Hut's Place
 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

April 8, 2018

Two Spring Reads Delight and Inform With Their Stories of Different Times and Cultures
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney. This charming novel, now in paperback, is inspired by the life of Margaret Fishback, a well-known poet of her time who went to work in New York for Macy's ad department in 1926 and a decade later was reputed to be the highest paid female advertising copywriter in the world. Rooney has re-imagined that life with her own character, Lillian Boxfish, who is also a New York ad whiz in the 30's. The story is set on New Year's Eve,1984, and has Lillian, now 85 but just as sharp and savvy as ever, walking the streets of New York on her way to a party. On a stroll that takes her over 10 miles around the city, she meets bartenders, bodega clerks, security guards, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be - encounters that trigger memories of her life of excitement, adversity, and passion. Rooney also uses the journey and interaction with city denizens to illuminate all the ways the city of New York has changed - or not - over Lillian's lifetime. 

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See. With both her autobiographical On Gold Mountain and her novels like Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net, and Shanghai Girls, See has written as well and extensively as anyone about the Chinese American experience. Her latest read, available in softcover, deals with the issue of Chinese adoptees, and in researching the book, See spoke to many now-grown children whose Chinese parents had given them up to American families. In a recent interview, she spoke of how the adoptees dealt with conflicting feelings, including gratitude to their American parents and anger or sadness about their birth parents who, despite China's one child policy, decided for one reason or another to put them up for adoption.

In The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, a young woman, Li-yan, living in a remote Yunnan village gives birth to a baby out of wedlock. By tradition, such babies are slated to be killed, so Li-yan delivers hers to an orphanage where the child is shipped off to a loving California family. Over the years, both mother and daughter Haley find fulfilling lives but both yearn to reconnect. Mother-daughter bonds, modern Chinese life, and the world of gourmet tea are all subjects that See brings to bear in a story the Washington Post described thusly: "This emotional, informative and brilliant page-turner resonates with resilience and humanity."
Disturbing Tale of Osage Murders Is Literary Journalism at Its Best
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. This riveting true crime tale, set in the 1920s, is about the mysterious murders of wealthy members of the Osage Indian nation after oil was discovered on their land. It was nominated for the National Book Award and was also the February pick for "Now Read This," the new monthly book club from PBS Newshour and The New York Times. Too bad the club didn't wait a couple of months for the book to arrive in paperback, but it's here now. This is what I wrote about a year ago when Killers of the Flower Moon was first published:

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma, thanks to oil being discovered on their land. Then, one by one, members of the Osage tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances. Worse yet, many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the nascent organization's first major investigations and the bureau initially bungled things. In desperation, young director J. Edgar Hoover turned to a former Texas Ranger who put together an undercover team, including one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection. Together with the Osage, they began to expose one of the our country's most chilling conspiracies. Grann's narrative covers the murders and the investigations that followed, as well as a plot that reached all the way to Washington. Not one of this country's finest moments, but Grann's storytelling is captivating.

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Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I work as a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, California.

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