Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

August 19th, 2019 — 11:45am

Category: FG - Fiction General, FH - Fiction Historical

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

We meet “Wash”, the main character as an 11-year-old slave on a sugarcane plantation in Barbados. We come to realize that his chance of living to a ripe old age or even having any kind of meaningful life is quite slim. Then by chance, he is “given” to the owner’s brother who needs a manservant to help with various projects. It is ironic that through this one slave’s subsequent life which is quite unusual, we are allowed to come to appreciate the almost no chance that his brothers and sisters and numerable other Black people held in captivity have for any self-realization and an opportunity to find their potential as human beings.

Wash is the “assistant” to Titch, his new owner who was a scientist of sorts with a clear plan to develop a “cloud-cutter” (a hot air balloon). Titch soon realizes that Wash has talent as an artist in not only making scientific drawings but depicting all sorts of scenes from nature. Wash leaves the plantation with Titch to lead a new life which takes place during a time period when slavery in the United States is “abolished.” However, we are reminded that “Jim Crow” is alive and well as our main character is searched for by a bounty hunter as Wash’s previous owner had decided to put a thousand-dollar reward for his return, dead or alive.

Through the storyline and the author’s insight into the main character as he attempts to reconcile his past with the new opportunities he has, we come to understand how important “Big Kit”, his mother figure in his earlier life was to him. We also appreciate how meaningful to him is “Titch”, the man who took him from slavery on the plantation to a new life and because of his own issues ended up complicating Wash’s life with further dilemmas.

There is adventure, mystery, romance all mixed into the novel as the reader has another opportunity to understand the great scourge of slavery. It is not surprising that this book is on the short list for the prestigious Booker Prize.

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A Woman Of No Importance

August 2nd, 2019 — 2:33pm

Category: B - Biography, HI - History, P - Political

Woman of No Importance-The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia Hall was born in the United States, grew up in Baltimore and studied at Columbia University. She moved to France prior to World War II. As a young woman, she also had a tragic accident during a hunting trip where she shot her leg and ended up with a wooden prosthesis.

When World War II broke out and the Germans invaded France, circumstances plus dedication and brilliance led her to become one of the key figures in the French Resistance Movement. The author of this book, Sonia Purnell, spent a great deal of time and effort painstakingly studying the life and the amazing accomplishments of this woman who worked with the French underground. Virginia used numerous forged documents and also had a cover of being a correspondent for the New York Post, but in reality, she was organizing and participating in deadly sabotage against the occupying Nazis. She trained hundreds of members of the French underground. She risked her life numerous times in various operations. She went to extreme efforts to secretly maintain contact with the British for whom she was working via radio coded message. She guided many missions which included arranging the parachute drops of guns, explosives, and other supplies needed in the activities of the French underground against the occupying Germans. She devised complicated plots to free captured prisoners. She had many close calls and could have been captured and tortured as was the fate of many of her comrades. After D-Day she arranged numerous attacks on the German troops who were heading towards Normandy.

As a reader of this book, we got the feeling that we are by her side as she plans and carried out dangerous missions. She then escapes France via walking through the snow-covered mountains through Spain. Ultimately, Virginia falls in love with a young man who she encountered in her work and they eventually got married. This book is well written and will keep you on the edge of your seat. Virginia was ultimately awarded many medals including the highest French Medal of Honor. After the end of World War II, she worked for the CIA, assisting in spy activities directed against the communists.

As exciting and informative as this amazing story was, at times, I found it difficult to keep track of all the characters many of whom had French names. I also could not always picture the exact geography as she moved through different parts of France as well as during her escape via Spain. It would have been great if there could have been a directory of the many characters that we meet in this book and a brief description of them as well as a map where the reader could trace her adventures and travel. That being said, any student of history, especially if one wants the inside view of World War II should read this book. It also will be a satisfying read for anyone looking for a well-written spy story.

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A Million Miles In A Thousand Years by Donald Miller

July 24th, 2019 — 8:30pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir

A Million Miles In A Thousand Years by Donald Miller

The author and two friends are trying to write a screenplay for a movie. They are trying to figure out what makes a good story, but the author realizes he is struggling to figure out what makes a good life.

This book might be summarized by a subtitle the author gives the book and that is “what I learned while editing my life.” He is constantly reflecting back on his life and the meaningful interactions that he has had with people. He obviously is a man of faith and he frequently comes back to his concerns about what God will think of him and his life. He chooses many heroes and role models, some of which come from his favorite books or movies. He talks about his admiration for Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist who in 1942 was deported to a Nazi concentration camp, but spent time whispering into the ears of fellow prisoners, trying to prevent suicide by telling them that despite their suffering “life has meaning.” The recurrent theme of this book is that despite sadness and suffering, there can be meaningful fulfillment and that life is a journey. The author shares many of his experiences in interesting people that he has met on life’s journey as he believes that sharing life’s trials and tribulations is what one should try to do. He raises the idea that suffering and sharing the hardships of life can be a worthwhile goal and make life more meaningful.

A symbolic but real life experience that the author shares is really the essence of this book and that is a grueling cross country bicycle trip that he participated in with many of his close friends where they traveled ocean to ocean in three weeks. He believes that sharing such adventures with people you care about is a most worthwhile endeavor. Perhaps that is why he is sharing this book with his readers.

 

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Where The Crawdads Sings by Delia Owens

June 30th, 2019 — 1:25pm

Category: FG - Fiction General, FM - Fiction Mystery, T - Recommended for Teenagers

Your comments are welcome at the end of the review

Where the Crawdads Sings by Delia Owens

The story takes the reader to a place I would not usually choose to visit- the wild nature land in North Carolina. A young girl is gradually abandoned by her siblings and parents and grows up alone in the marshland. She has her dad’s motorboat and she can fish and collect mussels et cetera and sell them in the local town in order to get gas for the boat and the essentials of life. She is known by the town folks as the wild marsh girl. While living a very isolated lifestyle, she has on occasion to meet two local young men. One of them teaches her to read and she ultimately over many years becomes a renowned expert in writing and painting the local nature life. Since the author is a well-known expert in nature writing, her depictions are quite beautiful and fascinating.

The marsh girl is attracted to both young men and one does not treat her very well. There is an incident where one of the young men dies under mysterious circumstances. So, there is intrigue and ultimately a courtroom drama, which is, as interesting and well-written as any literary courtroom scene that you might encounter

So, we have sensitive novel about living in the wildlife with all the beauty and mysteries of nature. We also have a sensitive depiction of a naïve young woman who feels her yearnings, as do all the creatures of nature. On top of all these, we have a mysterious death and a murder trial. For me, half of the time this book was a page turner, the other half, I was turning the pages to get through the book. I conclude by giving it a mixed review. (2019)

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Howard Stern Comes Again by Howard Stern

June 11th, 2019 — 11:26am

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir

Howard Stern Comes Again by Howard Stern

If you are a Howard Stern fan, undoubtedly you have put this book on your reading list. While I never subscribed to his special Sirius radio channel, I do remember him from his earlier am Radio days and his periodic TV appearances and also I have seen him on “America’s Got Talent” TV series. He is well-known for his out spoken sexually explicit speech (including of course the title of this latest book) and his confrontation of his radio guests.

In this book, he has chosen to include transcripts of some of his interviews with various celebrity guests over the years. This includes interviews with Madonna, Jerry Seinfeld, Stephen Colbert, Paul McCartney, Conan O’Brien, Joan Rivers, Larry David, Michael J Fox, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, John Stewart, David Letterman, and many others. There also are several interviews with Donald Trump before he became a political figure.

However, the essence of this book is that he has provided a preface to each interview where he attempts to discuss his and his guests state of mind at the time of the interview, (which could have been many years ago or perhaps quite recently). A constant theme in his discussion is how he himself has changed over the years because of his own psychotherapy. He acknowledges his self-centered personality, insensitivity to his guests and how his therapy has allowed him to be much more empathic to other people. He uses his own insight into himself to encourage his guest to reveal their deep-seated feelings, and at times regrets, in their relationship with others. Of course, most of the people being interviewed and discussed are very well known celebrities. Particularly, poignant is when he discusses how some of his guest reacted to the death of some other well-known celebrities, especially those who died by suicide.

Toward the end of the book he appears to regress and revert to the old classic Stern as he presents an interview with his mother where he is obsessed about his own conception and how and when his father may have stopped using a condom.

I am sure this book will be quite successful and Stern’s fans will suck it up.

 

 

 

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You Never Said. We Didn’t Ask: A Legacy From World War I- Poems by Estella Lauter

June 5th, 2019 — 11:14pm

Category: HI - History, Poetry

You Never Said. We Didn’t Ask: A Legacy From World War I

Poems by Estella Lauter

My freshman college roommate at the University of Rochester was Chuck Lauter. His dad was Charles F. Lauter (1890-1990) who was a World War I veteran. Chuck married one of our classmates, Estella who addition to becoming a parent and grandparent also became an accomplished award-winning poet. Just recently she has published this 24 page small book of poems about the World War I experience and the effects of war upon a small group of soldiers which included Chuck’s dad. As the title suggests she was not told directly about it by these men but was able to reconstruct their experiences from some subsequent writings about what they went through.

I don’t imagine that high school and even college students get grounding in the history and the personal experiences of those who fought in the Great War. This book is a wonderful introduction as well as a reminder of our heritage. At times it is a narrative, other times it is an emotional insight but most of all it is a beautiful tribute to the great soldiers who are embedded in American history, (This book is available on Amazon-click here)

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Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

May 8th, 2019 — 5:01pm

Category: HI - History

 

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

I always felt that I was fairly well educated in American history, dating back to the Revolutionary War. I had also studied World War I and World War II and of course the Holocaust. In recent years, I became more aware of the Japanese internment and over the years, I read a fair amount about the history of various immigrant groups in the United States. I must admit that I never thought too much about the history of the Native American Indians in this country nor was this topic covered in my schooling. Of course, I knew that the original explorers and settlers of the Western United States did take away the land of the Native Americans who were obviously here first. I have some vague awareness that there had been some reparations which I am reminded of when I would see advertisements for gambling casinos in California that I knew could only legally function because they were allowed to be run by the Native Americans.

This book was a game changer! It starts off as a real life “who done it”. It is of course a non-fiction book and the reader gets the feeling it’s going to be an interesting true to life mystery. There are a couple of unexplained murders which have occurred. The setting is the 1920s and the location is in the western United States. The victims happen to be Native Americans who are members of the Osage tribe. Suspects come and go. There are some more unsolved deaths which may or may not be accidents or perhaps crimes. Maybe there was a poisoning. There are some attempts at prosecuting possible murderers but the trials usually don’t work out.

It turns out that where the Osage tribe members have lived is on an oil-rich land. The Federal government has worked out a plan where every legitimate member of the Osage tribe gets “Head Rights” which turns out to be lots of money which makes them and their descendants quite wealthy. Of course, when they die, these “Rights” go to their heirs unless they assign them to someone else, perhaps a caretaker of their children, a white spouse or some other arrangement which the soon-to-be deceased member had decided to make. Over the years, all sorts of devious plots are suspected including bribery of juries, medical pathologists who did not quite find the bullet in the body, doctors who might have injected some substance that could have led to the death, undertakers who seemed to be involved in some way and just about everybody else. Families of the deceased became suspicious of the reasons for the deaths of their loved ones and how the inheritance was worked out. Numerous private detectives were drawn into these cases. In fact, these situations probably spawned the development of the occupation of private detectives and investigators in this country or at least was a major part of it.

Of course, the deaths and the suspected murders that were occurring over the years were taking place on the land of the Osage tribe, which is considered federal land, and therefore, federal investigators became involved in looking into these possible crimes. These were occurring at the same time that the new director of the soon-to-be named Federal Bureau of Investigation was trying to establish his new bureau. That man, of course, was J. Edgar Hoover and this story is also about the founding of this American institution and the ins and outs of that organization.

The author of this book literally spent years researching it. He spoke with many grandchildren and other descendants of the victims as well as some of the descendants of the suspected murderers. He traveled to many locations, studied archives and personal papers in addition to conducting many personal interviews. In fact, literally, one-tenth of the book are references, citations and summaries of newspaper articles and reports of personal discussions that the author had.

The end result is that the reader is left with an understanding of a piece of American history, which is as comprehensive and complex as any phase of American history. It is not only complicated, colorful, and as horrid as the story of gangsters in America during prohibition, or the tales of the various crime families about whom stories have been written and even equally outrageous as some of the infamous political scandals that have occurred in this country. On top of all of this is the amazing truth that you probably never heard of these events, that is, until you read this book.

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The Library Book by Susan Orlean

April 27th, 2019 — 2:32pm

Category: HI - History

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

How can a book about the library be expected to hold our interest? Well, the main focus of this book is one particular library, the Los Angeles Public Library which famously almost burned to the ground in 1986, but it is really about much more. This book describes the long line of librarians who have played the leading role in this particular institution dating back to the 19th Century and forward to the modern age. As is often the case when discussing edifices where great things have happened, the architecture and the architects who created them are also very much a part of the story. The book also discusses the antagonism towards libraries by dictators and oppressive regimes throughout the ages characterized but not limited to the book burning by the Nazis.

The author obviously spent years compiling this book and shares with the reader her many hours of discussion with the people who work and serve in the library. It becomes clear that working in a library has been a calling for most of them and a dedication of skilled men and women who proudly wear the title librarian.

As the author travels through the halls of the library, we see how the function of a library is not only the presentation and the sharing of all types of books, but that the library also is a font of knowledge with availability of art, historical documents, patents, music and much more. As we travel through this building, we also appreciate that many of the daily inhabitants of the library are people of all ages; the elderly, children, scholars, students, artists, immigrants, etc. We see that the library is and can, not only be a place of obtaining special knowledge and education, but a place for social programs and creative, innovative activities. It is also interesting to see that the library is also often a refuge for the homeless.

In the past, the library became known as a place where one could visit and ask a dedicated staff to direct him or her to a source where they can get any type of information and answer any specific question. In fact, the library has always provided a phone service where you could call in and get an answer to the most unique or mundane question. Therefore, now that we are in the age of the computer, with Google, Alexa, and Siri, etc., where one can ask your own personal device any question and get an answer, one might think that the library should become an institution of the past. Interestingly enough, however, it appears that libraries are reinventing themselves and are becoming more popular than ever. Not only do the libraries, through the work of the dedicated librarian staff, assist people, how to reach and query the Internet about anything but they provide access to the most up-to-date equipment and technique for the use of everyone including the poor, the homeless, the elderly, children, everyone, et cetera. The library offers classes where people can be educated how to use these modern techniques. And of course, the library can also be a social meeting place. And most important, the library now is on the cutting edge of all forms of knowledge, history and communication. This book is an eye-opener that shows a library of the past, the present and the future.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

April 16th, 2019 — 9:54pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir, T - Recommended for Teenagers

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Any title that exclaims “absolutely true” raises the possibility that it may not be a 100% true and that the author may have taken some poetic license. However, this 2007 novel is clearly purported to be based on the childhood and young adult experiences of the author, Sherman Alexie who is an indigenous American who grew up on the reservation (or “rez” as the main character might say) of the Spokane Indian tribe. The story depicts his early family, school life, interaction with his teachers and friends, especially one key character, his best friend, Rowdy.

Poverty, alcoholism and despair on the “rez” are clearly shown. Then there is the pivotal event in our hero’s life which is his decision to transfer to a school in a white community 22 miles away from where he lives and his need at times to hitch a ride back and forth to school if his often-drunk dad cannot drive him.

We are shown how the main character interacts with the teachers, and other students at his new school, some of whom beat and bully him. We are also shown his accomplishments in varsity sports at high school in a very well-told fast-moving book.

The book is meant for young adults although apparently there has been some resistance in some places because of the realistic depiction of alcoholism, bullying, violence, profanity, sexuality, racism and other realistic situations. This did not prevent the book and the author from receiving numerous prestigious awards for this book, including the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It not only depicted issues specifically to this character and his life, but examined the universal themes of lasting friendship, aspirations, and even how the awareness of death and experiencing loss of a loved one impacts us all.

This  is a relatively short book and there is an added-on section, which contains the author’s perspective from his adult point of view many years after he wrote the original manuscript. There is also an unusual component of the book which is involved with cartoons. The main character in the book was shown to express his feelings and view of contemporary life by drawing various cartoons. In preparation for this book, the author asked graphic and cartoon artist, Ellen Forney to create cartoons throughout the book. We are not sure why he did not use his childhood drawings. Perhaps, this was a fictional component of the story. It was also difficult to clearly view the cartoons on the iPad on which I read the book. However, this did not detract from a thoroughly enjoyable literary experience which I would recommend to all readers.

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A Minister in a Box by Aaron Ben-Shahar

March 30th, 2019 — 12:50pm

Category: FT- Fiction Thriller

A Minister in a Box  by Aaron Ben-Shahar

This is an exciting adventure story that goes back and forth mostly between Jeronti, a small African nation, England and Israel. There are secret agents, some who had been very high up in the Mossad, as well a head Mafia guy, There is even an anesthesiologist who will keep the man in the box sedated as he is kidnapped in a most daring caper. At times I had difficulty keeping track of the characters, as their names were unfamiliar ones. But that did not stop this from being a page turner. (Yes, I actually read this in soft covered book.) Although this is touted as pure fiction, I could not help but wonder if some of the events may really have happened since the author has a history of having served in highly sensitive positions in Israel’s General Security Services.

 

 

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