Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

It is 1974, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh and her children have brought Charles Lindbergh, Lucky Lindy, home to die.  As Anne sits with him in his final days, she reflects back on their lives and what sharing a lifetime with such a famous man has been like.  Anne is a senior at Smith College when they meet, while Lindbergh has already completed the solo transatlantic flight from the United States to Paris that made him a hero wherever he goes.  He takes her flying, and she instantly adores the sensation.  She can't believe that such a man has chosen her as his wife, and agrees, unable to believe her luck.  Anne feels she is living a fairy tale.

But there is a dark side to hero worship.  The couple is mobbed wherever they go, the photographers and reporters fighting to get an inch closer, to get their shouted questions answered.  They print every detail of the Lindbergh's lives that they can discover.  When the couple's toddler son, Charles Junior, is kidnapped and killed, the press is unbearable.  Anne can't help but feel that they played a part in the tragedy by singling them out and reporting every detail of their lives.

Anne comes to realise that life with Charles is on his terms.  He is the bravest man she has ever met, and he has an unerring sense that he is always right.  Distant emotionally, he plans every minute of his day and expects to plan Anne's also.  She is his co-pilot and navigator in those early years, leaving behind her babies whenever he wants her to.  As the years go on, she begins to resent his assumption that he and only he knows best in every situation.

Yet Anne stays with him loyally, unable to imagine a life without this man she loves.  She sticks with him during the war years, when his hero's mantle is tarnished by his campaign to keep America out of the war, and by his statements that make him appear anti-Semitic.  She stays during the war when Charles finally gets involved and leaves her alone to manage the household and children.  She stays during the long years after when he stays away for long stretches, leaving her to raise the family while he attends to business.  Anne learns to carve out a life on her own terms, with writing as her saving grace.

Melanie Benjamin has done a masterful job with this novel.  Most readers will learn many things they didn't know about the Lindberghs, who will always be defined by his heroic flight and the kidnapping that was one of the first nationally reported crimes.  I didn't know Anne was a pilot in her own right, or that after Charlie's death, they went on to have five other children.  This is an interesting book sure to catch the interest of any reader.  It is recommended for all readers.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Bay Of Foxes by Sheila Kohler

It is 1978 and Dawit is in Paris.  But this is no fairy tale.  Dawit is an illegal immigrant from Ethiopia where he grew up rich and secure due to his father's high position in the government.  That all changed when the rebels came.  Dawit went from riches to absolute poverty as his family exploded.  His father dead, Dawit and his mother sent to the prisons where few ever emerge.  After weeks or months of torture, Dawit manages to escape and eventually makes his way to Paris.

In Paris, he wanders the streets penniless during the days.  At night, he can sleep in an apartment crammed full of other Ethiopian immigrants and grab a few bites.  One day Dawit manages to make a bit of money working for cash and wanders into a cafe where he can order a coffee and sit at peace for a while in the kind of surroundings he used to take for granted.  Also there, Dawit recognizes the famous woman author, M.  For some reason, when M. sees him looking at her, she beckons him over.  Soon they are talking, and M. seems impressed by his beauty and obvious education.  The encounter ends with her asking Dawit to come to her apartment in a few days time.

When he goes, M. quizzes him more about his former life.  She ends up offering him shelter in her apartment.  Dawit's life undergoes a dramatic change.  Now he acts as her secretary, arranging her life and serving as her editor.  M gives hm money and buys him beautiful clothes.  Dawit knows this is due to his youth and beauty, but makes an uneasy bargain.

As summer approaches, M tells Dawit they will be going to her summer home, a villa on the island of Sardinia.  Things start to fall apart.  M is becoming impatient that Dawit will not give her the physical love she craves.  Things escalate when Dawit falls in love with another and M starts to realise it.  How far will M go to get the payback she believes is her due?  What will Dawit do to maintain his precarious climb out of poverty and obscurity?

Sheila Kohler has written a beautiful, chilling spellbinder.  The writing is languorous, echoing the hot country of Dawit's birth and the island luxury he finds himself in.  The question of motives, of what we owe those who help us, of reciprocation of desires, is hauntingly raised.  This book is recommended for readers of general and literary fiction.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

In Christina Baker Kline's Orphan Train, she narrates the story of a practice meant to be kind that was often cruel.  Due to the waves of immigration, epidemics of illnesses and the difficulty of living in poverty, many children were left as orphans.  Many families had multiple children who were set adrift when their parents died or disappeared.  Organizations sprang up to help with the problem and the orphan trains were created.  Large numbers of children from the big Eastern cities were shipped to the Midwest where couples looking for children could adopt them.

That was the way it was supposed to work.  In reality, many families were only looking for free labor.  Boys were taken as farm hands while girls were used as maids, nannies and other darker occupations.  Families were torn apart and the children were often even stripped of their names and renamed to suit their new families.  It was, in many ways, indentured servitude.

Vivian Daly, a ninety-one year old widow, was one of those children.  She came over in the great Irish immigration and lost her family in a tenement fire.  Handy with a needle and desperate for an education, she grew up in a series of households, never quite belonging anywhere or to anyone.  As she nears the end of her life, Molly Ayer enters it.  Molly has a similar background in modern America,  Her father was killed in a car accident, her mother couldn't cope and was hospitalized, and Molly entered the foster care system, where she also bounced from family to family.  When she needs community service hours to avoid juvie, she meets Vivian and agrees to help her sort out her lifetime of possessions.

As they sort through Vivian's possessions, the older woman starts to share her memories of that painful time with Molly.  Molly instantly relates and a relationship develops between the two women regardless of the decades in age separating them.  They are sisters under the skin, both belonging to the group that never fit in anywhere or who could afford to trust anyone.  Slowly, as the trunks and boxes are sorted, they also sort out their feelings and secrets and learn to trust each other.

This is a charming novel.  The reader will be sympathetic with Vivian and Molly, and ache that there is no better solution for the children left alone in the world.  Although we no longer use mechanisms such as the orphan train, for many foster children the end result remains the same.  One of the most surprising things is the time period.  This occurred around the 1920's, not in the 1800's.  Both the main characters are believable and strong and the reader will hope for a better life for each of them.  This book is recommended foe readers of more recent historical fiction and those interested in reading how the human spirit can overcome tragedy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Cottage By The Sea by Ciji Ware

Blyte Barton Stowe has rented a cottage in rural Cornwall for the summer.  After having her messy divorce from award-winning movie director Christopher Stowe splashed across the media in gory detail, all she wants is a chance to get away and evaluate her life.  The fact that the manor house that owns the cottage is named Barton House is appealing.  After all, her grandmother always insisted that their family had ties to the landed gentry in England.  Raised on a ranch in Montana, Blyte doesn't believe that, but its fun to dream about.

Complications soon arrive.  Blyte starts to have visions of the former inhabitants of Barton House, particularly four of the current owner's ancestors.  The Barton estate was combined with that of the neighboring one owned by a family named Tremayne.  The merger was accomplished by the marriage of an earlier Blyte Barton to Christopher Tremayne, although her heart belonged to the younger Tremayne son, Ennis.  After a mystery that involved all three disappearing or dying, the estates ended up with a cousin inheriting everything.  This cousin, Garrett Teague is the direct ancestor of the current lord, Jack Teague.  Why does Blyte feel such a strong attachment to people she never even heard of six months before?

Jack is a widower with a young son and is desperately trying to keep the estate going,  Blyte, who was a production creative force in Hollywood, helps Jack develop a business plan to save the estate, and becomes his business partner.  A romance blooms, although there are many issues working against a successful ending.  Can Blyte and Jack become a couple and resolve these issues, both current and those going back for centuries?

Ciji Ware is best known for her historical fiction.  A Cottage By The Sea draws on that strength, while bringing in a mix of other genres.  There is historical fiction, romance and some paranormal aspects such as past life regression.  Readers will be entranced by Ware's careful balancing of the genres to produce a compelling story that will enchant.  This book is recommended for readers in all three genres.

Monday, February 18, 2013

War Of The Seasons: The Human by Janine Spendlove

Story isn't sure where she is or how she got there.  A teen, angry with the world due to the loss of her family, she has gone spelunking and fallen through into another world.  A world where the first beings she encounters are an elf and stump-like creatures trying to kill him.  Story instinctively saves the elf, but things keep getting stranger.

Eirnin, the elf,  seems transfixed by Story.  She matches the description of the one who will be sent to save the land and it's inhabitants.  A land where fairies are evil, and who have blighted the elf clans and sealed their fate to become extinct.  A land where mermaids and dryads exist.  A land that Story wants nothing to do with.

Thus begins the saga of War Of The Seasons.  Story forges a partnership with Eirnin.  He will take her to his queen for help to get Story back to the world she came from. Story will do what she can to help the elf clans, even though she doesn't really believe the legends and especially, her designated role as the savior of the land.  Along the way there will be many dangers to overcome and a tentative relationship between human and elf, as each learns the culture and ways of the other.

Janine Spendlove has written an engaging fantasy.  This is the first book in the series, and readers will find themselves anxious to read the next, which has already been published.  The novel's audience is that of the young adult, as Story is seventeen and facing typical teen dilemmas of finding out who she is and forging relationships.  The book is interesting enough, however, that adult readers will also enjoy it.  This book is recommended foe fantasy and young adult readers and is a strong debut novel.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Creature Features by Tim Rowland

Creature Features is a compilation of articles about Tim and Beth Rowland's life on their farm with an assortment of animals.  There are cows along with a clueless bull named Dim Dan.  There are geese which terrorize every creature around them,  The goats are more stable, until one tries to get them to do something against their inclination.  The two large horses are docile, but outshone by the miniature horse who believes himself to be master of all he surveys.  Pigs are friendly in Tim's experience, but difficult to convince of the wisdom of doing what their owner wishes.  The battles in the hen yard and the difficulties of the few roosters are daunting.  Then there are what most people consider pets; the dogs and cats.  Hannah is an English bulldog while Opie is a large bouvier des Flandres herding dog.  Julie is the head cat, a Siamese, while Genna the stray who comes to live on the farm while pregnant (is there such a creature as a stray cay who isn't pregnant?) is biding her time to take over.

If you suspect that a menagerie like this provides plenty of stories a newspaper columnist can use for benefit, you'd be right,  If you suspect that the animals are running the farm, you wouldn't be far wrong,  If you suspect that the resulting book is a hilarious telling of daily life, you would be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

Be careful; this book can be hazardous to your health, if the standard for healthy individuals doesn't include someone cackling manically as they quietly read.  Readers who enjoy stories of rural life and man's attempt to be lord of his estate will be pleasantly surprised to meet Tim Rowland.  The articles are short and easy to pick up for a few minutes between tasks, but different enough from each other that sitting down and gulping the entire book in one sitting is definitely possible.  This book is recommended for animal lovers as well as those who love humor.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

In Sunlight And Shadow by Mark Helprin

Harry Copeland, a war hero, has arrived back in New York City, his time as a paratrooper in Europe during World War II over.  While much is familiar, there are lots of changes and issues to resolve.  He meets Catherine Hale and is instantly enthralled.  However, it turns out that Catherine is an heiress; the only child of an old and extremely wealthy family.  Then there is the fact that Harry is Jewish, which makes him an anomaly in monied circles.  Finally, there is the fact that Catherine is already engaged to another man.

Then there is the matter of Harry's family business,  Copeland Fine Leather is known worldwide for their quality goods, and the business thrived under Harry's father. Now that Harry is in charge, problems have arisen.  The business is targeted by the Mafia and the protection money they extract each week is draining the business dry and putting its survival at risk,

These two issues form the backbone of the novel.  Mark Helprin fans will be delighted to see him return to the locale of his A Winter's Tale, his wildly popular novel of 1983.  The same lyrical prose and compelling story lines carry this novel.  The reader is transported to the various locales Harry's story unwinds in; Broadway, the New York manufacturing districts, Long Island mansions, Central Park and war-torn England and Europe.  Helprin does not shy away from the big questions of what makes a life worthwhile, the role of love, or the meaning of the law if it does not protect those who need it.  This book is recommended for all readers.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Exciting News For Fantasy Fans; 2014 Author Calendar!

I've just heard about an exciting project going on that fantasy fans can help with!  Lauren Zurchin, a marvelous photographer and fantasy bibliophile, has decided to create a fantasy calendar for 2014.  Each month will have a photograph of an amazing fantasy author, dressed in a costume symbolic of all things fantasy.  Here is the lineup of authors:

  • Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles; The Curse Workers Series)
  • Gail Carriger (Soulless; The Parasol Protectorate)
  • Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments; The Infernal Devices)
  • Lauren Kate (Fallen)
  • Gregory Maguire (Wicked; The Oz Chronicles)
  • The Merry Sisters of Fate- a trio of authors consisting of: Tessa Gratton (Blood Magic; The Blood Keeper), Maggie Stiefvater (Shiver; The Scorpio Races; The Raven Boys), and Brenna Yovanoff (The Replacement; Paper Valentine)
  • Brandon Mull (Fablehaven; Beyonders)
  • Lauren Oliver (Delirium; Before I Fall)
  • Christopher Paolini (The Inheritance Cycle)
  • Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind)
  • Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time; Mistborn)
  • Tad Williams (Otherland; Memory, Sorrow and Thorn)

  • Here's how you can help make this exciting project a reality.  Lauren needs some help geting started.  She has created a Kickstarter where you can donate to help with the funding.  Donators will get some amazing prizes; signed calendars, signed prints, bookmarks, computer wallpaper, chats; all kind of marvelous things.  In order to see the various prizes and to donate if you've so moved, go to the Kickstarter page .  Booksies has made a contribution and can't wait until the calendars are ready!

    Monday, February 4, 2013

    Heart Of Ice by P.J. Parrish

    Louis Kincaid is at a crossroads in his life.  He has been making a living as a private investigator in Florida, but that's not where his heart is.  His heart is in Michigan.  Michigan, where he has just discovered that he has a daughter, Lily,  whose life he wants to be involved in.  Michigan, where his former girlfriend lives as do his foster parents.  But he can't be a policeman in Michigan due to being blackballed in a case that went south.  He might be able to become a policeman again in Florida.

    But, for now, Kincaid is getting to know his daughter.  He has brought her to one of the scenes of his childhood, Mackinac Island, for a short vacation on which they can become acquainted.  Kincaid turns his back for a second, and his daughter slips away and enters a deserted lodge.  Before he can get to her, he hears her fall.   Luckily, she isn't badly injured, but that doesn't mean all is well.  Lily has fallen into a basement and landed on a heap of bones.

    The sheriff on Mackinac isn't used to handling crimes like cold case investigations.  Cold cases are Louis' specialty, and the sheriff asks for his help.  The bones are a young girl's.  Further investigation determines that they are probably twenty years old.  The two men research all the missing girl cases from that time, and one stands out.  Julie Chapman was the daughter of a rich man, and disappeared on New Year's Eve twenty years ago.  Is this Julie, and if so, can Sheriff Flowers and Kincaid discover what happened to her?

    This is the latest in the Louis Kincaid mystery series by P.J. Parrish, two sisters who have banded together to collaborate.  Fans of the mystery genre will welcome another novel in the series, and the chance to explore more of Louis Kincaid's personality and history.  The mystery has a satisfying resolution after many twists and turns.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.