Book Reviews and Our Collection

October 2016 Book Review: The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

Americans generally know very little about the antipodes (places at the opposite side of the globe), in this case, Australia.
I was certainly surprised, probably because geography was my worst subject in school thanks to a dry and boring teacher, to learn that at the southern coast of the continent two oceans meet, the Indian and the Southern Ocean. The story is set here on an island, not much more than a rock, where the newlywed lighthouse keeper and his wife live a solitary existence far from civilization. It is a treacherous place for ships. The string of under-sea mountains that rise from the ocean floor “like teeth along a jagged jaw bone, waiting to devour any innocent ships in their final dash for harbor,” make the job of lighthouse keeper a most serious one.
On the square mile of rock with enough grass to feed a few sheep and goats and the handful of chickens that provide food in between the infrequent arrivals of the supply ship from the mainland the couple are content. Then, one stormy day, a small boat washes ashore with a dead man aboard. Nearly invisible, wrapped in a shawl is the only survivor, a tiny baby girl.
This happens in the very first pages. We learn that Isabel, the keeper’s wife, has suffered a number of miscarriages. This child delivered by the sea, this gift so welcomed by Isabel changes everything. For both good and bad. I highly recommend this story to all. Geography, history, the sea, and the deepest of human emotions are bared and explored in depth. I know it is a well-used phrase however; I simply could not put this book down. Be ready to have your deepest emotions tugged, frayed and challenged.

-Cynthia Gallant-Simpson

August 2016 Book Review: Circling the Sun

Fans of great historical fiction by authors who respect and venerate history, will love this book. Paula McLain came to my attention with her historical novel The Paris Wife. The world knows about Ernest Hemingway, his books, his escapades, his days as an expatriate writer in Paris in the 1920’s however, few know the story of his first wife Hadley.
In Circling the Sun McLain does for another historical character who was overshadowed by other, better-known history-makers, what she did for Hadley Hemingway.
Beryl Markham was a strong, independent woman ahead of her time who refused to accept that she could not do what men do without obstacles or a second thought. Unconcerned about her reputation, she was fearless and determined to follow her heart, not only in her love affairs and disastrous marriages but in her love for her adopted homeland of Africa where she identified with all things wild and the unbounded freedom and beauty of the still unspoiled astonishing continent.
At a time when women did not do such things as train racehorses, Beryl’s horses were winning champions. When men took to the air to experience the exhilaration of flying above the clouds, Meryl set out to set flying records.
McLain’s recording of history, meticulously and flawlessly earns her the right to peer into the minds and hearts of her characters to understand their motivation, desires, deepest fears and driving ambitions. History as a novel remains my favorite reading material. Enjoy!

-Cynthia Gallant-Simpson

July 2016 Book Review: Euphoria 

July is Beach Read month. What are you reading as you lie in the hot sun at Curtis Cove?
One of my new favorite writers is Lily King. She lives in Maine and her writing is both insightful and lyrical. I like reading fiction about science and natural studies. I particularly love reading about exotic places and people, and Euphoria combines both. When a husband and wife team of dedicated anthropologists who are burned out from spending too long a time with a bloodthirsty tribe in New Guinea, another anthropologist on the emotional brink introduces them to a female dominated tribe worthy of study.  Intellectually and emotionally, the three of them ignite an emotional storm that, although it leads to groundbreaking conclusions, nevertheless nearly destroys the three of them. The story is inspired by the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead. Remember to apply lots of sunscreen because you will be unable to stop reading from cover to cover in one beach visit. Happy Reading!!

-Cynthia Gallant-Simpson

June 2016 Book Review: Trains and Lovers

I must admit that I have not yet read Alexander McCall Smith’s very popular Ladies’ Detective Agency series however, now that I have read Trains and Lovers, I plan to.
I have always loved train trips and, for me, there has always been a spirit of romance in traveling through the countryside, or cities, in a cozy compartment with a large window, unfettered by the responsibility of being the driver.

In this charming book, four strangers traveling from Edinburgh to London fall into a state of trust and sharing that is unique with strangers except in such an ideal environment that promises anonymity even within the scope of sharing very personal confidences. The reason is plain: once they arrive at their destinations, they will naturally return to being strangers.

Each train traveler shares his and her experiences of love and loss, disappointment and despair, in individual capsules that each become, for the reader, captivating short stories.
Fun reading for those, like me, who enjoy learning the vernacular unique to other nationalities, and regions. I enjoyed comparing how an Australian woman, a Scotsman, an Englishman and an American expressed certain things in their own unique ways, using colloquialisms that came naturally to them as they expressed their very private emotions.
I highly recommend this quick read packed tightly with deep feelings and a broad spectrum of the kinds of experiences and emotions that add the necessary multifarious dimensions that make us all tick.  Happy Reading!

-Cynthia Gallant-Simpson

April 2016 Book Review: The Signature of All Things

Just in case you think mosses are boring, please read this wonderful book.

As I gaze out at the side yard from my writing desk, where spring greening is taking place- not yet the grass-at a random patchwork pattern of variegated mosses, I recall the delight of reading this book.

Before reading this book, I thought moss was kind of interesting. I liked how it encased rocks, and when peeled off it hung together as if stitched by garden elves into a cozy blanket…perhaps to keep the rock warm through the long Maine winter?

After reading (devouring!), I cannot pass a patch of moss without looking more closely. On my knees with my eyes close to its surface, I check for all the wonderful qualities I learned about because of the author’s character Alma Whitaker who stumbled upon a botanical career as she walked the woods near her home and realized that moss is not to be taken lightly.

Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the story is captivating not only because of the amazing mysteries of moss uncovered because of Alma’s unquenchable sense of wonder but for the history threaded through the story. In moss, Alma discovers independent colonies, the power of healing, and the majesty of this seemingly humble plant collectively called “bryophytes” that you might overlook or take for granted as you walk our moss-filled Maine countryside. I highly recommend that you do yourself a great favor and read this grand book.

-Cynthia Gallant-Simpson

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