Tuesday, March 31, 2015

468 (2015 #25). The Other Typist

by Suzanne Rindell

This book was chosen for the "One Book, One Conference" program at the upcoming Texas Library Association meeting, so I decided to read it.

Although it is set in the past (1923-24), I wouldn't describe this novel as pure historical fiction.  Too many little details are wrong.  Terms like "role model" (pages 66 and 68, not used until 1955-60) and "blue collar" (page 290, not used until 1945-50) would not have been used in conversations occuring in the 1920s.   Moreover, a pregnant woman (albeit a minor character) working in a male-dominated office in that era is also unrealistic.

However, as a mystery or suspense novel, this book really succeeds for me.  Rose is a rather prim-and-proper typist transcribing confessions in a New York City police precinct office when a new typist named Odalie is hired.  Rose is intrigued by Odalie from the start and soon gets caught up in Odalie's shady lifestyle, visiting speakeasies with here at the height of Prohibition.  As Rose looks back - from what appears to be a psych ward - and tells the story, some sinister aspects of Odalie's character appear.

Or *is* it Odalie?  After all, we have an unreliable narrator here.

The climax and ending will prompt much discussion for a book club.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

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

Monday, March 30, 2015

467 (2015 #24). Head Lice

This is a 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 louse) has some humor for the adults that might be reading the book aloud, yet is simple enough for many early readers to comprehend.

I do think that the last page, rather than advising running away if you see a louse (they ARE hard to see), could instead reminded children not to share hats, combs, and other items that come in contact with their hair and heads, and possibly add information about treatments for head lice.

This would be a good addition to a school or classroom library (or one used by future teachers).

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I received a hardbound copy of this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be donated to my university library collection.]

Saturday, March 28, 2015

466 (2015 #23). The Tsarina's Daughter

by Carolly Erickson,
read by Susan Jameson

This book is borderline fantasy, because it takes a real person and generates an alternate reality for her.

Grand Duchess Tatiana Romanov was shot along with her siblings and her parents, Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra, in July 1918, when she was 21 years old.  There were rumors for years that one of the tsar's four daughters (usually Anastasia) had survived, which were finally put to rest on April 30, 2008 with DNA testing.  This book was published five months later.

Author Carolly Erickson has Tatiana, or "Tania," surviving and living in Canada under the name Daria, looking back on her life at the age of 92 in 1989.  She escaped, and it's pretty clear early on that a young servant with revolutionary tendencies named Daria has taken her place and was murdered instead of her, but exactly how that comes about is not revealed until the end.

If you are looking for believable historical fiction, this is not the book for you.  Erickson has Tatiana behaving in ways that were unrealistic for a girl of her time period and station in life.  TWO lovers before the age of 18?  Frequent trips away from the palace to help at a clinic?

I'm not sure why the book is called "The Tsarina's Daughter."  Why not "The Tsar's Daughter"?  Supposedly Tatiana was her mother's favorite, but Erickson often has Tatiana thinking disparagingly of her mother and her weaknesses in the book.  Tatiana was also supposedly very close to her older sister Olga, but that is not the impression one gets when reading this book.

However, many details of the book are based in truth.  For example, the girls did sleep on camp beds as children, and the older two were nurses in World War II.  Tatiana did apparently fall in love with one of the men she was nursing.  I did feel, after listening to this book, that I had learned a little more about the lives of the Romanovs, and am interested in reading more about them.

British actress Susan Jameson is the reader.  Her voice comes across as a bit too old for most of the characters.  I suppose her British accent is appropriate, as Tatiana was the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England, but I cringed every time Jameson pronounced Olga's name as "Olger."

© Amanda Pape - 2015

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

Sunday, March 22, 2015

465 (2015 #22). Caleb's Crossing

by Geraldine Brooks,
read by Jennifer Ehle

The Caleb in the title of this book was a real person - Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard University, in 1665.  He was a member of the Wampanoag tribe on what is now Martha's Vineyard island off Massachusetts.

The narrator of the story, though, is the completely fictional Bethia Mayfield (although her grandfather, father, and brother are based on the real Thomas Mayhew and his son and grandson). Bethia is the daughter of a minister working to convert the Wampanoag, and Caleb becomes his star pupil.  Unbeknownst to him, though, Bethia and Caleb met many years earlier, and taught each other their languages.

For me, Bethia was a fascinating character, embodying the restrictions of women of that era.  For example, although she was smarter than her brother, she could not be taught beyond the bare minimum (how to read), and picks up most of her knowledge (of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, history) by eavesdropping.  Her life was incredibly hard, especially when her grandfather (after her father's death) indentures her as a servant at the "prep school" her brother is sent to in his attempt to enter Harvard, in exchange for his tuition.

After listening to a few discs, I could not take actress Jennifer Ehle, the reader of the audiobook, any longer. She e-nun-ci-a-ted ev-er-y sing-le syl-la-ble, and it was starting to drive me crazy!  I think perhaps she was trying to "be" Bethia, and perhaps felt the character would have spoken that way in the late 1660s, but I found it annoying after a while.  Bethia's use of now-archaic words ("salvages" for "savages," for example) and phrasing appropriate for both the time period and Puritan characters was enough, the extra enunciation was too much and unnecessary.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The audiobook and a hardbound copy were borrowed from and returned to my university library and my local public library respectively.]

Friday, March 20, 2015

464 (2015 #21). The Promise

by Ann Weisgarber

Catherine is a single concert pianist and instructor in Dayton, Ohio, in 1899, in disgrace because she's in love with her ill cousin's husband. Oscar is a widower dairy farmer with a young son in Galveston who used to go to school with Catherine and admired her playing. When he proposes marriage via letters, she sees it as her escape from scandal, and accepts.

Oscar's housekeeper Nan is leery of Catherine. She promised Bernadette, Oscar's first wife, that she would take care of his son Andre. She had thought Oscar might marry her.

Catherine and Oscar marry in late August 1900, just a day after she arrives in Galveston by train. Readers like me who know their history know of the devastating hurricane that hit just weeks later. That storm is a major part of the story. Before that, though, author Ann Weisgarber paints a vivid picture of life in Galveston at the turn of that century.

Her inspiration for this story was an old, storm-damaged house at the sparsely populated rural west end of Galveston Island. She owns a beach house on the island and lives in a Houston suburb.  She knows what it is like to prepare for, experience, and deal with the aftermath of a hurricane.

The hardbound U.S. version of this book that I borrowed via interlibrary loan did not have a dust jacket.  According to an event posting and a Facebook message with Ann Weisgarber, the dust jacket says the cover image (minus the woman) is "courtesy of DeGolyer Library, SMU [Southern Methodist University], Collection of Texas Postcards, Ag2000.1341."

The image is the left half of a 1910s-era postcard of the Texas Heroes Monument in Galveston, with the monument cropped out and the electrical lines airbrushed out (and the woman and her shadow added).  I determined that this view is looking south on Rosenberg (today's 25th) Street from around Sealy Avenue, looking towards Broadway (also known as Avenue J).

The building pictured on the far left was the George Sealy mansion, originally built for the Galveston merchant, banker and philanthropist and his wife Magnolia. The home was designed by New York architect Stanford White. The construction from 1887 to 1889 was supervised by Galveston architect Nicholas Clayton, who also designed Catholic churches throughout the state and a number of other buildings in Galveston and Houston (including Annunciation Catholic Church and Incarnate Word Academy).  It was given to the University of Texas Medical Branch by the Sealy family in 1979 and is today’s Open Gates Conference Center.

I thought the Sealy house was particularly relevant to the novel, as it served as a refuge for about 400 Galvestonians during the 1900 hurricane.  In addition, George Sealy died in December 1901 "while traveling by train to a meeting in New York to discuss interest rates on Galveston bonds to help finance the city's recovery from the Galveston hurricane of 1900," according to The Handbook of Texas.

The other building in the center of the picture is apparently gone, but the trolley/train tracks still exist.

I read this book because the author is on the program for the upcoming Texas Library Association conference in April 2015, discussing how she worked with librarians and archivists at the Rosenberg Library in Galveston (interestingly, just a couple blocks from the site of the cover photograph) to research her story.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

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