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.]

Saturday, August 06, 2016

675 (2016 #30). Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles

by Margaret George

This is the last (so far; there will be a new book about Nero in March 2017) of Margaret George's immense historical fiction biographical novels I needed to read.  It took me about a month and a half to do so, as it is 870 pages long.

Like the subjects of her other books, Mary, Queen of Scots is another misunderstood and often disliked historical figure.  I really did not know that much about her before reading this book.  My other encounters with her were always from the English viewpoint.  George's Mary is much more sympathetic.

In a short afterword, George explains some of her assumptions about the key questions in Mary's life (concerning her third husband Bothwell, the death of her second husband Darnley, the Casket letters, and plots against Elizabeth I, her jailer for the last 20 years of Mary's short life).  There are different interpretations of these events, and they affect the portrayal of Mary.

I found most of the book to be quite interesting.  The third part (the last 200+ pages), covering her imprisonment, was the hardest to get through, mostly because there is not a lot happening - Mary gets moved from castle to castle, and that seems to be about it.

I would rank this book as better than George's Helen of Troy and Mary, Called Magdalene, but not as good as The Autobiography of Henry VIII, The Memoirs of Cleopatra, and Elizabeth I.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I purchased this book some time ago at a Friends of the Library book sale.]

Friday, August 05, 2016

672 - 674 (2016 #27 - #29). Three Children's Books

The Toad is another cute book in Elise Gravel's "Disgusting Critters" series. The illustrations are funny and should interest children, while the text (especially the comments by the toads) has some humor for the adults that might be reading the book aloud, yet is easy enough for many young readers to understand. This would be a good addition to a school or classroom library...or a university library used by future teachers.  This hardbound copy is definitely going into the latter collection I manage, joining Head Lice and others in the series I plan to buy.

The Golden Key is a  Victorian fairy tale by George MacDonald, first published in 1867.  It was confusing and not particularly interesting to me - perhaps I'm just not the right audience, never having been much for fantasy. The detailed scratchboard illustrations by Ruth Sanderson, however, are marvelous! As this technique of etching into a thin layer of white clay coated with black ink originated in the 19th century, it seems very appropriate for this somewhat dark tale.  This paperback advance reader edition will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.

Prince Noah and the School Pirates, written by Silke Schnee, illustrated by Heike Sistig, and translated by Erna Albertz, was originally published in Germany.  This picture book fantasy has a nice message about not categorizing children in schools based on gender or perceived disabilities. However, the message is lost in the overly-wordy text and too-detailed (though colorful) illustrations.

[I received these books from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.]

© Amanda Pape - 2016

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

671 (2016 #26). Curses and Smoke

by Vicky Alvear Shecter
read by Marisol Ramirez and Zach Villa

Subtitled "A Novel of Pompeii," this book is set in A.D. 79, the year the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the city.

The book's chapters alternate between the two main characters, Lucia and Tages (Tag).  Tag is a young male slave trained in medicine, to help his aging father treat the valuable gladiators owned and trained by Lucius Titurius.  He toys with the thought of becoming a gladiator himself and possibly fighting his way to freedom.

Lucia is Titurius' only surviving child.  Her older brother, baby sisters, and mother all died.  She is well educated and interested in the world around her, particularly in the writings of Pliny.  She longs to discuss with him her observations of strange happenings around Pompeii - such springs drying up, tremors, animals behaving strangely, and a sulfur smell in the air.  As the book opens, she is being betrothed to a man old enough to be her grandfather, all for the money he promises her father to support his school.

Tag and Lucia are childhood friends who haven't seen each other in three years, while Tag was in Rome for more medical training.  Naturally they fall in love.  They plan to run away together.  Naturally the eruption of Vesuvius intervenes.

Author Vicky Alvear Shecter does a masterful job with the setting, weaving in all sorts of historical details of the location and life in that era.  Freedom is a major theme in the book, along with class distinctions, forbidden love, and family and master/slave relationships.  Given that this is a young adult novel aimed at ages 12-17, I felt the romance was age-appropriate.  The book's (surprising) ending, though, might be difficult for a younger reader to handle.

On the audiobook, actors Marisol Ramirez and Zach Villa read the third-person sections written from the viewpoints of Lucia and Tag respectively in the book.  I liked having two readers, male and female, but I found Villa's delivery to be a little flat and monotone at times.

Unfortunately, the e-audiobook I listened to did not include the detailed author's note that is apparently at the end of the print book, which gives the history of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, including different theories about when it actually happened; facts about Roman culture and practices; information about gladiators; and discussion of the inspiration for certain characters.  I have to wonder, for example, if Lucia's pregnant friend Cornelia was inspired by some of the remains found at Pompeii.  I'm going to have to borrow a print copy of the book just to find out.  And like all good historical fiction, this one has inspired me to learn more about Pompeii, Pliny, and Vesuvius.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

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

Friday, July 08, 2016

670 (2016 #25). First Frost

by Sarah Addison Allen,
read by Susan Ericksen

This is a sequel to Garden Spells, set about ten years later.  Some sequels can stand alone, but in this case, First Frost will make more sense if one has read Garden Spells first.

The Waverley sisters, Claire and Sydney, are now happily married, to Tyler and Henry respectively.  Claire has an almost-ten-year-old daughter, Mariah, and Sydney's daughter Bay is now 15.  Bay is a major character in this story, developing her "Waverley magic" and experiencing her first love.

Autumn is apparently a time of angst for Waverley women, and they eagerly await the "first frost" of the season when their quirky apple tree blooms (not surprising for a tree that can throw its apples).  The frosted apple on the cover gains significance when one gets near the end of the story.  Besides Bay's high school romance, her mother Sydney is anxious about her inability to conceive, and Claire is stressed out by her new candy-making business that has caused her to leave cooking and catering behind.  A stranger in town ultimately helps her resolve her situation.

I'm very glad I listened to the audiobook, read (as Garden Spells was) by Susan Ericksen, as once again, she does a marvelous job giving character to the characters.  I fully expect Sarah Addison Allen to have another book in this series, likely set about five years or so later when Bay is a young adult and Mariah is a teen.  First Frost felt like it was setting up for that sequel.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This e-audiobook was purchased via]