Thursday, October 20, 2016

688 (2016 #43). Inheriting Edith

by Zoe Fishman

An easy beach read.  Maggie Sheets is a 38-year-old single mother of a two-year-old.  College educated, she quickly learns that she can earn more money housecleaning (which she enjoys doing) for the wealthy in New York City.  She becomes friends with a lesbian bipolar author, Liza Brennan, but falls out with her when Liza steals her short story character for a successful novel.

Later, Liza commits suicide, and leaves her beach house in Sag Harbor to Maggie.  There's just one catch - Liza's 82-year-old widowed mother with Alzheimer's, Edith, comes with it.

The plot is pretty predictable, but as I said, it's a quick and easy read.  Edith's friend Esther is a bit over the top.  I would have liked less of her and of Maggie's daughter Lucy, who is far too talkative for a two-year-old and in the book too much.  Instead, learning a little more about Liza, and finding out what happens with Lucy's father and with Maggie's father (from whom she is estranged, but beginning to forgive by the end of the book), would have been far more interesting.

Not a waste of time, but not a book I would read again.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This paperback will be donated to the local library Friends group.]

Friday, October 14, 2016

687 (2016 #42). The Train to Crystal City

by Jan Jarboe Russell

This book was this month's selection for the local book club I used to be active in (until the meeting time moved to afternoons, which I cannot attend).

The book discusses a World War II internment camp in Crystal City, Texas, that housed families of (mostly) men of Japanese, German, and Italian origin who were still aliens (not yet naturalized) and were considered a threat to national security during the war, sometimes simply because of their occupations (photographer, for instance, or bridge-builder).  Many of their children were born in the United States and thus citizens.  However, the parents agreed to be potential deportees in exchange for American citizens held behind enemy lines, so of course their minor children would go with them.

Jan Jarboe Russell interviewed a number of these surviving children, and their stories are the strength of the book.  She also presents the conflicting thoughts of the Americans supervising the internment, from the camp school principal through the camp director to the head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and even the President.

I knew that there were some prisoner of war camps in Texas, but I never realized there were internment camps as well, particularly one for entire families.

This book is relevant for me because I am currently doing some research about a first cousin twice removed who, despite immigrating here from Germany in 1912 and serving in the Army, was still not naturalized when World War II broke out.  He too was arrested (apparently because his American-born wife had a short-wave radio, illegal for aliens) and briefly detained, and then was a parolee for most of the rest of the war.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

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

Saturday, October 08, 2016

686 (2016 #41). Into the Wilderness

by Sara Donati,
read by Kate Reading

This is a historical romance, set in upstate New York in (mostly) 1793.  I became interested in reading it after I finished The Gilded Hour, which features descendants of the characters in this book.  I was also intrigued by the setting, in the Adirondacks near Lake George and Saratoga, both of which I have visited.

Elizabeth Middleton is a 29-year-old spinster when she and her younger brother come from England to join their father in the town of Paradise in New York.  Elizabeth only wants to stay single and start a school, but she soon falls in love with Nathaniel Bonner, a 35-year-old widower of a Mohican wife.

Elizabeth and Nathaniel have an incredible amount of adventure over the next year and 876 pages (over 30 hours in audio).  Also an incredible amount of (good!) sex.  The plot was intriguing enough to keep me going, though.

Despite the unlikelihood of a woman teaching school in the United States in the late 1700s, I felt author Sara Donati researched the era well.  Details made me feel like I was there experiencing frontier life in that era.

I was interested to learn that Donati based Nathaniel's father Hawkeye on the character of the same nickname in James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales (of which The Last of the Mohicans is best known).  Donati says this book is a "very loose retelling" of The Pioneers from those tales.  Not having read that book, I can't comment (although I am interested in reading the Tales now).  Donati has Hawkeye marry Cora (from Last of the Mohicans) and Nathaniel is their son.  Elizabeth is apparently an amalgamation of female characters in Jane Austen's books, which I also have not read.

I liked this book well enough to continue on with the series (five more books).  Kate Reading's narration is excellent, especially the Scottish brogues of some of the characters - which, I understand, will come in to play even more in the next book.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to public libraries.]

Friday, October 07, 2016

685 (2016 #40). Portrait of Route 66

by T. Lindsay Baker

My interest in this book is due more to the use of the Curt Teich Postcard Archives than the subject of Route 66.  Like my ancestors on my father's side, Curt Otto Teich (1877-1974) was a German immigrant who came to Chicago and was very successful.  From its opening in 1898 through 1978, the company produced postcards for businesses and attractions across the country.  The records of this postcard production company, once the largest in America, originally wound up at the Lake County Forest Preserve District's Discovery Museum in Wauconda, Illinois.  Now the collection is about to be transferred to the Newberry Library in Chicago.  Some of the collection is available online in the Illinois Digital Archives.

(As an aside - the former archives had posted a great guide (very useful for collectors) to dating Teich postcards based on their stock numbers that is no longer online on the original archives URL.  Fortunately, it's been preserved in a Flickr group.  The company is also known for its "big letter" postcards, featuring the words "Greetings from [some town]," where the letters in the town's name were made of images of attractions there.  Also, it's very possible some of my ancestors and Teich knew each other, as the location of his company from 1898 through 1907, address 59-61 Clybourn Avenue in Chicago then - is very near Clybourn's intersection with Division, where my Dienes ancestors owned a hat store.)

T. Lindsay Baker, a history professor at my place of employment (Tarleton State University), visited the Teich archives and researched in the production files for postcards along historic Route 66, the former U.S. highway that ran 2500 miles across eight states from Chicago to Los Angeles.  Many of the production files included the original black-and-white photographs that were used to create these postcards between 1925 and 1954, an era before color photography was prevalent.

The book features 112 sites (organized geographically starting in Chicago) along Route 66, presented in double-page spreads.  One side of the spread includes the black-and-white photo (often with notations on cropping and colors to use) along with the finished postcard (except in one case, where apparently a postcard was never made).  The other side of each spread includes Baker's research about the business or attraction pictured and the production of the postcard.  Baker also includes a brief description of what (if anything) was at that location in July 2014, when he and his wife took a road trip along the entire Route 66 looking for these sites.

The only things I would have liked to see in the book are:

  • a small image of the text on the back of the postcard (always quite interesting), and
  • either an image of what was on the site in July 2014, or an address or GPS coordinates so one could look for oneself (on Google Maps Street View, for example).

Nevertheless, this is an outstanding book and a great addition to Route 66 history.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

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

Thursday, October 06, 2016

684 (2016 #39). You Should Have Known

by Jean Hanff Korelitz

A rather predictable psychological thriller.  Grace Reinhart Sachs is a therapist who has just written a book with the same title as this one.  Grace's book is about the need for women to pay attention to first impressions when they meet men, subtle signals are there that can predict the outcome of the relationship.  Not surprisingly, Grace did not apply this in her own life.

Since Grace is a therapist, there's a lot of self-analysis of her previous and subsequent actions.  Fortunately, this was not as boring as it might have been, or I never would have gotten through this 400+ page book.  Since the book was a selection of my local book club, I might not have read it otherwise.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

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

Friday, September 30, 2016

683 (2016 #38). This One Summer

by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

I wanted to read this book both because it was an award-winner (see below), and because it appeared on the 2016 ACLU of Texas Banned Books Report.  It was challenged in an elementary school for being "inappropriate for grade levels."  Its use was restricted by transferring it to the high schools in the district (I'm assuming there was more than one copy of the book, because I know the district in question has two high schools).

In this case, I think that was a good decision.  This is an excellent book, but it is not really appropriate for most younger children (at least not in a school situation where a parent can't be involved in the decision).  Even author Mariko Tamaki told School Library Journal (after a similar challenge in Florida) that the book was “listed as being for readers ranging 12–18.  It contains depictions of young people talking about, and dealing with, adult things.”  It was also challenged in a K-12 school library in Minnesota.

This book won both a 2015 Printz Honor award (as it "exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature") and Caldecott Honor award (a runner-up to the "illustrator of the year's most distinguished American picture book for children").  It also won the 2015 Eisner Award ("for creative achievement in American comic books") and the 2014 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel.

It's understandable that the book wound up in elementary school libraries.  Many such libraries routinely purchase Caldecott Medal and Honor books, which are typically picture books aimed at elementary school ages.  However, the definition in the Caldecott Medal manual of the Association for Library Service to Children of the American Library Association is:

A “picture book for children” is one for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen and picture books for this entire age range are to be considered.

This graphic novel does address some more mature themes, such as teen pregnancy, drinking, sex, and miscarriage, and has some "cuss" words.  It's hard to tell how old Rose, the main character is - maybe about 12?  Definitely no older than 14.  She and her parents have been visiting their beach cabin community every summer since she was little, and Rose always gets together there with Windy, a girl who is a year-and-a-half younger.  Windy looks (and acts) age 12 at most.  This particular summer, though, Rose's parents are fighting, and there is drama among the youth in the nearby year-round community.

All of the illustrations (by the author's cousin Jilliam Tamaki) are rendered in black-and-white.  The reading level (according to the Accelerated Reader program) is 2.4, making the book appropriate for struggling middle and high school readers.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

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

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.]