6 Degrees of Separation: From “A Gentleman in Moscow” to “The Chatham School Affair”

Here’s my entry in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. Here’s how it works:

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal or esoteric ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.

The great thing about this meme is that each participant can make their own rules. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain. . .

This month we begin with A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, a book that I have not yet read (although it’s on my TBR list). Here’s the description from Goodreads:

He can’t leave his hotel. You won’t want to.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility–a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel.

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

1. Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz, the main character in Lady in the Lake by former journalist Laura Lippman, is also searching for a purpose in life. It’s 1966 in Baltimore, and after an 18-year marriage, Maddie has decided she wants something else from life rather than being just the wife of Milton Schwartz and the mother of Seth. She leaves her husband and son behind, gets her own apartment, and sets out to become a newspaper reporter.

2. Like Maddie in Lady in the Lake, Ingrid Coleman in Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller comes to realize in middle age that she lost her sense of individual purpose when, as a pregnant student, she chose to give up her education and writing ambitions to marry the professor with whom she was in love. One day she goes for a swim in the ocean and never returns.

3. Architect Bernadette Fox also feels she has to run away from her family to rediscover herself in Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. Fortunately, her teenage daughter is clever enough to figure out where Bernadette is and to go after her.

4. The Whisper Man by Alex North also tells the story of a parent and child searching for a way to reconnect with each other. After the sudden death of his wife, Rebecca, Tom Kennedy moves into a house in a different town with his seven-year-old son, Jake. Tension mounts when a young boy is killed and Tom realizes he must establish an emotional bond with Jake in order to protect him.

5. & Sons by David Gilbert tells the tale of A.N. Dyer, an old man trying to connect with his sons. Like Tom Kennedy in The Whisper Man, Dyer is a writer, but unlike Kennedy he has never before cared about having a meaningful relationship with his sons.

6. In The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook, Henry Griswald, now an elderly man, seeks to understand his long-dead father by discovering the truth about a long-ago event from his own childhood. 

And there we have it, a journey of emotional discovery through six degrees of separation.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

6 Degrees of Separation

Here’s my entry in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. Here’s how it works:

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal or esoteric ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.


The great thing about this meme is that each participant can make their own rules. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain. . .

Cover: Under the Lake

This month we begin with the book we ended last month’s chain with. For me, that was Under the Lake (1987) by Stuart Woods. I remember it as the spookiest book I’d ever read when I discovered it back in 1996.

1. Another book by Stuart Woods that I enjoyed is his first novel, Chiefs (1981), based on a family story. This novel became the first in the Will Lee series.

2. I next started reading Stuart Woods’s series featuring former NYPD detective now turned lawyer Stone Barrington. I began with the first novel in this series, New York Dead (1991). I read several more of the books in the series but eventually stopped because the stories became progressively more and more outlandish and just plain silly. 

3. Another series I gave up on is Patricia Cornwell’s books featuring medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. I quit that series after book #9, 1998’s Point of Origin. I don’t have to like fictional characters, but as Kay Scarpetta became more shrill and self-centered, the story lines also became more improbable. 

4. One fictional series that I enjoyed is Stephen White’s novels featuring clinical psychologist Alan Gregory. I discovered that series back in the early days of audiobooks, called books on tape back then because they came by mail in a boxed set of several cassettes. I listened to the first eight books but then lost touch with the series as technology changed and books on cassettes transitioned to audiobooks for download. But finding book #9, The Program (2008), recently on sale as an ebook reminded me of this excellent series. Now I have books 10-16 to look forward to.

5. I had a similar experience with Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series. Like Alan Gregory, Alex Delaware is a clinical psychologist. And as with the Alan Gregory series, I discovered the Alex Delaware series back in those heady days of books on cassette. I’ve read about nine of these books, but, as the series is now up to book #35, I have a lot more to look forward to. I have #10, The Web, on my Kindle now.

6. Yet another mystery series I need to catch up on is Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books. My book group back in St. Louis read the first book in this series, Case Histories (2004), back in the day and loved it. The recent publication of the fifth Brodie book, Big Sky, reminded me that I need to read the other three before tackling this latest installment.

So there we have it, a series of series for 6 Degrees of Separation. So many books, so little time . . .

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

6 Degrees of Separation: From “Where the Wild Things Are” to “Under the Lake”

Here’s my entry in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. Here’s how it works:

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal or esoteric ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.

The great thing about this meme is that each participant can make their own rules. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain. . .

This month we begin with the children’s classic Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. 

1. Word association leads me immediately to Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Just let me say that I was not wild about this book. I thought it was way over-hyped and wasn’t even fully satisfying as a memoir (and I’ve studied a lot of memoirs, having written my dissertation on life stories just before this book came out). 

2. So let me stretch the word association a bit to arrive at the novel Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman. To tell the truth, I wasn’t particularly wild about this one, either. It’s Lippman’s homage to Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird, but it doesn’t work as well as its model.

3. But I have high hopes for Laura Lippman’s latest novel, Lady in the Lake,  scheduled for publication by William Morrow on July 23, 2019. The description on Goodreads promises a book “that combines modern psychological insights with elements of classic noir.” This book shares with the previous one not only an author but also the word lake in the title.

4. Another novel with the word lake in the title is In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien. I read it back in 1996 and certainly should reread it. It’s haunting in the way that only the best literature is, giving readers much to ponder.

5. By the Lake by Irish writer John McGahern is a quiet yet deep novel set in a rural village in Ireland. Over the course of a year the novel explores the inner and outer lives of the villagers: their relationships with each other, with the land, and with the encroachment of the modern world on their way of life.

6. Having been in the lake and by the lake, we finally arrive Under the Lake in a novel by Stuart Woods. I remember it as the spookiest book I’d ever read when I discovered it back in 1996. But I’ve read a lot of other spooky books since then, and I don’t know whether I’d be as wild about it now as I was back then if I reread it.

That’s the end of this month’s journey, a wild trek near, into, and under several literary lakes.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

6 Degrees of Separation: From “Murmur” to “Eat, Pray, Love”

Here’s my second entry in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. Here’s how it works:

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal or esoteric ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.

The great thing about this meme is that each participant can make their own rules. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain. . .

This month we begin with the winner of the 2019 Wellcome Prize, Murmur by Will Eaves.

I have not yet read this book, but I find the description from Amazon fascinating:

In Murmur, a hallucinatory masterwork, Will Eaves invites us into the brilliant mind of Alec Pryor, a character inspired by Alan Turing. Turing, father of artificial intelligence and pioneer of radical new techniques to break the Nazi Enigma cipher during World War II, was later persecuted by the British state for “gross indecency with another male” and forced to undergo chemical castration. Set during the devastating period before Turing’s suicide, Murmur evokes an extraordinary life, the beauty and sorrows of love, and the nature of consciousness.

1. After this description of Murmur, a description of a novel due to hit shelves on June 4 struck me: Fall, or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson, which will also explore the nature of consciousness:

From the author of Snow Crash comes a futuristic take on Paradise Lost. In a parallel universe, Dodge is pronounced brain-dead, catapulting his consciousness into the cloud where the “eternal afterlife” is not the utopia it might first seem. 

2. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch also looks at the possibility of parallel universes, although alternative universes might be a more apt phrase, since every choice we make takes us down one path to the exclusion of all other possible paths and their possible worlds.

3. Since different choices could theoretically produce different worlds, one of the classic conundrums of time travel literature is the question of how changing something in the past will affect (or effect; both words are accurate here) the present. In Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63, Jake Epping is tasked by his dying friend with traveling back in time to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. On one of his returns from the past, Jake arrives in a present so frighteningly different from the one he knows that all he can do is scramble back through the time portal as fast as possible to get back to the past and try to fix things.

4. November Road by Lou Berney takes place in late November 1963. Frank Guidry is livin’ the good life as a mid-level functionary of the most powerful crime boss in New Orleans. When President Kennedy is assassinated, Frank remembers that he delivered a get-away car to Dallas just a few days earlier. When a couple of Frank’s associates turn up dead, Frank realizes that whoever’s behind the Kennedy assassination is tying up loose ends—and that he himself is just another loose end. Without even returning home he hits the road to try to outrun the hit man he knows will soon be on his tail.

The obvious connection between November Road and King’s 11/22/63 is the Kennedy assassination. But another similarity between the two is the love story that develops in each and the decision by both male protagonists to sacrifice self-interest and do what’s best in the overall scheme of things.

5. Frank Guidry takes off on a desperate run to save his life. Another character who takes off on an even wilder dash to stay alive is Jason Bourne, the title character of The Bourne Identity, the first—and best—entry in Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series. While scrambling to stay alive, the character known as Jason Bourne searches not only for the people who created his fake persona but also for his true identity. And yes, he’s also working to figure out how to do what’s right within the overall scheme of things.

6. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is the nonfiction story of a woman whose soul-searching takes her to several places around the globe on her quest for self-discovery.

So there we have it: another journey of discovery through the overall scheme of the literary world. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

6 Degrees of Separation: From “The Dry” to “Oliver Twist”

While exploring other book blogs after I came home from my vacation, I discovered the 6 DEGREES OF SEPARATION MEME.

I was immediately drawn to it because I like the way it makes me think about how the books I read may be related. Here, from the meme description page, is how it works:

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal or esoteric ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.


The great thing about this meme is that each participant can make their own rules. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain. . .

If this kind of exercise appeals to you, too, you can find out all about how to participate by checking out Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme page at her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best.  

This month’s exercise begins with Jane Harper’s debut best-seller, The Dry. I was impressed enough with The Dry that I immediately bought Harper’s second novel, and second in the Aaron Falk series, Force of Nature.

1. Having become a fan of Harper’s writing, I bought her next book, The Lost Man (a standalone novel) while we were traveling in Australia.

2. I also bought another book in Australia, by another Australian author: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. In this novel, Alice wakes up after a head injury with no memory of the most recent 10 years of her life. 

3. Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney features a lead character, Amber Reynolds, who also wakes up in a hospital after a head injury with little memory of what happened to her. Amber warns us right up front: “Sometimes I lie.”

4. But not all unreliable narrators are downright liars. Some are just naive, like Philip in Daphne du Maurier’s novel My Cousin Rachel. Philip was raised from young childhood by his much older cousin, Ambrose, who designates Philip as his heir.

5. Another orphaned child raised by a relative is Pip in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. 

6. Of course, it’s impossible to discuss Dickens and orphans without mentioning one of his best known works, Oliver Twist.     

Isn’t that a long and twisty path, from Australia all the way back to England, the country that sent its prisoners to colonize the land down under?

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown