Books I am reading

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I Am Sophie Tucker

     I received an advanced copy of this novel through NetGalley, in exchange for a review. This is my personal opinion.

     Susan & Lloyd Ecker have created an interesting, lush story of the life and times of Sophie Tucker. She is an icon of Vaudeville entertainment and the proverbial rags to riches story. She came to America as a young child, and her parents worked night and day to provide for her and her siblings. My favorite part of the story was her tour of Europe with her third husband, Al Lackey. She retraced the journey her parents took from the Ukraine to Connecticut, and I felt it was the most authentic she ever allowed herself to be publicly.

     I have very mixed feeling about the book. It was always interesting and compelling and very well written. I have used several of Ms. Tucker's songs in my work as a music therapist with geriatric clients. So I had a vague sense of Sophie, but I really didn't like her when I got to know her better through this book. I found her to be so rude, pushy, abusive and crude. She is not someone I would ever waste time getting to know.  But it was fun and interesting reading about her. I love the history of vaudeville, and enjoyed the inside look provided through Sophie's eyes.

     I am curious about the revelations at the end of the book. I don't want to share them and ruin it for others, but I am very curious about how true they are. They do shed a kinder and more ruthless light on Sophie.

     If you love showbiz stories, you will love this book. 

Saving Paradise

     I recieved this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for a review of the book. This review is completely my own opinion.
     Pono Hawkins, an Afghan vet-turned-surfer, literally bumps into the dead body of a beautiful journalist, Sylvia Gordon, and, he becomes obsessed with finding out why she died and who killed her. He searches Hawaii for her friends and finds out what story she was working on. His quest drags him into the underbelly of paradise. Bond writes a scathing story of government and company corruption and a total cover-up of the journalist's murder.
     Sylvia has been following the trail of corruption from the Governor's Office to Hawaii's Electric Utility to Hong Kong businessmen who want to build casinos and subdivisions to land companies that control large parts of Hawaii. A company called Wind Power wants to build huge wind farms on Molokai and lay underground cables through coral reefs and habitats of endangered species. All of it will destroy much of Hawaii's paradise, but the powers that be want the money more. Pono won't give up and keeps digging, to the point where the police have to admit that Sylvia was murdered. But then the tables are turned on Pono and he has to go on the run when the police accuse him of the murder. Except for his best friend, Mitchell, he never knows who he can trust, and each interaction is laced with the possibility of being turned over to the police.
     This story has more twists and turns, false starts and red herrings than a corn maze. The depth of corruption portrayed is disturbing, both in it's success and in it's propensity to ring true. I found my paranoia level triggered to a record high. If you want to be scared and to think over what happens behind the scenes, this book is for you. Pono is someone to whom I might not be able to relate, but I cheer him on in his stubborn determination to uncover the truth and expose the corruption. Four Stars for a good thrill ride.

Friday, October 24, 2014

It all started when Angela had a really bad day ...

     I received this book through NetGalley in exchange for reviewing it. This review reflects only my personal opinions.

The Gillespies live on a sheep station in the wilds of the Australian outback. Life has been pretty good for this family of Angela and Nick, and their four children, 30-something twins Genevieve and Victoria, 20-something Lindy, and 9 year old son, Iggy. Picture perfect, right?

Every year, Angela writes a bubbly Christmas letter, always framing family activities in a positive light. But this year things have not been going to well. The girls are each struggling with their careers and Iggy's imaginary friend has returned. Angela is concerned about whether or not her husband still loves her, and Nick is depressed about losing all his sheep during the drought and selling mineral rights to a drilling company. As Angela sits down to write this year's letter, she just can't muster the bubbles, and spews out all the pain and frustration she has been feeling but not admitting to herself. As she is about to delete it, Lindy starts screaming in the kitchen. Angela races out of the office only to find Iggy covered in blood holding his hand and his index finger on the floor.

After a rush to the local hospital and a helicopter ride to the big city hospital, Iggy's finger is reattached in a long surgery. Angela stays at the hospital with Iggy. 

Nick goes into the office and sees the Christmas letter border on the computer screen and decides to help out Angela, and sends the letter to her Christmas letter group.

With all the holiday hullabaloo, and the twins returning home for an extended stay, the letter is forgotten. As one by one. each person begins to realize the letter is causing unusual responses from friends and family, chaos ensues.

It is a story of what it means to be family, and how important it is to communicate, and how some of our worst quirks can be the flip side of our greatest gifts. It is a great holiday read. It is an interesting look at life in the outback. And it is a lesson in moving from chaos to even keel. I will definitely be looking for other books by Monica McInerney.

A Book to Lift Your Spirit and Fill Your Soul

     I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley. My review is strictly my own opinion.

This is a book of beautiful sunrises ans sunsets paired with inspirational quotes. The photography is quite beautiful and the quotes are uplifting and thought-provoking. This is not a book to breeze straight through, but to pick up in those moments of contemplation and feed your soul.

This would make a lovely gift for the holidays, or for someone needing support, or for someone who loves beauty: almost anyone.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Gifts of Christmas

 I have received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for writing a review. This is my personal and true opinion of this book.

All of the Ballad books must be read with a suspension of disbelief. There are hints at spirits present, miracles done, and knowledge known.

Christmas Past is a novella that weaves two separate but related stories from the mountains of North Carolina. 

When the house next to Nora Bonesteel is purchased after years of being empty, many memories of Nora's youth are stirred, the new owners experience some difficult to explain episodes, and Nora communicates with her memories to find a solution to ending the upsetting episodes.

At the same time, on Christmas Eve, Sheriff Spencer Arrowwood and Deputy Joe LeDonne are assigned the unpleasant job of issuing a warrant on a gentleman who lives far into the mountains on a night when snow is closing in.

If you enjoy Appalachian life, a bit of magic and good-feelings in your Christmas stories, this book is for you. Each of the Ballad books are fascinating and can be read independently. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Film Noir Mystery set in Quebec

I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley in return for writing a review. This is my true and personal opinion.

 This is currently on sale for $3.99.

Pray for Us Sinners by Peter S Fischer, in #7 in the Hollywood Murder Mysteries. I had not read any of the earlier book, but had no difficulty in understanding the story. The Hollywood Murder Mysteries is for the late 40's and 50's What The Toby Peters Mysteries by Stuart Kaminsky was for the early 40's. Brushes with Hollywood stars, period pieces, with a film noir vibe.

The protagonist in the Hollywood Murder Mysteries is Joe Bernardi, a press publicist for Warner Brothers studios. In Pray For Us Sinners, he is in Quebec overseeing the publicity needs for the production of the movie, "I Confess" starring Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, and Karl Malden, and, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. While having dinner with the beautiful Jeanne d’Arcy with the Quebec Province Film Commission, assigned to assist Joe in his publicist work for the film. A gentleman the Joe does not know approaches the table, obviously drunk, and begins to argue then yell with Miss d'Arcy. The argument is in French and Joe does not speak French, but he gets the feeling that there is more to this relationship than Jeanne is sharing. The next morning, the gentleman is found dead and all the evidence points to Jeanne. Being the eager, caring guy that he is, Joe becomes embroiled in finding the real killer and clearing Jeanne of the charges.

There are behind the scenes info on the filming of the movie, the relationships of the stars with Hitch and with each other (Clift is a "method" actor and Hitch just wants the actors to follow his orders), the world of broad sheet publishing, the back scene production office, etc. Mr Fischer is very gifted in setting a mood, developing realistic interactions, and creating interesting, multi-layered characters. this is a fun, interesting read, and I intend to get started reading the entire series. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Lost Legacy: A Tale of Murder, mystery and self-discovery

I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for my review. This is my personal and true opinion.

Lost Legacy by Annette Dashofy is a second novel in the Zoe Chambers series. I have not read the first book and did not feel I was handicapped in understanding the story in any way. As a paramedic, Zoe responds to a call at a local farm. There she and her partner discover a farmer hanging from a beam in the barn. What at first appears to be a suicide is soon questioned as a possible homicide. Zoe remembers that some 40+ years ago another body had been found in this barn, part of a murder/suicide of two brothers. With a link to her family, she tries to ask her mother and step-father what they remember of the incident. Their side-stepping and irritability when questioned, leads Zoe to question what else is going on. A note left by the dead farmer, opens the possibility that her own father, killed in a car crash 20+ years earlier, may still be alive. With all these open questions, Zoe is on the hunt for the truth about all these events, and, an understanding of how they are related.

As Zoe searches deeper and deeper, Police Chief Pete Adams, struggles with his personal feelings for Zoe, and his fear that the truth will bring more pain and disappointment for Zoe. After two more citizens are killed, they realize that the killer is still at work. Zoe has a difficult relationship with her mother, and as Zoe begins to question what role her mother and/or step-father may have played in this tangled web, their relationship only deteriorates more.

This is an excellent book, with well sculpted characters, and complicated, gripping plot, and an assortment of small town characters that provide some comic relief. An excellent novel! I will definitely be waiting for the next book in the series!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Fives and Twenty-Fives

I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley in return for writing a review. This is my true and personal opinion.

This book will be published on Aug 26, and, with the current events in Iraq, could not have come at a more opportune time. The author, Michael Pitre, served two combat tours in Iraq, and while the story is not autobiographical, it has been enriched by his first hand experience.

This is the story of a Marine platoon assigned to fill potholes, usually created by IEDs that have exploded. But before they can begin their road work, they must first make sure there are no additional bombs in the area or in the hole. Everyday brings tension, and gut-ripping fear. Each person in the unit handles the pressure in their own way.

Told in flashbacks intermingled with current problems adjusting to being back in the States, this gripping story kept me on the edge of my seat for 4 days as I read. I cannot imagine the psychological, physical and spiritual toll this kind of terror must wreck on the soldiers who are in country for 12-18 months at a time. Watching friends explode in front of you, or be shot by snipers as you work to make the road safe for future transit. The mundane silliness of friends when you return home, who have no idea what you have seen and experienced while you were gone. 

There is also a gut-wrenching story of the unit's interpreter, Dodge. What happened to his family when Iraq was invaded by the US, how he survived and eventually came to be an interpreter, and what transpired when the unit returned to the states.

If you want to better understand what has happened in Iraq, this is a must read. Well told with terrorizing action, poignant moments of humanity, and gallows humor, Fives and Twenty-Fives is a record of a war no one wanted, and even fewer understand.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Matter of Mercy by Lynne Hugo

I received a free copy of this book by NetGalley in exchange for writing a public review. This is my personal and truthful opinion of this book.

This is a mystery that takes place on Cape Cod and focuses on the aquaculturists that "farm" the shallows for shellfish. As a big fan of Philip R Craig's Vineyard Mystery Series, I decided to give this a try.

Mercy explores the lives of two people who grew up on the island, their intertwined stories as a storm throws them together with long-term consequences.

Caroline Marcum has returned to the island to care for her dying mother. Ridley Neal is a former high school acquaintance who works a grant that is in front of Caroline's home. A wealthy "weekender" has filed a lawsuit against Rid and two of his fellow aquaculturists for use of their grants, claiming he owns the land and they interfere with his view.

Land rights, traditional vrs progressive land rights, death and dying,  shell fishing, and love all play a part in this touching and at times scary story of life and love on Cape Cod. The fact that it is based on a true story, make it all the more compelling.

A well-written novel that digs deep into your emotions and the circumstances of life fore Caroline and Rid. I highly recommend this book.

The Competition by Marcia Clark: A "keep-you-guess-until-the-very-end" book

I received a free e-book copy from NetGalley in exchange for a review of the book. This review is my free and honest opinion.

This is the fourth book in the Rachael Knight series. I had not read any of the previous books, but I plan to now. I admit, I didn't read any of Marcia Clark's books because I thought she had done a very poor job of handling the OJ case. But her writing skills are very good, and she uses her legal knowledge to create excellent stories! I am now a fan.

Rachael Knight is an LA special trials prosecutor. She teams with her best friend, Bailey Keller, an LAPD detective, when a Columbine-style shooting takes place at a high school in a San Fernando Valley. This is a study in stereotyping, troubled youth, and what makes kids kill.

Very quickly Rachael and Bailey believe they have the suspects. In their search for them, and for hard evidence, things do not add up. Just when I thought they finally had a handle on the case, another twist would rear it's ugly head.

I could not put the book down. This is a great team of tough, intelligent women who struggle through trying to have close relationships, a fulfilling life, and a harder than nails career. If you like police and legal procedurals, you will love The Competition.

The Summer Wind: A great read for the last days of summer

I received this book as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for agreeing to write a review. This is my true and honest opinion.

The Summer Wind (A Lowcountry Summer, Book 2)
By Mary Alice Monroe

I did not read Book 1 in this series, and while I am sure it would have added greater understanding if I had, I enjoyed this as a stand alone book.

This is a story of the family matriarch, steeped in Southern history and tradition, her life-long servant turned personal friend, and the matriarch's three granddaughters. Mamaw has brought the three half-sisters together to help them renew their childhood friendship. Mamaw is planning to sell the family home, but wants this one last chance to strengthen the bonds of these young women. 

Dora has fled a crumbling marriage with her young son, diagnosed with autism. Carson has returned from Florida in order to sort through her life and make decisions about her future. Harper has returned from New York, trying to decide if high-flying corporate life is what she want for her life.

During all this inner searching, there are new and renewed friendships to consider, Lucille has a health scare, Marietta (Mamaw) is reminiscing over the years spent on Sullivan's Island and hoping her plan to draw the three sisters together doesn't backfire.

This is a very enjoyable summer read, fairly light and easy, but with some interesting elements on what abuse is, how to interact with special needs children, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and race relations on a small southern island.

I highly recommend this and will definitely be reading Book 3 when it is published. I give this 4 stars out of 5.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

They Are Not Me

We Are Not Ourselves is a first novel by Matthew Thomas. I have such mixed feeling about it that I give it 3 stars. It deserves 5 stars for being well written, unrelenting and strong. For me personally, I would give it 1 or 2 stars for being slow moving and incredibly depressing. This book is the story of Eileen Leary who grew up in Queens NY to immigrant Irish parents. She is left yo raise herself due to alcoholic parents who are so depressed themselves that they have little time or attention left for Eileen. So she weaves dreams of living a better life. To her this means living in a better neighborhood, having an ambitious, upwardly mobile husband, and the perfect home.Of course, real life does not unfold kindly for Eileen. The book progresses painstakingly slowly through the rest of her life as she continues to strive for her dream at all costs, and her struggle to reconcile reality.The plot moves so slowly, it reminds me of literature from a long-ago era. At times it felt as though I was watching paint dry. But the characters were so clearly portrayed that I continued because I kept hoping they would find a way to bring hope, peace and happiness to their lives.It is a vividly conceive saga of the life of many people in the Boomer generation. It also made me so grateful that I was raised and chose to live with a heart for others and not just be consumed by my own existance.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Debut of the Potting Shed Mysteries

The Garden Plot: If you like mysteries, gardening, England, romance and amatuer slueths, this book is for you. Written by Marty Wingate, she brings her vast experience of gardening, traveling and writing, into her first foray into mystery writing.
Pru Parker is a bi-national English-American gardener, raised in Texas and recently replanted to England. Her mother has recently died (the English half of her parents), and Pru has always wanted to live in England. She has given herself a year to find a full-time head-gardener job in England or return to her job in Texas.
Her year is winding down with no full-time prospect, when she is hired to beat back an over-grown garden in two days, in time for a garden party. Pru uncovers a small shed in the back corner of the garden, and a floor with a beautiful mosaic, looking similar to Roman tiles discovered all over the country. Has she discovered another Roman villa or garden deeply buried. Instead, she falls over a dead body, and the game is afoot.
Pru meets Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pierce. In her personal curiosity to understand what happened, she keeps crossing paths with the inspector to his alternating annoyance, amusement and concern.
This is an engaging first novel. The details of the historic gardens of England was fascinating. Pru's personal back-story was complicated but interesting. Pru was pretty naive for a 50's something woman, and occasionally acted in very stupid ways. But the overall story was interesting, filled with fun, quirky and sometimes crazy characters, beautiful surroundings, and a touch of romance. I suspect with all of Ms Wingate's gardening and writing experience, this series will grow with experience. I give it 4 stars out of five!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Unrelenting Sadness and Deprivation

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt is a memoir of Frank's childhood in NYC and Limerick, Ireland. It is very well written, drawing you into his life in vivid detail. It was as if I was watching a movie, not reading, seeing each setting, each person in amazing detail. It makes me want to read about what happened in his life when he returned to America as a young man.
     McCourt's story is an almost stereotypical description of the Irish drunk father, the long-suffering mother, one child born after another, with survival being a miracle, an exception to the rule. The horrible living conditions, the relentless hunger, the eventual turn to stealing for survival all contribute to a picture of a life of barely surviving. In these conditions, Frank attended school, contended with bullying, with mean-spirited adults in his life who unrelentingly told him in every way that he was no good, not worth keeping alive, a sinner doomed to hell. The few adults who were kind or encouraging shone like a beacon in the never-ending grayness of his existence.
     It is a miracle that Frank survived. I am so curious how he became a writer. Was there further education? What work did he initially find when he returned to America. My next book is Tis by Frank McCourt, the story of his early years in America.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review, Book Review, Book Review

I am catching up on 3 books I have read in the last 6 weeks, for which I have not yet written reviews. Hold on to your seat-belt. These are all review copies from NetGalley. I have received no payment beyond the free book.

Number One: The Future of the MindThe Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind. by Michio Kaku, a physicist who is interested in the mind, and a knack for describing complex concepts in simple, basic terms. I give this a 4 star rating. I refrain from a 5 star because it is simply so beyond my ability to fully evaluate that I really can't tell if it deserves 5 stars.
     I have a very minimal science background, so I struggled at times to wrap my mind around Kaku's explanations of how the brain, machines and/or manipulations of the brain happen/work. I felt I was reading a critique of SciFi concepts of the past that have now come true, and, SciFi concepts of the present that are beginning to come true.     I am a counselor by training and experience, so I am very interested in how the mind works. Kaku's explorations into the functioning of a brain with schizophrenia,  how memories can be erased, healed or implanted, and ways in which the MRI has so vastly expanded how we understand the brain caused my mind to swirl with SF concepts from the past, now coming true.
     I found the concepts to be very dense: I had to read slowly to grasp the concept being presented, but I felt it was well worth the effort. I will probably never fully understand what Kaku shared, but I am abuzz with the hope and possibilities of what we can understand, repair and enhance in the realm of brain functioning.
     I appreciated the fact that Dr. Kaku addressed some of the ethically questions being raised now and will be raised in the future. I kept thinking that "if the bad guys get ahold of this stuff we will be doomed". I had flashes of James Bond movies flashing through my mind.
     If you are interested in the functioning of the brain, research in how to enhance our brain function, and theories about what causes certain problems with the brain, this book is for you. It is written in plain English and technical concepts are explained very well. And discussions on what it all means for the future of human kind is very thought-provoking.

Number Two: The Here and Now by Anne Brashares. This is a SciFi story, a romantic story, a mystery and a lesson in ecological disaster. Prenna and her mother belong to a strict community of immigrants where the rules are stringent and harshly enforced. 
     When Prenna first arrived, a young boy, Ethan, sees her, disoriented and confused. Several years later they are in high school together, but she has no memory of having met him. He does remember, and he becomes interested in finding out more about her. He tries to befriend her, and Prenna is torn. She wants to get to know people in her community and she is very drawn to Ethan, but The Rules strictly forbid it.
    Saying more would spoil it for those who read it, but it is an excellent story, creatively composed, interesting characters, with unexpected twists and turns. It is also a treatise on the consequences of not caring for our planet. I highly recommend this book.

Number Three: Far Gone by Laura Griffin 
     This story is a fast-paced race against time. Detective Andrea Fitch is determined to find out what her brother has gotten himself involved in, and FBI Agent Jon North is determined to find out her brother's contribution to a terrorist ring. As many romance stories go, Andrea and Jon fight and blunder until the sexual tension drives them into bed, against their better judgement. 
    The plot is timely, believable and intriguing, but Detective Fitch drove me crazy with one impulsive, self-destructive move after another. Ms Griffin was a bit too repetitive for my taste, making the same point several times to make sure the reader "got it". I am used to mysteries and suspense, and Ms Griffin is known for romance novels, so that may account to the stylistic dislike on my part. I prefer more egalitarian relationships than the head-strong impulsive woman being saved by the handsome FBI agent.

Well, here are some ideas for summer reading. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Local Customs by Audrey Thomas

Local Customs is a story set in the 1830's and is based on true events. 

Letitia Landon is a lady of limited means who has turned her love of writing into a way of supporting her family, gaining a certain amount of notoriety in her time. She has enjoyed an active social life, but as she reaches age 36, becomes concerned that she will end up an old woman living alone with her cat.
In walks George Maclean, home on leave from his position as the governor of Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast of West Africa (now Ghana). In very short order, they marry, and leave for the Gold Coast. Letty dies within 8 weeks of arriving in Africa. She does not have any obvious illness, insect or snake bite, but everyone has a theory about what happened.
This book is written from the viewpoint of Letty, after she has died, and several of the people around her, including George, her female companion, a local missionary, and another governor in the area. Some people did not like the style of moving from one person to another, but I liked "seeing" the situation from different points of view.
I found the book well-written and fascinating in the descriptions of the times, ideas, beliefs and behaviors. It also reinforced  my wonder at how colonial countries could really believe they were "improving" the lives of the people they conquered.
I give it a 4 Star rating. If you like historic settings, and novels based on real events and people, you will enjoy this book. I personally did not like that a definitive answer was not given as to how Letty died, but that's my personal hang-up for leaving things hanging. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Trans-Siberian Express or Who is Watching Whom?

I received an advanced review copy of Trans-Siberian Express by Warren Adler through Netgalley. I have not received any other compensation.

This book was originally released in 1977, and re-released this past Dec as a Kindle book. It is a story of the cat and mouse game between the three world powers: USA, the Soviet Union and China. And most of the story takes place on the train, a seemingly confining space. But as the train rumbles across Russia and Siberia, the tension builds.

Dr. Alex Cousins is asked by the President to go to Russia to treat Soviet Politburo Chief, Viktor Moiseyevich Dimitrov, who has leukemia. Dr Cousins is uniquely qualified as a renowned doctor specializing in blood illnesses, and descendant of a Russian immigrant from Siberia, and was raised fluent in Russian. He is asked to treat Dimitrov to prolong his life as long as possible, and find out what plans Dimitrov has made as his final official act.

I do not want to expose the various lines of intrigue,  but the book is well written, the characters interesting, complex and evolve as the story progresses. A great deal of history is woven into the story, reminding me of my childhood and young adult years as the balance of power was carefully maintained. 

I had the privilege of visiting St Petersburg and Moscow in the summer of 1994, during Glasnost. We took a night train from St Petersburg to Moscow. The ever present samovar was present in the corridor, but no one was making tea or heating the water. There was no matron to clean the compartments, but there were plenty of soldiers walking up and down the train. My ride on the Russian train added a great deal to my experience of this book. 

I highly recommend this book. There is intrigue, hide&seek, love/lust, dreams and desolation. It is an excellent vehicle for young people to feel the tension of Soviet Russia in all it's complexities, and for us older folks to remember.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

When Molly Met Cameron

What Nora Knew is a fun romp through romance. Molly is nearing 40, divorced, and a writer, working for an on-line magazine EyeSpy. She is dating a bland man that she can rely on but who does not set her heart palpitating. She has been such a failure at love, that she has decided that there is no such thing as a "soul mate" or "true love", But she sees it all around her and can't figure out why love doesn't come her way.
If you love Nora Ephron movies (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seatle, etc...) you will enjoy the razzle-dazzle repartee' through the New York City love-scape. It is not an in-depth character study. But it is a fast-paced, fun look at love. Enjoyable, it is worth the time if you are looking for a witty diversion for your reading choice.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wives of the Bomb

I received a review copy of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for publishing a review. I have no connection to the publisher or the author. This is my true perspective.

The Wives of Los Alamos: A Novel by TaraShea Nesbit

This is not so much a novel as it is a catalogue about the experiences and feelings and perspectives of the wives of the scientists that lived in secret isolation while they built the atomic bomb. I have a small personal interest since the pastor of my church in the early 70's was a graduate student who worked on this project. His PhD thesis was so highly classified that his review committee was not permitted to read it, and therefore, he never received his PhD.
The information is interesting, enlightening, and part of our national story that needs to be preserved. This book was not my cup of tea because it wasn't a narrative. It told a story in what felt like a fairly impersonal, at times choppy, manner. I would have preferred a more traditional novel. I am interested in character development more than a list of facts and feelings. Some are calling this book ground-breaking, and the use of the "collective we" perspective innovating. So I want to emphasize that my disappointment is not echoed by all previewers.
I kept thinking about how I would have felt if I had been in the wives' shoes. I love the southwest, but I have visited for 20 years before buying our retirement home in AZ. If I were in my mid-20's, with small children, and no friends or family near me, I would have found that very painful. Add the secrecy and the deprivation living conditions, I am sure I would have struggled to remain loyal to the project or my husband. No matter what your perspective on the creation of the atomic bomb, the sacrifices made by the scientists and families was strenuous and deserves attention.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Flavia de Luce

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches: A Flavia de Luce Novel

This is the 6th book in the Flavia de Luce series. Flavia is an 11 year old, eccentric, genius chemist. She lives with her father and two sisters in the family estate owned by her mother, Harriet, who disappeared in Tibet 10 years earlier, while on a mission draped in mystery.
This book opens as Harriet's remains are returned to the crumbling estate. Her body was found frozen in the Himalayas in Tibet. And now the government is bring her home, including Winston Churchill. Flavia cannot imagine what her mother had been doing when she died that would warrant the former prime minister to be involved.
As the family is moving from the train platform to the waiting limo, a tall stranger falls from the platform and is crushed by a train. As Flavia reaches his body, he whispers a strange message that makes no sense to her. "The Gamekeeper is in danger."
Flavia retreats to her beloved uncle's chemistry lab, that has been her refuge as far back as she can remember. She is initially focused on finding a way to bring her mother back to life. Flavia has finagled to stand vigil with her mother in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep so that she can be alone to try her idea for reviving Harriet. In preparation she opens the coffin, and sees her mother for the first time in her memory. She reaches inside her mother's frozen coat and discovers an oilcloth wallet containing her will. Then she hears a commotion in the hallway outside her mother's room. She hides her items under the catafalque holding her mother, and sneaks out through the door into her father's bedroom.  Agents from the Home Office take over the vigil, and Flavia can no longer gain access to her mother's body.
To go any further with the plot outline would ruin the story for those who haven't yet read the book.
I am a huge Flavia de Luce fan and hope others will enjoy these well written, creative and often funny adventures of Flavia. But The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is a huge departure from the previous 5 books. This story is much darker with excruciating sadness. This is not the Flavia without a care in the world trying to find useful ways to exercise her genius curiosity. This book explains many family secrets only hinted at in previous books. It ties up loose ends. It feels as if it is the end of an era, and possibly the end of the series. I sincerely hope that Mr. Bradley will continue the series with new adventures as Flavia grows and matures. But if he doesn't, it has been a grand journey!
Though this book can probably stand alone, the richness of the characters will be lost if you haven't read the series. Start at the beginning and work up to this 6th installment. For those who have read the earlier books, wild horses won't keep them away from this book.