Mary Fran's Book Reviews

Mary Fran moved to Falmouth in April 2007 from Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (she is a native Washingtonian). She began working at Eight Cousins the following May. Those who know her see work in a bookstore as a "natural" for someone who has always been an avid reader. In fact, she can't remember a time when she didn't have a book going; now at the bookstore she may have two--and even three--going at once.

Early reports indicate that her favorite books were "Green Eyes" and "Noel for Jeanne-Marie." Her father read "The Wind in the Willows" to her so many times he almost had it memorized. In the middle grades she read every horse book in the library (some twice); among her favorites were the books in the Black Stallion series.

Her tastes as an adult run to literary fiction, however mysteries have always been a pleasure (she learned not to call this pleasure "guilty"). Her favorite mystery writer was Elizabeth George, until she killed off Inspector Lynley's wife Helen. So Mary Fran has expanded her interest to include such authors as Jo Nesbo, Jussi Adler-Olsen, and the team of Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis. Among her favorite non-mystery authors are Colum McCann and Sue Monk Kidd. Some of her favorite books are listed below.

When she isn't working at the bookstore or reading, Mary Fran takes care of her house and her dog Jasmine. She hopes some day to have a dog that can work as a therapy dog, especially in programs for children who are struggling with reading. She has four grandchildren who each have a substantial collection of picture books (supplying them with the latest is another pleasure). She also hopes to get back into photography and perhaps have time for travel. Her first long trip will be to Laos to visit her son and his family. Their next post (he's in the State Department) is Mexico, so there is some exotic travel in her future.

Co-owner and book buyer she is putting her love of reading, experience running the store's book club, and keen intelligence to good use. She handles in-store events for grown ups and works with community partners such as Falmouth Museusm on the Green, Falmouth Public Library, and the Woods Hole Public Library on author events and programming. 

Outside of Eight Cousins, Mary Fran is a member of the Falmouth Reads Together committee. If you want a recommendation for excellent stories that are off-beat and well-written, ask Mary Fran. If you're feeling a little blue, just come in and talk with her for a bit. Her smile and generosity are guarenteed to make everyone's day even better.

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The Night Watchman Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062671189
Availability: On Our Shelves. Online inventory updates every 24 hours. Call 508.548.5548 to verify.
Published: Harper - March 3rd, 2020

Louise Erdrich’s novel, The Night Watchman, is a tribute to her grandfather Patrick Gourneau, who worked tirelessly to block U.S. House Concurrent Resolution 108 in 1953-1954. This bill, as described in the author’s notes, “called for the eventual termination of all [Native American] tribes, and the immediate termination of five tribes, including the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa,” of which her grandfather was a tribal chairman.

Erdrich’s main character, Thomas Wazhushk, has secured a job as a night watchman for the Turtle Mountain Jewel Bearing Plant, as did her grandfather. By day, Thomas works to thwart the passage of the law he believes will result in the termination of Native American life, a law that would decimate the tribes, force them off what little lands they had been given by the government, and plunge Indians into even greater poverty. It’s interesting to note that the term “Native American” is not used at all throughout the novel; Erdrich’s characters refer to themselves and their relatives as “Indians.”

Thomas is not the only character whose story is told. Relatives and friends whose lives are intertwined with his present their unique struggles as they face life in 1950s America. I found myself totally immersed in this novel and the lives of each character. I have not read a book that so thoroughly reveals the spirit, the thinking, the rituals, and the beauty of Native American life and its seamless connection to the natural world as does The Night Watchman. Although their situation in the United States is one of extreme poverty, Erdrich’s characters do not come across as impoverished, but face adversity with honesty, moral courage, and fortitude. Their strength lies in their reliance on one another.

I absolutely recommend The Night Watchman. Erdrich presents a chapter in American history of which many of us are unaware, and the ramifications of which Native Americans continue to struggle with today. As she notes in her afterword, “…the mid-1950s [were] supposedly the golden age for America, but in reality [were] a time when Jim Crow reigned and American Indians were at the nadir of power.” Wrapped around this history is a compelling novel that is not to be missed. 

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Influenza: The Hundred-Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History Cover Image
ISBN: 9781501181252
Availability: On Our Shelves. Online inventory updates every 24 hours. Call 508.548.5548 to verify.
Published: Atria Books - October 1st, 2019

Dr. Jeremy Brown’s book Influenza: The Hundred-Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History  at first glance does not seem to be a book to reach for during our uncertain times as we deal with the fallout from the coronavirus. There is a hopeful tone to this book, and rather than sounding alarm bells, Brown thoroughly details the progress that has been made since the 1918 flu pandemic.

Beginning with a history of the 1918 pandemic, Brown describes methods used during the pandemic to counteract the disease by a population and medical community that did not understand the nature of this new strain of influenza. One such “cure” was particularly interesting: “Some people were so desperate during the 1918 pandemic that they found their own perilous means of treatment, without the aid of a misguided doctor. As the flu roared through the coastal towns of southwestern England, the villagers of Falmouth were taking their sick children not to the hospital but to the local gasworks -- to inhale the fumes. Parents thought that exposing their children to poisonous gases would reduce their symptoms.” It certainly did not!

Dr. Brown also notes that the term “Spanish Flu” is incorrect, a lesson we should heed when the term “Chinese Flu” is bandied about. It is possible that one ground zero for the flu was an Army base in Kansas -- not Spain -- where a number of soldiers had succumbed to the flu; as U.S. soldiers were sent to crowded camps in Europe, these bases became the perfect breeding ground for the virus as did the close quarters in the sick wards. From the army camps, the virus spread to the civilian population -- and thrived.

Influenza details the history of medical experimentation and research that has taken place in the 100 years since the pandemic. During this time, the flu was identified as viral, rather than bacterial. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that an American doctor and his lab team successfully discovered and then decoded the genetic makeup of the 1918 influenza virus. And thanks to a Swedish pathologist who in the 1950s exhumed bodies of victims of the pandemic, samples of the 1918 virus could be studied. The bodies were from above the Arctic circle and had been frozen since burial in 1919.

Dr. Brown would like to see the discussion of the flu virus migrate from university laboratories into the general population. The 1918 pandemic needs to remain in human memory as over time we tend to become complacent. He envisions a day when there is a memorial to the flu pandemic of 1918, as there are memorials to the wars we’ve fought. This memorial would “honor our losses, reflect on how far we have come, and remind us how much more there is yet to do.”

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Afterlife Cover Image
ISBN: 9781643750255
Availability: Currently not in store. Available to order. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Algonquin Books - April 7th, 2020

This deceptively small book packs an emotional wallop. The protagonist, Antonia, is working through her grief after the sudden death of her husband. In the midst of her struggles, her bipolar sister goes missing and a young and desperate pregnant migrant woman lands on her doorstep. The "sisterhood," as Antonia and her sisters have been labeled, are demanding Antonia's attention as she works out a way to hide the undocumented woman -- too much for Antonia as she struggles with her own issues. Afterlife has it all -- current immigration issues, family drama, personal struggles, questions about life after life -- all wrapped up in a beautifully written gem of a novel. Afterlife will not disappoint -- I highly recommend this book!


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Three Hours in Paris Cover Image
ISBN: 9781641290418
Availability: Currently not in store. Available to order. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Soho Crime - April 7th, 2020

WOW, what a page turner! Kate Rees, a sharpshooter raised on an Oregon ranch, accepts a top-secret mission to assassinate Hitler while the Führer is in Paris. Kate accepts this life-and-death preposterous mission because it is an opportunity for her to avenge the deaths of her husband and infant daughter, killed during a Luftwaffe bombing of the British base where they were living. 

Dropped into Nazi-occupied Paris, Kate follows specific instructions given to her by the director of a covert section of British Intelligence. When the attempt fails, Kate realizes -- too late -- that the mission was extremely well planned, with one exception: there is no escape strategy for her. She also suspects that this mission was a set-up, meant to distract from another mission targeting Nazi officials also in Paris.

Trapped in Paris, she is pursued by Gunter Hoffman, the German police officer given 36 hours by the Führer to find the sniper. Kate is forced to work independently, and must rely on her wits as a cat-and mouse hunt ensues. Who is to be trusted? Who could be a spy, ready to turn her over to the Nazis? Each chapter ends in a cliff-hanger, as the plot unfolds through the streets of Paris, told from three viewpoints: the Germans, the British, and Kate.

Author Cara Black knows the streets of Paris like the back of her hand, which is evident from her vivid descriptions of streets and landmarks as Kate flees. Ms. Black has been meticulous in her research, documenting the three hours Hitler spent in the City of Lights.

For historical fiction readers and those who enjoy on-the-edge-of-your-chair thrillers, I highly recommend Three Hours in Paris -- I couldn’t put it down until I reached the conclusion on the final page!

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Enter the Aardvark Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316536158
Availability: On Our Shelves. Online inventory updates every 24 hours. Call 508.548.5548 to verify.
Published: Little, Brown and Company - March 24th, 2020

The first page of Jessica Anthony’s novel poses the question: “What do a closeted Republican, a Victorian taxidermist and a nocturnal African mammal have in common?” And so begins this wildly crazy novel. And yes, all three -- a member of the House, a taxidermist, and a stuffed aardvark -- are linked in a bizarre way. Veering from the current day to Victorian England, Enter the Aardvark skewers outsized egos, ambitions, morals, and romance. Until the end, when the consequences of, and harm caused by, closely guarded secrets and suppressed love are revealed. Quick note: the novel contains graphic sexual descriptions.

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Eight Perfect Murders: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062838209
Availability: Currently not in store. Available to order. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: William Morrow - March 3rd, 2020

Malcolm Kershaw (Mal) is alone in his bookstore, Old Devils Bookstore on Beacon Hill, which specializes in mystery and crime novels, when an FBI agent visits. She has come to interview Mal about a blog he posted a number of years earlier in which he listed the eight books that detailed what he believed were “perfect murders.” Agent Gwen Mulvey has been studying several unsolved and apparently unrelated murders and has tied the modus operandi to Mal’s list of books. And so Peter Swanson launches his latest crime fiction in which each character, each motive, causes us to question any notions we may have as to who is committing the crimes. As we learn of additional murders that appear to be following the methods in Mal’s list of eight, we wonder: Is Mal the murderer or is the murderer trying to trap Mal? Just when we think we have the solution, Swanson throws yet another curve ball. We are suspicious of each character he introduces.

Eight Perfect Murders is a compelling read, one that will have readers guessing motives and perpetrators until the very end. The solution came as a complete surprise to me!