Sunday, September 18, 2016

682 (2016 #37). The River of Doubt

by  Candice Millard

Wow!  What a story!

I'm not as familiar with former U. S. president Theodore Roosevelt as I probably should be.  From what I do know of the Rough Rider Bull Moose naturalist, the fact that he journeyed down an unexplored Amazon River tributary is not surprising.  What is surprising - after reading this book - is that he survived.

A last-minute decision to explore the unknown Rio da Dúvida (the River of Doubt, today's Rio Roosevelt) combined with poor planning by expedition members unfamiliar with the area, nearly spelled disaster.  Roosevelt's team included his son Kermit, the Brazilian explorer Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, American naturalist George Cherrie, and numerous Brazilian "camaradas" who did all the heavy work.  They battled insects, excessive rain, rapids, unmanageable dugouts, disease, insufficient supplies (and the inexplicable carrying of unnecessary gear), near starvation, the threat of attack by animals and natives, and even death among their ranks.

This was a perfect topic for the first book by Candice Millard (who has a fabulous three-screen setup for her work computer), a former writer and editor for National Geographic.  She weaves in information about the flora and fauna of the Amazon basin and the natural and political history of the area.  Even better, she writes well, and the story flows and compels the reader.

The book is well-researched:  its 353 pages of text are followed by 38-plus pages of endnotes, eight pages each of bibliography and index, and photo credits for 16 pages of photo inserts.  There are maps on the end pages - it would be helpful though if they were larger.

Since the publication of this book, Millard has written one about the assassination of U. S. President James Garfield, and her third book, about Winston Churchill, will be published on Tuesday, September 20.  I plan to read them all, and anything else she writes.  She ranks up there with Erik Larson for narrative nonfiction.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Monday, September 05, 2016

681 (2016 #36). The Gap of Time

by Jeanette Winterson

The Gap of Time is The Winter's Tale retold - the first in the Hogarth Shakespeare series of books where bestselling authors are commissioned to retell stories from Shakespeare. Jeanette Winterson did this one - unfortunately, I'm not familiar with her other work.

I have seen and read The Winter's Tale (both twice), but it was last over a dozen years ago, so I appreciated Winterson's brief synopsis at the beginning, as well as her use of similar character names ( (Shep is the Shepherd, Clo is the Clown, MiMi is Hermione, Zel  is Florizel, Leo is Leontes, Xeno is Polixenes, etc.).  The title comes from nearly the last line of the play, and also refers to the sixteen-year gap between events in the play.

I've now read the first four books in the series, and am interested in reading all the future titles. I'd rank this one below Hag-Seed and Vinegar Girl, but above Shylock is My Name.  It was easier to "see" the original Shakespeare play in this book than it was in Shylock.  I also think my "rankings" have something to do with how I'd rank their original Shakespeare sources as well.

I do think this is a series where it is helpful to have read the Shakespeare play the book is based on, as I doubt all the retellers will provide the convenient summary.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.]

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

680 (2016 #35). The Gilded Hour

by Sara Donati,
read by Cassandra Campbell

I thoroughly enjoyed this very long (over 30 hours) audiobook, even though the story left a lot of unanswered questions at the end.  Turns out The Gilded Hour is actually the first book in a planned series, and author Sara Donati plans to address the unfinished stories in future sequels.

This book is set in 1883 in New York City - and Donati, a former university professor, certainly did her research.  The main character is Dr. Anna Savard, a surgeon who primarily treats poor women and children.  She lives with a widowed aunt who raised her, and with her cousin, Sophie Savard, also a physician.  As the story continues, more members are added to the household, as one story concerns four Italian orphans.  The oldest of those, Rosa Russo, is the inspiration for the novel - author Rosina Lippi (Sara Donati is her pen name) was named for her orphaned grandmother (although this is not the grandmother's true story).  Meanwhile, Sophie, while rather prominent in the first part of the book, marries and goes to Switzerland with her tubercular husband, so I suppose we will read more about her in a later book in the series.

Donati explores a lot of topics in her lengthy (741 print pages) novel: medicine, birth control, abortion, abandoned children, even murder and police investigations.  Descriptions of settings were evocative, characters were well-developed, and the variety in the plots kept me reading.  Donati wove in some real people and situations into her novel.  I kept expecting the evil Anthony Comstock to somehow finagle the arrest of Anna or Sophie or both - and who knows, maybe that will happen in a later book, too.

Cassandra Campbell was an excellent narrator - a strong but definitely feminine voice for Anna, a slight French accent for Sophie, Italian accents where needed, and so on.

While I would have liked to know up front that this book was the planned opener of a series, Donati's writing hooked me enough that I'm going to read her previous Wilderness series (six books).  Characters in The Gilded Hour are descendants of people in those books, although it is not necessary to have read the previous series to understand this book.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This e-audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Monday, August 29, 2016

679 (2016 #34). Hag-Seed

by Margaret Atwood

A clever and funny retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed (a reference to Caliban in the play, literally, "the offspring of a witch") is a play within a play (within a play).

So far, I like this book the best of the titles I've read in the Hogarth Shakespeare series of books where bestselling authors are commissioned to retell stories from Shakespeare.  Hag-seed is the fourth one written.  It probably helps that this is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.  I've only read one of Atwood's books (The Handmaid's Tale), but I loved it.

I do think this is a series where it is helpful to have read the Shakespeare play on which the book is based.  Fortunately for her readers, Atwood has made that easy by including a synopsis, albeit at the end of the book.

Felix gets fired as the artistic director of a regional theater, and ends up working with a literacy program at a nearby prison, where the inmates act out Shakespeare's plays.  After a few years of this, he learns those responsible for his dismissal have become government officials and are coming to view the play, not knowing he is the director.  He decides to stage the play he was working on when fired all those years ago - with some relevant changes.

As a Shakespeare fan, I would LOVE to see a performance of The Tempest based on Atwood's book!  The costumes and dialogue adaptations (rap in one case) sound awesome!  Requiring his actors to only use swear words they find in the play is a brilliant touch. Highly recommended.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received this advance reader edition through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Sunday, August 21, 2016

678 (2016 #33). The Woman in the Photo

by Mary Hogan

The title and premise of this book intrigued me - trying to figure out who your ancestor was with only a photo.

The story has two connected narrative lines.  The historical fiction is set in 1888 and 1889 in and near Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  Elizabeth Haberlin is the about-to-debut daughter of a doctor to the wealthy, and they spend their summers with them at the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club.  The club was located above Johnstown on Lake Conemaugh, which was formed by the South Fork Dam owned by the club.

The "present day" story is set in southern California. Adoptee Lee Parker is turning 18 and gets to see some information from her closed adoption - including a peek at an old photograph of a woman who looks like her standing next to Clara Barton.  Lee is determined to find out who the unknown woman is, which provides the connection between the two narratives.

Of the two stories, Elizabeth's was far more interesting.  I'm not sure why author Mary Hogan included Lee's story, except perhaps to make the Johnstown Flood tale she wanted to tell more accessible to the young adult audience she usually writes for.  I thought it interesting that in an "about this book" afterword, the author says nothing about the present-day tale.

Nevertheless (and despite a rather didactic attitude about blame), I would recommend this book for its coverage of this less-known disaster.  It made me want to read more about it.  The chapters narrated by Elizabeth also include period photos of the Club and of Johnstown, which add much to the book.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.]

Saturday, August 20, 2016

677 (2016 #32). Sarah

by Marek Halter,
read by Kate Burton

I was listening to a very long e-audiobook when its checkout period expired, and had to get on a wait list to finish it.  I searched for a shorter audiobook to listen to in the meantime, and found this abridged version of Marek Halter's novel, the first in his "Canaan Trilogy" about Biblical women.

Halter takes the wife of Abraham and primarily weaves a backstory for her.  He ignores the possibility that Sarah was actually Abraham's half-sister, and instead makes her the daughter of a lord of Ur.  He comes up with an interesting premise for her infertility and her lasting beauty.

I very much enjoyed this novel.  It is fiction, so it does not bother me at all that Halter took "liberties" with Sarah's story.  Her story (as well as that of Abraham, his father Terah, and so on) is slightly different in the Biblical book of Genesis, in rabbinic tradition, and in Islam, and there is no other historical source material, so she is a perfect character for fiction.

I was surprised to learn author Marek Halter is a man, as the book has a somewhat feminist tone, and the female voice rings true.  I felt he depicted life at that time - especially for women - quite well.

The audiobook was an abridgment; nevertheless, there was still plenty of description of the settings of the story.  Kate Burton (daughter of Richard Burton) was the narrator.  Her deeper voice was fitting, but I felt the book was read too quickly - or sped up to make it fit in just four discs.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Sunday, August 07, 2016

676 (2016 #31). El Rincon

by Bill Walraven

Subtitled "A History of Corpus Christi Beach," this book was published by the Texas State Aquarium (located there) when it opened in 1990.  It was written by Bill Walraven (1925-2013), a longtime columnist for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

I read this book to learn a little more about the interesting history of Corpus Christi Beach (as it was known when I lived there, 1979-1984; in 2012 it went back to its pre-1950s name of North Beach).  The title of the book comes from the El Rincon peninsula where the beach is located, surrounded by Corpus Christi Bay and Nueces Bay.

The way the book is written, it almost feels like a compilation of Walraven's columns.  There are numerous photographs in the book, many taken by Dr. John Frederick "Doc" McGregor (1893-1986) for the newspaper, and now in either their files or the archives of the Corpus Christi Public Library or the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History.  My only wish is that the book had been in a larger format so that the photographs could have been printed larger; it is hard to see the details in many of them.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This book was borrowed and returned through interlibrary loan.]