Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic

Title:  The Girl Who Came Home:  A novel of the Titanic
Author:  Hazel Gaynor
Publication Information:  William MorrowHaper Collins Publishers. 2014. 362 pages.
ISBN:  0062316869 / 978-0062316868

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "I don't think there are enough words to describe this amazing ship or how it feels to be floating on top of the ocean."

The Girl Who Came Home is a story of the Titanic. It is based on the true story of the Addergoole Fourteen, fourteen Irish immigrants who boarded the Titanic to sail to a new life in America. Eleven perished when the Titanic sank, and three survived. The Addergoole Titanic Society believes that this loss was the largest proportionate loss of any single community represented on the Titanic.

This book follows the story of seventeen year old Maggie Murphy. The story begins as Maggie and her group are about to begin the voyage. She is leaving the only home she has ever known, and the young man she loves. She is leaving with her aunt and a group of others for a new life. She is also leaving with a stack of letters from her young man to remind her of home and of him.

The book title tells you what Maggie's story is and how it ends. It is a story of the Titanic, and we all know what happened to the Titanic. Since the title is "the girl who came home," we know that Maggie survives. The question is what else is this book about - how she comes to the Titanic, what happens on board before the sinking, or what comes after? The other question is how is this story told- does it bring something new or something different to this history to make it a compelling read.

That is where the other side of this book comes in. Grace is Maggie's great-granddaughter. She learns that Maggie is a survivor of the Titanic disaster and sets out to learn more. She has lost her focus since the death of her father, and this search gives her direction to go on.

The book travels back and forth through descriptions of what happened on the Titanic, through excerpts from Maggie's journal, and through Grace's search. Sprinkled throughout the book are replications of actual documents from Titanic history.

I did not find the book or most of the characters compelling. I enjoyed it in that it introduced me to the history of the Addergoole Fourteen. I wish it had developed that aspect more - with the back stories of the travellers and the repercussions in the community after the tragedy - rather than the multi-layered approach of the descriptions, Grace's search, and Maggie's journal.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Delicious!: A Novel

Title:  Delicious!: A Novel
Author:  Ruth Reichl
Publication Information:  Random House. 2014. 400 pages.
ISBN:  1400069629 / 978-1400069620

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "History is the story we tell the future about the past, and we have an obligation to get it right."

Delicious! is the first fiction attempt by longtime food writer Ruth Reichl.

Wilhelmina, aka Billie, has moved to New York City to take a job with the iconic Delicious! magazine. The magazine is housed in a beautiful old Federalist mansion in New York. It is populated with a host of fun characters - the gruff editor whose dog loves smoothies, an older travel reporter who takes on the role of mentoring Billie, and mean Maggie. Surrounding them in the food scene of New York city are other symbolic characters - Thursday, the young chef making her mark on the city, and Sal, the cheese maker, who believes in upholding the long standing traditions of how he and his family have done business for years and years.

Billie is discovered to have an impeccable palate. She can obviously cook, but refuses to because of something in her past - something having to do with her sister. She also discovers her talent for food writing. Other than the secret of her past and the shadow of her sister, things have a way of working out for Billie. People around her see her beauty and potential even if she does not.

Then, change comes. The publication company decides to close the magazine. Everyone loses their job except for Billie, who is kept to maintain the magazine guarantee. Working alone in the mansion, she discovers the library and a virtual treasure trove of history. She discovers Lulu - a young girl who carried on a correspondence with James Beard during World War II. The hunt for Lulu's letters and the letters themselves become the new adventure for Billie and her friends. In pursuing that adventures, Billie learns some lessons about her own life and makes decisions to finally let go of the memories of her past and her sister that have been holding her back.

This is a feel good book. It is a light read. This is definitely a foodie's book. The food descriptions and history are expected, given the author, and very appetizing. I also learned a lot about food and the home front during World War II. The characters are relatively undeveloped but entertaining nevertheless. Perhaps, the most interesting character of all is Lulu, for the reader learns about who she is through her letters. To see her live through the war and to hear it in her own words gives the story its depth.

So, if you are a foodie looking for a light, entertaining, feel good read, this is the book for you. A delicious beach read for the upcoming summer season.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Ruby: A Novel

Title:  Ruby:  A Novel
Author:  Cynthia Bond
Publication Information:  Hogarth. 2014. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0804139091 / 978-0804139090

Book Source:  I received this book through the GoodReads First Reads program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Remember, baby, don't ever let a man mine you for your riches. Don't let him take a pick ax to that treasure in your soul. Remember, they can't get it until you give it to them. They might lie and try to trick you out of it, baby, and they'll try. They might lay a hand on you, or worse, they might break your spirit, but the only way they can get it is to convince you it's not yours to start with. To convince you there's nothing there but a lump of coal."

Liberty, Texas is the "colored folks' Liberty," a small rural town in East Texas. The first time Ephram Jennings sees Rub Bell is when they are both children. Ruby leaves the small town for New York City; a friend's death brings her back. The demons that made her run to New York return when she returns to Liberty. She struggles to survive, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The town views her as crazy and someone to be made fun of and someone to be used. Everyone except for Ephram, who never lost his love for the little girl he once knew. Ephram lives with his "Mama," his sister Celia who raised him. He lives his lives by Celia's rules and never left Liberty.

Slowly, the book reveals the back story - why Celia raised Ephram, why their mother ended up in an insane asylum, what devastation Ruby survived, and what terrible secrets this small town holds.

This book takes on some extremely challenging topics - physical and psychological abuse, prostitution, abandonment, racism, and devil worship. Be prepared, this is not an easy read.

Ruby is by far one of the saddest and most disturbing books I have read in a long time. It is, however, beautifully written. The book slowly reveals the horrors that have been Ruby's life. It is so quietly done that I found myself reading past them, then stopping, going back, and reading, unbelieving of the revelation. I found myself reading certain passages several times to make sure they were saying what I thought they were saying.

Yet, running through the book is also the thread of unconditional love, a love that reminded me in some ways of Forrest Gump. Ephram Jennings is the "simple man from East Texas." Read some implications into the meaning of "simple" and you have the character of Ephram. His love is expressed in his unconditional openness and response to Ruby's story. "If you can bear to have lived it, I can at least bear to listen."

A horrifying and incredibly sad story in a book I could not put down.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What's a Daughter To Do? A Memoir (Sort Of)

Title:  Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What's a Daughter To Do? A Memoir (Sort Of)
Author:  Elaine Lui
Publication Information:  Amy Einhorn Books / Putnam. 2014. 288 pages.
ISBN:  0399166793 / 978-0399166792

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Such is the power of my mother's storytelling. For me it has been greater than reason, stronger than doubt, more enduring than fact. The moral messages embedded in Ma's stories form the foundation of my life code and standard of conduct."

Elaine Lui is a first generation Canadian-Chinese. Her Chinese mother is the "Squawking Chicken." This book is a collection of nine essays that paint a picture of Elaine's relationship with her mother and a picture of her mother's life.

Each of the essays has a similar feel. Each essay is a string of anecdotes that result in advice her mother gives Elaine. The anecdotes are sometimes funny and sometimes indicative of cultural differences in parenting approach. Each essay is the repeated emphasis on the idea of filial piety. "Filial Piety is a lifelong requirement. It is every child's duty to respect the parent, to support the parent, and to bring pride and honor to the parent." Each essay is the idea that over the years, despite some of her eccentricities, Elaine's mother has given her good advice.

The similarities in each of essays give the book a sometimes one-note tone. It was like re-reading the same ideas in each essay. I enjoyed the individual essays, and could see myself reading one in a  magazine. Each individual one is descriptive and well written. A book of them was a little too much.

My other reaction is that at the end of 300 pages, I am still left wondering how Elaine feels about her mother. I am unsure of the emotional relationship between the two. The book goes back and forth between the statement that mother's advice is right and descriptions of some of the strict parenting that went on (and goes on) during Elaine's life - incidents to which the reaction could be negative. Filial piety exists, but what else?

The other thing I am left wondering is what her mother's reaction is to this book. The tone of the book is not always complimentary, and many private details are revealed. How does this book fit in with the idea of Filial Piety since it is putting private family ideas out for public consumption?

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Chop Chop: A Novel

Title:  Chop Chop:  A Novel
Author:  Simon Wroe
Publication Information:  The Penguin Press HC. 2014. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1594205795 / 978-1594205798

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Reading was not an escape, you understand. I did not dream of fantastical worlds or get misty-eyed with wild possibilities. It was an embroidering, an embossing, an overlaying of the life already there. A lesson. Books taught me how to feel. They gave me words and showed me company ... Alas, books have never taught me how to be among people."

The narrator, nicknamed Monocle by his co-workers, has left home and relocated to London after completing his studies in literature. He seeks entrée into the literary world and hopes to make his mark.

A few months into this endeavor, he finds himself living in a seedy part of town looking to make ends meet. His literary degree is not bringing the success he envisioned. To support himself, he takes a job in The Swan restaurant - a restaurant whose name is perhaps the best thing about it.

He is the lowest man in the hierarchy of the kitchen. His job is essentially to assist anyone in the kitchen. This may mean anything from chopping vegetables to washing dishes. Surrounding him are a group of eccentric characters like Bob, the mean head chef; Racist Dave whose nickname describes his inclinations; Ramilov, a talented but argumentative chef; and Dibden, the pastry chef.

The book begins with descriptions of the chaotic, hectic life in a restaurant kitchen. It moves into revelations about the narrator's past, his childhood and his relationship with his family. Then enters the mysterious Fat Man. The story goes beyond life in a restaurant kitchen to a more complicated, darker tale. This is not a light read like other books that have taken on the arena of a professional kitchen.

The story and the humor of this book are just not for me. The writing, however, is colorful and very visual. I would like to read more by the author.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Star for Mrs. Blake: A Novel

Title:  A Star for Mrs. Blake:  A Novel
Author:  April Smith
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2014. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0307958841 / 978-0307958846

Book Source:  I read this book based on its description and that it deals with a piece of history with which I am not familiar.

Favorite Quote:  "When you grieve, you are not alone. You are with God and everybody else who grieves throughout time."

A reader's guide to this book calls it "anchored in a footnote of history."

In the late 1920s, an act of Congress was approved by the President to fund the gold star pilgrimages. The gold star mothers are mothers who have lost a child in the service of their country.

The pilgrimages were an opportunity for these mothers to travel, at the government's expense, and visit the grave sites of their children lost during war and buried overseas. This book tells the story of one such pilgrimage to France to visit graves of soldiers who gave their lives during World War I. It is based on the actual diaries of the son of Colonel Thomas West Hammond, who acted as a liaison on the gold mother pilgrimages at the beginning of his career.

The book is about "Party A" of the pilgrimage group - Cora Blake, Katie McConnell, Minnie Siebert, Wilhelmina Russell, and Genevieve Olsen. The women come from different backgrounds, different ethnic heritages, and different socio-economic standings. Cora is a widow from a small town in Maine where she has spent most of her life. Katie McConnell is from a large Irish family; she lost two sons in the war. Minnie Siebert is a Jewish housewife. Wilhelmina has spent years in and out of asylums due to mental health issues. Genevieve "Bobbie" Olsen is a wealthy socialite.

For all their differences, what unites them all is the fact that they all lost a son in the war. Their grief unites them.

The trip brings them from their diverse homes to New York City, on board a ship to Europe, and then to Paris and on to the fields where their boys are buried.

This book and its premise holds such promise. Yet, the delivery falls a little short. Several side stories emerge, including:
  • The story of Mrs. Selma Russell, the "colored" gold star mother who is accidentally placed with Party A. Even though the boys all fought, died, and are buried together, the pilgrimages are separate based on the color of your skin.
  • The story of Thomas Hammond, the new army officer trying to live up to the expectations of family.
  • The story of Nurse Lily, struggling with her decision between continuing her work as a nurse and getting married because the hospital does not allow married nurses.
  • The story of Griffin Reed, the reporter living with the injuries of war.
  • The story of General Perkins and the use of his power.
This is all in addition to the individual and collective stories of the five women that comprise Party A. I found some of the women more interesting than the others, and some of the stories more interesting than the others. Some of the writing was emotional and moving, definitely more so for the characters I found more intriguing. It could have been a truly wonderful book had the story remained more focused.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Orchard of Lost Souls

Title:  The Orchard of Lost Souls
Author:  Nadifa Mohamed
Publication Information:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2013. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0374209146 / 978-0374209148

Book Source:  I read the book based on the description.

Favorite Quote:  "I don't need anyone, but that doesn't mean that I don't want certain things ... And those certain things are? ... Someone by my side, on my side, who I can share my thoughts with..."

The Orchard of Lost Souls is the story of the women of Somalia. Violent civil war broke out in Somalia during the 1990s. The civil war combined with drought and poverty brought death, destruction, and heartbreak to Somalia. The Orchard of Lost Souls tells a story set in this harsh environment.

The book tells the story of three women:

Deqo is a young girl who is born in a refugee camp, who is abandoned at birth by her mother, and who has no idea who her father is. She is a child trying to survive and trying to find a home and a family.

Kawsar is an older woman whose home is a smaller village. She is surrounded by friends who love her; yet, she has lost her family - her husband and her daughter. She is surviving; she is struggling to keep a semblance of control over her life and her home. Yet, she thinks at times that death might be easier.

Filsan is the soldier. She comes from a military family and is attempting to follow the rules ingrained in her and to make a career for herself. Yet, is that what she wants? Are the rules the ones to be followed? What hurts is she trying to overcome?

The first and final sections of the book are when the stories of these three women meet in a dramatic way. The middle three sections of the book tell the story of each one individually. We see a story of strength and of vulnerability. We see a story of sorrow and of love and friendship. We see a story of losses and of hope.

Be warned, though. This book is not easy to read. Some the descriptions are brutal and harrowing.

I don't know much about the history of Somalia or the culture. Yet, I recognize in these women patterns seen around the world. Women holding families together. Women forming a community. Women surviving abuse and atrocities. Women standing together. Strong women. Courageous women.

That is what makes this such a compelling story that holds you from beginning to end.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Gemini: A Novel

Title:  Gemini:  A Novel
Author:  Carol Cassella
Publication Information:  Simon & Schuster. 2014. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1451627939 / 978-1451627930

Book Source:  I received this book through the GoodReads First Reads program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Statistics gave no peace when you hoped to replace a percentage with a name. A Face. A single individual who might or might not be the one out of one thousand."

Gemini is a story in the past and the present.

In the present is the story of Charlotte Reese and her unidentified "Jane Doe" patient. In her professional life, Charlotte Reese is a physician near Seattle dealing with patients in the intensive care unit. In her personal life, she is working on her relationship with her long time boyfriend Eric. They are committed to each other; yet, there are things they don't discuss and distances between them.

"Jane Doe" is found by a roadside, badly injured. No one knows who she is. No one steps forward to claim her. Her survival is at stake; decisions need to be made.

In the past is the story of Raney Remington, a young girl growing up in her grandfather's house in the Pacific Northwest. It is the story of Bo, who comes in and out of Raney's life and who leaves her forever changed. It is the story of the responsibility Raney feels towards her grandfather and the choices that result from that responsibility.

The title of the book "Gemini" refers to the the constellation which tells the mythological story of twin brothers Castor and Pollux. These two were fraternal twins who were born to the same mother but having two different fathers. In mythology, Castor's father is a human while Pollux is the son of the Zeus. Upon Castor's death, Pollux asks to share with him his own immortality. The wish is granted; both then are immortalized as stars in the sky.

How the stories of Charlotte, Jane Doe, Raney and the myth meet is the crux of this book. This story completely surprised me. It ends up following a direction and with a resolution that I did not expect based on the book description or when I started reading the book.

The plot and the way the story comes together is dramatic. The characters and the story are a bit contrived at times. Yet, the book keeps me reading because I want to see where it ends up. I found the medical issues interesting and the ethical ones even more so. The significance of the title and the connections between the characters slowly become clearer as the book moves on. The emergence in the story makes for a good read.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Word Exchange: A Novel

Title:  The Word Exchange:  A Novel
Author:  Alena Graedon
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2014. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0385537654 / 978-0385537650
Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Sometimes talking is an act of kindness. Sometimes silence is."

Anana Johnson works with her father, Doug, at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL). The setting is the "future" in New York City. It is a time where verbal communication is dying; word exchanges are replacing the printed word; and individuals uses devices called Memes.

Memes are intelligent, learning to anticipate the individuals needs and desires and making decisions, sometimes even before the conscious thought occurs to the person.

Doug is working on preserving language, and Anana is helping him. The book opens with the fact that Doug has disappeared. In searching for him, Anana and her colleague Bartleby are pulled in a world of intrigue - a world where language is being destroyed by the "word flu" and those like Doug are trying to save the world.

I was excited to get a copy of this book. The idea of a book about language, interpersonal communication, and about technology's effect on our communication patterns really appeals to me.

Unfortunately, I had trouble even finishing the book. If it was not a review copy, I would likely have abandoned it. The story is narrated through the voices of the different characters. Certain sections are in the form of journal entries from Anana and Bratleby. The entries seems to be a stream of consciousness sharing of the narrator's thoughts.

The book also uses some complicated vocabulary - an understandable choice for a book about language but difficult for a fiction read. I love words and language, and I found some of the word choices distracting. Keep the dictionary handy!

The book also has something I have never seen in fiction - substantive footnotes. At one point, Anana mentions that they are part of recovery of language. I do not understand their use at all. They make the book difficult to read, particularly on an e-reader.

Because the idea of the book still appeals to me, it gets two stars.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Dog Gone, Back Soon

Title:  Dog Gone, Back Soon
Author:  Nick Trout
Publication Information:  Hyperion. 2014. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1401310893 / 978-1401310899

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Be the person your dog expects you to be."

Please note that this book is a sequel to The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs. I have not read the first book, and feel that this book can stand on its own.

Dr. Cyrus Mills is a veterinary pathologist. He has returned home to the small town of Eden Falls, Vermont, to take over his father's clinic, Bedside Manor for Sick Animals. The clinic is struggling, as it competes with the nearby Healthy Paws, a franchise operation of a nationwide chain of animal care facilities.

My initial thought upon starting the book was .... James Herriot. However, as the book itself says, "The days of James Herriot are over. He's dead and buried, and with him went his fossilized style of practice." So, this is not James Herriot.

It is, however, a collection of oddball characters - both human and animal. It is a small town with all its small town flavor and intrigue. It is a small town local business fighting the "corporate" entity.  It is one man adapting as life goes in a direction different than what he had envisioned, and that turns out to be a good thing.

My favorite character in the book is actually a dog - Stash. Stash is a service dog trained by the National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS). NEADS is a not-for-profit organization with the mission to allow disabled and deaf individuals to attain independence with the assistance of a trained service dog. Stash's loyalty and attention to his service duties stand out as a key serious note in this otherwise light-hearted book.

The rest of the book is light-hearted, often funny, and very quick to read. The doctor treats his patients, deals with their sometimes eccentric owners, makes some mistakes but fixes them, fights the "big bad corporation", and tries to win over the girl.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Letter for My Mother

Title:  A Letter for My Mother
Author:  Nina Foxx (editor)
Publication Information:  Strebor Books. 2014. 240 pages.
ISBN:  1593095325 / 978-1593095321

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "The relationship that was closest to us proved to be the hardest to be honest about and the hardest to resolve."

We all have things that we have never said to our mothers. This book is thirty-five female authors coming together to give voice to those things. They write letters to their mothers (by birth or by love) to express joy, heartache, gratitude and every emotion in between:
  • "Some people never get to meet their heroes. Mine gave birth to me."
  • "I don't write to be understood; I write in order to understand. I write to make sense of it all, to learn about myself and about where I come from, if only so I can understand where I am going and how I can get there."
  • "What healing we need. I see the seed for a global transformation of women's relationships to one another. Women need to heal with one another. Mothers and daughters need to heal. Sisters need to heal. The world needs to heal. Let it start with mothers."
The letters are as diverse as the authors themselves. Each letter is preceded with a brief explanation of the relationship where needed. The relationships are diverse - from a mother and daughter who are best friends to a daughter still trying to overcome a childhood of abuse.

Yet, underlying each are common themes - love, forgiveness, understanding, and the fact that the bond between a mother and daughter is unbreakable no matter what.

I read this book from cover to cover, straight through. I would not recommend that. I would recommend keeping it and giving it as a gift and finding the portions that perhaps pertain to your life and your relationships. Perhaps, it can start a conversation. Perhaps, it can put into words what you are unable to say. If you yourself are a mother, perhaps it can be something to share with your own daughter.

I laughed with some. I cried with others. I felt the emotion of each and every one.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Twelve Years A Slave

Title:  Twelve Years A Slave
Author:  Solomon Northup
Publication Information:  Atria Press, Simon & Schuster Inc. 1853 (original). 2013 (this edition). 320 pages.
ISBN:  1476767343 / 978-1476767345

Book Source:  I read this book as this month's selection for my local book club.

Favorite Quote:  "Let not those who have never been placed in like circumstances, judge me harshly. Until they have been chained and beaten - until they find themselves in the situation I was, borne away from home and family towards a land of bondage - let them refrain from saying what they would not do for liberty. How far I should have been justified in the sight of God and man, it is unnecessary now to speculate upon."

Twelve Years a Slave is the first person narrative account of a free man kidnapped and sold into slavery. Solomon Northup was a free man living in New York. He was married and had children. He made an honest living farming and playing his violin.

In 1841, he was enticed to Washington DC by the prospect of a job playing his violin. Under false pretenses, he was lured into a situation from which he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. He lived the next twelve years of his life as a slave - the "property" of other men, some kind and some cruel but all slaveholders.

In the beginning, he repeated his assertions of being a free man. That resulted in beatings and worse treatment. He learned to keep that information private while always being on the watch for a way to get back his freedom and his family.

He lived through being sold, being treated cruelly, being beaten, being starved and all other atrocities that were a "normal" part of the live of slaves. He watched mothers being forcibly separated from their children. He watched friends being beaten and tortured out of hatred. He saw some kindnesses also, but always from a life of bondage. Something no person should ever have to suffer. He endured, and he survived. Many others did not.

Ultimately, he found someone to help and re-obtained his freedom. Upon his return home came this book.

This book remained lost in history for many years. Sue Eakin, a history professor from Louisiana,  discovered the book in 1931 in a plantation library in Louisiana. She then re-discovered a copy of the book in an old book store, and bought it for herself for 25 cents. The store owner sold it to her as "pure fiction." She made it her mission to revive interest in the narrative and to validate its historical accuracy.

In 1968, Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon published an annotated version of Twelve Years a Slave. The annotations included maps and references to validate the authenticity of the narrative. Unfortuantely, Sue Eakin passed away in 2009, prior to the current interest in the history.

Recently, again, the book has been in the media because of the movie. Steve McQueen had the idea of making a movie about the "slave era" in America but with an unusual character. He discovered this book and immediately reacted, "I read this book, and I was totally stunned. At the same time I was pretty upset with myself that I didn't know this book. I live in Amsterdam where Anne Frank is a national hero, and for me this book read like Anne Frank's diary but written 97 years before – a firsthand account of slavery. I basically made it my passion to make this book into a film."

Published in the north, the book looked to inform, raise awareness, and perhaps bring change. The book states, "My object is, is to give a candid and truthful statement of facts: to repeat the story of my life, without exaggeration, leaving it for others to determine, whether even the pages of fiction present a picture of more cruel wrong or a severer bondage."

More than a memoir, the book is a documentary account of slavery in that particular place at that particular time. The formality of the writing supports that objective to document and to display to the world the atrocities occurring. The matter of fact, non-emotional descriptions present the events and leave the reader to feel the emotion in the book and the horror of the treatment the slaves received.

Parts of the book have an analytical tone. Solomon Northup is able to stand back and evaluate the institution of slavery and the society of the times. For example, he has this to say about the slaveholders. "It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives. He cannot withstand the influence of habit and associations that surround him. Taught from earliest childhood, by all that he sees and hears, that the rod is for the slave's back, he will not be apt to change his opinion in maturer years."

This detachment makes the book less dramatic perhaps, but for me, adds to the power of the words and the events described.

When initially published, this book was news. Reading it now, over a hundred years later, it is history. A beautifully written, engaging, terrifying history.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Here and Now

Title:  The Here and Now
Author:  Ann Brashares
Publication Information:  Delacorte Press. 2014. 256 pages.
ISBN:  0385736800 / 978-0385736800

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "The truth is strong. Unlike a lie, it gets stronger over time, and it has the power to draw disparate feelings and ideas together in a way that a lie never can."

Prenna James immigrated to the New York / New Jersey area when she was twelve. She came with her mother. They came with a group of people to escape the disasters and troubles of their own home. The came in search of a better life.

The big difference is that Prenna and those like her do not come from another city or even another country. They come from another time, far in the future. Their world is being ravaged by a plauge, and they have escaped. They live as a community in the New York / New Jersey area with strict rules to keep their identity secret and, most of all, to not get involved.

Prenna has difficulties following these rules, particularly when she meets Ethan Jarves, a young man from the current time but someone who seems to know more. She begins to question the rules and the role her community has chosen to play in the current times. She runs afoul of the community leaders and others who would see their identity and motives kept secret.

This book is a story about a teenager with the typical teen concerns about fitting in, belonging, making friends, and starting to understand their growing emotions and their growing need for independence. The elements of friendship and romance enter the picture.

This book is also a science fiction thriller with time travel, plagues, good guys and bad guys. As such, it takes the reader on an adventure.

This book is a story, but it is also a commentary on today's society and lifestyle. Statements such as the following make clear the lesson of the book:
  • "We also wreck the planet for our own habitation and the mosquito will win. Unless we succeed in changing course, it will win."
  • "It's just normal here to have all this extra stuff around that you DO NOT EVEN NEED."
  • "People here act like the great things have already been lost, but they are wrong. They have so much still to lose."
Mind you, the book has holes and logic gaps:
  • If a society was going to send people back in time to attempt to salvage the future, would you send families or the best of your scientists and leaders?
  • How did Prenna's mother so easily accept the fact that her husband chose not to come with them?
  • If Prenna qualified for this immigration based on her high IQ, why did she accept what the leadership told her for such a long time? How did she not figure out their surveillance policies?
  • How is the character of Ethan the composite of all the skills necessary at all the right times?
The quick plot line and the writing makes up for the logic gaps. The book does not necessarily end on a cliffhanger, but the possibility of a sequel (possibly a series?) very clearly exists.  Suspend disbelief and go along for what is a fun read.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.