Flawed, but Fascinating Female Character

Writing about historical females victimized by their circumstances is Kathleen Kent’s calling card. “The Heretic’s Daughter,” a previous “Novel Ideas” pick, presented a stunning portrait of Puritan life based on the life of a distant relative of Kent’s hanged as a witch.

In her new novel, Kent shifts her focus to post Civil War Texas and New Orleans. “The Outcasts” features another compelling woman, Lucinda, a comely prostitute beset with epilepsy who flees a brothel seeking love with William McGill, a sociopathic killer driven by greed, who she meets in the house of ill repute.

Lucinda’s story is revealed in chapters that alternate between her endeavors to pull off an intricate plan McGill has plotted to find some long-lost gold, and Texas Ranger Nate Common’s attempts to bring McGill to justice on a path strewn with grisly murders orchestrated by the charming criminal.

Lucinda is highly intelligent, but misdirected and gullible. Initially, readers can’t help but have sympathy for her. As a child growing up with epilepsy her father committed her to an insane asylum. Vulnerable, she finds comfort in McGill, the only man she’s ever known who doesn’t recoil at her seizures. When he involves her in his crime spree, she risks everything, including her self-respect.

Nate joins forces with two other Texas Rangers determined to corral McGill, but he has no idea that McGill and Lucinda are in cahoots, or that the rangers have a personal agenda in wanting to bring McGill to justice. As the cat-and-mouse chase ensues, the noose around Lucinda’s neck tightens, both with the law and in her relationship with McGill.

Kent has written another book that’s hard to set aside, and created a complex female that while respected for her cunning and forbearance, is also frustrating and flawed. Lucinda, though smart and lovely, lives out the old country ballad “Stand by Your Man,” until you just want to shake her.

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A Close Look at One Glorious Summer

Guest Review by Diane Disbro, Union branch manager, Scenic Regional Library.

Many of us rush to the library or bookstore when a book by Bill Bryson is published. He took us along when he hiked the Appalachian Trail, “A Walk in the Woods.” He explained the origin and uses of our furniture and dwellings in “At Home,” told us the origin of everything in “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” In his new book, “One Summer: America 1927” he narrows his focus to what happened in the summer of 1927 in the United States.

Charles Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris without stopping, and without being able to see in front of him. He had to turn his plane sideways, off course, to get a look at what was ahead. Lindbergh was a shy, 25-year-old who later had to leave the country to escape the notoriety that made his life public. On his way home from the record-making 1927 flight, he stopped off in England where the king wanted to meet him. What question did the king ask the first man to fly nonstop from North America to Europe? “How did you urinate on such a long flight?

Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in 1927. His teammate, Lou Gehrig, had a total almost as high. Al Capone was reaching the end of his reign as mobster kingpin in Chicago. Herbert Hoover was efficiently handling relief efforts after the worst-ever flood of the Mississippi River. Television was perfected by Philo Farnsworth, and sound was added to movies.

Bryson packs enough facts into 450 pages to make a trivia addict’s mouth water. But this book is more than a catalog of firsts, lasts and oddests. A story is woven together of real people by someone who obviously likes his fellow human beings with all of their foibles. Bryson’s style is relaxed and conversational. And his sly humor surprises the reader.

He explains that Jacob Ruppert, owner of the New York Yankees baseball team, kept a room fully furnished with everything his dead mother would need if she came back to life. “This may go some way toward explaining why he never married,” writes Bryson.

Longtime Bryson fans won’t be disappointed by his latest offering. Readers who have never read one of his books should give it a try. “One Summer” has more staying power than the Model T, which went out of production in 1927.

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The Tie that Binds, And Endangers

When the bond between a grandmother and grandson is severed, Margaret Blackledge goes to extreme measures to bring the boy back to live with her in “Let Him Go,” a poignant novel by Larry Watson set in the 1950s Badlands and Montana. In the process of reuniting with 4-year-old Jimmy, Margaret sets into motion a series of dire events.

Married for over 40 years, Margaret and her husband George know tragedy. Their only daughter is estranged from them and her twin brother Jim has died in a freak accident. Wanting to help out their son’s widow, Margaret and George take Lorna and Jimmy in, only to be burned when the woman falls for the first man who pays her any mind — Donnie a loser from a rough family who doesn’t work or know the first thing about parenting.

Without warning, the young couple takes off for Donnie’s home place in Montana, taking Jimmy with him. Driven by grief, Martha makes up her mind to get him back, initiating a road trip George doesn’t initially support. He goes along anyway, acting out of his devotion for Margaret.

The situation prompts George’s return to the bottle, and his doubt about if they’re doing the right thing at their age in trying to bring Jimmy back. Once they arrive at Donnie’s home place, the real trouble begins.

Tension builds throughout this nail-biting novel as Martha and George battle pure evil to try and save their grandson. Though readers might believe they know how the book will play out, the author pulls out all the stops and provides a sacrificial twist at the end.