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February Book Look

Local bibliophiles review their recent reads

This Book Look is the latest installment of a recurring round-up of book reviews by local readers. To contribute to this feature, contact the Kittanning Library. We would love to share your critiques & recommendations with other readers.

Chances Are by Richard Russo

Review by Daphne Ruffner

Richard Russo never fails to enchant us with his tales of majestic Cape Cod. Whether it’s the Pulitzer Prize winning Bedford Falls or That Old Cape Magic, we are quickly caught up in the sand, sea, and breezes which he describes perfectly.

In his latest release, Chances Are, (yes, it’s from the 1969 Johnny Mathis hit) we are introduced to three men in current time who have been friends since their college days. At a 40th reunion they have reunited in an ancestral summer home on Martha’s Vineyard.

Lincoln is a commercial real estate broker in Las Vegas, Teddy, a tiny-press publisher in Syracuse and Mickey, a local musician.

Despite that they are very different today, and were in their 1960s college days, the bond among them remains. There is a mystery, involving a woman, of course, from Memorial Day 1971. Each man is dealing with his own demons and the anxiety of aging.

Russo is a master at transporting you to another time and place, while he envelopes you in the present. He writes a serious book, but there is some humor. He has excellent character development. The theme here is obviously friendship, how it can be difficult at times, but ultimately, is enduring.


Daphne Ruffner is an avid reader and lover of good books. She can be found volunteering at the library and perusing patron donations and book sales for gently-used gems. Daphne plans and coordinates the much-anticipated Kittanning Library Book Sales.

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles

Review by Anita Bowser

Though my fiction tastes run more toward Scandinavian noir and magical realism – how’s that for eclectic?— I sometimes find myself drawn to American stories of the suspense genre. Tales with building tension and gripping story arcs can be a satisfying distraction from the screens and audio streams that pervade my day–to-day existence.

So it was with my recent read, Natchez Burning by Greg Iles. Several friends had recommended this story of southern race crimes and family secrets as something right up my alley.

I wasn’t disappointed.

At about 800 pages, it’s a relatively long read. But, the action keeps the story moving along at a good clip. The characters are well-formed, and the setting filled with the rich culture and history of the region.

This is the first of a three-book series featuring Mississippi lawyer Penn Cage, known to many readers from some of Iles' previous books. I had not read the prior stories and, though references were made to some events of previous stories, I never felt as if I needed to catch up on character arcs or backstory. I think that’s a credit to Iles’ character-development skills.

Confronted with a contemporary murder mystery, Penn Cage must investigate long-cold civil rights murders and racial injustice, all the while confronting his growing suspicions of his father’s involvement.

Inspired by real events from the region’s troubled past and leaving a few questions to be resolved in the next book, this was a compelling read. There was one point early on where I worried that a little too much had been revealed through dialog with a reporter who knew a lot about past cases. But, the passages proved a good device for revealing backstory without losing story momentum.

Well done Mr. Iles!

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys suspense, tales of the civil rights era, or stories concerning southern/US history and racial tensions. I look forward to reading the next book in this series, The Bone Tree.


Anita Bowser is a writer and blogger from Armstrong County. She’s a volunteer at Kittanning Library and has worked as a reporter, copy editor, content writer and a library director. Her favorite past times include reading, writing and avoiding arithmetic. Contact her at and find out more at

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