Saturday, February 23, 2019


Last year I read (listened to) about a 175 books. Most of these were recent publications, but some were short pieces I like because of the unusual character or story concept like Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Homer Hears a Who. Others are those stories with surprising twists for endings like An Occurrence at Owl’s Creek Bridge and The Lady or the Tiger. 

On occasion I re-read a book the way one repeatedly listens to a favorite piece of music. For example, over the years I have read Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers, almost 1500 pages, (66 hours), three times. 

During the past year, there were some recently published books that I thoroughly enjoyed. Among them are novels, two memoirs, and a biography. All are best sellers. One is Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan, a novel based upon a true story. In my opinion, this book is every bit as good as Where the Crawdads Sing. 

Pino Lella is a normal teenager in Nazi-occupied Italy primarily involved with food, music and girls. After his home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs, Pino joins an underground railroad to help Jews escape over the Alps. He falls in love with Anna, six years his senior.  In a move to keep him out of combat, Pino’s parents force him to enlist in the German army, where he is injured. To his surprise, he is selected to be the driver for General Hans Leyers, one of Hitler’s most powerful commanders. Pino is now able to spy for the Allies risking his life for Anna and what he hopes will be their life together. 

This gripping tale describes how a young Italian adolescent is transformed into a dedicated fighter for the Allies, enduring the horrors of war and risking his life at every turn. Mark Sullivan’s writing makes this book standout from thousands of war stories. It is a story of heroism, compassion, love, and terror. 

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Beneath a Scarlet Sky to a reader or a book group. More in months to come.

Friday, February 1, 2019


On August 14, 2018, Delia Owens published her debut novel.  There are several unusual features about this novel, one of which is that the author is approaching 70, it is a best seller, and will soon be made into a motion picture.  I am tempted to write that you have to read this book, but that is patently ridiculous. Of course, you don’t have to read this book, but those who do not will miss the opportunity of experiencing a wonderful character-driven story.  Those of you who loved Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer will recognize a certain similarity of the rich descriptive writing of the world of plants and animals.

Delia Owens was born in 1949? in Thomasville, Georgia. As a child, she reflected her mother’s interest in nature. Her family spent summers in the Low Country of North Carolina exploring tiny seaside villages amidst the waterways and marshes, a place her mother called “Where the crawdads sing”.  Delia obtained a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Georgia. While there, she met and married Mark Owens. Delia went on to obtain a doctorate in Animal Behavior from U.C.L.A. Davis.

Delia and Mark traveled to Botswana, where they spent seven years virtually alone studying lions and hyenas. They then moved to Zambia helping to stop the slaughter of elephants. During this time, they observed a similarity in the behavior of lions and elephants in that the females stayed together in nurturing and protecting the young. Mark flew his small aircraft alone, searching for poachers leaving Delia in worried isolation.

After twenty-three years in Africa, they published three non-fiction books. The Cry of the Kalahari, The Eye of the Elephant, and The Secrets of the Savanna.  Mark and Delia purchased a 500-acre ranch in northern Idaho, where they worked for the Fish and Game Department to save endangered grizzly bears. While living in Idaho, Delia recalled the summers she spent in the Carolina Low Country and decided to write what would be her first novel. She wanted to write about someone who lived in isolation as she did, a study in human nature.

The novel takes place in the 1950s and 1960s in the Carolina Low Country. Kya, a six-year-old girl, is deserted by her mother and then abandoned by her father and six siblings to survive by herself in the marsh. Shunned by the villagers as a “swamp rat”, she retreats into the marsh where Nature provides refuge and sustenance. As she matures into womanhood, she experiences love, rejection, and is tried for first-degree murder. I’m betting that many book groups will select this novel.