A perfect little summer read, as the cover and title promise, Anita Shreve’s Sea Glass delivers not only an engaging story that can be read by the lak...moreA perfect little summer read, as the cover and title promise, Anita Shreve’s Sea Glass delivers not only an engaging story that can be read by the lake or pool, but also a poignant glimpse into the daily life of a young wife surviving the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash. As she begins her marriage in a derelict beach house in New Hampshire, the sea brings across her path new friends along with a burgeoning collection of colorful bits of trash made lovely by the crashing of the surf.
This sublime cast of characters brings to life the many faces of the Great Depression through the unexpected friendship of exploited factory workers, drifters, political renegades, and a socialite whose family’s wealth no doubt exits through their toil. Their collaboration on a dangerous local mill strike leads them through the speakeasies of Prohibition New England, lovely clam bakes on the beach, betrayal, and an unexpected romance--enroiling them into a delightful fellowship that, as all inevitably do, ends too soon. Marriages and families are made and broken on Fortune’s Rocks, and like the eponymous sea glass, are made more beautiful through the pain. (less)
Stephen King, creator of gems such as Stand By Me, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, and The Stand, again proves he is no longer merely the “hor...moreStephen King, creator of gems such as Stand By Me, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, and The Stand, again proves he is no longer merely the “horror novelist” of Cujo and The Shining fame, in his epic historical jaunt into the year of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, 11/22/63.
King’s engrossing first-person narrative follows a small town nobody embarking on a mission straight out of one of the cheap paperback spy and sci-fi novels he surreptitiously enjoys along with the more august classics he teaches in the local high school. After the initial exuberance of viewing the past up close and personal, where a gorgeous car costs only hundreds of dollars and folks leave their homes unlocked at night, he begins to see the possible history-shattering repercussions of dabbling with his surroundings, discovering that, like the fifteen or so pounds I gained after knee surgery, the history is obdurate, reluctant to let go of the inevitable horror of modern America’s watershed moment and its aftermath.
Coincidences threaten to undo the universe, and time begins to unwrap into what begins to look like, well, a horror story, one all too probable given the mental instability of many of the world’s keepers of atomic weapons. The present as we know it, he concludes, hangs in the delicate balance of the unseen, and if there is any good to be had, we must treasure it unquestioningly and never take lightly our role in shaping the future.
Taking seeming insignificant historical facts, such as the hardly-heard-of friend of the young Oswald family who would recommend Lee Harvey to a job at the Texas School Book Depository building shortly before his moment with fame, King weaves a story smacking of The Fly meets Somewhere in Time meets The Road, which cannot be put down, even for all its heavy 849 pages, enabling readers of a new generation to experience history in the making, without the dusty soporific texts of the classroom, stored perhaps at one time or another on the sixth floor near a semi-circular window overlooking Elm Street, Dallas. (less)
In his classic The Call of the Wild, Jack London captures the exhilarating and dangerous era of the Yukon gold rush of the 1890s through the eyes of a...moreIn his classic The Call of the Wild, Jack London captures the exhilarating and dangerous era of the Yukon gold rush of the 1890s through the eyes of a dog sold into a sledding team. All the characters, both human and canine, test their strength and endurance to survive harsh winter conditions, each contending with its fellows by constantly jockeying for status, food rations and protection from enemies. Not all survive, but all are certainly changed through the process. Buck, the protagonist, becomes more the dog he was born to be, strong and fierce when he needs, loyal to the death, and a pack dog at heart. Thankfully, unlike most dog books, this one is not a tear-jerker; just an interesting perspective through which to explore a fascinating period of history, as well as explore the relationship between trial and character formation. Rather than avoid the harshest of work and treatment, perhaps the reader can see through Buck’s experience the rare jewel of embracing the pain in order to finding one’s calling in life. (less)
It is no wonder that Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains is a winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. The story of sisters Isabel and Ruth...moreIt is no wonder that Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains is a winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. The story of sisters Isabel and Ruth is not only emotionally riveting, but also introduces a new generation to the all-too real plight of slaves during the revolution that sought to set only the white Americans free from British tyranny.
Sold together “Two for one, us being sold like bolts of faded cloth or chipped porridge bowls,” in a New York City tavern in 1776, after having been legally freed through the will of their deceased mistress, the girls find themselves in the home of loyalists dedicated to the cause of King George III. Isabel’s initial dread proves correct regarding the character of her new mistress. Overwork, horrible punishments, and worst of all, separation from her beloved sister, mark her days, while the household bustles in preparation for war.
During unimaginable trials, she pulls perseverance and strength from the memory of her parents who were sold away from each other at auction; but her secret weapon, so rare in a slave, is the ability to read and write, which ultimately not only gives her the ability to decipher and transport important messages and documents, such as a plot to assassinate rebel leader George Washington; but ultimately, to write her own emancipation proclamation.
Our own history reminds us bitterly that it is all too easy to justify evil if it is common practice. Look around: we are still doing it today. May we always strive to seek justice, love mercy & walk humbly in living out our faith. (less)
Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken is the remarkable true story of Louis Zamporini’s epic survival as a World War II hero.
His unflappable character showed...moreLaura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken is the remarkable true story of Louis Zamporini’s epic survival as a World War II hero.
His unflappable character showed even in childhood. Neither his mother nor siblings could curb his innate prankish and subversive nature, making him a notorious delinquent. Having grown up in a town where his ethnicity made him a target of beatings, he used this innate gumption to make up for his tiny size, not just to protect himself but also to make sport of his challengers. Tedious schoolwork, bullies, poverty: nothing could strip his joie de vivre, often to his family’s dismay.
Finally, in high school he accepted his older brother’s challenge to train as a runner, a pursuit which would hone his wildness into record-breaking awards, and finally, a shot at the Olympics and the thrill of world travel. Political events, however, with the face of Adolf Hitler, interfered.
Joining the Army Air Corps as a pilot stationed in Hawaii, he flew a plane barely air-worthy, experienced a Japanese attack that left it a mere lacework of metal, and lay in hand-dug trenches during hellacious air bombing attacks that would leave even the most stalwart hero gibbering. Each day meant someone he knew would most likely die, leaving behind only his alcohol stash to be divvied up by the dwindling remnant of soldiers. Alcohol would become the new best friend for many of these poor souls.
On one of many missions to find lost planes, his own would go down in the attempt, leaving him on a tiny life raft, a mere dot on thousands of miles of ocean. With two other survivors from his crew, he scavenged scant food and water from the abysmally packed supply rations and fishing equipment, physically fighting off sharks and the ravages of the sun and dehydration. They had already set the record for men surviving at sea under horrible extremity when the Japanese fighter spotted them and began shooting.
His new life as a prisoner of war began, and the real struggle to remain a man would begin.
His tale of survival thrills and inspires us still, reminding us of the horrors our soldiers endure while we sit in air conditioned splendor with our Coca Cola. Thank you to Laura Hillenbrand and authors like her who make history vividly alive for us to treasure. (less)
What a lovely ending to our trip to Cape Cod to spread my Dad’s ashes in the Atlantic: in the box of books allotted to me from his estate, I found thi...moreWhat a lovely ending to our trip to Cape Cod to spread my Dad’s ashes in the Atlantic: in the box of books allotted to me from his estate, I found this paperback copy of Cape Cod by Thoreau. My family and I had just traversed these same shores, some two hundred years after its writing, yet so many of the places are still there, however changed. Thoreau compiles several separate holidays on the Cape into this account of its history, its people and its terrain as he takes us on a journey through the rains and fogs and shipwrecks of the “curled arm” peninsula. He uses his surveyor skills to describe the starkly inhospitable terrain, while inserting humorous anecdotal social commentary toward the characters that are as much part of the landscape as the flora and fauna to keep the story moving agreeably, though certainly not grippingly. You cannot help but grow wistful for the sound of the sea and for the abundant seafood feasts it provides, as well as the memories you yourself may have made at such a place as this, Cape Cod. (less)
Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize, offers a unique perspective of the rise and fall of King Henry VIII’s second...moreHilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize, offers a unique perspective of the rise and fall of King Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn, that of her creator and ultimate destroyer, Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to the King.
Cromwell, once a poor and insignificant country boy, grew up to travel many countries in the offices of war and government, gaining an education that much complimented his natural talent for court intrigue. Once installed as Henry’s man, he maintains a creepy sense of calm control in a treacherous environment where anyone’s life, including his own, is at risk for the merest hint of treason, as subjectively defined by those currently in favor. Fortunately for him, he’s the boss currently in favor, but not so fortunately for his enemies who no longer have jobs—or heads.
After having orchestrated the annulment of Henry’s first marriage and the legitimizing of his second to Anne Boleyn, he masterfully must reinvent the King’s marriage once again upon Henry’s growing impatience at Anne’s inability to produce a male heir. Plus, she’s too bossy. Oh, and the King now hearts one of the queen’s servants, Jane Seymour, so Anne’s definitely got to go. Torture and confessions of adultery ensue, and the best French executioner is called in for the deed, freeing the love-struck King to marry Jane less than two weeks later. Cromwell rises to higher and lonelier heights of wealth and power than ever before.
It’s a great story of course, and wonderfully and horribly true; however, Mantel’s unfolding of the tale was too slow for my own taste, best reserved perhaps to history buffs looking for a freshly sympathetic look at an old villain. (less)
Before there was Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s posthumously famous tale of revenge and adventure, there was the all-too-true story of the whale ship Es...moreBefore there was Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s posthumously famous tale of revenge and adventure, there was the all-too-true story of the whale ship Essex’s disastrous journey in the Pacific. More gripping than fiction, the harrowing experience of the crew add flesh to the author’s arduous research into the illustrious whaling history of Nantucket Island two hundred years ago; it’s isolated geography and clannish culture that so eerily imitated that of their ocean prey; whale biology, hunting and rendering on the high seas; survival psychology; and the extant nautical knowledge that would prove tragically inaccurate for those aboard the Essex. For many years afterwards, Nantucketers would not mention the infamous disaster of the Essex for the horror of what the men resorted to in order to survive. Now, thanks to newly discovered journals from one of the survivors, we know more fully the tale that gave birth to Captain Ahab and his allegorical white monster.(less)
American journalist Julia Tezac, married into an old French family in an upscale part of Paris, stumbles on a devastating family secret during the rem...moreAmerican journalist Julia Tezac, married into an old French family in an upscale part of Paris, stumbles on a devastating family secret during the remodel of the apartment owned by her husband Bertrand’s grandmother. Coincidentally, she has been assigned to write an historical piece that fills in the blanks for her, and she learns that this is not only a secret the family wishes to keep buried, but one that the entire nation of France would rather see disappear from the history books forever, concerning the all-but-forgotten roundups of Jewish mothers and children at the Velodrome d’Hiver in 1942, after which 12,000 were exterminated at Auschwitz, carried out not by Hitler’s men, but by France’s own police force. While dealing with an unexpected pregnancy, as well as her husband’s marital infidelity, she becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of Sarah’s Key and making right the wrongs of the past that have unalterably have changed the course of her own life. An excellent read for Francophiles and lovers of World War II history, fast paced and touching.(less)
I enjoyed Jim Fergus’s novel set in the old west in the 1870s enough to, miracle upon miracles, actually finish it on time for book club, and to shed...moreI enjoyed Jim Fergus’s novel set in the old west in the 1870s enough to, miracle upon miracles, actually finish it on time for book club, and to shed a tear or two by the end. Some of my fellow book club members, however, found the heroine both unconvincing and unlikeable in her choices during her outrageous hypothetical adventure among the Cheyennes of the Midwestern prairies. I conceded my friends’ point, and since the author is best known for nonfiction articles about hunting and fishing, maybe he was a bit over his head in writing a novel from a woman’s point of view, over a century removed. However, he did a wonderful job painting the scenery of our country before it was covered in concrete and Starbucks, and to portray the sometimes beautiful and sometimes horrifying culture of the savages who turned out to be no more nor less savage than the heroine’s own erstwhile countrymen. Reading this was a bit like watching Survivor, only set in the old west among warring tribal factions—as well as government bureaucracy—that might commit atrocities to your children and friends. I was pretty glad when I could safely put the book down and enjoy the air-conditioned splendor of my home equipped with indoor plumbing and q-tips.(less)