Saturday, December 31, 2022

Gastro Obscura

Title:  Gastro Obscura:  A Food Adventurer's Guide
Author:  Cecily Wong. Dylan Thuras. Atlas Obscura
Publication Information:  Workman Publishing Company. 2020. 448 pages.
ISBN:  1523502193 / 978-1523502196

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Eating may be the most immersive visceral travel experience."

Favorite Quote:  "We have always believed that wonder can be found wherever you are open to searching for it."

Atlas Obscura is a crowd-sourced database of place and foods current numbering at over 25,000. The project began as the brain child of Dylan Thuras and Joshua For. It was an effort to "inspire wonder and curiosity about the incredible world we all share." It began with places not found in ordinary guidebooks and perhaps off the beaten path. It expanded in 2017 to include exploration through food. It has since beyond writing its reach into education and travel. At this point, they are "a publisher of best-in-class journalism about hidden places, incredible history, scientific marvels, and gastronomical wonders."

This book, as the title suggests, is about food but more than that "it's a collection of forgotten histories and endangered traditions, obscure experiences, culinary ingenuity, and edible wonders." It traverses the globe. The book is laid out by region:  Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, Canada, United States, Latin America, and Antartica! Each section is further divided geographically. Within each smaller section, each entry is about half a page - some longer, a few shorter. Each is titled by the topic, followed by the location, following by a half-page description of history and evolution. An offset identifies "how to try it." Images accompany some of the entries. 

You can read the book beginning to end, pick up and read an entry or two, or use the included index to look for something specific.

I have followed Atlas Obscura for a while. As a lover of travel and food, the gastronomic aspect immediately appeals to me. Food is a universal language and a part of every life occasion happy and sad. Food brings people together. In a world so divided, it is wonderful to see every effort to identify that which unites us. Though the foods from other parts of the world may seem unfamiliar, the emotion, love and sense of heritage embedded in each item is universal. 

In the past few years when travel has been limited, the ability to armchair travel has become even more important. This book takes us around the world. It is also a reminder that "wonder can be found around every corner - not just in uncharted and far-flung locales but down the street, down some stairs, into the Victorian-era public toilet that now houses a London coffee bar. While travel is a beautiful way of seeking wonder, you'll find within these pages that adventures don't always require a planet ticket ... wondrous food is everywhere."

This book is one that will sit nearby and that I will pick up time and again to peruse. I look forward to that and to seeing what new adventures this team uncovers.

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

Game On: Tempting Twenty-Eight

Game On:  Tempting Twenty-Eight
  Game On: Tempting Twenty-Eight
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2021. 304 pages.
ISBN:  198215487X / 978-1982154875

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The clock on my bedside table said it was 2:00 am."

Favorite Quote:  "If you're going to be a hacker, you need to be smarter and better than whoever you're hacking."

Game on is the twenty-eighth book in the Stephanie Plum series. It is, however, the first I have read. The series has long been on my list to try, and this book does not disappoint. I was apprehensive about not starting with book 1, but I was able to enjoy this one regardless.

Stephanie Plum, born, raised, and living in and around Trenton, New Jersey, is a bounty hunter. This is not a career she sought out. Rather, the back story is that she fell into it out of financial desperation. Turns out, she is really good at it. Her coworkers - a motley crew of characters feature in every book. Given that she is still in the locale of her childhood, her family and even childhood friends are a part of every book. That particularly insert some humor and caring into the book. Her relationship with her family is sweet and so relatable.

Three men from Stephanie's life feature in this book, and from what I have read, others. Joe Morelli is a police officer and, supposedly, Stephanie's significant other. Ranger is part love interest, part mentor, part mystery man. Diesel Diesel (yes, that is the name) is a Swiss bounty hunter who seems to come in and out of Stephanie's life. There may have been and may still be a romance or not.

Of course, there is a dog - Bob.

The plot of this book is about a group of young hackers who, perhaps, inadvertently intrude into the work of international hacker and criminal Oswald Wednesday (gotta love the names!). He does not take kindly to the hacking, and the hackers are in trouble. Of course, Oswald Wednesday has plans that are considerably more grand and more nefarious. Stephanie and Diesel, for their own different purposes, are on the hunt for Oswald Wednesday. Oswald Wednesday is on the hunt for these hackers, who may have dislodged his plan.

So begins a tale full of chases, near misses, and daring rescues tumbled together with family, friendship, and love. I am not sure if this is the formula for the rest of the books, but, as a first time reader, it works for a fun read. Part of me now wants to go back and read an earlier book is the series and compare. Part of me wants to leave a good enough read alone. I tried the series. I enjoyed it. It's free standing so there is not a need to read more to find out what happens. However, it feels like it is likely a reliable series when you are in the mood for a pick-me-up adventure.

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Cloud Cuckoo Land

  Cloud Cuckoo Land
Author:  Anthony Doerr
Publication Information:  Scribner. 2021. 640 pages.
ISBN:  1982168439 / 978-1982168438

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "A fourteen-year-old girl sits cross-legged on the floor of a circular vault."

Favorite Quote:  "A text - a book - is a resting place for the memories of people who have lived before. A way for the memory to stay fixed after the soul has traveled on ... But books, like people, die too. They die in fires or floods or in the mouther of worms or at the whims of tyrants. If they are not safeguarded, they go out of the world. And when a book goes out of the world, the memory dies a second death."

Dictionaries and other sources have the following definitions of the term cloud cuckoo land:
  • to think that things that are completely impossible might happen, rather than understanding how things really are (Cambridge Dictionary)
  • a realm of fantasy or of whimsical or foolish behavior (Meriam Webster)
  • state of absurdly, over-optimistic fantasy or an unrealistically idealistic state of mind where everything appears to be perfect (Wikipedia)
In words from the book itself, "...And yet. When the stream of the old Greek picks up, and she climbs into the story, as though climbing the wall of the priory on the rock - handhold here, foothold there - the damp chill of the cell dissipates, and the bright, ridiculous world of Author takes its place."

That, in a nutshell, is this book. From 15th century Constantinople to 1940s Idaho to an interstellar spaceship in 2146, this book traverses time and space. At the heart of it all are children, often in impossible situations - a war, a hostage situation, a last hope for survival. In each, the story if about the innocence of children and about their ability to find hope and resilience.

The story is at times absurd, but it is this thread of children growing up and of hope is what ties the book together and leaves a lasting impression. The other thread running throughout is the magic of stories through the ages and the simultaneous power and fragility of stories. "Each sign signifies a sound, and to link sounds is to form words, and to link words is to construct worlds." Stories can provide anchors and wings. They can express our own thoughts often more eloquently than we can. At the same time, stories are so often forgotten and lost.

The title of the book itself is a story within a story. Cloud Cuckoo Land - the story and the place is made up. The supposed author Diogenes was real. However, none of his works are said to have survived. The tie in to the book is clear, emphasizing how easy it is for a story to be lost. The fact that this fictional invention survives through the ages in this book is a testament to the people who protect books and pass stories on down the generations. This book and its survival becomes the thread that pulls the disparate times and places and characters in this book into one cosmic vision.

In many ways, this book reminds me of David Mitchells works Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks - a cast of characters across time and place but with the same themes recurring throughout and a circular approach leaving a cohesive singular message.

For the survival of children, for the survival of books, for a lover letter to the power of stories and those who protect them, this will remain a memorable book for me.

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Storyteller of Casablanca

The Storyteller of Casablanca
  The Storyteller of Casablanca
Author:  Fiona Valpy
Publication Information:  Lake Union Publishing. 2021. 315 pages.
ISBN:  1542032105 / 978-1542032100

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "May McConnaghy perches on the overstuffed chaise in the drawing room and fans herself gently with the little booklet she's brought with her."

Favorite Quote:  "One of the things I learned from the dream seller was that we all need to be able to speak our own truth, to have it heard. Sometimes we can feel there's  no one listening and then we must find other ways to make ourselves heard."

Like The Skylark's Secret by Fiona Valpy, this book tells two stories in two timelines, and one is a story of World War II. The story of the 1940s is that of Josie, a young girl who flees Europe with her family to arrive in Morocco to await passage to the United States. The other story is about seventy years later and of Zoe who comes to Morocco as an expat with secrets and sorrows of her own.

The connection between the two is Josie's diary that Zoe discovers decades laters under the floorboards on the house in which she lives. The diary provides first a distraction from Zoe's own sorrows. It is an escape from Zoe's own reality. Then, as Zoe learns more and more of Josie, it provides healing and hope.

Josie's story is that of a refugee. "Can we really imagine how it must feel to be so afraid of what lies behind you that you are prepared to throw yourself headlong into an unknown that is going to be filled with danger and loneliness? Leaving behind your family and your culture and seeking something better in a land where you are not welcome and you are not understood?"

As with most books using this approach, one story can be more powerful than the other. In this case, it is Josie's story. The telling of the story sometimes gives Josie a voice that does not sound her age, but perhaps that is the things she survived and perhaps it is the tool of a storyteller and dramatic license. For most of the book, Zoe's story is less compelling for the reader has yet to discover what lies at the heart of her sorrow. Josie's story comes with the power of a known history; Zoe's does not.

Along with the stories, the viewpoint on Morocco in two time periods is an interesting one, particularly the role the nation played during World War II - yet another aspect of the war to be explored. It is not as aspect I know much about, and it is not a country I have visited. So, the presentation over time of a place was a fascinating part of the this book.

My biggest stumbling block in this book is that Josie's and Zoe's are only tangentially connected through the diary. In other two time period books, the characters and the stories often link together bringing past and present together for a much stronger impact. There is often a relationship or a tracing of lineage from one time to another, and the story of the past creates a much more direct impact on the present. In this book, the two do come together but the emotion of it is not there for there is no true connection between the characters.

Overall, the history is interesting, and the location is fascinating. However, the emotion of the book is not what I expected.

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

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Beautiful Country

  Beautiful Country: A Memoir
Author:  Qian Julie Wang
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2021. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0385547218 / 978-0385547215
Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "My story starts decades before my birth."

Favorite Quote:  "Secrets. They have so much power, don't they?"

"Whatever happens, say that you were born here, that you’ve always lived here." This is the lesson repeated time and again in Qian Julie Wang's childhood in New York City. What she knows is that she and her parents leave China for a new home in America because they have to. She is seven. Her life in New York becomes the only life she has ever known. It is life of struggle as her parents work in sweatshops, adapt to a new country, a new language, and a new way of life. Within that confine, they seek to provide their daughter an education.

To her, this is the only home she has ever known. She wants to fit in and belong. It is her parents at times who seems restrictive and challenged and different. 

What she does not realize is that her parents and she remain in the United States in the shadows, long after their temporary visas expire. They do no have a legal means of remaining in the country. In China, both parents were professors - one of English, the other of mathematics. Here, they take whatever job they can find simply to survive. This memoir is an adult looking back on this childhood narrative through the eyes of that young girl who does not know any of this and does not understand.

The understanding of the adult is the retrospective at the end of the narrative:
  • "First and foremost, thank you to the members of the undocumented community, and in particular, the Dreamers and DACA recipients. To those whose stories I know and those whose stories I've yet to hear:  your courage and resilience are my inspiration, and I look forward to continuing to learn from you. I am now privileged beyond belief but I will stand with you for as long as you will have me."
  • "And finally to Ba Ba ... and to Ma Ma ... When you had nothing, you somehow managed to give me everything. For that alchemy, no thank you can every be enough."
  • "I like that I could help Ba Ba believe that one day, no one would think we were immigrants, that we really and truly belonged here."
Spoiler alert .... Although not really a spoiler if you read author biographies first. Qian Julie Wang is a Yale law graduate and managing partner in a law firm specializing in education and civil rights. Clearly, she and her family found a way to survive and thrive. My read of this book is not a conversation on the legality or illegality of the immigration. The law is the law, and the decision made were those of adults. 

To me, this is a compelling story about a child who has no hand and no control in those decisions, a child who has no knowledge of that decision, a child whose mother hides an illness for fear of what a doctor's visit will mean for her undocumented family, a child who has no home other than the known streets of New York. What is to become of this undocumented child as she becomes an adult? Where is home? Where does this child belong? What does a parent's decision mean for the life of this child?

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

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Several People are Typing

  Several People are Typing
Author:  Calvin Kasulke
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2021. 256 pages.
ISBN:  0385547226 / 978-0385547222

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "gerald"

Favorite Quote:  "it is just like all the time, everywhere, on here
you can scroll and scroll and it won't stop until you do
we call it ephemera or at least I did, before, I called it ephemera and really that's a mistake, it
cheapens it
we love to say the digital is fleeting like a sunset but these scraps of ourselves we fling into the ether will outlive most of us like the sun"

What would happen if we could view some of our work conversations from a different perspective? What would we say differently? What would we see differently? How would we behave differently?

Slack, an instant messaging programs, originated in 2013 in the context of video game development. The objective was to allow coworkers to establish virtual "workspaces" and collaborate via voice, video, files transmission, and most frequently, text messages. It use and popularity expanded to such an extent that it was acquired by Salesforce in 2021 for almost $28 billion.

Gerald works at a New York public relations firm. Slack is a key tool in his work. There is one key problem. Gerald's essence or consciousness is trapped within the virtual world of Slack. His physical body is still in his work-from-home office, but he is not there.

With this premise begins this book. The title is literal. Slack operates with several people typing along different "channels." Gerald is stuck and want to go home.

The villain of the book is Slackbot. Slack itself wishes to keep Gerald in Slack. It, by turn, deflects, detracts, threatens, and attracts. Slackbot becomes a main character in the book.

Of course, it is possible to read into this book grand statements of human-machine interaction and about self-discovery when one steps out of oneself. Gerald is literally outside of himself. It is also possible to read this book as an amusing view on today's communication styles and the connections and disconnections those styles create.

Reader beware. The entire book is written in Slack messages. Many books have attempted to use a different "language" if you will to tell a story. Texts from Jane Eyre imagines text conversations between characters from modern and classical literature. . The History of the World According to Facebook presents what a record of history might have been if Facebook had always existed, and if everyone and everything posted on Facebook. Ian Doescher's Star Wars series reinterpret the original Star Wars trilogy into a Shakespearean play. This book is different in that it tells an original story in this form. There is no frame of reference or comparison. If that is not for you, this is not the book for you.

Parts of the book are laugh out loud funny. However, even at only 250 pages, it feels long. The novelty of the idea and the writing style only carries so far. The self-discovery does happen but predictably so. Ultimately, the book is memorable for its unique setup and an amusing read.

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Love Songs of W. E. B. DuBois

  The Love Songs of W. E. B. DuBois
Author:  Honoree Fanonne Jeffers
Publication Information:  Harper. 2021. 816 pages.
ISBN:  006294293X / 978-0062942937

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "We are the earth, the land."

Favorite Quote:  "... truth can be both horrible and lovely at the same time."

This book is about growing up and about owning your history - the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. And what a history it is. Let's begin with names.

William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois was the first African American to receive a doctorate degree from Harvard. He was one of the founders of the NAACP. His written works - both prose and poetry - are some of the seminal works of African American literature. In this book, his words are the background and the grounding of Ailey's life.

Alvin Ailey was an artist and an activist. His dance and choreography combines ballet, jazz, and modern dance with the music and language of African American heritage to bring voice to that rich history. In this book, Ailey bears his name.

Pearl is the name of Ailey's grandmother - a strong woman in a line of strong women. She is a foundation of Ailey's life. Ailey bears her name.

Ailey Pearl Garfield is raised in a city in the north, but every summer brings her to the small town of Chicasetta, a fictional place based on the author's mothers' home town in central Georgia. Ailey's family has had a presence in Chicasetta since their ancestors first arrived on this continent as slaves. This dichotomy of Ailey's life - the north and the south, the city and the country - continues as she grows up. As she grows up comes more awareness of the history and secrets of the family. The issues of the racism combines with a much more personal history of familial secrets.

In this, Ailey sets out to discover to Ailey Pearl Garfield is - aside from the weight of her names, aside from a dark family history, aside from the expectations of her history. Perhaps, her journey leads her far away. Perhaps, it leads her back to the very place she starts but this time by choice and decision. "But it's good that you can say how you feel ... And you don't have to tell all the truth if you don't want to. But its important to know what the truth is, even if you only say it to yourself."

At over 800 pages, the book takes the time to develop characters and the story of Ailey Garfield and her family across decades. In that evolution, the book seamlessly embeds the history and culture of the African American diaspora. The story is at the same time deeply personal and historically global.

It is interesting that the family story is not completely about race or about the African American experience. It is about an issue that transcends race, culture, religion and is about the horrible things that people can do to each other. It is challenging to say without a spoiler what the family story is. But it is unfortunately a universal issue that shocks and horrifies me. "There're things that I just can't say out loud. Not now and maybe not ever. I'm tired sometimes. And I'm really, really sad..."

The history that surrounds the family story interests me even more. I have not read much be WEB Du Bois. I feel that this book introduces me to the work and encourages me to explore further.

The fact that this is a debut novel intrigues me even more. Honoree Fanzine Jeffers is a poet who, in this book, has turned to prose and novel. I look forward to seeing what she does next although in interviews, she has stated that she will never write an 800 page epic again.

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

Monday, December 19, 2022

Silent Winds, Dry Seas

  Silent Winds, Dry Seas
Author:  Vinod Busjeet
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2021. 288 pages.
ISBN:  0385547021 / 978-0385547024

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "'Before I married your father, I was engaged to his younger brother Amar,' my mother said."

Favorite Quote:  "A scorpion convinced a frog to let him ride on his back as the latter swam across a river. The scorpion stung the frog before they could reach the other shore. The frog asked the scorpion why he had done something that would drown them both. The scorpion replied that he couldn't help it. It was in his nature."

In the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, approximately 1,100 miles of the coast of Africa lies the island nation of Mauritius, a country of only a about 790 square miles. In its history, Mauritius has been under Portuguese, Dutch, French, British, and independent rule. Ethnically, people of Indian heritage make up the largest proportion of the population.

That fact has its history tied to the history slavery. Slavery was abolished in the 1830s. However,  plantations and factories required labor. This led the import of hundreds of thousands of indentured servants from India to fill the labor shortage.

This is the history that Vishnu Bhushan carries with him as he finds a new life in America. This is the same history that brings him back to Mauritius to visit his ailing father. The visit is a literal and literary trip down memory lane.

The author, Vinod Busjeet, was born in Mauritius. At age 71, this is his debut novel after a long career in development economics. The book began as a memoir. However, as the author states in interviews, fiction allowed for greater liberty in telling his story. The story begins with Mr. Busjeet's own birth in 1949 and goes until Mauritius’s independence, in 1968. A final chapter speaks to life in America. The book is about family, about politics, and about country.

Although the story is based around Vishnu's return to Mauritius as an adult, it is told as very much a linear tale of his childhood in the country. As such it is not as much a coming of age story as a history.

The history is not one I am familiar with. In fact, it is the history that leads me to the book. That, and a debut author. I appreciate the history I learned about a part of the world that perhaps one day I will see but perhaps I never will.

Unfortunately, I struggle with the story itself and find it challenging to engage with the characters. The chapter titles such as A Haircut on the Beach, All the Same Sauce, and Conclave of Goons give little indication of what is to come. Some chapters (about every other) are a couple of pages of free verse.

At one point, the book brings in its own title. "Indeed, the last words Uncle Ram uttered every evening, in a thunderous and imperative voice were 'Hawa baand, samoondar soukarey,' never 'Good night.' ... Those Hindi words mean 'Halt the winds, dry out the seas!'." Yet, the book never goes no to explain the significance, cultural meaning (if any) or connection of those words to the story.

At most times, it feels as if the message of the book is just beyond my grasp, just out of reach. The literary devices for me come in the way of my enjoyment of what should be a compelling story. Unfortunately, I walk away unsatisfied and not the reader for this book.

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

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Yours Cheerfully

  Yours Cheerfully
Author:  AJ Pearce
Publication Information:  Scribner. 2021. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1501170090 / 978-1501170096

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "May I congratulate all married women who are at present doing war work as well as running their own  homes?"

Favorite Quote:  "Find out what you're good at and then get better at it ... if you're really, really lucky, you get to find out what you love to do. And then you should cherish every moment you get to do it."

Dear Mrs. Bird introduces readers to Emmeline Lake and her best friend Bunty during World War II and the blitz on London. This book continues that story towards a different part of the war and a different role for women. 

In Dear Mrs. Bird Emmeline is young and at times innocent and naive. At the same time, her heart is in the right place, and she genuinely cares and tries to help. In this book, Emmeline is little older and perhaps  a little wiser. Her caring and integrity remains the same. "Caring about getting things right is worth its weight in gold."

Dear Mrs. Bird is utlimately a story of friendship and the ability of a true friendship to survive whatever life throws at it. This book is a story of the strength of women particularly when they stand together and raise each other up. "In my view ... there are women who stick up for each other, and women who don't. You're either one or the other. It's as simple as that."

Emmeline is still a journalist and still writing an advice column. In this book, her task expands to write articles to urge women to the war effort. So many of the men are on the front lines, and women are needed to fill in the roles in factories and offices and other arenas where the need has not existed before.

The goal is to write uplifting, motivating missives that encourage more women to get involved. In doing the research, however, Emmeline finds a different reality. Women are encouraged to work. However, work conditions are not such that allow the balance of that work with commitments women still have to the their homes, their children, and their families.

It is the factory owners that have invited Emmeline in. However, the question arises. Does Emmeline write the positive pieces as directed or does she work with these women to bring about change? And how is that change to be accomplished? The factory owners, willing to allow Emmeline access on behalf of the Ministry of Information are not quite so welcoming when Emmeline starts asking the tougher questions. However, she and Bunty persist. "When I was growing up, my mother always said to be nice to the people you like, and nicer to the ones you don't."

While Dear Mrs. Bird is all about friendship, this book expands the focus to be solidarity amongst women.  It is an engaging story and inspiring at the same time. It is also very much the second book in the series. The background of the first one - the blitz, Mrs. Bird, Bunty's history - are an important undermining to this story. Since I know the first story, I cannot fully say how this story would ready without that background. Now, having read both, I look forward to seeing where the author takes this next. 

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

Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Light of Luna Park

  The Light of Luna Park
Author:  Addison Armstrong
Publication Information:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2021.336 pages.
ISBN:  0593328043 / 978-0593328040

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "No baby is happy about being pushed into this world."

Favorite Quote:  "I'm a nurse, Dr. Morrison. It's my job to see the nasty side of things. And then it's my job to make them better."

Luna Park is a seaside amusement park on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. It opened in 1903 on the site of another park that operated from 1894 to 1902. In the 1940s, it was destroyed by fire and later demolished. A new park with the same name exists nearby both as a family destination and a historic marker.

In the United States, one in ten infants is born prematurely.

What, you might ask, does an amusement park have to do with preemie babies? Historically, it does.

In its heyday, the park featured rides and many sideshow "attractions" common to amusement destinations at the time. The "attractions" at one time included premature babies given a chance at life using incubators. Incubators for human use were invented in France by a physician named St├ęphane Tarnier after he saw them used at a zoo! Many medical professionals at the time did not invest or research the care of premature babies as the care was thought expensive and the chance of success very slim. Another French physician named Pierre Budin brought the incubators to the 1896 World's Fair.

Martin Couney saw the "display" of babies and made the leap to a sideshow attraction. Sad to turn a family's turmoil into a sideshow or ideological to demonstrate the success of something the medical profession did not deem feasible? Probably both. An ethical conundrum.

People, Couney felt, would pay to see these infants in incubators. At the same time, infants needs the care could be helped. He brought the incubators to Coney Island, hired nurses to care for the infants, and set up the show. The "attraction" provided care the hospitals would or could not. By the 1940s, hospital began to use incubators in care. Perhaps because of the this and perhaps because of the fire of Luna Park, this attraction closed never to reopen.

This is the fascinating history behind The Light of Luna Park. Althea Anderson is a nurse at Bellevue Hospital. She sees baby after baby die. The doctors refuse to consider the facility at Luna Park as a medical solution. One day, Althea takes matters into her own hands. A baby "dies" at Bellevue but ends up at Luna Park. Another mother loses a child, and Althea becomes a mother.

Years later, Stella Wright is at a crossroads in her life. The discovery of a letter leads her to this history and her own past.

This debut novel from Addison Armstrong pulls in history, family turmoil, and parenthood. It pulls in the emotional journey of discovering that everything we know of ourselves may not be true. It pulls in the ethical dilemmas of the preemies dying in the hospitals and of a nurse and the decision she makes to save a life. A compelling first book. I look forward to reading more from Addison Armstrong.

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Maiden Voyages

  Maiden Voyages: Magnificent Ocean Liners and the Women Who Traveled and Worked Aboard Them
Author:  Sian Evans
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2021. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1250246466 / 978-1250246462

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In 1908, at the age of twenty-one, Violet Jessop embarked upon her maiden voyage as a stewardess on the Orinoco, a steamer sailing to and from the West Indies carrying mail, cargo and passengers."

Favorite Quote:  "But for the women on board the ocean liner, the great ship offers hope, opportunity, romance. Whether they are travelling for leisure or pleasure, by virtue of their celebrity or to preserve their anonymity, as matrons, migrants or millionairesses, as passengers or staff, the journey they undertake will change their lives for ever."

This book is a fascinating view on history as it traverses the early twentieth century through a set of lenses superimposed upon each other. Women - from the well known to the otherwise lost in history. Transatlantic travels after a world war. Ocean liners - ships that during the long transatlantic trip created self-contained world on themselves.

The book is an anecdotal history, presenting a lot of history, a lot of facts about the ocean liners and about  the woman featured in each chapter. The stories of the women are as different as the women themselves and provide a vision on economics, politics, immigration, gender roles, and so many other aspects of society. "Maiden Voyages is a celebration of the diverse journeys made by a number of intrepid heroines, drawn from many countries and different classes."

As with any book of this nature, some women's stories prove more engaging and memorable than others.  There is the story of women who survived the voyage of the Titanic. There is the story of the dancer and singer from the American South who made Paris her home. There is the story of the woman who served as a ship's engineer during World War II. There is the story of the Olympic champion turned coach turned hostess. There is the woman who lost her sister in the sinking of the Lusitania. There is the immigrant who sought to find the American dream by scraping together enough money for a one-way third-class ticket.

Each story stands somewhat independently of each other. As such, there were points I vested in the story of the woman more than the history but that does not develop fully given the focus and structure of the book. I find myself ending sections wanting to follow the woman and find out what happens next in her story. Since the focus

At almost 400 pages, this book provides a lot of details, some of which, for me, was not needed for the impact of the book. It is nevertheless an interesting and unique look into history. At the end of the day, I respond to the story of strong women rising to the challenges facing them, overcoming obstacles, and breaking barriers. That is a lesson for all of us, and finding inspiration is that is my takeaway from this book. The fact that this book presents that message through women of different social standings, different circumstances, and different cultures is both the diversity and unifying force of this book.

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

Friday, December 9, 2022

Where the Truth Lies

  Where the Truth Lies
Author:  Anna Bailey
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2021. 384 pages.
ISBN:  198215716X / 978-1982157166

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The roar of the bonfire is hard to distinguish from the sound of the trailer-park boys and the schoolgirls who holler and dance in the shadow of the Tall Bones"

Favorite Quote:  "Guilt is a hard body to bury, no matter how many times you might claim God forgives you. You let some things fester long enough, they grow teeth and claws and crawl their way back to the surface again."

Reader beware:  This book features themes of physical and emotional abuse as well as violence, drinking, drugs, and more. It is dark!

This book was also published under the title Tall Bones

In the beauty of the Colorado Rocky Mountains lies the small town of Whistling Ridge. In this small town lies hate, discrimination, abuse, and murder. The darkness belies the beautiful setting.

A young girl disappears without a trace. The book deals with what happens next and also goes back to the events of the past that lead to the disappearance. The past and the present come together to provide the answer of what happens to Abigail.

Amongst the characters are Abigail's family - father Samuel, mother Dolly, older brother Noah, and younger brother Jude. The family covers up secrets of its own - secrets that are not quite as secret as they think for evidence of abuse is everywhere. Fear keeps them pretending otherwise. The town knows and does nothing.

Then, there is Emma, Abigail's best friend. Emma's ethnic heritage makes her stand out in this community. It also makes her the target of prejudice and hate. Abigail's disappearance adds guilt to that burden for Emma was perhaps the last person to see Abigail, and she left Abigail against her better judgement. The town knows and propagates the hate.

Finally, there is Rat, a young man who is yet another outsider in this community. As someone different, he too is the target of prejudice and of suspicion. Again, the town knows and feeds into the hate.

The darkness of this book is embedded into the characters themselves. "I know we've all got that fantasy of telling the people who hurt us just how much it hurt, but most of the time they're not even sorry, and then what? You're just going to be pissed off for the rest of your life?"

Each character seems to also accentuate a certain stereotype rather than develop into a multi-dimensional individual. It also appears that the book expands unnecessarily to include every trigger stereotypes. As such, the story does not develop for me. The impact scatters, and even the victims in the book end up not relatable or likable. In a world becoming more and more polarized along stereotypes, a book that pulls on the ideas creating that divide, for me, is a challenge to get through.

The plot is also more about the emotional ramifications of what led to Abigail's disappearance and of the ripples and seismic changes that disappearance results in. It is less about "thriller." This is a depressing and dark story, and it is nothing of what I expect from the title or the description. I walk away, completely not the reader for this book.

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

Monday, October 31, 2022


Author:  Alex McElroy
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2021. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1982158301 / 978-1982158309

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The men were outside my building."

Favorite Quote:  "Just because you're not sick ... doesn't mean you couldn't be healthier."

Two childhood friends - Sasha and Dyson - open a camp. Read into that - form a cult. The name is The Atmosphere. The members are men. The purpose is to rid the men of their toxic masculinity - define that how you will! "We'll call it The Atmosphere ... The men will be Atmospherics. It's a film term. Another word for extras:  people who provide the atmosphere and stand in the background. What better aspiration for men? To cede power, the spotlight, to let others speak, let the action continue without them."

The book gets more specific. This is about not all men but rather about white men in particular. "Over the past year, more and more me - always white men - had been hording together unprompted to perform mundane social activities. There was no way of telling how a man horde would act once it formed." I find that specificity not needed and shifts the focus to a racial issue rather than the patriarchy that many may understand.

Why? The purpose is entirely self-serving. Dyson is a failed actor. Sasha achieved success as an internet personality specializing in wellness for women. Unfortunately, responsibility for the tragic outcome of an online interaction is laid at Sasha's door. She stands to lose everything. This venture becomes an escape and a way to perhaps salvage her reputation. So, the clearly self-focused goal belies the altruistic purpose of reforming men and society. It make the whole idea harder to buy into.

The ideas of internet influencers, troll, masculine toxicity, and retreats to relearn are clearly picked from today's headlines. There are some truths to be found in this premise. I wanted to like this book for those truths, particularly the influence of social media on so many.

Based on the description, it is intended as satire. For me, the key to satire is the ability to interject enough reality so as to be recognizable and perhaps even relatable. Unfortunately, for me, the book chooses to highlight items in a direction that I find not helpful. Focusing on a gender and a race highlights divides and promotes the extensions of damaging stereotype. In the current divisive and divided atmosphere of our nation, it is, for me, not funny. Clearly, my sense of humor and that of this book lie in two different directions.

Unfortunately, I find neither the characters nor the story engaging.  Likable characters are not a necessity to a great read. However, engaging characters and/or an engaging plot are. Unfortunately, for me, this book holds neither. Having read the entire book, I do not feel like I understand Dyson or Sasha or really care about their outcome. As far as the plot, the book focuses more on the characters and on building the world of the The Atmosphere. It is challenging to follow what happens or why even up until the very end.

Sadly, I find myself walking away from the book, clearly not the reader for it.

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

Sunday, October 30, 2022

The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives

  The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives
Author:  Kristin Miller
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2021. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1524799521 / 978-1524799526

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Pain is the first thing I remember."

Favorite Quote:  "If you're going to be two-faced, at least make sure one of them is pretty."

A small gated community of the rich and famous in the hills of San Francisco is home to the trophy wives.  Brooke Davies is the newest wife to join this community. She is a mystery writer married to a man 22 years her senior. She lives in a world of mansions and private jets for her husband Jack is that kind of rich. Erin Kent is a news anchor married to a plastic surgeon and is on a quest to keep her marriage. Georgia St. Clare is the Black Widow, for she has outlived two husbands and is now on number three. Although nothing was ever proved, many believe that she had a hand in the deaths of her first two husbands.

These are the secrets these three women come to know about each other. As you might suspect, there are many more they choose not to share. The fact that the book tells the story from the perspective of these women causes some of their secrets to be slowly revealed and in a way that they come forth to the reader before being revealed to the other characters. That is fun in allowing the reader to be a voyeur to this situation and to watch the drama  unfold.

This book is unbelievable - the plot and the characters. There are no consequences for the abuse and the murders that takes place in this book. From the ending of the book, it is clear that there are not likely to be any consequences. In a serious book, I might wish for some balance. However, this story is so over the top that it is possible to completely let go of reality and go along for what proves to be a fun almost comical ride. I don't know that this is the intent of the book, but it works for me. 

The ending is a twist that I, for one, do not see coming. Again, in a book I might follow as a serious story, I might not excuse all the things that happen. In this one, it is one more convoluted twist that makes up the farce of this book.

Although I have never watched a Desperate/Real Housewives show (nor do I think I ever could), I imagine this book creates the same environment. After having read it, I am wondering what led me to choose to read it. A Desperate/Real Housewives vibe is definitely not my TV or reading genre of choice. I suppose I expected a book that developed some depth into the characters and the relationships - marriage and friendship. This completely does not but ends up an entertaining, fast-paced ride to follow.

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A Woman of Intelligence

  A Woman of Intelligence
Author:  Karin Tanabe
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2021. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1250231507 / 978-1250231505

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Only one word cut through the noise of a New York afternoon."

Favorite Quote:  "In my world, anything that isn't impossible is possible."

Katharina Edgeworth is an unhappy wife and mother. She is married to a rich, successful physician and is a mother. She is educated and multi-lingual. Prior to her marriage, she worked as a translator for the United Nations. After marriage and motherhood, she leaves that behind. It is the 1950s, and her role as a wife, mother, and housewife superimpose themselves on all else that she is. Is it a sign of the time and place? Does she allow it to happen?

She loves her husband. She loves her children. At the same time, she feels trapped and stagnating. "I think the problem is that I'm not happy. So I'm not happily married." That is a powerful emotion and one, perhaps, that people can relate to. Choosing a path - even one you love - can at times trigger a longing for the path not taken. Unfortunately, with this character, the focus is so completely on this regret that the character ends up appearing completely self-absorbed and not likable. She appears to dwell completely in her unhappiness.

Another unfortunate aspect of the book is that the other characters, to me, are just as one dimensional. The husband is a handsome, successful physician wrapped up in his career. The in-laws are unsympathetic. Even the child embodies the essence of a tantrum-throwing toddler who needs discipline and boundaries which are not forthcoming. Another character introduces the conversation of an interracial relationship, but that thread never develops any depth either.

The plot of the book is that, all of a sudden, a man from her past enters the picture and she finds herself recruited for the FBI! Unfortunately, the way in which this happens and the speed in which this happens is, for me, unbelievable and does not ring true. Katharina is instantly willing to put her family at risk - a risk to life that a government operative may face and a risk to life that rekindling an old romance may engender. That does not seem the mark of a woman of intelligence. The fact that the FBI would recruit someone off the street and immediately put them in a high risk situation rings completely false.

That aspect of the plot also becomes complicated with many characters and connections and events that take a while to untangle and become clear. Despite its billing as a thriller, this book is a very slow read.

I appreciate the question around which this book is based. What compromise does a woman make between  independence and a career and home and family? The reality is that the discussion continues even today and definitely more so in the context of women than men. Despite the progress made, this decision arises and is faced time and again. Everyone hopefully finds an answer that works for them. It is nevertheless a decision, and there is nevertheless a path not taken.

Although the character and story was not for me, this conversation is what I take away from this book.

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

Monday, October 3, 2022

The Personal Librarian

  The Personal Librarian
Author:  Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2021. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0593101537 / 978-0593101537

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The Old North bell tolls the hour, and I realize I'll be late."

Favorite Quote:  ".. all I've ever wanted for my children was the opportunity soar, no matter their heritage, and to live a life of meaning. That has been my fight. But in our current society with our current laws, it's enough that you succeed, that you are able to follow your passion in your work, that you leave a legacy that will benefit the multitudes - one day, even the colored multitudes."

This book does what I love best about historical fiction. It introduces me to a history I might never otherwise have learned. It tells a story that keeps me turning pages beginning to end. It sends me on a search for the actual history that underlies the fiction.

Recently, I had an opportunity to visit the Morgan Library in New York City. It is like discovering a secret treasure trove. Currently, it is a museum and research library. It began in 1890 as a private library of Pierpont Morgan and was build adjustment to his New York home. It was not until 1924, eleven years after Pierpont Morgan's death, that the library was opened as a public institution by his son, JP Morgan Jr.

On the Morgan Library website under the "about" section appears a name - Belle de Costa Greene. She served the Morgan Library for forty three years. She was first recruited by Pierpont Morgan as his personal library. After his death, she remained on in that role as the library transitioned to JP Morgan. She also served as the first director as the library transitioned into a public institution. She was instrumental in amassing the collection, transitioning it into a public resource, and building around it programs that continue to this day.

This book is the story of Belle De Costa Greene. Her career achievements as a woman at that point in history are an amazing enough story. What is even more amazing is the personal story of the woman. Belle De Costa Greene was born Belle Marion Greener. She was the daughter of the first Black graduate of Harvard College. Her father was an educator and an activist for racial justice. When her parents separated. Belle's mother moved the children to New York and changed their surname to Greene. She described their heritage as Portuguese and lived as white in what was a racist and segregated society.

It was perhaps this fact that allowed Belle to get the job she did. Yet, this dichotomy in her life was always a challenge in so many ways. There was always the obvious fear of being found out. There was the separation from family for what purpose would a white, Portuguese family from New York have in getting together with an African American family from Washington DC. Beyond, there was the constant struggle of denying a part of who she was. "I realized that to achieve one dream, you had to forsake your core identify. Changing your name is easy. Changing your soul is impossible."

Yet she did - for her entire life leaving an unmatched legacy. "One day, Belle, we will be able to reach back through the decades and claim you as one of our own. Your accomplishments will be part of history, they'll show doubtful while people what colored can do. Until that time, live your life proudly."

This is the story of this book, beautifully told and beautifully rendered. I am so glad this fiction told an engaging story and even more led me to this amazing history.

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