“Loretta Lynn: Coal Miner’s Daughter” by Loretta Lynn and George Vecsey

Published in 1976, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is the bestselling memoir of country music legend Loretta Lynn. Perhaps best known as the basis for the Oscar-winning 1980 film starring Sissy Spacek, this book offers a candid look into the humble beginnings and path to stardom of the songwriter/performer the New York Times would refer to as the “Queen of Country Music.”

Written with the help of George Vecsey, Lynn insisted, first and foremost, that her story be told in her own voice. The book is written as she speaks, and she says in the preface that instead of using Webster’s Dictionary, they used “Webb’s Dictionary” (since Webb is her maiden name).

Each chapter opens with a song lyric, the first chapter beginning rather appropriately with “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and her birth in Butcher Holler, Kentucky. The second of eight children, we are introduced to Loretta, her family and her early years near the coal town of Van Lear, where her father worked in the mines.

At the age of 13, she met Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn at a pie social and, following a brief courtship, they were married. She became a mother to six children (four before she was even 18-years old) all while launching a music career that would make her a superstar. With this book, Lynn sets out not only to share her story, but also to set readers straight on some of the most gossiped about aspects of her life including her minimal education (she only completed the eighth grade) and her oftentimes tumultuous relationship with her husband.

In spite of this, she still credits Doolittle with her success, as he was the first to suggest she pursue a singing career.

In “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” just as in her songwriting, Lynn does not shy away from talking about real life and what many would see as taboo subjects (especially at the time). Perhaps, this is why she was such a trailblazer for female country artists and women in the music industry in general.

Readers are given a behind the scenes look at her family, faith, health, friendships with other country music stars (including Patsy Cline, Conway Twitty and Dolly Parton), and life on the road. The Vintage Books Edition, released in 2010, includes 16 pages of personal photographs and a new preface where she looks back on what has happened in the 34 years since the book’s publication.

Certainly, the world has changed a great deal with this passage of time, as has country music. Lynn surmises, however, that she has not changed all that much herself. She writes, “I’ve kind of stuck to what I’ve always done — write songs, sing, live as honest a life as I can live.”

~Reviewed by Diane Dehoney, Community Service Librarian, Paul Sawyier Public Library


“Summer of ’69” by Elin Hilderbrand

 “An engrossing tale of an iconic American summer”— People Magazine

Elin Hilderbrand’s novel was a popular read at the library this summer. The summer of 1969 was one many of us remember and maybe that’s why the book is a must read for a lot of people. The novel is filled with references to Woodstock, the fighting in Vietnam, Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick, the Apollo 11 moon landing … to name a few.

The author puts many of these events into her story, which help make it more of a walk down memory lane with her fictional family in Nantucket. Also, Hilderbrand titles the chapters of the book with popular songs from that era, which would make a great playlist on your phone or tablet.

Actually, anyone who has gone through their teen years will probably relate to the main character, Jessie. From family challenges, traditional summer vacations, romance, growing up and moving forward, this is a great book for fall read.  

~Reviewed by Paul Sawyier Public Library


“The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise” by Julia Stuart

We all know that the Beefeaters guard the British Royalty, but what is the origin of that title? The term comes from the fact that they were actually given a daily ration of beef as part of their pay. And, did you know, that they also live in the Tower of London with their families? Or in the case of Balthazar Jones with his wife and his 181-year-old pet tortoise?

There are also quite a few eccentric characters that work and live near Balthazar in the Tower, including the “Rack and Ruin’s” bar maid who just found out she’s pregnant, the ticket taker named Arthur Catnip, the Ravenmaster determined to avenge the death of one of his unbearable ravens, as well as a few other colorful characters.

Balthazar’s wife works for the London Underground’s Lost Property Office where she hangs her coat next to the drawer that contains 157 pairs of found false teeth, with 91 found wheelchairs stored close by.

Life is already quite out of the ordinary but becomes all the more interesting when Balthazar’s tortoise qualifies him for the task of “Keeper of the Royal Menagerie,” the Queen’s elaborate collection of exotic animals. Live animals are frequently given to the Queen during many state visits and have included sloths, cranes, armadillos and even an elephant.

But Balthazar is in deep trouble when the penguins escape, the giraffes go missing and the Komodo dragon terrorizes the tourists. When the Etruscan shrew is found dead, Balthazar says, “We’ll just have to tell everyone it’s gone into hibernation, and in the meantime find another.”

But none of this chaos compares to the announcement made by his wife. How much can a Beefeater take?

Perfect for the Anglophile, the mystery reader and anyone who needs a good laugh! Julia Stuart informs us that you can see these animal treasures of the Queen not in the Tower of London, but at the Zoological Society of London, as the Queen does regularly donate her animals to the zoo.

~ Reviewed by Lizz Taylor, Poor Richard’s Books


“The Golden Hour” by Beatriz Williams

The term “golden hour” most often refers to the hour of medical crisis immediately following a traumatic injury. But artists and photographers use this term for the magical hour when the sun begins to set, when familiar scenes achieve a sense of “hyperreality,” when everything turns to gold, and then suddenly disappears.

There have been many novels set during World War II, but this one grabbed my attention because of a few unique characteristics. The story line features two women, one during the years before the Great War and the other just before the Pearl Harbor attack. Then, add the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the former King long suspected of being a pawn of Adolf Hitler, now appointed as the Governor of the Bahamas. 

His American wife, Wallace Simpson desires to have them re-appointed to post closer to England and society. Of the king who gave up his throne for the woman he loves: Brits said, “A romantic would have sacrificed love for duty, not the other way around.” Thus, begins a compelling novel based on historic facts.

Based on the lives of two women in two different wars, the author focuses on how war is affecting the lives of each women. Then, each story is woven together in the final chapters.

Lulu’s story begins in 1941 in Nassau as the gossip columnist for a New York publication that tantalizes its readers with news of the infamous Mrs. Simpson.   Lulu makes a deal with the duchess to have access to her social activities in exchange for prior knowledge of the newspaper column. The portrayal of Mrs. Simpson seems quite real and is based on a biography written by her personal secretary at the time.

Elfriede, a returning character from another of William’s earlier novels, is a German Baroness in a Swiss sanitarium languishing from postpartum depression in 1900. She meets an Englishman suffering from pneumonia and thus begin a bond that will survive many frustrating war years.

And, then there is the historic brutal murder of a real-life wealthy patron of Nassau, which has never been solved, with a possible cover-up by the duke during the murder investigation.

Royal gossip, war intrigue, island racial tension and a murder mystery make for a multi-layered satisfying read, but the sacrifice, love and courage of these two women seals the deal on this fascinating novel.

~ Reviewed by Lizz Taylor, Poor Richard’s Books