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The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

An intellectual and emotional jigsaw puzzle of a novel for readers of A. S. Byatt’s Possession and Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book.

Title: The Weight of Ink
Author: Rachel Kadish
Publish Date: June 6, 2017, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history.

As the novel opens, Helen has been summoned by a former student to view a cache of seventeenth-century Jewish documents newly discovered in his home during a renovation. Enlisting the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and in a race with another fast-moving team of historians, Helen embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe, the elusive “Aleph.”

Electrifying and ambitious, sweeping in scope and intimate in tone, The Weight of Ink is a sophisticated work of historical fiction about women separated by centuries, and the choices and sacrifices they must make in order to reconcile the life of the heart and mind.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Agent Annie says…

I give this book 5 stars. It’s deep, thoughtful, weighty, and has so much to say about women’s role in society both today and in years past.

I thoroughly enjoyed the back and forth between the two female main characters separated by centuries. The tension created by the author to find out what happens to both heroines was done so well that even the last few pages left me breathless. The role love & marriage play in most women’s lives is also a core theme in this book.

This is not a book for when you just need some brain candy. Part of the beauty of the book is the long philosophical treatises on the nature of man and God’s role in humanity’s day to day life.

I enjoyed Esther’s rebellious spirit and how she finds ways to prevent herself from being ensnared in the gender role that society creates for her. One of my favorite moments was when she finds herself about to be married off and recognizes in the other woman’s meddling that the only way forward for that other woman was to “insert herself, for sustenance, into the forming of further matches, whether or not they might serve as traps for the souls thus bound.” This is indicative of the writing style throughout the book that I enjoyed so much; part narrative, part poetry, part philosophical rigor.

I also learned much about the early Jewish community in London during the time of the plague. It was fascinating to read how the Jews that first settled in London were treated and how the plague effected the whole city. In addition, it was interesting to be a part of the letters that were being written in that time that laid the ground work for modern metaphysical thinking.

I highly recommend this book for book groups since there is so much to talk about along the themes of freedom, community, and power.


In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

New York Times and worldwide bestselling “dazzling storyteller” (Associated Press) Isabel Allende returns with a sweeping novel about three very different people who are brought together in a mesmerizing story that journeys from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil.

Title: In the Midst of Winter
Author: Isabel Allende
Publish Date: October 31st 2017 by Atria Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Library

Publisher’s Description: In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident—which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster—a 60-year-old human rights scholar—hits the car of Evelyn Ortega—a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala—in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn. What at first seems just a small inconvenience takes an unforeseen and far more serious turn when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant Lucia Maraz—a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile—for her advice. These three very different people are brought together in a mesmerizing story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil, sparking the beginning of a long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia.

Exploring the timely issues of human rights and the plight of immigrants and refugees, the book recalls Allende’s landmark novel The House of the Spirits in the way it embraces the cause of “humanity, and it does so with passion, humor, and wisdom that transcend politics” (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post). In the Midst of Winter will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Agent Annie says…

I usually try to read anything that Isabel Allende writes because I’ve enjoyed all of her books.  I don’t think this particular book is her strongest.  I enjoyed the characters and the different backgrounds they reveal as the book progresses.  The choices they make to deal with what has happened in their current situation seemed a bit unrealistic.

I also didn’t become as attached to the characters as I have in Allende’s previous works.  I thought the backstories were more interesting than the present day circumstances, and the slow reveal as the characters got to know each other was well done.  I particularly liked the part in which Lucia recognizes that, through the sharing of their stories, what “a strange healing power words had… how important it was to share one’s pain and discover that others, too, had their fair share of it, that lives are often alike and feelings similar.”

I would give this book 3 stars.

Other recommendations…

If you liked this book, you might enjoy anything else by Isabel Allende, including her young adult fiction trilogy, Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario, or The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean.

Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith

In the company of Station Eleven and California, Marrow Island uses two tense natural disasters to ask tough questions about our choices—large and small.

Title: Marrow Island
Author: Alexis M. Smith
Publish Date: June 7, 2016, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Source: Library

Publisher’s Description: Twenty years ago Lucie Bowen left Marrow Island; along with her mother, she fled the aftermath of an earthquake that compromised the local refinery, killing her father and ravaging the island’s environment. Now, Lucie’s childhood friend Kate is living within a mysterious group called Marrow Colony—a community that claims to be “ministering to the Earth.” There have been remarkable changes to the land at the colony’s homestead. Lucie’s experience as a journalist tells her there’s more to the Colony—and their charismatic leader– than they want her to know, and that the astonishing success of their environmental remediation has come at great cost to the Colonists themselves. As she uncovers their secrets and methods, will Lucie endanger more than their mission? What price will she pay for the truth?

In the company of Station Eleven and California, Marrow Island uses two tense natural disasters to ask tough questions about our choices—large and small. A second novel from a bookseller whose sleeper-hit debut was praised by Karen Russell as “haunted, joyful, beautiful….” it promises to capture and captivate new readers even as it thrills her many existing fans.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Agent Annie says…

What an interesting and thought provoking-book this was. I really enjoyed the story, and the main character, Lucie, was fascinating. I can’t quite give this book 5 stars because the ending left me unsatisfied. Since I finished the book right after watching the movie Beatriz at Dinner, I was doubly unsatisfied. Both left you wondering, “Well, now what?”

Marrow Island does, however, have many deep themes to explore. I particularly like the book’s environmental emphasis and the mystery that surrounds what happened to the main character. More importantly, I like the exploration of the nature of relationships with childhood friends and relationships one forms as an adult. I was drawn in by the friendship of Lucie and Katie. I particularly like the author’s explanation, in the Q & A at the end of the book, that the relationship between the two of them was to be visceral, murky, and a little bit twisted. There’s no doubt that the relationship is exactly that. I also like the tension Smith is able to create toward the end of the book, as the reader is drawn into Lucie’s ability to rationalize making such a poor decision as to return to an area that is under threat of a wildfire just to prove to herself that she’s not going crazy.

The author writes incredibly well and is able to create such vivid images. A simple example is when Lucie visits a care facility, and the highly polished floors make it difficult for the residents to move quickly. Lucie thinks, “I wonder if this is another trap, like the shiny floors, intended to steal a few minutes here and there from life by slowing a body down.”

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to book groups since there is so much to discuss.

Other recommendations…

If you liked this book, you might also enjoy: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, or Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian.

The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille

From the legendary #1 New York Times bestselling author of Plum Island and Night Fall, Nelson DeMille’s blistering new novel features an exciting new character—US Army combat veteran Daniel “Mac” MacCormick, now a charter boat captain, who is about to set sail on his most dangerous cruise.

Title: The Cuban Affair
Author: Nelson DeMille
Series: Mac MacCormick, 01
Publish Date: September 19, 2019 by Simon & Schuster
Genre: Suspense/Thriller
Source: Library

Publisher’s DescriptionDaniel Graham MacCormick—Mac for short—seems to have a pretty good life. At age thirty-five, he’s living in Key West, owner of a forty-two-foot charter fishing boat, The Maine. Mac served five years in the Army as an infantry officer with two tours in Afghanistan. He returned with the Silver Star, two Purple Hearts, scars that don’t tan, and a boat with a big bank loan. Truth be told, Mac’s finances are more than a little shaky.

One day, Mac is sitting in the famous Green Parrot Bar in Key West, contemplating his life, and waiting for Carlos, a hotshot Miami lawyer heavily involved with anti-Castro groups. Carlos wants to hire Mac and The Maine for a ten-day fishing tournament to Cuba at the standard rate, but Mac suspects there is more to this and turns it down. The price then goes up to two million dollars, and Mac agrees to hear the deal, and meet Carlos’s clients—a beautiful Cuban-American woman named Sara Ortega, and a mysterious older Cuban exile, Eduardo Valazquez.

What Mac learns is that there is sixty million American dollars hidden in Cuba by Sara’s grandfather when he fled Castro’s revolution. With the “Cuban Thaw” underway between Havana and Washington, Carlos, Eduardo, and Sara know it’s only a matter of time before someone finds the stash—by accident or on purpose. And Mac knows if he accepts this job, he’ll walk away rich…or not at all.

Brilliantly written, with his signature humor, fascinating authenticity from his research trip to Cuba, and heart-pounding pace, Nelson DeMille is a true master of the genre.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Agent Annie says…

With the introduction of “Mac” (DeMille’s new main character), I am looking forward to reading more about him. Mac’s personality, which includes the gallows humor of many military veterans, made me laugh out loud, particularly the things he didn’t say, but just thought. I enjoyed the caper that he and Jack, his first mate, went on. DeMille has done a wonderful job introducing the lackadaisical life of a tourist boat captain in Key West, but also the more serious life of the citizens of Cuba. It’s obvious DeMille has done his research, and I am not inclined to sign up for a “goodwill” trip anytime soon.

I also thought the character, Mr. Neville, was particularly tongue-in-cheek and spoke to DeMille’s own ability to poke fun at himself and authors in general. You will enjoy reading about Mr. Neville, a fellow tourist to Cuba, who is researching for a book he is writing. I had to grin though, because there was still a “hot” wife for the fictional, oafish author.

I give this book 4 stars and it will be a great beach read this summer or for a lazy afternoon by the fire this winter.

Other recommendations…

If you liked this book, you might enjoy anything by Carl Hiassen. My favorites have been Double Whammy, Skin Tight, and Native Tongue.

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

Dark fantasies set in the Old West have been gaining popularity. Here is a list of them I found on Goodreads (though I’m not convinced all of those listed fit the bill). I finally got a chance to read one of them, Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen. The book has been on my TBR list for a while and several authors have spoken highly of it.

I received an ARC of this book book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

wake-of-vulturesTitleWake of Vultures
AuthorLila Bowen (aka Delilah S. Dawson)
SeriesThe Shadow, Book 1
Publish Date: October 27, 2015 by Orbit
Genre: Urban fantasy, western paranormal, dark fantasy
Source: NetGalley

Publisher’s DescriptionA rich, dark fantasy of destiny, death, and the supernatural world hiding beneath the surface.

Nettie Lonesome lives in a land of hard people and hard ground dusted with sand. She’s a half-breed who dresses like a boy, raised by folks who don’t call her a slave but use her like one. She knows of nothing else. That is, until the day a stranger attacks her. When nothing, not even a sickle to the eye can stop him, Nettie stabs him through the heart with a chunk of wood, and he turns into black sand.

And just like that, Nettie can see.

But her newfound sight is a blessing and a curse. Even if she doesn’t understand what’s under her own skin, she can sense what everyone else is hiding — at least physically. The world is full of evil, and now she knows the source of all the sand in the desert. Haunted by the spirits, Nettie has no choice but to set out on a quest that might lead to her true kin… if the monsters along the way don’t kill her first.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Invested_Ivana_100Invested Ivana says…

Though I am a fan of dark fantasy, history, and different cultures, I’m not usually a fan of “westerns.” So I wasn’t really sure how I would like Wake of Vultures. But I’m happy to say I liked it a lot! If you’re a stickler for the definitions of the genres, you might have a hard time calling this either an urban fantasy or a western, but it is a great story regardless of what you call it.

Nettie Lonesome is trying to find her place in the world. Is she a daughter or a slave? Is she a ranch hand or a monster hunter? Is she timid or brave? Is she human, or something else? She can’t take for granted anything she thinks she knows about the world because nothing is what she thought it was.

A part of this book is about how your childhood experiences shape you and screw you up, both. A larger part is about how you, and only you, get to decide who and what you are. Life presents you many opportunities to figure that out, but you decide how they shape you. The author’s comments indicate that she was intentional about the diversity issues she addressed in this book, which is awesome. Nettie is a half-black, half-Native American living with white folks. She identifies as male, though she is biologically female and experiences attraction to both genders. At times she feels she has to hide what she is, at others she feels the relief of being accepted. It’s quite an emotional ride for Nettie, and she handles it better than most of us ever world, I think.


And, of course, there are monsters to hunt! Skinwalkers, vampires, harpies, werewolves, a water horse, a siren (yeah, in the desert-dry Old West), and some Native American creatures that are new to me. Can’t have either a western or an urban fantasy without something to hunt.

I’m really impressed with this first book in The Shadow series, and I’m hoping I get to read book 2, A Conspiracy of Ravens, fairly soon. This is a series I am really going to enjoy.

Agent Annie says…

The narrator of this book did a wonderful job capturing Nettie’s voice. Nettie/Rhett is a wonderful main character. The book kept my attention and I enjoyed being introduced to the world that Lila Bowen created with all sorts of different “monsters.” I also thought the author did a nice job introducing subtle elements of sexual orientation and gender identification and the different ways people are treated according to their race. The note at the end of the book was good to know since the author explained where she used historical fact and where she completely made up stuff.

The only issue I had with the book was the way in which Nettie defeats the cannibal owl. This was supposed to be the biggest, baddest monster out there, and had been for decades. The final battle scene and the death of the cannibal owl seemed just a bit too easy for me to accept even though Nettie was reaching the height of her own power. The final pages of the book did reinstate my high opinion of the book, and I look forward to reading more about Nettie in the next book, Conspiracy of Ravens, and then Malice of Crows (do you feel a bird theme going?) I give this book 4 stars.


Check out Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle. It’s not really a western, but it felt like a western to me when I read it. If you just want a taste of western paranormal, try the anthologies Dead Man’s Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West by John Joseph Adams and Westward Weird by Martin H. Greenberg.

I received an ARC of this book  from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

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