Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Heart of Henry Quantum

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The Heart of Henry Quantum: A Novel

Autbroken-hearthor: Pepper Harding
Gallery Books| 2016
Hardcover: 288 pages
ISBN: 978-1-5011-2680-2
Genre: Fiction/Relationships

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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In the bestselling tradition of A Man Called Ove and the beloved film Love Actually, a quirky, socially awkward man goes on a quest to find his wife a last-minute Christmas gift and encounters several distractions—including bumping into his ex-girlfriend who was the one who got away. http://www.simonandschuster.com/row-of-hearts

Having read A Man Called Ove, I was so excited to find another quirky novel that promised to bring me some much needed lighter reading. I have tended toward heavy social issues recently.

The book is arranged in four parts featuring Henry, Henry’s wife, Margaret, and Daisy (Henry’s brief affair).

An unknown friend of Henry narrates what transpired for each of these three people in the same 24-hour period. It is December 23. Christmas is fast approaching and Henry awakens at 7:35 am and remembers that he has nothing for his wife, Margaret, for Christmas. Margaret impatiently waits for Henry to leave for work, occasionally sniping at him on general principle. Finally he leaves at 9:15 am and Margaret dresses to meet her lover, Peter.  At 2:24, Daisy bumps into Henry out shopping for Channel #5 for his wife and sparking memories.

So far so good, huh? Well let’s back up to Henry at 7:35 am and I am sorry but I have to put you inside his mindstream to grasp where I am headed next in this review. As I read the following run-on sentence I found myself feeling short of breath.

However, when he reached for the soap his hand froze mid-grab because the water bouncing off his shoulders made him think about the miraculous impermeability of his own skin, and this made him think of the wonder of nature, which, when he thought about it, included the entire cosmos, and thus the Hubble telescope came into his mind and the pictures of the galaxies he had seen at the NASA booth at the Sausalito Art Festival back in September, particularly whirling-dervishthe Sombrero Galaxy, which actually did look like a sombrero, and this led him to recall something that had been drilled into his head since junior high school, namely that life travels at 186,000 miles per second, and when you look at a distant object, say, the Sombrero Galaxy, what you are actually seeing is how the object appeared millions of years ago (in the case of the Sombrero Galaxy, thirty million years ago) and not how it is now; in fact, who could say what it looks like now?

I seriously toyed with the idea of not finishing the book but I had to see where it was going so I kept my inhaler handy and moved into Margaret’s day in Part Two.

I assumed that Henry was the only character that would have his own galaxy inside his head, but our narrator felt we needed to watch Margaret dress for her adulterous rendezvous. I’ll spare you the details but, trust me, it rivals Henry’s shower scene for the world’s longest run-on sentence. Margaret turns out to be a heartless narcissistic *itch revealing itself when stuck in traffic near the Golden Gate Bridge. Someone is threatening to jump and traffic is tied up back to infinity.

Anything happening yet? she asked. I don’t know [answered another motorist].
It seems to me if you want to kill yourself, go ahead….
If the person is going to jump they should get on with it!
She bolted from the car, vaulted over the traffic barrier, bulldozed her way through the bleating crowd…leaned out as far as she could over the icy waters…and screamed at the top of her lungs, Let the f***ing *itch jump!

Daisy’s a mess and a little more likable.  Maybe because she is not speaking in run-on sentences. Nevertheless if you have stayed with the book thus far, you are now subjected to the histrionics of woman looking back at the whata-coulda-shoulda’s of a brief affair.

Overall I just couldn’t see any meaningful plot and I was overwhelmed by drifting off into topics that made no sense to the story. The publisher, Simon and Shuster, tells us that the author, Pepper Harding, is a pen name of an author that has written books on totally different subject matters. This book, to me, felt contrived, as though the author was delving into a subject matter she wasn’t comfortable describing.  Having written my feelings and sense of the book, I must say there have been others that have written glowing reviews, so if you feel inclined, please pick up a copy and see what you think for yourself.

I don’t like to leave a book with a rough review without finding something positive. Having lived near San Francisco myself for a while, I enjoyed the tour of the city. Almost made me want to hop a plane and go back for a visit.

I want to thank Galley Books (imprint of S & S) for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

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The Bone Sparrow

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The Bone Sparrow

Author: Zana Fraillon
Disney (Hyperion)| 2016
240 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4847-8151-7
Genre: Fiction/Refugee Families
Audience: 9-12 yrs /Grades 3-7

Rated: ★★★★☆

TRUE FACTS about Australian Detention Camps

Exerpt from theguardian.com

Sunday 24 July 2016
Authors Ben Doherty and Patrick Kingsleybaxter-detention-sign

…[P]eople who arrive in Australia by boat without a visa seeking asylum are sent to either Nauru or Manus Island, where most are held in indefinite, arbitrary detention. They are told they will “not, under any circumstances, be settling in Australia”, but there are no other viable resettlement options for them…

The United Nations has found that Australia’s immigration detention regime breaches international law, amountidetention-fenceng to arbitrary and indefinite detention, and that men, women
and children are held in violent and dangerous conditions.

One asylum seeker was murdered by guards on Manus Island, while another died because there were no appropriate antibiotics to treat infection.

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Book Review

When you see photographs of this beautiful planet from space, it is hard to imagine how the inhabitants of such a wonder can be so cruel and heartless toward one another. You have to ask yourself…Why? Why does it happen? Why does the world allow it to continue? Why does the world look away? Much like Boy in a Striped Pajamas by John Boyne where a privileged boy learns about life on the inside a concentration camp, Bone Sparrow includes a view of life from the inside of a detention camp by a young girl, Jimmie, living on the outside.

Bone Sparrow is a work of fiction aimed at a young audience and narrated by a ten-year old Rohingya boy born in an Australian detention camp. Subhi has never seen what life is like outside the chainmail fence. His known world is a canvas tent, wind-borne desert sand, extreme heat, little water, deplorable food, scarce medical attention, no schooling and abuse. He has never met his ba (father) who was imprisoned in Myanmar (Burma) for the crime of being an ethnic minority. His pregnant Maá (mother) and sister, Noor (Queeny) were forcefully removed from Myanmar and floated up to Australia in a refugee boat hoping for security and a new life. Instead, they found themselves permanently erased from a world that refused to accept them, living in an hellish limbo filled with danger and violence.

When we first meet, Subhi, after ten long years of hardship and despair, his Maá has retreated into a catatonic state. His older sister, Queeny, having known the real world, is often querulous and difficult, snapping at Subhi as she struggles to accept her fate as a non-person. Yet, we see a softer Queeny serving as a protector and educator to her little brother. One of her great gifts to Subhi was teaching him to read and write. Subhi has seen pictures of the outside world in old magazines strewn around camp but he has no sense of what he is viewing.

Subhi is an intelligent, perceptive, kind, and loving child with a wild imagination that keeps hopes smallest ember alive as he refuses to let his mind turn to “mush”. He listens in rapt attention to traditional stories of the Rohingya people shared by his mother, sister and fellow refugees. These stories fill his nights with vibrant dreams of a magical Night Sea that brings him gifts and visits from sea creatures.

As his mother mentally and physically slipped into a world of her own, Subhi longs to hear her voice once again enchanting him with these traditional stories and stories about his ba. He despairs when the stories begin to fade from his memory. He feels that he will not recognize his ba whenever he shows up at the camp, something he tells anyone that will listen.

One night, in a semi-wakeful state, Subhi thinks he sees a strange young girl standing in his tent. The girl turns out to be real. This young motherless girl from a poor neighborhood near the detention camp, intrigued by stories of how wonderful life is for the refugees inside the camp, sneaks under a weak spot in the wire fence to check things out for herself. In time, Jimmie and Subhi form a close and endearing friendship. Jimmie appalled by the reality of camp life brings Subhi hot chocolate and treats on her fairly frequent visits. The reader will never forget when Subhi tastes hot chocolate for the first time!

Subhi closest friend, Eli, an older boy, involves him in a prohibited intra-camp supply exchange that provides excitement and danger. When Eli’s behavior and exchange system has tested the “Jackets” to their limit, despite being underage, Eli is moved into the dangerous adults-only zone. In time, Eli and others develop plans to let the world know of their existence and plight, leading to some deeply disturbing retribution by the “Jackets”.

As the novel concludes, Subhi has survived the unimaginable.  The camp has been discovered by the outside world and there is reason to hope that at some time in the future, life will improve. He is compelled to carry on the legacy of those who have lost their earthly lives in this genocide of the Rohingya by creating a new story that will be passed along to future generations.

I find my notebook and pencil and I start to write. The letters flow from deep inside me… And my head fills with memories and stories from so long ago that fences weren’t even invented yet… All those stories swirl through my head, but… I tell them to wait. Because first I have to write the most important story of them all. The story which isn’t even a story. The story that has to be told, no matter how hard it is to tell.

Subhi, ten-year Rohingya boy
Australian Detention Camp

I was deeply moved by this small YA novel. It has a message for the world at-large and should be read by readers of all ages. Personally, I have been sheltered in my comfortable life. When the news of the world becomes overbearing, I flip a switch and it goes away.  We owe it to the forgotten and neglected in this world, to recognize their plight and in what ever way possible to provide hope.

Highly recommended reading.

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Wilderness: A Novel

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Wilderness

Author | Lance Weller          easystreet DEBUT AUTHOR
Bloomsbury USA| 2012
Hardcover: 304 pages
ISBN: 9781608199372
Genre: Historical Fiction
Review Source: Personal Copycivil-war-quote
Rating: ★★★★☆
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The old man began to tremble, though the wind was still mild and the rain still warm. He could not help but see, once again, war’s sights and hear war’s sounds and know, once more, war’s hard gifts that are so difficult to live with after the war.

After Lee surrendered in 1865, Abel Truman raced westward hoping to outrun the memory of the sights and sounds of war. When he found himself as far west as possible on the beach of the Pacific Ocean, he built a driftwood shack. For many lonely years he lived surrounded by the memories of the now long dead from his previous life.  His sole companion was an old dog that wandered into his life and they loved each other unconditionally.

On what would be his last morning in that idyllic setting, while scouring his beach for washed up treasures, Abel came across a blue door that triggered a tsunami of emotion and loss that drove him to the edge of despair. As casually as picking a flower, Abel burned his home and began to walk without purpose or forethought into an unknown future, dragging with him his heavy past.

“A fire burned from the little stone-lined pit…the night before he left…The old man did not yet know that he was going but he felt something inside him shift. The dog sensed his despair and knew what the old man did not… that he would soon try a thing and fail…The dog also knew that they would not return.” 

Abel’s story is complicated and must be savored slowly to capture the author’s true purpose. The story is so much more than the Civil War. Yes, the Civil War scenes are severe but hidden in the carnage is the individual humanity of each soldier. The reader is made to lie down in the dirt, crawl inside the mind of each character, and become a witness to history. When Abel’s torturous nightmares flare, it is as though you are remembering with him. We find in the heat of battle that each man reveals his true nature. Here’s a snippet from a battle scene with the battle-hardened Abel and David Abernathy, a young man, facing his first fight.

David’s knuckles were white upon his rifle, barrel and stock. His eyes stung with sweat…He was distantly aware [that] his spectacles had slid down the long thin line of his nose until he eyed the coming battle over their moon-round tops. A spattering of bullets sent sprays of dirt over him…[Abel] reached out one grimy finger and gently pushed David’s spectacles back up his nose, then patted his shoulder with an air of the paternal…Abel, good-naturedly nodding toward the field said, ‘When you do fire, point it thataway.’

Let’s head back to Abel’s last journey as he encounters others for the first time in many years. He finds that mankind hasn’t changed. The world is still a dangerous place and his body, scarred from war, is repeatedly mauled by miscreants, tossed aside like a broken doll. But he also finds good Samaritans willing to nurse him back to health often jeopardizing their own safety.

As Abel fights his aging body and the elements, he too, exhibits his strength and courage – his ability to spit in the eye of death. And as often as he has been dragged back to the land of the living, he offers the same care to others.

Weller has crafted each secondary character so well that you smell their fear, recognize their intentions and applaud their courage and sacrifice. As Abel faces winter’s wrath, keep a sweater handy as you will feel the frigid elements to your core.The story is riddled with loyalty, caring, brutal savagery, racism, pain, redemption, and finally, peace.

Lovers of the movie and/or the book, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, will be drawn to Wilderness.  I forgave the author for challenging this old man and his dog with so many perils. At times, it did seem so over the top, but I will admit to a few tears and flushes of frustration, anger and futility as I struggled to embrace Abel and offer comfort and friendship.

Highly recommended for those willing to take on life’s roughest edges head-on.

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Help Me Pick A Book For January Poll Winner is…

Underground Railroadthe-other-einstein-cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIED
The Other Einstein and The Underground Railroad

So using the scientifically approved method for selection,
I flipped a coin.

The Winner:

THE OTHER EINSTEIN

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Orphans of the Carnival

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Orphans of the Carnival

Author | Carol Birch
Doubleday | November 2016
Hardcover: 352 pages
ISBN: 9780385541527
Genre: Historical Fiction/Entertainers
Review source: Advance Reader E-book

★★☆☆☆

Where do you begin when you leave a book in an emotional trash heap?

I fell in love with the cover immediately and still think it is one of the best I’ve seen this year.  And certainly the flashy promise in the press blurb worked its magic on me. I leapt at the chance to read the book.

The dazzling new novel, evoking the strange and thrilling world of the Victorian carnival, from the Man Booker-shortlisted author of Jamrach’s Menagerie.

Let’s start with some true facts. The protagonist in the novel, Orphans of the Carnival, was a real person. In 1834, a native Indian woman living in western Mexico gave birth to a child so fiercely abnormal the mother feared her daughter was the result of supernatural interference and fled with the child into the mountains. Upon discovery two years later, the child, covered from head to foot with dark black hair and an ape-like face was abandoned by her mother and placed in an orphanage. The child was found to be highly intelligent and blessed with a sweet disposition. A local governor adopted the child tojulia-flyer serve as a maid, caretaker to an elderly family member, and an in-house oddity. In 1854, upon the death of her charge, the child left to return to her native tribe. Somewhere in that journey, she was discovered by an American showman and was convinced to join him for a life in the world of human curiosities thus enabling her to fulfill her dreams of seeing the world outside her small village.

The child’s name was Julia Pastrana and in her short lifetime became one of the world’s best known curiosities.

The author has done her research. The major facts known about Julia Pastrana are in the novel. I know this because I was affected enough to learn more about the real Julia. Believe me, Julia’s life story coated with the fictional embellishments will rip your heart out.

I was appalled at the horrors and mental cruelty she suffered at the hands of greedy carnival men and “respected” medical authorities that repeatedly reported that she was a hybrid human. There’s no doubt that this fiction represents Julia’s reality.

julia-pastranaIn the real world, one well-known New York medical authority examined her and declared she was a half-breed of human and orangutan origin. This wasn’t a new idea. Two hundred years earlier a Dutch doctor stated that orangutans were born “from the lust of Indian women, who mix with apes and monkeys with detestable sensuality”.

Each time Julia stepped on a stage and faced the hordes of gawkers ostensibly interested in her singing voice and her talented dance routines, she knew, and you, the reader knows they are just there to stare at her face. Her greatest desire in life was to be loved and for people to see her, to see beyond the hairy body and the “world’s ugliest face”. Her single most need was the answer to a simple question…Am I Human?

Julia’s final manager, Theo Lent (and husband) must have been a real son-of-a-bleep.  The author presents him from two sides- the face of the carnival barker who lived to make money off his “precious possession” and the lonely friendless leech marrying to force Julia to remain with him. When tragedy strikes, Lent shows his true colors and they are not pretty.

A misfit modern day junk collector finds a discarded broken doll and her fictional story reveals itself to have links to Julia. Overall, this added story was a distraction to the emotional turmoil surrounding Julia and her unfortunate life. I believe that sticking to Julia and the other poor unfortunate souls in this macabre world of entertainment would been better. In my advance reader copy,  Rose’s story breaks into Julia’s story making it difficult to keep track of the narrative. Having said that, the ending of the book was a complete surprise to me.

I wanted to give this book a 3 star. In so many ways, it probably deserves it. The first half of the book had me flipping pages. The story just repeated itself over and over. New city, new show, same old cruel taunts and jeers. Midway I found myself ignoring Rose’s story and just reading to finish the book. As much as I flinched at every cruel word flung at the unfortunates, I never felt a depth to the characters themselves.

I do want to thank Netgalley and Doubleday for the advanced readers copy. This review reflects my own personal views and reaction to the novel.

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Notorious R. B. G. : The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Notorious R. B. G. :notorious-rbg-with-frame

The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

AUTHORS  |  Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik
PUBLISHER  |  Dey St (Wm Morrow) | 2015
Hardcover: 227 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-241583-7
Memoir / Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Review Source: Personal Copy

★★★★☆

 truth

During the February, 2016 memorial coverage of Justice Antonin Scalia, I found myself drawn to a photograph taken in India in 1994 of Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg together lumbering along waving from atop an elephant.scalia-ginsburg-elephant It stopped me in my tracks as I knew they represented the yin and yang of the American Justice System. Was it conceivable that they were friends outside their hallowed chambers? What was my little 5 ft tall Jewish icon of Women’s Rights doing hanging around the man that declared that the constitution didn’t bar sex discrimination?

That question rattled around in my brain and prompted me to look into her biography. I needed to know more about Ruth as a person, not just a Supreme Court Justice with fancy collars and a fiery pen. There are some great choices available, including books written by Justice Ginsberg herself, but I fell in love with Carmon and Knizhnik’s Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

This glossy picture strewn work brings RBG to life in short but thorough stories of her progression from Kiki, the baton twirling teen, deeply in love with the adventurous and independent Nancy Drew books to present day, a strong and resilient Supreme Court Justice not afraid to stand up and fight for human rights.

RBG, born in 1933, began her steady growth toward gender independence fighting as she states, with three strikes against her, “[I was] a woman, a mother and a Jew.” But as she fought for her own survival and career, she wasn’t as yet a strong advocate for feminism. As a college professor, Ruth, inspired by student activism, joined a national movement that has steadily over tme moved toward not just women’s rights but equal rights for all regardless of gender, race, or social status.

Ruth began to fight her way into a “man’s world” pulling all women along with her. She knew the importance of staying focused and educated on issues. She formed her own style. Pick your battles. Fight hard but not loudly or brash. Permanent change must be achieved through baby steps, carefully. When you have something to say, say it with a steady hand and carefully chosen words. Your voice will be heard over the din.

format_quoteAnger, resentment, indulgence in recriminations waste time and sap energy.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg

As much as I was fascinated by all the legal briefs and dissents that Ruth presented, the most important message I got from the book is best said by the two people perched on top of that elephant so many years ago.

“Call us the odd couple,” Scalia said. “She likes opera, and she’s a very nice person. What’s not to like — Except her views on the law.”

[Likewise, Ginsburg could acknowledge her differences with her good friend Nino while still admiring his peppery prose.] “I disagreed with most of what he said, but I loved the way he said it,”

George Washington University event, 2015

These two people, at odds in their legal lives, can also see the human side of each other and share the richness of friendship and love.  In our current political climate, Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have shown the importance of civility, respect and friendship.

I am going to jump in here with a diversion from the book and a personal comment.  As we head into a new world in America, my best guess istrump-ginsburg-rant that Justice Ginsburg will not be deterred by tweets or taunts. She will stand with her principles and continue to represent all of us to the best of her ability.  Highly recommend reading.

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Help Me Pick A Book

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MY TO-READ SHELF IS OVERFLOWING

Help me pick my first book in January

I have narrowed my choices to these five books:so many books

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A GENTLEMAN FROM MOSCOW
by Amor Towles

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.“And the intrigue! … [A Gentleman in Moscow] is laced with sparkling threads (they will tie up) and tokens (they will matter): special keys, secret compartments, gold coins, vials of coveted liquid, old-fashioned pistols, duels and scars, hidden assignations (discreet and smoky), stolen passports, a ruby necklace, mysterious letters on elegant hotel stationery… a luscious stage set, backdrop for a downright Casablanca-like drama.” –The San Francisco Chronicle

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THE OTHER EINSTEIN
by Marie Benedict

In the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein offers us a window into a brilliant, fascinating woman whose light was lost in Einstein’s enormous shadow. It is the story of Einstein’s wife, a brilliant physicist in her own right, whose contribution to the special theory of relativity is hotly debated and may have been inspired by her own profound and very personal insight.

Mitza Maric has always been a little different from other girls. Most twenty-year-olds are wives by now, not studying physics at an elite Zurich university with only male students trying to outdo her clever calculations. But Mitza is smart enough to know that, for her, math is an easier path than marriage. And then fellow student Albert Einstein takes an interest in her, and the world turns sideways. Theirs becomes a partnership of the mind and of the heart, but there might not be room for more than one genius in a marriage.

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#3

TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD
by Eowyn Ivey

An atmospheric, transporting tale of adventure, love, and survival from the bestselling author of The Snow Child, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

In the winter of 1885, decorated war hero Colonel Allen Forrester leads a small band of men on an expedition that has been deemed impossible: to venture up the Wolverine River and pierce the vast, untamed Alaska Territory. Leaving behind Sophie, his newly pregnant wife, Colonel Forrester records his extraordinary experiences in hopes that his journal will reach her if he doesn’t return–once he passes beyond the edge of the known world, there’s no telling what awaits him.

The Wolverine River Valley is not only breathtaking and forbidding but also terrifying in ways that the colonel and his men never could have imagined. As they map the territory and gather information on the native tribes, whose understanding of the natural world is unlike anything they have ever encountered, Forrester and his men discover the blurred lines between human and wild animal, the living and the dead. And while the men knew they would face starvation and danger, they cannot escape the sense that some greater, mysterious force threatens their lives.

Meanwhile, on her own at Vancouver Barracks, Sophie chafes under the social restrictions and yearns to travel alongside her husband. She does not know that the winter will require as much of her as it does her husband, that both her courage and faith will be tested to the breaking point. Can her exploration of nature through the new art of photography help her to rediscover her sense of beauty and wonder?

The truths that Allen and Sophie discover over the course of that fateful year change both of their lives–and the lives of those who hear their stories long after they’re gone–forever.

Underground Railroad#4

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

the-wonder-cover#5

THE WONDER
by Emma Donoghue

An Irish village is mystified by what appears to be a miracle but may actually be murder in the next masterpiece from New York Times—bestselling author Emma Donoghue.
A village in 1850s Ireland is baffled by Anna O’Donnell’s fast. A little girl appears to be thriving after months without food, and the story of this ‘wonder’ has reached fever pitch.
Tourists flock in droves to the O’Donnell family’s modest cabin, and an international journalist is sent to cover the sensational story. Enter Lib, an English nurse trained by Florence Nightingale, who is hired to keep watch for two weeks and determine whether or not Anna is a fraud.
As Anna deteriorates, Lib finds herself responsible not just for the care of a child, but for getting to the root of why the child may actually be the victim of murder in slow motion.
A magnetic novel written with all the spare and propulsive tension that made ROOM a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels—as a simple tale of two strangers who will transform each other’s lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil in its many masks.

Thanks for your help
I’ll let you know the results in a week!

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Dead Wake

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Dead Wake: 

The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Author | Erik Larson
Crown Publishing Group | 2015
Hardcover: 448 pages
ISBN: 978-0307408860
Genre: Non-Fiction/World War, 1914-1918

★★★★☆

 

nyt-lusitania“THE ADMIRALTY’S focus was elsewhere, on a different ship that it deemed far more valuable.” 

Erik Larson, Dead Wake

Who wasn’t moved by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the bow of the Titanic, arms spread, leaning into the wind? That heartbreaking love story of mismatched social class lovers and the tragic maritime disaster moved me to read a more serious work from that same time-period, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.

I thought I knew the basics about the sinking of the Lusitania. It was torpedoed by a German submarine, Americans traveling aboard the liner were killed, and angry America joined the war. Those facts are true but they are not as they seem.

Erik Larson writes in a Note to Readers in Dead Wake:

I first started reading about the Lusitania on a whim…What I learned both charmed and horrified me. I thought I knew everything there was to know about the incident, but, as so often happens when I do deep research on a subject, I quickly realized how wrong I was.

Sifting and digging through countless documents, records, pictures, letters, interviews and memoirs, Larson has brought this tragedy to life and in doing so has revealed how little we really knew of that fateful day. One historical event that has been reduced in time to a sentence or two in most history books, now comes alive (without embellishment) using only the facts and words of the people intrinsic to this event. The author says, I’ve really tried to strip my writing of as many adjectives and adverbs as I possibly can. Each new fact or story is presented like a detailed slideshow slipping around in time -before, during and after- the sinking. There were so many intricate details unearthed it was a difficult book to review!

Larson sets the stage by placing the Lusitania majestically docked bow-first at Cunard Steam Ship Company’s Pier 54,  in Manhattan with Captain William Thomas Turner proudly standing at attention on the bridge. While the ship loads pacaptain-turnerssengers and supplies, Larson reveals the life of the Lusitania from inspiration to shipwreck.

The Cunard Steam Ship Company, based in Liverpool England, proudly promoted the gem of their fleet, the Lusitania, reputed by many to be the epitome of all that man knows or has discovered or invented up to this moment of time.” Like the Titanic, three years earlier, was considered unsinkable. The Titanic disaster did highlight the need for additional lifeboats and safety gear and these and other modifications were made to the Lusitania allaying any fears the passengers had about a maritime incident.

Dead Wake steps back and forth in time bringing the reader up to speed on the political climate and causes of the First World War that began on July 28, 1914 when Austria declared war on Serbia. Other European nations, bound by treaties and alliances, lined up to form a divided Europe recognized as the Allied Forces (France, the United Kingdom and Russia) against the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary). Suspense was created as Larson describes the delicate timeline for the United States entry into the fray for the Allied Forces.

While the First World War is better known as a brutal killing land-war fought in the trenches, Germany’s development of submarine warfare threatened to destroy a key ally – Great Britain.  As an island nation Britain relied on seaborne commerce for everything and as the war pressed on into 1915, British military and civilians vessels were lost with increasing numbers. Winston Churchill, then the First Lord of the Admiralty, was determined to save Britain with the help of the United States by any means necessary and for as long as it would take to convince them of Britain’s need.  President Woodrow Wilson, knee-deep in grief and depression over the loss of his wife, and the American public were equally determined to keep the United States out of the war.

On February 4, 1915, Germany stepped up their maritime action by issuing a proclamation designating the waters around the British Isles an ‘area of war‘ in which all enemy ships would be subject to attack without warning. Thus far, passenger liners, had escaped unscathed.

On that beautiful morning of May 1, 1915, as the Lusitania was poised to leave Manhattan, the German Embassy in Washington ramped things up in the Atlantic by posting a notice on the shipping pages of the New York newspapers cautioning that vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction and travels sailing on such ships do so at their own risk. 

Cunard responded to the warning by issuing the statement that the Lusitania was the safest boat on the sea…too fast for any submarine. No German war vessel can get her or near her.

As the Lusitania begins her fated crossing, we are given a slideshow tour of the ship itself from 1st Class cabins down to the boiler room. The slideshow takes us through the passenger list peering openly into the lives of famous passengers and the travel plans of the not-so famous. We learn why, in the heart of a vicious war, they felt the need to leave the safety of America. We watch laughing children play hop-scotch, observe a traveler’s gaze as the crew practices hoisting life-boats into position, smile as Dwight Harris fingers the engagement ring in his pocket he dreams of presenting to his beloved, sit in the bleak quarantined room with a worried mother concerned for her sick child, listen to mothers sharing stories about relatives and friends waiting for them to arrive…….

For the first time, we ride shot-gun with a U-Boat 20 Captain and his crew as he navigates around Britain to reach his place in infamy. We sit in the ultra-secret Room 40 where the British Admiralty use confiscated German code books to decipher submarine wireless transmissions and track them right up to the hull of the Lusitania. We question why they repeatedly fail to warn Captain Turner of the danger. We watch in horror as the the U-Boat 20 Captain disturbed by what he has done, turns his sub away from the Lusitania, unable to witness further, the catastrophe through his periscope.

We see Captain Turner miraculous tossed into the sea and returned to land to face a grueling trial. Those trial proceedings will make you grit your teeth.

One of my little pet peeves? I didn’t need to know quite so much about President Wilson’s grief and the burgeoning love life he discovered on the other side.

In the end, the reader will be left with a shocked sense of what really happened. My opinion of some players changed radically; some for the good and others disgustingly. I will admit I shed a few tears for the families and friends trying to locate their missing loved ones; and in that search, Larson gives us some good news as well. I guarantee at least one story will make you chuckle.

The people we meet have now achieved immortality, lifted from the pages of history as more than a footnote. Highly recommended for history buffs and readers interested in life in the 1900s. The descriptions of the period costumes and opulence of the Lusitania alone make this a worthy read.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Crown Publishing for the Advance E-reader copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

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