so much from this delightful story. Love, loyalty, prejudice, friendship, community and fairness are only a few emotions addressed. Everyone has secrets and fears and anxieties. Everyone reacts differently to situations. However, sometimes mob mentality prevails and that needs to be recognized too.

I encourage everyone to read The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. Recognizing our differences, especially today, is a good practice for everyone to adopt. If Gracie and Tilly can without prejudice or fear maybe we all can too. Time to decide if you are a goat or a sheep. I believe I am a goat.



News of the World



Thank you Book Browse for the opportunity to read News of the World (C) by Paulette Jiles.

I can honestly say the premise of the story was intriguing. Children kidnapped by Indian tribes and raised by their captors being returned to their birth families presented a new angle to write about. The author clearly researched her story and the facts regarding the time period are on point as well as the reactions of the kidnapped children.

While I enjoyed learning about these situations, I had major issues with the writing. Firstly, maybe I am too anal about grammar but I cannot understand why authors choose to eliminate quotation marks. It distracts me from what I am reading. Furthermore, it makes it difficult to follow any and all conversations. It becomes a monologue. BORING!!!!

Some other things I did not care for were the heavy historical references. There was a need for some of it to set the time, place and surroundings. I would have enjoyed more emotion. I needed a bit more of a connection to the characters. Lastly, I strongly dislike a story that is predictable, the ending was clear to me by the 25th page.

I am sorry but the feeling I was left with after finishing this book was that I had just sat through a pretty bad western. Perhaps a reader who lives in the regions described in the story would better appreciate this book. The effort was lost on me.

Amy Snow


Very recently I started following a blog , Modern Mrs. Darcy ( ). In a recent blog she posted that she had read and enjoyed a book called Amy Snow (A) by Tracy Rees. It seemed like something I’d enjoy and so I grabbed it when I found it at my library.

One winter morning on an estate in London a young girl finds a newborn infant naked and blue in the newly fallen snow. Aurelia, being an extremely caring young girl, bundles the child in her cloak and runs back to the estate with her. The reception she receives from her parents is not what Aurelia expected. An abandoned child can only bring shame upon the Vennaway name. As the only living child of Lady Celestina, Aurelia manages to convince her parents that the infant must not be sent to an orphanage but must stay with them. Once convinced, they agree but only if the child is NEVER seen by any family member ever again. Thus, Amy Snow, as Aurelia names her comes to stay.

Many years later, Aurelia discovers that she hasn’t long to live. A heart condition will shorten her young life. While her parents have aggressively sought for a suitable husband for her, Aurelia has other ideas about how she will spend her last days. The Vennaways hoped that she would marry and produce an heir for their enormous fortune. In an attempt to postpone this event, Aurelia makes a promise to them. If they allow her to travel for a few months, upon her return she will marry. It is a promise she has no intention of keeping.

What evolves is a story riddled with secrets. Secrets Aurelia has kept from her beloved Amy. Once Aurelia dies all those secrets fall to Amy to discover exactly as Aurelia planned. An endless treasure hunt created for Amy will reveal Aurelia’s true identity and heart.

The author has done an incredible job with her very first novel. It was compelling and the story was well written and well delivered. Its classification is historical fiction and written during the Victorian era it highlights not only fashion but also customs and society of the period. I highly recommend reading this very worthy novel. I understand that there are several more coming along and possibly even a sequel. I will eagerly await them all.

The Madwoman Upstairs



The Madwoman Upstairs (B) by Catherine Lowell appealed to me primarily because some of my favorite authors were the Brontes. What I read was honestly the most “quirky” novel ever. Based on the supposition that the main character, Samantha Whipple is a direct descendant of the Brontes, Lowell assumes knowledge of behind the scenes events of their lives.

Samantha is now attending Oxford University where she hopes to continue the education that her late father began for her. His obsession with the Bronte sisters is now her obsession mainly because it has something to do with her “inheritance”. As a child gifts from her father were always given in form of a treasure hunt. Following the clues would lead to a Christmas present, etc. Obviously, her inheritance is given in the same manner. Only now she is an adult and attending a very prestigious college.

A bit of a mystery and somewhat of a love story evolves into quite a crazy novel. At times I was all on board and then I’d read more and become disinterested. Finishing the novel was bit of a chore. I am not totally unhappy that I read it but would caution anyone who would like to try to be open minded and patient. I wonder what the Brontes would have thought about this !!!!





Lazaretto (B) by Diane McKinney-Whetstone is a powerful story clearly documenting post civil war life in Philadelphia.

Meda, a young black girl gives birth to a baby boy. He is the son of her white employer. She is told that her child has “succumb”. The midwife in training who has just delivered her first baby defies protocol and convinces the wealthy guilt-ridden father that she will get the baby to an orphanage. It is their secret.

The baby boy is one of two infants at the orphanage that night. The boys are raised as brothers and a life long bond is formed that will never be broken. In the beginning the staff at the orphanage is nurturing and loving. Things begin to go terribly wrong for the boys when an abusive evil man takes over the running of the orphanage.

What transpires throughout this powerful book mirrors all the prejudices that existed post civil war. Black people, especially women, were beginning to advance their lives by becoming midwives and nurses. They struggled to attain simple things, always being careful not to cross the “invisible” class lines.

The author does a good job here. The story moves along well with characters that are engaging and authentic. As the story shifts from downtown Philadelphia to Lazaretto (an immigration clearing center) the loose ends of Part I are fully realized. There were moments when there seemed to be too many characters. Remembering who was attached to who became a bit of challenge. All in all, I would definitely recommend giving this one a read. It is one of the better historical fiction novels recently written.




Britt-Marie Was Here



Britt-Marie believes that one should only do what is appropriate and on “the list”. Britt-Marie Was Here (B) by Fredrik Backman is not only appropriate but required reading.

Britt-Marie is 63 years old. She just discovered that her husband is having an affair. She realizes this when she is called to the hospital where he has been taken because he has had a heart attack. There is only one appropriate thing to do – pack up your belongings and leave.

Her first stop on the road to her “new life” is the unemployment office. After days of being annoyingly persistent, she is given a job in a town called Borg. Borg has been devastated by the recent financial crisis. The local pizzeria serves as the post office, the grocery story and many other things. The community center is destined for demolition too. Britt-Marie’s new job is to be the caretaker of the community center – a job that will be temporary, lasting about 3 weeks.

Britt-Marie is learning to navigate life on her own for the very first time. Up until now, her husband Kent has “taken” care of it all. She operates under a set of rules that are rigid and inflexible. She is comfortable with routine. Borg isn’t somewhere she should be, however, she is there.

With comedic flare and heart wrenching clarity Backman writes a compelling story of reawakening and purpose.   The characters are unique and engaging. The story drives itself to a somewhat predictable but welcoming end. It definitely is a fun and heart-warming read that must be put on your “to read” list!!!

Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemmings


Many people would break out into a cold sweat if handed a 600+ page book to read. When I saw Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemmings (A) by Stephen O’Connor at the library my heart started to race with excitement. Having recently read America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laurie Kamoie, my curiosity was peaked by the subject. What would O’Connor write differently than Dray and Kamoie? What more could I learn about Sally Hemmings and her life with Thomas Jefferson?

O’Connor wrote in his Author’s Note that “he leapt straight into writing, composing scenes entirely out of chronological order and switching randomly between realism, fabulism, essay, prose poetry and quotation”. His goal was to compose a novel that would depict Jefferson and Hemmings in “fresh and surpising ways”. O’Connor was extremely successful. His delivery was such that I honestly feel like I know Sally Hemmings. To date, there isn’t much known about her but O’Connor made her real, believable and honest. He incorporated the facts about Jefferson’s life into every day life at Monticello both political and private. While it was a reach for me to understand some of his “fabulism”, I enjoyed his unique approaches ie, subway scenes, a biographical movie and character interviews.

Maybe Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemmings isn’t for the average reader but those who enjoy historical fiction will devour it. I honestly read 600 pages in four days. I didn’t want it to end. If you will only tolerate factual accountings then this isn’t the book for you. However, if you approach this novel with an open mind and curiosity you will not be disappointed. Perhaps a more accurate title for this book should be “Stephen O’Connor’s Imagines Thomas Jefferson Dreaming of Sally Hemmings.

The Forgotten Room


I don’t ever remember reading a book that had several authors. The Forgotten Room (B) is one such book with three authors, Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig. From what I gather, three close friends who are authors in their own right, decided to pen a novel together. One would write, pass it along to the next who would add to it and then pass it on to the third. Good news, it worked!!!!

In 1944, the “Pratt” mansion is being used as a hospital for soldiers returning from the war. Here, Dr. Kate Schulyer introduces us to the “latest” Mr. Ravenel. The room that he is a patient in has many secrets to tell beginning in 1892 with Olive and later with Lucy in 1920.

Bit by bit, the story unfolds as Olive relates her involvement with Harry Pratt. Their story leads us to Lucy who is looking for her “real” father believing it might be Harry Pratt. While Kate, too, is intimately connected to the Pratt family.

The story is well told. The characters become woven together into one cohesive story but not before everyone’s secrets are revealed. I truly enjoyed The Forgotten Room but often was a bit confused. Alternating the narrative from woman to woman was complicated. At one point, I even considered taking notes !!!! Perhaps I was trying to hard to anticipate who belonged to whom.

I would encourage the reader not to become discouraged. It is definitely worth reading and the conclusion clarifies any confusion. The authors pulled it off in a really good way. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy J

Blue Asylum


Typically a civil war novel depicts the destruction to land and family. Blue Asylum (A)  by Kathy Hepinstall focuses on the suffering of body, mind and soul.

Iris Dunleavy was raised in a quiet southern town. Her life seemed boring and uneventful and a local romance would offer her more of the same. One day a successful plantation owner visits and within a short period of time convinces her and her family that they should marry. She believes she has made a good choice but the honeymoon is quickly over. Joining a group of plantation slaves in their attempt to escape is her only way out. They are killed; she is captured and sentenced to an insane asylum on Sanibel Island in Florida.

There are many “lunatics” at the asylum. She isn’t one of them and believes she can convince Dr. Cowell that she doesn’t belong there. He is certain he can help her and restore her to her rightful place beside her husband.

Ambrose Weller, a patient suffering with his own demons becomes her friend, confidante and eventually her lover. Together with the help of Wendell, the doctor’s son, they hatch a plan for escape.

Hepinstall delivers a powerful story in Blue Asylum with characters that are vulnerable and captivating. There is clearly a fine line between sanity and madness. Can lunacy be cured? Is loving someone enough to make it happen or is thinking this madness too?

Blue Asylum is uniquely different than other novels in this genre. The telling of the story is compelling and thought provoking. I know that you will want to read it too. This is the perfect book for further discussion.

The Storm Sister



As you know by now I am a big fan of Lucinda Riley. I just finished the second book in the Seven Sister Series, The Storm Sister (B+).

Each book in the series begins in the same way with the death of Pa Salt. At his memorial service each of the adopted sisters is given information regarding where they were born. The Storm Sister is about Ally. Once a promising musician, now a seasoned sailor, Ally’s journey leads her to Norway and the home of Edvard Grieg.

Ally arrives at Atlantis having witnessed Pa’s burial at sea. Left with more questions than answers, she initially decides to postpone any investigation into her birth and continue with her plans to compete in a sailing tournament with her newly found love, Theo. As fate would have it, Theo is killed in a racing accident. Ally is again grieving and without direction. She returns to Atlantis to mourn and there decides to research her clues. Her map coordinates lead her to Norway where she hopes to discover her past.

While all the books in the series will be based on the same premise, each sister will have her own story. Riley’s characters are rich and well developed. It’s easy to become engaged with the women as they search for answers regarding their birth.

I usually don’t follow a series. I have always found they burn themselves out quickly and become less and less interesting. If all of the novels are done as well as these first two, then the Seven Sister Series will be a complete success. The third book is due out in November. They will come quickly, which is great. I recommend you get started on the first two, catch up and become part of the journey of the Seven Sisters.