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Story published: 01-08-2014 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

A couple good reads for the chronically snowbound

By Paula Walter

The winter months are a perfect time to hunker down with a warm blanket, a cup of coffee or hot cocoa and immerse yourself into a new book. The selections are vast, and it doesn’t take long to stop at the local library and find something that grabs your attention. If you own a Kindle, the world is at your fingertips as you can peruse a vast selection of reading material.

The following are two reviews of recent publications. If you are interested in submitting a book review for The Tomahawk to consider for publication, please email it to classifieds@thetomahawk.com.

Philomena is the true story of a mother, her son and their search to find each other that encompassed 50 years. In 1952, Philomena Lee is an 18-year old Irish girl who met a young man at a carnival. She becomes pregnant and for her Irish family, the shame was too much to bear. Like many other families whose daughters became pregnant out of wedlock in Ireland, the Lee family sent their daughter to live with the nuns until her baby was born. Once the infant was born, the family could come and pay 100 pounds for the care their daughter received during her pregnancy and delivery. However, many Irish families who sent their daughters to the convent at Roscrea, located in County Tipperary, were extremely poor. Finding the money to just feed themselves was a difficult task. Consequently, these young women were basically slaves, spending three years in horrific working conditions, just to pay for their care while they awaited the birth of their child.

Roscrea was essentially a clearinghouse for forced adoptions that would shuttle babies and young children to America. While there were no specific charges incurred for the adoption, the convent would take a donation. Many, if not all, of the children who survived Roscrea were sent to America to new parents. Philomena watched as her son, Anthony, clutch a toy airplane as he was taken away. Knowing this day would eventually come, her heart was broken.

Anthony was adopted and became Michael Hess. He eventually became a lawyer, chief counsel to the Republican National Committee and played a large role in the gerrymandering, or redistricting, battles during the late eighties and nineties. He served under Presidents Ronald Regan and George H.W. Bush.

Michael, who left Rosecrea at three, had vague memories of his mother and his life at the convent. He had been a happy child, loving and caring about others. Michael went back twice to try and find his mother but was not successful in obtaining information from the nuns regarding his mother. The book focuses on Michael’s life as an adult, his struggles and his feelings of abandonment. While he had achieved much in his professional career, his life was plagued with drug and alcohol use . He died of AIDs in 1995.

Philomena brings a face to the exploitation of young mothers and their children during this time period in Ireland. The book is heart wrenching and one of those reads that lingers with you, one you never quite forget.

Sycamore Row, the latest John Grisham’s legal thriller, takes his readers back to Ford County, Mississippi, the site of his first book, A Time to Kill.  In his first published work, Grisham garnered the attention of readers when he took on the subject of race relations in the rural south during the 1950’s.

Many novels later, Grisham takes his readers back to Ford County.  Jack Brigance did not fair well defending Carl Lee Harvey for the murder of two young men who had brutalized his ten-year-old daughter.  His business suffered; he lost his home and his dog.

Ford County’s businessman Seth Hubbard left instructions for one of his employees to meet him by a sycamore tree at 2:00 pm on a Sunday afternoon.  Arriving at the designated time and place, Hubbard is found dead, hung from the tree.  Suffering from the pain of terminal lung cancer, Hubbard committed suicide.  Found along with the body were burial and funeral instructions.  

The next morning, Brigance received a letter from Hubbard stating he had hand written a will that would supersede any previous wills.  He wanted Brigance to represent him as the executor of his new will. In the initial will, Hubbard left everything to his children.

The tale begins to spin as Hubbard’s new will leaves five percent to his church, five percent to a brother who seems to have vanished off the face of the earth, and 90 percent to his housekeeper, who happened to be a black woman.  Nothing was to be left to his children. The previous will left everything to his children.  Hubbard had a sizable estate.

The story takes many twists and turns as Brigance tries to uphold the wishes of the deceased and courtroom drama ensues.  He fights big money lawyers from Memphis, as his mission is to make sure Lettie Lang receives the money willed to her. Lettie, in the meantime, has troubles of her own as relatives she had never heard of come out of the woodwork, hoping for a piece of her newly-found fortune.

Grisham, once again, has written another masterpiece.  Sycamore Row is a book you will long remember.  If you enjoy books from the legal thriller genre or you happen to be a John Grisham fan, you will not be disappointed with Sycamore Row.