Monday, July 27, 2015

496 (2015 #53). Exploring the Lusitania

by Robert D. Ballard,
with Spencer Dunmore

I borrowed this book from the library because I'd just finished listening to Erik Larson's Dead Wake, and reviewing the print copy of that book, and was disappointed to find only one illustration of this famous ship.  I didn't know much about the Lusitania itself and wanted to learn more.

The book does not disappoint.  It is full of period photographs and illustrations of the ship (and related materials, such as postcards, ads, and menus), and the aftermath of its sinking, as well as people on the ship.  There are also maps and diagrams to help the reader understand the layout of the ship, its final journey (and the journey of the German submarine that sunk it).

Robert Ballard is best known as the man who explored the sunken Titanic, and there are a number of pages in the last quarter of the book devoted to his expedition to the Lusitania wreck in 1993.  This narrative and the accompanying photographs are also extremely interesting, especially the "then and now" comparison photographs of parts of the ship from 1904 to 1915 with the sunken part in 1993.  Ballard's theory that coal dust in empty bins ignited and caused the second, post-torpedo explosion (not any contraband or a boiler or a conspiracy) that ultimately sunk the ship.

The book ends with a chronology of the ship, acknowledgments and photo/illustration credits, a bibliography, and an index.  Definitely recommended to anyone who wants to learn more about the Lusitania, whose sinking ultimately led to the United States entry into World War I.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This book was borrowed from and returned to the Hood County Library.]

495 (2015 #52). Dead Wake

by Erik Larson,
read by Scott Brick

Subtitled "The Last Crossing of the Lusitania," this book is about the ship's sinking, what led up to it, and the immediate aftermath.  Erik Larson once again takes real people and events and weaves a mesmerizing story.
In this case, he alternates between action on the ship; in Washington, DC (showing how the death of President Wilson's first wife and his subsequent wooing of Edith Galt may have distracted him); the U-20 German submarine that ultimately sunk Lusitania; "Room 40," the secret code-breaking office of the British Admirality - which had been tracking U-20 and other German submarines via their wireless transmissions; and Queenstown, London, Berlin, and the Irish Sea.  Most of the action takes place during the final voyage, between the Lusitania's departure from New York City on May 1, 1915, to its sinking in the Irish Sea on May 7.  The sinking ultimately led to the entry of the United States into World War I, albeit two years later.

The origin of the title is the maritime definition of "dead wake" — a "trail of fading disturbance" (page 241) left behind on the surface of the water by a passing ship or another object, like a torpedo.

The book has a few short preface notes to readers/listeners, where Larson reminds the reader that

I thought I knew everything there was to know about the incident, but, as so often happens when I do deep research on a subject, I quickly realized how wrong I was.  Above all, I discovered that buried in the muddled details of the affair - deliberately muddled, in certain aspects - was something simple and satisfying: a very good story.
I hasten to add, as always, that this is a work of nonfiction.  Anything between quotation marks comes from a memoir, letter, telegram, or other historical document.  My goal was to try to marshal the many nodes of real-life suspense and, yes, romance that marked the Lusitania episode, in a manner that would allow readers to experience it as did people who lived through it at the time....
Of course audiobook listeners can't see those quotation marks, but Scott Brick's excellent reading makes it pretty clear where they are.  I'd recommend, though, that anyone listening to the audio do as I did and take a look at the print or e-book as well.

The audiobook doesn't include the material at the end of the print edition: a "sources and acknowledgements" section (five pages), 50 pages of end notes, an 8-page bibliography, and a 12-page index.  Oddly, there is only one photograph and a couple maps in the print book.  I felt the need for more, so I borrowed another library book with many photos on the subject:  Robert Ballard's Exploring the Lusitania, the subject of my next review.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This audiobook was a gift from BOT (Books on Tape) at the Texas Library Association conference in April 2015.  It will be donated to my university library.  It is also available in print, e-book, and e-audiobook format from the Hood County Library.]

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #6 - You Finish Reading in a Day

Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee.

Of course I finished this in one day - Sunday, July 26.  Just picked up the book late yesterday at the Hood County Library, where I'd had it on hold, and my name finally came up on the list.

All I can say is - wow.

Review to come.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

494 (2015 #51). I Am Livia

by Phyllis T. Smith

This book is a historical fiction/biographical novel of Livia Drusilla (58 BC - 29 AD), the wife of Caesar Augustus (aka Octavius), the Roman ruler from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.

In the book, Livia is looking back from old age on her earlier years, beginning when she is 14 years old, just before Julius Caesar was assassinated - a plot in which her father was involved. It follows her life closely for the next 14 years - through her marriage to her father's ally Tiberius Nero, to her marriage to Octavius (while pregnant with Tiberius' second son), through numerous wars, to the beginning of his reign as emperor of Rome.

I'd encountered Livia as a character in a few other books (particularly in ones I've read about Cleopatra and her daughter), but really didn't know much about her beyond the rumors also mentioned by Livia herself at the beginning of this book.  Debut author Phyllis T. Smith brings the character and the period to life, and makes me see why Augustus Caesar stayed married to her for 51 years, despite the rumors about her, and their inability to have a child together.

Oh, and I just love the cover art - the mosaic style is definitely appropriate for ancient Rome.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I received this e-book for free through the Kindle First program.]

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #5 - Checked Out from the Library

Exploring the Lusitania, by Robert D. Ballard with Spencer Dunmore.

I checked out this book from the Hood County Library as a companion to Dead Wake, Erik Larson's book on the Lusitania.

It's full of wonderful modern and period photographs and illustrations of the ship and of its wreck, the latter from an expedition by Ballard in 1993.

Review to come.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

493 (2015 #50). Under the Same Blue Sky

by Pamela Schoenewaldt

It is 1914 in Pittsburgh, and eighteen-year-old Hazel Renner dreams of a life where she can pursue her interest in art rather than her German immigrant parents' ambitions for her.  Hazel trains to be a teacher to please them.

Then she learns a family secret, and decides to go away to teach in a small country school.  A tragedy there sends her home, and then to Dogwood, New Jersey, to learn the truth about her background.  There she meets a mysterious German baron living in a castle, and begins working in his art dealership.  Meanwhile, world events swirl around them and her family and friends, as the war in Europe escalates and America ultimately enters it, followed by the influenza epidemic of 1918.

This book explores what life was like for German immigrants to the United States (and their American-born children) during World War I.  It was an eye-opener for me, as I imagine my German immigrant great-grandparents (and their seven American children) had similar experiences, particularly with others treating them with suspicion.  My great-grandparents owned and operated a dry goods store in north Chicago, and while both spoke English, I'm sure it was with heavy accents.  My grandfather and his three brothers joined the military (although none of them saw action overseas), and it must have been particularly hard for my great-grandparents, to think of them possibly fighting their own kin back in Germany.

The characters in this book are well-developed, especially Hazel's parents, Johannes (John) and Katarina.  The Baron, Georg von Richthofen was also interesting.  Described as a cousin of the flying ace "The Red Baron," Manfred von Richthofen, I was surprised to learn that the latter's uncle and godfather, Walter von Richthofen, actually emigrated to the United States and settled in Denver, building a castle there modeled on the Richthofen castle in Germany (just as Georg did in Dogwood).  The castle was finished in 1887 and still stands today, selling for about 3.5 million in 2012.

In a "Q&A with the Author" in the back of the book, Pamela Schoenewaldt says her castle was based on the Moldenke Castle from her high school years in Watchung, New Jersey, built by a Danish family about 1900 (burned in 1969).  She also says that some of Hazel's background is based on that of Schoenewaldt's German immigrant paternal grandmother.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  Plan to hang on to it for a while and re-read it later.]

Saturday, July 25, 2015

492 (2015 #49). Rules of the Game

by Lori Wilde,
read by C. J. Critt

This book is the second in romance writer Lori Wilde's Stardust, Texas, series.  Stardust is of course a fictional town, located "two and a half hours" east of Dallas (page 4) and "thirty miles" southwest of Jefferson (page 111).  Although the distances aren't quite right, I like to think it's modeled on Gladewater, the "Antique Capital of East Texas."  Heroine Jodi Carlyle's adoptive parents own an antique store, and she runs Boxcars and Breakfast (a B&B made out of train cars), which sounds like the kind of place you might find in Gladewater.

Once again, Wilde has woven a number of romance tropes (which I've italicized) into this story.  Jodi is a New Years Day jilted bride, and her therapist recommends crashing a wedding one year later, which is also a couple days after she turns 30. (Thus the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter that start out "Jodi Carlyle's Wedding Crasher Rules.")  At the high-profile wedding in Dallas, she nearly gets kicked out, but is saved by widower athlete Jake Coronado.  Jodi uses a bit of disguise or mistaken identity by not telling him her real name, but decides a one-night fling with him would be good therapy too.  Hot sex ensues.

Naturally they run into each other again in Stardust - turns out Jake is the last-minute best man for Jodi's sister's intended! (The romance of Jodi's sister Brianne Carlyle and Jake's Dallas Gunslingers baseball team manager Rowdy Blanton is the subject of the first book in the series, Back in the Game.  Jodi and Breeanne have two more sisters, also adoptees, and Wilde typically has four books as the core of each of her small-town Texas series.  It's not necessary to have read the first book to enjoy this one, though.)

Jake and Jodi will be seeing a lot of each other since Jodi is the maid of honor for the Valentine's Day wedding.  Of course, they both have scars to deal with before they can live happily ever after.

I enjoyed this somewhat-predictable story because Lori Wilde is a master of setting and description.  I started out listening to the audio version performed by actress C. J. Critt.  Her reading was fine, and I enjoyed her giving characters appropriate Texas accents.  However, it was a bit slow, and given that I need to read 24 books in the same period of time where I've only been able to read just 10-14 in the past, I switched to the e-book when it became available at one of my libraries.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The audiobook and e-book were borrowed from and returned to local public libraries.]