Friday, September 12, 2014

419 (2014 #47). A Long Fatal Love Chase

by Louisa May Alcott

Remember those "sensation" stories Jo March writes in Little Women?  In chapter 27, "Literary Lessons," Jo decides to enter a competition in

that class of light literature in which the passions have a holiday, and when the author's invention fails, a grand catastrophe clears the state of one-half the dramatis persona, leaving the other half to exult over their downfall....Her theatrical experience and miscellaneous reading were of service now, for they gave her some idea of dramatic effect, and supplied plot, language, and costumes.  Her story was as full of desperation and despair as her limited acquaintance with those uncomfortable emotions enabled her to make it...

Jo wins the competition (and $100), and keeps writing such thrillers to pay the family bills.  In chapter 34, "A Friend," Jo continues

writing sensation stories - for in those dark days, even all-perfect America read rubbish....Like most young scribblers, she went abroad for her characters and scenery...as thrills could not be produced except by harrowing up the souls of the readers, history and romance, land and sea, science and art, police records and lunatic asylums, had to be ransacked for the purpose....she searched newspapers for accidents, incidents, and crimes; she excited the suspicions of public librarians by asking for works on poisons; she studied faces in the street, - and characters good, bad, and indifferent, all about her; she delved in the dust of ancient times, for facts or fictions so old that they were as good as new, and introduced herself to folly, sin, and misery, as well as her limited opportunities allowed.

A Long Fatal Love Chase is the serialized "blood and thunder" story Jo March might have written.  Even more interesting, though, is the story behind the story.  After returning from a trip to Europe in 1866, where she served as a paid companion to an invalid, Louisa May Alcott sold her novella Behind the Mask (or, A Woman's Power) to editor James Elliott for the Boston weekly The Flag of Our Union for $75 in August. (It appeared in four installments in October and November of that year).  Incorporating settings from her trip, in September, Alcott's journal indicates she "finished the long tale A Modern Mephistopheles.   But Elliott would not have it, saying it was too long & too sensational!  So I put it away & fell to work on other things."

After Alcott's death in 1888, the manuscript wound up in a Harvard library archive, where it was described as "A modern Mephistopheles, or The fatal love chase. ... A completely different novel from that published as A modern Mephistopheles in the No Name series, 1877. This novel apparently unpublished. ... NOTE: This item returned to family, 1991."

According to a September 1995 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Alcott's grandnephews put the manuscript on the market to raise money for the Louisa May Alcott Foundation, which operates Orchard House, the Alcott home in Concord, Masssachusetts, where she wrote Little Women.  It languished unsold for a few years until a New Hampshire private school principal named Kent Bicknell purchased it (with the help of a financial backer) in 1994.  He restored the much-revised text to the original (as submitted in 1866), and the profits from its subsequent publication were shared with Alcott's heirs, Orchard House, and Bicknell's school respectively.  

Elliott had requested a novel of 24 chapters, with every other chapter ending with a bit of a cliffhanger, for serialization purposes.  That is what Alcott has written here. The title and the cover blurb kind of give the plot away, but it's an easy and fun (and rather dark Gothic) read nonetheless.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This paperback was purchased at a Friends of the Library book sale and will likely remain in my personal collection.]

Friday, August 29, 2014

418 (2014 #46). Spy the Lie

by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero, with Don Tennant

read by Fred Berman

This book is subtitled, "Former CIA Officers Teach You How To Detect Deception," and that is exactly what this book is about.  Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero are all former Central Intelligence Agency employees who are now the founding partners of QVerity, "a company that provides training and consulting services worldwide in deception detection, screening, and interviewing techniques" (page 243).  Tennant, the "writer" (as opposed to the other three, who are listed as "authors"), is also a partner in the company, a former research analyst with the National Security Agency, and a former journalist and editor.

The book describes a methodology and techniques to identify when someone *might* be trying to deceive you.

I think what's best about the book are the real-life examples that are used to illustrate the principles of the book taken from in-the-headlines interviews by journalists or law enforcement:  Bill Clinton, O. J. Simpson, Dick Cheney, Tea Party member and former Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling, murderer Scott Peterson, former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, sexting Congressman Anthony Weiner, and former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.  The second of two appendices is a lengthy narrative analysis of Bob Costa's November 2011 interview of Sandusky before he was tried and found guilty of sexual abuse of minors.

Of course, it's easier to conduct an analysis identifying deception indicators after the interview, as opposed to during it.  I don't think the book provides quite enough detail on applying these techniques in real time - but of course, how would the authors make their money in training and consulting if they gave away all their secrets in the book?

The book is full of many examples of deceptive behaviors (both verbal and nonverbal) encountered in interviews, as well as the types of questions to ask.  Furthermore, the first of two appendices includes suggested questions for four scenarios a reader might have:  interviewing a potential caregiver for children, asking your child about drug or alcohol use, confronting a significant other about infidelity, and asking about theft situations.

This audiobook won the 2013 Audie Award for the Business / Educational category, which is why I purchased it for my library's collection.  The book is very well read by actor Fred Berman.  However, as with most nonfiction, I'd have to recommend reading rather than listening to this book.  I found I often had to listen to some sections of the book a number of times before I felt I "got" the information presented.  Even though Berman reads the appendices, sidebars and the information in the figures / diagrams, those aspects in particular are more "readable" in print.  Furthermore, the print book has a glossary, about the authors section, and index.

I'd read this book again in hopes of absorbing more of its material.  If anything, it should help me figure out when a politician or celebrity is lying.


© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and my local public library respectively.]

Saturday, August 23, 2014

417 (2014 #45). The Buddha in the Attic

by Julie Otsuka,
read by Samantha Quan and Carrington MacDuffie

This historical fiction novel tells the story of Japanese "picture brides" coming to California in the early 1900s.  It begins with their journey on the ship from Japan, and continues through their first nights with their new husbands (few of whom match their photos or descriptions), their work and lives in America, the birth and raising of their children, and the effects of World War II on them all, culminating with their being sent away to relocation camps.  The final chapter of the book is written from the point of view of the non-Japanese families left behind.

The latter section of the book is strongest.  California-born author Julie Otsuka's Japanese-American grandfather was arrested as a suspected spy the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, and his wife and children (including Otsuka's mother) spent three years in the Topaz, Utah relocation center.

The book is unusual in that it is written almost entirely in first person plural, and it reads almost like free verse, thanks to the repetition of phrases (usually at the beginning of sentences).  This does get tedious after a while, as the repetition makes the book start sounding like a series of lists.  That, and the use of the "we" narrator, limits character development.

This book won the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the 2011 Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction, and was a 2011 National Book Award finalist for fiction.  Actress Samantha Quan reads most of the book, while well-known audiobook narrator Carrington MacDuffie handles the final chapter.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

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

416 (2014 #44). Torn Away

by Jennifer Brown

Jersey Cameron is a typical sixteen-year-old from a blended family in a Missouri town.  She has a five-year-old often-annoying half-sister, Marin, who her mother has just taken to a dance lesson, and Jersey is home alone when a tornado strikes.

The first couple days after the twister are harrowing.  Jersey doesn't know where any of her family are, so she sticks close to her ravaged home.  Later she learns her mother and sister died, and her stepfather is too devastated to care for her.  He sends her first to her birth father's family, a bunch of stereotypical hicks.  That doesn't work out, so she's sent on to the maternal grandparents she's never met.

Through Jersey's thoughts and observations during and after the storm, author Jennifer Brown (who also writes women's fiction under the name Jennifer Scott) makes the reader see and feel the heartbreak and devastation of the tornado.  Especially poignant are the little pictures and captions Jersey draws of Marin on gum wrappers from gum in Marin's Mom-castoff purse.

The purse is one of the few things to survive the storm, along with a porcelain kitten, one of many Jersey would receive in the mail on her birthday that she assumed were sent by her estranged father.  You can probably guess who really sent them.

The book ends on a hopeful note.  The book is suggested for ages 12 and up, and I certainly think it's appropriate for middle school and high school - as well as adults.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[I received an advance reading copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Friday, August 08, 2014

415 (2014 #43). Sea Glass

by Anita Shreve,
read by Kyra Sedgwick

Sea Glass begins in June 1929, when 20-year-old Honora Willard Beecher and her new husband, 24-year-old traveling salesman Sexton.  They are moving into an old dilapidated house on the New Hampshire coast just outside a mill town, fixing it up in lieu of rent.  When the house is put up for sale, Sexton finagles a way to buy it.  Then October comes, and the stock market crashes.

The reader learns more about the five main characters in chapters told from their points of view.  Honora has had a rough life, losing her father and her youngest brother in the Halifax explosion.  Sexton is an amazingly good salesman - maybe too good.  McDermott is a 20-year-old Irish immigrant working in the mills, losing his hearing from the noise, helping to support his orphaned siblings, and meeting with other men considering forming a union.  He befriends 11-year-old Francis (named Alphonse in some editions), a French immigrant also working in the mills and contributing to his family's income.  Vivian is a 28-year-old wealthy, bored, decadent socialite who comes to the coast for the summers.

In the early chapters, these people's lives start to intersect subtly, building to the chapters where they (and a few more minor characters) all come together to provide support for an upcoming strike at the mill.  There's both romance and tragedy in the story.  It was interesting to learn more about the labor movement in this period of American history, particularly as it affected the workers who went on strike, and the violence sometimes associated with it.

The title of the novel comes from the sea glass that Honora collects.  Sea glass has its sharp edges smoothed by the action of the waves and sand, and that serves as a metaphor for what happens in the book.

Actress Kyra Sedgwick does an awesome job reading this audiobook, with just that right emotion and nuances at all the right times.

I picked up this audiobook at my local public library because it was historical fiction and because it was short - I can listen to one audiobook CD a day during my commute and I had five days available before the start of my vacation.  I did not look that closely at the cover and was surprised to discover afterwards that it was an abridgment.  The abridgment (not by the author) was well done in that the novel flowed well, but it makes me wonder what I might have missed (apparently something about the house being a former convent, for one thing). I'm tempted to read the print book now!

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn, in the introduction by Anita Shreve, that this was her third book set in a certain old New England beach house (modeled after a real one), just in a different era.  I'm familiar with The Pilot's Wife, set in contemporary times, but I'm very curious to read Fortune's Rocks, set in 1899.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Sunday, August 03, 2014

414 (2014 #42). In Search of the Little Prince

written and illustrated by Bimba Landmann

Subtitled "The Story of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry," this is a picture book biography about the author of the French classic The Little Prince.

The book was originally published in Italian, as Italy is the home of the author/illustrator, Bimba Landmann.  Her soft illustrations are fanciful yet serious.  There are a number of actual photographs of and quotations from Saint-Exupéry in the book.  The amount of text on each page makes this book more appropriate for grades 3-5.

© Amanda Pape - 2014


[This unbound galley proof was sent to me in exchange for an unbiased review by the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.]

Friday, August 01, 2014

413 (2014 #41). Mrs. Poe

written by Lynn Cullen,
read by Eliza Foss

Mrs. Poe really isn't about the wife of poet and author Edgar Allen Poe.  Instead, the main character and narrator of the story is Frances Sargent Osgood, a poet herself, who may or may not have had a relationship with Poe that went beyond the flirtatious exchange of poems printed in the journal Poe edited.

The story begins in the winter of 1845, when Poe is at the height of his fame with the publication of "The Raven" (printed in full to start the book), and concludes two years later.  Osgood's philandering artist husband has left her alone to support herself and their two daughters, and Poe's attention ultimately helps her career.

Interestingly, in an interview, author Lynn Cullen says she was in similar circumstances just before writing this book, as her husband was temporarily debilitated from a bout with encephalitis (a possible cause of Poe's mysterious death) and she was worried about how she would support her family.

Lynn Cullen did a very good job researching her setting - New York City in the mid-1840s - and that aspect of the book is excellent.  What appears to be a lot of name-dropping cameo appearances of other authors and famous people of the day may seem annoying, but it's very likely that Osgood, Poe, and his wife Virginia (a cousin whom he married when he was 26 and she 13, who suffered from tuberculosis) did meet these people in the literary circles in the city.

The author's note at the end was helpful in telling the reader what happened to many of the major characters AFTER the story ended.  However, I would have like a little more clarification on what happened IN the book - what was true, what was not.  For example, according to Lynn Cullen's website, Frances Osgood did live with Eliza and John Russell Bartlett for a while, but I would have liked to have seen that fact in the author's note, as well as more detail on the sources she used in her writing.  The lack of such information means a lot of readers will assume that the events in the story are all true, when they are not.

Actress Eliza Foss "was featured in Audiofile magazine as one of 'audio's hottest romance narrators,'" and she certainly provides a dramatic reading of this book.  She gives Poe a slight Southern accent, fitting in that he grew up in Virginia.

I'm not fond of the romance genre, nor of Gothic horror/mystery, and this book has a little too much of both for my liking.  It is historical fiction, and that redeemed it for me.  Any time a work of historical fiction gets me to want to research the people and places it's about, it's a success.  Just keep in mind as you read it that is IS fiction and not fact.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

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