Friday, June 30, 2017

747 (2017 #45). Stormy Weather

by Paulette Jiles,
read by Colleen Delany

After reading Paulette Jiles' News of the World earlier this year, I was eager to read all her historical fiction.  Like News, Stormy Weather is also set in Texas.  This one takes place from 1927 to 1939, and mostly in places within an hour to an hour-and-a-half's drive from my home, places like Mineral Wells and Ranger and Cisco and Rising Star, Palo Pinto and Comanche Counties, and on the Brazos and Leon Rivers.  Not surprisingly, I loved this book.

Jeanine Stoddard is nine when the book begins, accompanying her drinking, gambling, womanizing father on an errand.  He's an oilfield worker, and the family - Jeanine's mother and older and younger sisters - move from one town to another, following the Texas oil boom. A man named Ross Everett helps Jeanine get her father home.  Later, her father dies in the height of the Depression, and the women have nowhere to go than back to Elizabeth's family home, vacant since her parents died some years previously.

Jeanine's mother and sisters seem to blame their situation on Jeanine, for "always covering up for him."  So Jeanine sets out to make the falling-down farm operable again.  She fixes the roof, clears cedar from the land, revitalizes the peach orchard - and finds time to remake old clothes of good cloth into something new for her mother and sisters.  Slowly but surely, despite the dust storms and drought, the old house becomes a home.

When Jeanine's little sister breaks her leg and needs an operation, Jeanine sells the one thing she has left from her dad - a fast horse named Smoky Joe - to Ross Everett, now a widower.  Instead of giving her a higher cash offer on the horse, he offers her a stake in Joe's future winnings - and Jeanine accepts.  Gambling seems to run on both sides of her family - her mother, meanwhile, has been buying up shares in a wildcatter's oil well.

The action moves slowly in this book, but I didn't mind.  I loved Jiles' evocative prose.  Here's an early (page 20) description of an oil well coming in:

It was in June of 1931 that the Lou Della Crim came in outside of Longview, near the Louisiana border.  The Lou Della roared up in a gusher that took the drilling pipe out with it and threw the twenty-foot, two-hundred-pound joints of pipe into the air like jackstraws.  The blowout of oil hurled a three-cone roller drill bit the size of an alligator a flull two hundred yards....They had hit the biggest oil pool in the history of the world and it was sweet, high-gravity oil so was the color of honey.  The wildcatter who drilled the discovery well reached the oil-bearing strata with an ancient cable-tool rig and a decrepit derrick and secondhand equipment. 

The date is wrong on that one - that gusher actually happened in December of the previous year.  Other reviewers have found numerous errors in historical details.

For me, the bigger problem is that the geography is a bit off at times.  On page 65, the family is en route from Wharton to the Tolliver homestead in the Mineral Wells area.  They go through Glen Rose - but then through Dallas, which is very much out of the way.  The same thing happens near the end of the book - on page 318, Jeanine and Ross are traveling from Lubbock back to Mineral Wells - and they inexplicably go through Amarillo, far out of the way to the north.  There's also a town Jiles calls Tarrant that doesn't exist - it's not too far from the Tolliver place, and near the Leon River and the Texas and Pacific Railway - and I can't quite place what real town it might be.

I also like this description of another oil well (from pages 298-299):

They heard the deep and sinister roar coming from the borehole as if something down there was calling out to them in a rage at being awakened from a million-year sleep....He saw casing pipe rising up out of the borehole as if it were self-propelled, joints of pipe that weighed more than two hundred pounds apiece, flying up one after another, in a spray of white salt water that was as thick and hard as a sycamore trunk.  And then more pipe was blown out by a great fountain of sand, enclosed in a foaming mist of gas that expanded like a geyser, sideways, snaking low and wild over the ground.
Then the massive drill bit rose up out of the hole, twenty feet long and weighing two tons, spewing straight up through the derrick and taking out the crown block along with it.  Spars and shattered planks flew upward in ballistic fragments....Then the oil came in, under great pressure, a standing column of jet that erupted with a deafening roar.  The entire derrick blew away, leaving only the footings and twisted masses of metal. ...overhead the tornado of pure oil wavered and shrieked and lunged snakelike into the night sky....the noise of the blowout sounded like some beast roaring and looking for prey.

Actress Colleen Delany, the audiobook narrator, read this passage in such a manner that I could feel the excitement of the event.  She did a fine job as well supplying appropriate Texas accents for all the characters. 

© Amanda Pape - 2017

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

746 (2017 #44). Sisi: Empress on Her Own

by Allison Pataki,
read by  Elizabeth Knowelden

This historical fiction novel is the sequel to The Accidental Empress, and covers the second half of the rather tragic life of  Empress Elisabeth of Austria, also known as "Sisi," the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph.

The book begins in the summer of 1868 in Hungary, about a year after the previous book ends with the establishment of the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary.

Photograph of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837–1898),
the day of her coronation as Queen of Hungary, 8 June 1867.
Emil Rabending [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sisi is finally on her own, with the idyllic life she has always wanted.  She is in the country she loves, with occasional visits from the dashing Count Andrassy.  She is raising her newborn daughter Valerie without interference, away from the protocol of court life in Vienna and her overbearing mother-in-law and aunt, Archduchess Sophie.  Unfortunately, it doesn't last.

Sisi was the Princess Diana of her time - extremely beautiful and very misunderstood.  I would recommend that The Accidental Empress be read before this book.  Although Sisi can stand on its own, the first book in the series provides context for Sisi's character and behavior in the second book.  Reading the books in order makes Sisi somewhat sympathetic - although she does often behave in ways that appear shallow and self-centered.

Compared to the audiobook of The Accidental Empress, this one was disappointing.  Actress Elizabeth Knowelden was not as good a narrator as Madeleine Maby.  Knowelden's soft British voice was pleasant enough, but her reading was very, VERY slow.  The audiobook also does not include the author's notes on history and sources at the end of the book.  I had to refer to the e-book (page 425) for this great quote from author Allison Pataki summarizing the book:  "this was a fairy tale meets a Shakespearean tragedy meets a family soap opera meets an international saga."

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[This e-audiobook, and an e-book for reference, were borrowed from and returned to public libraries.]