Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

Prayers for the StolenPrayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

I admit that I was reluctant to read a book about women who live/hide in a bleak Mexican outback dominated by drug cartels and scorpions, but Prayers for the Stolen is remarkable. Ladydi Garcia Martinez is a heroine to remember.


‘The New York Times: “Prayers for the Stolen is as harrowing as you would expect, but it’s also beguiling, and even crazily enchanting.”


Jennifer Clement is the author of numerous books, including the Widow Basquiat. She was awarded the NEA Fellowship for Literature and the Sara Curry Humanitarian Award for Prayers for the Stolen. Formerly the president of PEN Mexico, she currently lives in Mexico City.

The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

Henry Ward BeecherThe Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher by Debby Applegate

Although his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is the better known of the two Beecher siblings, in the mid 19thC, the eloquent and energetic Reverend Henry Ward Beecher was arguably as celebrated.


A pastor of the first mega church, Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, Beecher was a combination of Oprah and Billy Graham.  A vocal abolitionist, his enormous congregation adored him, and his sermons were widely quoted.  In addition to his pastoral duties, he edited several religious newspapers and maintained an ambitious lecture schedule.


Preaching was the family business. Henry Ward Beecher was the eighth of twelve children of renowned Calvinist preacher Lyman Beecher. Raised on the fire and brimstone sermons of his father, Beecher eventually rejected his father’s doctrines in favor of a “gospel of love” that is the foundation of mainstream Protestantism today, but was quite radical at the time.


In 1874, Beecher’s legendary charisma got him into trouble.  He was accused of adultery with Elizabeth Tilton, the wife of an old friend. The six month trial (no verdict) was exhaustively covered by the newspapers. Beecher continued working during the ordeal, but his reputation suffered a severe setback.

The Most Famous Man in America is not just a portrait of a complicated man but also an insightful portrayal of Victorian America, a contentious era of major upheavals in politics, religion, business, and the media.

Many thanks to Saralee Woods of BookMan BookWoman for recommending this biography.


The New York Times: “Applegate…tells this grand story with aplomb, intelligence and a sure feel for historical context.”


Debby Applegate is graduate of Amherst College and was a Sterling Fellow at Yale University, where she earned her Ph.D in American Studies. She was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for her biography of Reverend Beecher.

The Inheritance of Loss By Kiran Desai

The Inheritacne of LossThe Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize, The Inheritance of Loss is a poignant and darkly humorous novel by Kiran Desai.

The novel takes place in a lush, isolated part of India  in the northeastern Himalayas. Kalimpong is like the last slice of cake that no one claims, but everyone nibbles before the table is finally cleared. Skirmishes, police actions, and riots are common here as India, England, Bhutan, and Tibet reach for the last dollop of icing.

This is not the India of Thomas L. Friedman- bustling PhD’s processing your tax returns. This India is still processing the remnants of British colonialism.

In Kalimpong, vestiges of the British occupation are everywhere especially at the crumbling home of Judge Patel and his granddaughter, Sai.   Sai reads the works of  P. G. Wodehouse and James  Herriot,  and teatime is a carefully observed ritual served by  “the cook.”  As a retired member of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), the judge is practically a stranger in his own country. At one time, the ICS meant security and respect. Now it is a reminder of an era many would rather forget.

On the other side of the globe, the cook’s son is an illegal immigrant in Manhattan. Fearful of deportation, Biju is outrageously exploited by everyone, even (or especially) other immigrants. Like the judge’s father who sought to improve his family’s status by sending his son to England, cook thinks America is his child’s ticket to prosperity. Sadly, Biju finds America as oppressive and class conscious as India.

The fragile tranquility of life in Kalimpong is disrupted by two events, 16-year-old  Sai falls in love with her tutor, and civil war breaks out.

As the fighting intensifies, long held beliefs and traditions come under scrutiny. The residents of the mountain community start to question their personal identities. But in Kalimpong,  as elsewhere, there is no easy answer to the question,  “who am I?” 

Indian Summer:The Secret History of the End of an Empire By Alex Von Tunzelmann

Indian summerIndian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire by Alex Von Tunzelmann 

After reading The White Tiger, I became interested in Indian history, specifically the Partition, the withdrawal of the British from their most valuable colony  and the subsequent divvying up of the Indian subcontinent.

There have been other books written about the 1947 Partition of  India,  notably Freedom at Midnight, but in Indian Summer Tunzelmann  adopts a more Vanity Fair approach, which in no way negates the accuracy of her scholarship. Rather she also offers unvarnished and rather sly portraits of the people behind the legends:

Pious Mohandas Gandhi, alienated from his children and whose stubbornness botches many opportunities for a peaceful resolution; Dickie Mountbatten, the last viceroy, also known as “The Master of Disaster”; Edwina Mountbatten, his rich, frustrated, and indefagable wife; and Jawaharlal Nehru, in some ways more British than the British, and in love with Edwina.

These eccentric, ambitious souls end up on the same stage for the biggest peacetime land swap the world has ever seen. Indian Summer covers this fascinating and tragic period with novel-like readability.

Nashville Home Sales 2014

Nashville Home Sales 2014

Five fascinating facts from Davidson County’s real estate market 2014

  • Number of houses sold in 2014: 8964


  • Largest house sold: 12,802 square feet (pictured below)


  • Average price of a home: $267,359


  • Most expensive house purchased in 2014: $4,000,000


  • Median rent price in Nashville: $1,395


1547332 Bancroft






Sources: Realtracs and Zillow 

Remodeling and Resale

Kristen Buckingham

Kristen Buckingham

When homeowners embark on a remodeling project, the question I hear most often is how will this affect the resale?

This is a legitimate concern. According to Remodeling 2014 Cost vs. Value Report (, if you plan to sell your home in a few years, some home improvement projects are a better investment than others.

Remodeling 2014 Cost vs. Value Report surveys the average cost recouped at resale for thirty-five home improvement projects in 101 cities. Both midrange and upscale versions of the projects are reviewed.


First impressions really do matter when selling your house.  According to the recent Remodeling report, an entry door provides the biggest return on investment. In Nashville, the cost recouped at resale is a whopping 156.4%!


In addition to an entry door, new garage doors and siding are a wise investment. Each recoup over 90% of their cost proving again that curb appeal is not just real estate agent talk!


Kitchens sell houses, and the second most rewarding project in Nashville is a minor kitchen remodel.  With a budget of under $20,000, this project earns back 99.9% of its investment and includes replacing countertops, cabinet fronts, flooring, and some appliances.


On the other hand, a kitchen remodel with a $105,000 budget only returns 72.0% of its cost. Almost all high end projects recoup less than their lower-cost counterparts.  Of the top ten most valuable projects, eight are midrange.


The least attractive projects, those which recoup less than 60% of their investment, are a home office remodel (includes custom cabinetry) and a sunroom addition.


If you are planning to stay in your home for many years, renovate to your heart’s content. If you may sell in a few years, consider the scope and budget of your renovation carefully.

Some “hot” neighborhoods in Nashville are immune from this kind of analysis (anything with a roof sells.) But for the most part, enhancing your home’s curb appeal and modestly priced interior remodels provide the biggest bang for your buck.   Before embarking on a renovation, talk to your real estate professional.

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Keeper of Lost CausesThe Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

I’m always on the lookout for a new mystery series, so I was thrilled when my cousin Harriet suggested the Department Q series by Jussi Adler-Olsen.

The first novel in the series, The Keeper of Lost Causes, introduces veteran Homicide Detective Carl Morck of the Copenhagen police department.  In a thinly veiled demotion, Morck is appointed to the newly formed cold case unit, a department of one tellingly located in the basement of police headquarters.

Initially, Carl is fiercely unenthusiastic about his new job, but his natural curiosity and unquenchable police instincts get the best of him. With encouragement from his assistant Assad, he heats up the five-year-old case of a missing politician.

Carl and Assad are expertly drawn, engaging characters in the Holmes and Watson tradition, but the crime was so scary I had trouble getting through the book.

Scandinavian mysteries are typically dark, but The Keeper of Lost Causes has the creep factor of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, pages of which I was forced to skip!   Harriet assures me that by Jussi Adler-Olsen’s 
Department Q series gets better.  If you try one, let me know!

Someone by Alice McDermott

SomeoneSomeone by Alice McDermott

Alice McDermott, a long time chronicler of the Irish American experience, has written the moving story of Marie Commeford, a short sighted girl from Brooklyn.

Written in the first person, Marie’s wry and clear eyed observations, from her stoop in Brooklyn to the confines of the nursing home in Long Island unfold in a series of loosely connected, non-chronological vignettes of an ordinary but unforgettable life.


The New York Times: “Someone is a wonderfully modest title for such a fine-tuned, beautiful book filled with so much universal experience, such haunting imagery, such urgent matters of life and death.”


Alice McDermott is the author of six previous novels, including Charming Billy, winner of the 1998 National Book Award and At Weddings and Wakes, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

Deep Down DarkDeep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set them Free by Hector Tobar

If you were alive in August 2010, you heard about the collapse of the San Jose Mine in Chile which trapped thirty-three miners for sixty-nine days. The above ground rescue efforts were exhaustively covered by the media, but what actually happened thousands of feet below ground during that time?

With exclusive access to the survivors,  Hector Tobar tells the miners’ story of those dark sixty-nine days.

I am a bit claustrophobic so I was reluctant to read a book about being buried alive by a 770,000 ton block of stone, but how these ordinary men  triumph over the daunting physical challenges (starvation, full body funguses, heat) and the equally harsh mental challenges is riveting and inspiring.

Tobar’s prose is more serviceable than lyrical, but the story doesn’t need much embellishment.


Ann Patchett: “I more-than-love Deep Down Dark. Maybe it’s the story, which somehow manages to be a gut wrenching cliffhanger even though we know exactly how it’s going to end…Maybe it’s the willingness to take on all the big issues-the value of a human life, the tests of character, the persistent hopes for God…  Make sure you’re in a comfortable place when you start reading because it’s going to be very hard to stop.”


Hector Tobar is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a novelist who was collectively selected by the miners to tell their story.


A movie of Deep Down Dark is in the works staring Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche. Hmm!

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