In The Writer's World

Let me jump right in here. Summer is rushing past, but it’s August…time of getaways, time of the solar eclipse. We all want to hide out once in a while, and August is the time to do it. Here are some books for the journey.

Astoria author Peter Stark (right) shown with Portland Center Stage Artistic Director Chris Coleman at the opening of Coleman’s play Astoria I, based on the first half of Stark’s history of the Astor expeditions.

Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival by Peter Stark. This is just the most amazing story, because it is one most of us don’t know, and it’s true. Until the book was made into a play (well, two plays, actually–Astoria I and Astoria II by Chris Coleman, Portland Center Stage Artistic Director), I had no idea. The reason we do not know this story is because it didn’t end well.

After Lewis and Clark’s triumphant return to civilization in 1806, having successfully completed a three-year expedition to the mouth of the Columbia River, John Jacob Astor decided (with encouragement from Thomas Jefferson) to underwrite his own expedition. He would found a fur trading empire the very same place L&C ended up, and become richer than he already was. He hired leaders for both a voyage around Cape Horn and up the west coast of the Americas, and an overland expedition to follow in the steps of Lewis and Clark. Although both expeditions ended up where they were supposed to, it was only after extreme stupidity and bad judgment by both leaders, in-fighting, terrible and often avoidable casualties, and, in the overland trip, wrong turns and a fierce battle of survival for along the trail! This capitalist take on exploring the Louisiana Purchase and parts west deserves a thorough read by every Oregonian. It’s engaging, harsh, and alive with the tension of humans against Nature and each other. (The plays aren’t bad either.)

Lie in Plain Sight by Maggie Barbieri. This is the third in Barbieri’s series starring Maeve Conlon. Although this series isn’t on the best-seller list, I love Barbieri’s character. Maeve owns a small bakery just north of Queens, employs her best friend who is generally incompetent, and has a soft spot in her heart for her customers. She does, however, have a little problem with men who have the nasty habit of abusing women. At the risk of spoilers, I will say no more. I do ask that you give Maeve a read. Start at the beginning of the series. You will laugh out loud. You will be shocked.

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming. Actor and host for Masterpiece Mystery on NPR, Alan Cumming had a barbaric childhood. His memoir is as blood-curdling as it is touching. And he lived to tell about it. If you like insider gossip, this one is not to be missed.

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica. This is a good read from a best-selling author, a tale with two narrators–one sympathetic, the other not so much so, involving the disappearance of a roommate and her seeming reappearance in a nearby town. It’s a psychological thriller that keeps the reader baffled right up to the end. I felt a lot of gimmicks were brought into play. This seems to be a very popular type of novel that is beginning to wear a bit thin for me. However, in general, you will like it a lot.

The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. “As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancé, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve.” Sounds a bit much, and it was until the author took us deeper into Ani’s life. Ani was the kind of girl who didn’t belong at the Bradley School. She didn’t have the right pedigree. And everyone but she knew that pedigree thing was the kiss of something awful to come. A disturbing book on many levels, yet hard to put down.

Other books I’ve recently read and enjoyed: Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner, a police detective who is unmarried and approaching her “sell by” date suffers through the indignities of on-line dating while solving a case; The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves, featuring one of my favorite DCIs, Vera Stanhope; In Dark Places by Peter Robinson, one of the more than 20 excellent DCI Banks novels penned by this author; Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben, a ripping good page-turner.


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  • Lynn Gree says:

    I certainly agree with your take on “Don’t You Cry” and “The Luckiest Girl Alive”.

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