EpicFehlReader
Review
3 Stars
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English - Natasha Solomons

1937: Jack and Sadie Rosenblum and their one year old daughter, Elizabeth, are just one family in a crowd of Jewish refugees who emigrate to England. Jack wants to embrace British culture but runs into some roadblocks, one being that over the course of 15 years in England he never quite loses his accent. Jack ponders changing his surname to something more English, but Sadie, proud of their Jewish roots, is against the idea.

 

Being denied access to all the country clubs he applies to, Jack gets the idea to start his own. He becomes obsessed with perfecting all the details of the club and golf course. Meanwhile, wife Sadie suffers social ridicule as the family is deemed "crazy".

 

Jack also finds British humor lost on him. He tries to read Wodenhouse's Jeeves & Wooster series but it turns him off from trying any more English Lit. A strain grows between Jack and Sadie as she continues to mourn the death of her brother and the loss of her old life in Germany. She tries to cope with hobbies like gardening and baking, but it's pretty much just an emotional Band-Aid.

 

There were blips of interest for me within the plot, moments of humor or a powerful line here and there but largely it struck me as a lot more dry and "meh" than I was expecting. That said though, something about this story made me think that with the right director and screenwriter, this could be translated into a fun little film.

 

* Funny Edit: Just saw on the author's Amazon profile that her author blurb says she's a screenwriter LOL

Review
3 Stars
Golden Child by David Henry Hwang
Golden Child - David Henry Hwang

From the author of the Broadway play M. Butterfly, Golden Child travels across time and place from contemporary America to mainland China in 1918 and depicts the challenges of a culture in transition to the influences of western civilization.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This play includes a scene describing a suicide being carried out. 

 

 

Playwright David Henry Hwang grew up hearing amazing, almost mythical stories of his great grandfather's life, a life crafted by the choice to swap Confucianism for Christianity, boldly breaking with Chinese tradition when he decided to let his daughter grow up with unbound feet. Such decisions would impact future generations and came to inspire Hwang to write the play Golden Child

 

The timeline of the story alternates between a small village in Southeast China during the Winter 1918 - Spring 1919 and Manhattan in the late 1990s. The opening scene combines the two when Andrew Kwong in Manhattan, awakens with a start one night, puts on a robe and begins to take on the personality of his grandfather, Tieng-Bin. Andrew converses with Ahn, his grandmother. She appears to him as a young girl of ten but her voice is that of an elderly woman. This conversation between them eases the audience into the transition to early 20th century China, where we are soon fully immersed. 

 

In the village of Amoy, we meet the three wives of Tieng-Bin, a prosperous land owner: first wife Siu-Yong, second wife Luan, and third wife Eling. Tieng-Bin has recently returned home after a three year absence. He'd been living in the Phillipines for business and now that he is back, man and wives settle into a nice dinner where everyone gets reacquainted. The conversation starts to shift into Tieng-Bin telling of his observations in the Phillipines, mainly the growing influence of Christianity and western culture throughout the area and how that got him thinking about his own upbringing. At first he claims that he merely finds western ideas interesting, the inventions amusing --- some of these inventions he presents to his wives as gifts. First wife Siu-Yong's response to her gift, a cuckoo clock, was the best: "I'm sure it will do wonders for my insomnia." 

 

His traditional wives are suspicious, especially 2nd wife Luan, who fears that their polygamous lifestyle will soon be threatened by Tieng-Bin's experiences. Though the play does incorporate serious cultural themes, the bickering and shade-throwing between the wives ends up offering comic relief. Though Siu-Yong is one of the most entertaining of the bunch at the start of the play, later on I was disturbed by the manipulative nature of some of her conversations with her daughter, Ahn (Andrew's grandmother from the opening scene). 

In the later portions of this story, Tieng-Bin introduces his wives to Reverend Baines, a minister from England Tieng-Bin became acquainted with during his travels. The wives come to know Baines as "white devil". At first I was confused as to why Baines' lines were presented in broken English, as this play is printed in English (my reasoning being "wouldn't the characters understand each other just fine?"). There aren't really too many clues within the text regarding language barrier. Then it dawned on me that what was likely going on was that Baines was probably actually speaking in poor Chinese, so, when translated, his words would come out as oddly constructed. But I do love Baines line that says "You must not fear to speak the truth you know in your soul."

While the story comes off somewhat light-hearted in the early scenes (but mildly snarky, hinting at underlying feelings of discontent to surface later), closer to the end there is a noticeable shift toward the more serious, as discussions between the characters growing increasingly tense as they all finally address the strains they feel as, culturally, the old ways clash against the new. 

"It's not that I want to forget my family, quite the opposite. But to be Chinese -- means to feel a whole web of obligation -- obligation? --- dating back 5,000 years. I am afraid of dishonoring my ancestors, even the ones dead for centuries. All the time, I feel ghosts -- sitting on my back, whispering in my ear -- keeping me from living life as I see fit.
>> Tieng-Bin



An interesting story, but one that didn't REALLY grab me til just before the climactic end. This script may fall under the type of plays where the words alone just aren't enough and perhaps infinitely more is gained by seeing it on stage.

Review
2.5 Stars
Forgiveness In The First Degree (True Crime Account) by Rondol Hammer & Phillip Robinson, with Margot Starbuck
Forgiveness In The First Degree - Rondol Hammer, Phillip Robinson, Margot Starbuck

The gun was never supposed to go off. When a drug dealer assured twenty-nine-year-old Ron Hammer and his brother-in-law that they could make some quick easy money, they were intrigued. He promised them that when a local grocer delivered a bag of money to his store to cash Friday paychecks, they only needed to show him a gun and he d hand over the bag. But high on meth and dulled by liquor, they ended up in a scuffle with their target, and the gun accidentally fired. And when Phillip Robinson rushed from the shelves he d been stocking to investigate the commotion at the front of the store, he saw his father lying on the sidewalk, dying. The lives of Ron Hammer and Phillip Robinson, whose paths should only have ever crossed at the grocery checkout line, became inextricably linked by one foolish decision that would shatter a web of lives. Over three decades the two men came to discover not only that they both needed to be set free, but that in God s unlikely economy of redemption their liberation was bound up with one another. Like the famous prodigal son and his dutiful older brother, the moving story of Phillip Robinson and Rondol Hammer reveals how two men wrestling with law and grace discover unlikely redemption. 

~from back cover

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This book discusses the topics of attempted suicide, murder and otherwise extreme violence (mainly in the form of prison stories that describe scenes of eyes being gouged out and ears bitten off)

 

In 1986, twenty-seven year old auto mechanic & Vietnam veteran Ron Hammer, high on meth, carries out armed robbery at a local grocery store. In the process, Ron unintentionally kills the father of the store's assistant manager, Phillip Robinson. Hammer, along with his brother-in-law / robbery accomplice / fellow meth addict, flees the scene with the money. Though he evades escape for a time, Ron is eventually caught and sent to prison. The prison sentence forces him to quit meth cold turkey. It is also there in prison that he finds religion, leading him to the decision to approach the Robinson family with his honest apology for his irreversible actions. 

 

Though at the time of Ron's initial attempt at apology Phillip is a practicing Christian and aspiring pastor, the road to forgiving Ron proves to be a decades long journey. It is not until 1994 that Phillip finds himself ready to honestly hear Ron out on the topic of forgiveness. Once at that place, though, Phillip discovers the blessing that comes in the form of an emotional weight lifted he didn't even entirely realize he was carrying!

 

The format of this book alternates between Ron's point of view of the events, and then Phillip's. As far as the flow of the writing itself, I found Ron's portions of the story more compelling. When it came to Phillip's portions... him losing his father in such a violent way is undeniably tragic, but from a sheer matter of reading enjoyment, something about Phillip's portions came off as more boring and preachy. Not surprising, I suppose, as Phillip IS a preacher, but I'm just sharing the truth of my reading experience. 

 

Still, this story is an important one to be shared because look at the message it presents: a man finds it in his heart to bestow honest forgiveness on the man who murdered his father. If a person can do that, it makes any other seemingly "unforgiveable" dealbreaker-type situation easily traversable, doesn't it? There are also takeaways from the perspective of Ron: one can come back from a life thrown into a tailspin via drug addiction and go on to have a powerful testimony of a life bound to help others out of their emotional mires. The book definitely gives you material to think on. 

 

NOTE: This book does give spoilers for the film The Outlaw Josie Wales and Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables

 

FTC Disclaimer:  Blue Ridge CWC and FaithHappenings Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

Review
3 Stars
Love Him Anyway (memoir) by Abby Banks
Love Him Anyway - Abby Banks

One night can change everything. Abby Banks put her healthy, happy infant son to sleep, but when she awoke the next morning, she felt as though she was living a nightmare. Her son, Wyatt, was paralyzed. There was no fall, no accident, no warning. A rare autoimmune disease attacked his spinal cord, and there was no cure. In an instant, all her hopes and dreams for him were wiped away. The life she envisioned for her family was gone, and she was frozen by the fear of a future she never imagined. As she struggled to come to grips with her son's devastating diagnosis and difficult rehabilitation, she found true hope in making a simple choice, a choice to love anyway-to love her son, the life she did not plan, and the God of hope, who is faithful even when the healing does not come. In Love Him Anyway, Abby shares her family's journey from heartbreak to triumph and reminds us that hope and joy can be found in life's hardest places.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

In this Christian-based, medical themed memoir, author Abby Banks writes of the years she and her husband spent praying and pushing through infertility struggles, eventually having two children via invitro methods. So when pregnancy #3 came along by natural means, the couple felt both shocked and blessed. Some months after their son, Wyatt, was born, the Banks put him to bed one night only to find the shock of their lives the next morning. Overnight, Wyatt seemed to have developed noticeable, unnatural mobility issues. Rushing him to the hospital, the first doctor brushed off the child's condition as a matter of "simply fatigue and dehydration". 

 

Feeling unsettled with this diagnosis, the Bankses pursue a second opinion. In comes a veteran nurse who, with a quick visual examination, dismisses the "simply dehydration" opinion and calls for further tests. Good thing, because a second doctor brings the truth out: Wyatt (still an infant, remember) had developed paralysis due to a rare autoimmune disease attacking his spinal column. To add to the strain of this moment, Abby Banks was receiving this news during the time she herself was being treated for thyroid cancer!

 

Now, when I first looked at this book -- took in the synopsis, considered the title -- I was a little confused and disturbed. My mind was thinking, "well, YEAH, should be kind of a given that any decent human would love their child no matter what... so what's with the title? Is this one of those stories where I'm expected to applaud someone for them doing what they should do naturally?" I realize that may come off harsh, but I'm an honest reviewer, one that has to make note of whatever rings odd or confusing in my mind as I'm reading so that I can hopefully make sense of it further on in the book... so, yes, these kind of thoughts / questions run through my mind as I'm mentally making notes to later work into a review. Let me just state now then, that my confusion on this matter was quickly cleared up over a few different points.

 

Firstly, I gather that the idea for the title came from a moment shortly after Abby and her husband are given the news that Wyatt would likely only have about a 33% chance of recovery from his condition, so the odds were high that he would remain wheelchair-dependent for much, if not all, of his life. When Abby and Jason try to explain to Wyatt's siblings, their elder son, Jay, responds, "We're just going to love him anyway." Abby shares her own reflections on their new reality with these words:

 

"I could drown myself in a sea of anger because life hasn't turned out the way I planned, but I know that life is a gift, and I want to fight to make ours amazing, no matter what it looks like... I cried for Wyatt and for the innocence and wisdom in Jay's precious answer. He was right. When we don't know what to do next and are crippled by fear, we love. We love until the fear is gone. When we can find no answers and can't make sense of the situations in our life, we love. Love will always be the right answer. When our faith is weak and hope is hard to find, love will carry us through."

 

Banks emphasises throughout the whole book that throughout this challenging journey, she wants to always strive to find purpose in the pain. Optimism and humor are a noticeable constant within Abby & Jason's story, which you have to admire, considering the horrifically bad luck this family has been put through! But that pursuit of the joyful seems to have been been passed on to Wyatt, as numerous times throughout this memoir Abby notes her son wearing a beaming smile throughout a slew of procedures, treatments and grim diagnoses.

 

Our nurse told us that it looked like an episode of House. The doctors and residents were searching for answers in books and running through every possibility, but they couldn't find an answer. Nothing made sense. Why would a seven-month-old simply stop moving? He was healthy. There was no fever, and he was still smiling. 

 

One aspect of this book that didn't sit quite right with me: Abby's obsession with her social media appearance -- multiple references to her consuming disappointment (to the point of being driven to tears) of not being able to create Pinterest / Instagram worthy parties, posting video of Wyatt's physical therapy on a local news channel's FB page, hoping it will get the most likes so their story can be featured on the news broadcast on tv.... these sorts of things were distracting me from the main focus of this book. I also didn't entirely agree with her stance on teaching her children that "feelings are not truth and feelings would fail them." In some cases maybe, but it's hardly a universal truth. In some life situations, it proves beneficial to choose your wild spirit, instinctual heart over your logical mind. 

 

That bit said, let me close on a strong positive note. Banks does have some quite empowering lines throughout her story here, one being: "God may not have moved the mountain but he moved me." In the closing chapters especially, Banks leaves the reader with some great, inspiring words. One of my favorites came from the chapter "What God Has Joined" where she focuses on how her marriage has transformed over the years, particularly with the challenges of Wyatt's condition. At one point, she writes, "I don't like the fire, but I like what it turns me into." Empowering words to plant into the hearts of all readers! 

 

FTC Disclaimer:  Blue Ridge CWC and Ambassador International kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

Review
3.5 Stars
Guardian Angel by William McCauley | Holocaust Remembrance Week
Guardian Angel - William  McCauley

Red-haired, freckle-faced, green-eyed Markus worries about things that bother many middle-school boys: When will my body fill out? When will my voice lower? When will I grow body hair? He wants puberty to hurry up and do its job so he can hang with the cool kids. He doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about his grandmother's experiences during the Holocaust. But when three of the A-listers ask him to work with them on their social studies Holocaust project, he sees his chance. He knows they want him on their team because of his ailing grandmother, who has a tattoo on her arm from her time in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. He reluctantly decides to talk to her. When Markus asks her about her time in Auschwitz, she violently refuses to discuss it. Her over-the-top reaction shocks Markus, and he's torn between his loyalty to her and the peer pressure at school. No matter what, though, he doesn't want to miss his chance to improve his social status. When a classmate announces that his project will prove that the Holocaust never happened, Markus pictures his old, sick grandmother in the nursing home, and he vows to disprove the student’s claim. A voice from the past accuses his grandmother of crimes during the Holocaust, and Markus’s world quickly spirals out of control. Then, because of Markus's well-intentioned effort to find someone who knew his grandmother during the war, a stranger who knew her in Auschwitz surfaces with shocking and mysterious secrets, and Markus has to come to an entirely new understanding of what the truth actually is. Suddenly, the Holocaust is not just a chapter in his history book...it's his life.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

To date, thirteen year old Markus has never had a strong interest in hearing his Oma's (grandmother) stories regarding her Holocaust experiences. She's never gone into much detail about that time in her life anyway, tending to hesitate or change the subject whenever the topic is broached. But when three of the most popular kids in school ask him to team up with them on their Holocaust project, Markus is suddenly looking at Oma in a new light!  Being a newly minted teenager, Markus has been having a tough time on the puberty front. Already battling through years of ridicule for being a ginger, now he's got the fun of voice cracking on top of that. But if he gets in with the popular kids, his school rep might have a chance at being saved. 

 

He runs into a problem though: when Markus approaches her to start what he believes will be a series of in-depth sit-down conversations, his grandmother is now tight-lipped. In fact, Markus is shocked at her downright violent response when he puts forth a question about Auschwitz.

 

Some days later, when Markus informs Oma that one of his classmates is planning on doing a denier stance (arguing that it never happened) on the Holocaust, she decides it's time to face these skeptics once and for all and share her story. Additionally, Markus finds an online support group for Holocaust survivors and gets the idea that he might be able to track someone down who knew Oma (Sarah Goldberg) during that time, offering additional support & credence to the details of her account. 

 

Things get progressively more and more sticky the more time Markus spends on the online support group. His inquiries get a hit and culminate in the arrival of a mystery man who shows up at the nursing home where Sarah lives, claiming he definitely remembers her from Auschwitz.  This progresses into the US Justice Department getting wind of this meeting and sending federal agents out to investigate. Now the agents are suspicious that Sarah is hiding some incriminating truths about her past. Because there is no statute of limitations on war crimes, these are serious allegations indeed. Soon enough, the media gets involved, which then leads to protestors parking themselves outside the nursing home, picketing and yelling that their good town is harboring war criminals!

 

It is at this point in the story that the reader, through the actions being described to them, is asked to ponder on the dangers of history repeating itself, the potential ruination that can come to a person's life if you put more faith in what you HEAR versus what you KNOW to be true. These scenes also offer strong social commentary on the power of media in general, a topic that is all too relevant in todays' world! Think about it, how much spin is put on the news stories being presented to you? What facts are conveniently left out to further one side's agenda? What's the possibly irreparable damage someone's life might suffer as a result of this selective presentation of facts?

 

After awhile, Oma Sarah has just had enough. All of a sudden she takes on this mood of "Fine, you want to know the story, HERE IT IS" and just lays everything out there. Getting her number tattoo. How her face became permanent scarred on one side. Why all the secrets and shadiness around her story.... the last 50 pages or so of this book felt just chock full of twists and turns and revelations! 

 

There may be readers that don't agree with or aren't satisfied with the truth of Oma's story, the decisions she made that helped her to survive. Still, her story brings forth an important message that all readers will benefit to take in. It's presented with a Holocaust theme, but the reader can connect with it a number of different ways... and that's the topic of how we personally identify ourselves (or what we identify with) and the complexity of that. The lifelong journey behind it. Oma explains to readers that an identification number is just that --- a number --- it does NOT define your soul's identity. You are an individual,  full of unique dreams, goals, interests, loves... not a number forced upon you with the calculated intent to make you feel blurred, lost in a crowd, easily forgettable. As one line in the book says, "It's what we DO with our lives that gives us identity."

 

I saw some similarities in theme and feel between this book and The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen, mostly through the involvement of a teen getting to know their Holocaust-surviving grandmother on a much deeper level. Though both novels might incorporated similar themes and settings, they are each unique in their storytelling presentation.

 

I struggled some with connecting with Markus, particularly with the way he treated his "uncool" friends -- a gay guy and a black girl. I was definitely taken aback with his comment about his female friend, "I defended her and her stout behind all these years."... whoa, wait, so did he think he was doing them a FAVOR, being a friend to "the gay guy and the token black girl"... what was that about?! Speaking of the kids in this book, I was a little disappointed with the dialogue in general. The story is supposed to take place in a modern day school setting for the most part, but the choice of wording for the school kids had them sounding more like some 1970s kids movie rather than today's world. Outside of the school setting though, Markus and his mother had a very sweet, lighthearted mother-son banter between them that was fun to read. 

 

A note to parents and educators: though this is marketed to the middle-grade and YA reader, there is healthy dose of profanity throughout the book, so you may want to do a discretionary read-through if you have concerns about such things. 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer:  Reading Addiction Book Tours kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

 

 

_____________

 

EXTRAS

 

* I highly recommend checking out the documentary Prisoner Number A26188: Henia Bryer (Holocaust Survivor Documentary) by Timeline World History Documentaries, currently free to watch on Youtube. Tragic story but the film is SO well done! 

 

 

Review
4 Stars
The Complete Maus (25th Anniversary Ed.) by Art Spiegelman | Holocaust Remembrance Week
The Complete Maus - Art Spiegelman

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity and succeeds in “drawing us closer to the bleak heart of the Holocaust” (The New York Times).
Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Inspired by the Holocaust experience of his own parents, cartoonist Art Spiegelman writes and illustrates this Pulitzer Prize wining story of a grown son, also a cartoonist (yes, this one is in the meta / semi-autobio style) who sits down with his father, Vladek  Spiegelman, to record Vladek's story with the intent to publish it. Perhaps to soften some of the more violent aspects of Vladek's story, the tale is told anthropomorphically-- Nazi soldiers are portrayed as big, burly cats, Jewish prisoners are mice, and one African-American man is illustrated as a black dog. 

 

 

Vladek starts with the story of meeting his wife, Anja, and their years together as newlyweds prior to the war. In 1938, Anja develops post-partum depression and is taken to a sanitarium in Czechoslovakia where she experiences, for the first time, full-force anti-Semitism. From there, the war story of Anja and Vladek only gets more painful. Even Anja's millionaire parents couldn't buy her safety. Once captured, Vladek explains that he was able to get some leniency with the Germans because even though his family was Polish, he could speak and write in German, so the Nazis found him useful. 

 

This special anniversary edition features the entire story, Vols 1 & 2, together in one book. As I mentioned before, the story does dip in and out of meta style storytelling. Towards the middle of the book, there is a kind of mini-comic insert where author Art Spiegelman tells the real life tragic story of his own mother's suicide. This book as a whole is not for the faint of heart. There are illustrations of mice with nooses around their necks, descriptions of children being picked up by their legs and swung into brick walls to stop them from crying / screaming (the noise giving away the location of those in hiding). Near the end of Vol. 2 there is also pretty detailed description of the interiors of the gas chambers. This edition also features one color map (the rest of the book is done in black and white) that shows the full layout of the Auschwitz camp. 

 

 

 

Blended with the Holocaust theme, Spiegelman also brings in a modern day father-son relationship story of a grown man honestly trying to make the effort to finally, hopefully, understand the father who has always slightly confounded him. There are some tense life truths brought to the table during these scenes but it provided a relatable, poignant layer to the whole experience that I came to really appreciate. 

 

If you're now reading this thinking, "Man, there is no way I could get through anything that dark," Spiegelman might have had such readers in mind because he does offer moments of levity as well. There's the somewhat scary but also creepy-humorous story of Lucia, the woman who went Stage 5 Clinger on Vladek when he became interested in someone else.

 

 

 

 

Old man Vladek is also dad-funny during his conversations with his son, saying things like "famous like that one guy".... I don't know though, there were a few moments there where old Vladek was coming off as pretty strongly racist himself... so it left me with mixed feelings about him. 

 

I'm glad I finally took the opportunity to experience this epic graphic novel I've heard so much about over the years. The story is a tough one to take, but important to hear. Truthfully though, I'm not sure it's one I see myself revisiting, at least not any time soon. 

Review
3.5 Stars
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry | Holocaust Remembrance Day (April 12th)
Number the Stars - Lois Lowry

As the German troops begin their campaign to "relocate" all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family. Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war. Winner of the 1990 Newbery Medal.

Goodreads.com

 

 

 

Best friends Annemarie Johansen and Ellen Rosen are living in Denmark in 1943 when the anti-Semitism of WW2 takes hold of their community. Fearing the Germans may capture Ellen, whose family is Jewish, the decision is made for Ellen to move in with Annemarie's family (not Jewish) and pose as one of their daughters.

 

Inspired by the experiences of her real-life friend Annelise Pratt, Lowry writes Number The Stars in a simple and succint, easy to understand style, but the story here will still pack quite the punch for middle-grade readers, I'm sure. Mixed in with Annemarie and Ellen's quiet story of survival are historical sidenotes that will give readers perspective, such as the story of King Christian X, the Danish Jews smuggled into Sweden, and the importance of a handkerchief. There's also the little bit of heartbreak that is the scene of the Danish Navy blowing up their own naval yard before the Germans can get to it. When Annemarie's family hears the noise, which scares Annemarie's younger sister, Kirsti, the mother just calmly tells her that those are fireworks for Kirsti's 5th birthday. 

 

This being a WW2 historical fiction novel involving the Holocaust, it's no surprise there is mention of violence and even executions. Still, there is a small cord of hope that runs through even the more sad portions of the story. Being of Danish heritage myself, it was also interesting to see the role the Danes played in this part of history, a story I knew next to nothing about! 

Review
4 Stars
The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen | Holocaust Remembrance Day (April 12th)
The Devil's Arithmetic - Jane Yolen, Steve Cieslawski

Hannah dreads going to her family's Passover Seder—she's tired of hearing her relatives talk about the past. But when she opens the front door to symbolically welcome the prophet Elijah, she's transported to a Polish village in the year 1942. Why is she there, and who is this "Chaya" that everyone seems to think she is? Just as she begins to unravel the mystery, Nazi soldiers come to take everyone in the village away. And only Hannah knows the unspeakable horrors that await.

Goodreads.com

 

 

 

Hannah is twelve, almost thirteen, and by now is very much bored with the tradition of going to her grandmother's house for Passover Seder every year. Every year, someone in the family is chosen to go to the front door and symbolically welcome the prophet Elijah in. This year, Hannah is chosen. She grudgingly drags herself to the door and as soon as she opens it she is immediately thrown back in time to 1942 Poland. 

 

Everyone Hannah sees seems to recognize her, but she's surprised to hear they keep calling her "Chaya", her Hebrew name in honor of her Aunt Eva's deceased friend. Hannah understandably feels incredibly lost and out of place, which becomes evident to others with her behavior, but they chalk up "Chaya's" sudden strange ways to her having recently lost both her parents to a cholera epidemic that apparently also very nearly killed her. 

 

Hannah doesn't immediately consider the possibility that she has time-traveled. Rather, she assumes it's a well orchestrated joke her family has carried out... or maybe a dream? It's not until someone uses a phrase Hannah's only ever known her grandfather to use that she starts to suspect the truth of her new reality. When it dawns on her just what this means, she tries to warn others of what their future holds, based on what she's learned so far in her own time period, but no one believes such premonitions of evil could be even remotely possible. Not until it's too late and the wheels of what is to be history are in motion. 

 

Originally published in 1988, this story now reads dated in certain parts. There's mention of shows like General Hospital and movies like Yentl and Conan The Barbarian (btw -- spoilers in this book for the movie Yentl and the novel Little Women). That said, this story still holds up well when it comes to its themes of family bonds and the importance of educating oneself so as not to have horrible history repeated. Yolen's novel illustrates how a sense of community can develop in even the most hellish conditions, how vital that community becomes in terms of mental and physical survival. A reader can't help but be moved by how these characters cling to hope and faith to keep alive, the stolen moments of laughter when you know death is possibly imminent. 

 

Hannah's realization of what her journey truly means, the epiphany she has near the end of the story, brought an honest tear to my eye... that final act of selflessness, the understanding she finally had of all her grandmother had endured.

 

At the end of the book, Yolen writes an afterword entitled "What Is True About This Book" where she breaks down the facts that inspired the story and what portions came directly from her imagination. If you want an enhanced experience of this book, I would recommend the movie adaptation starring Kirsten Dunst. It appears a little low-budget in the beginning, but ends up being a nicely done translation of this work. 

Review
4 Stars
Escape In Time by Ronit Lowenstein-Malz | Holocaust Remembrance Day (April 12th)
Escape in Time: Miri's riveting tale of her family's survival during World War II - Ronit Lowenstein-Malz, Laurie McGaw

Nessya’s grandmother, Miri Eneman Malz, has friends, a loving family—and a secret: she is a Holocaust survivor. When twelve-year-old Nessya learns the truth, she wants to know what happened. After decades of silence, Grandma Miri decides it’s time to tell her story. It all begins one terrible day in the spring of 1944, when Germany crosses Hungary’s border and soldiers arrive in Miri’s hometown of Munkács. Suddenly, the Jews are trapped and in danger. Surrounded by war and unimaginable hatred, the family makes a daring escape. But that is only the beginning, and over the course of the year new threats continually confront them. Incredibly, despite numerous close calls, they defy the odds and live. Based upon actual memoirs, this is the story of the Eneman family . . . of their remarkable ingenuity, astonishing luck, boundless courage, and unending love.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNINGThis novel does touch upon the topic of suicide. 

 

Nessya is twelve years old when her Hungarian grandmother, Miri, reluctantly begins to share the darkest details of her Holocaust experience. Miri decides to write it all down, as she feels it will be easier to get the story out that way than if she were to speak the memories aloud.

 

"I wrote down the story of our family," Grandma said. "It is the story of the survival of two parents and their four daughters. One of the daughters, the youngest, was twelve years old when it all began. That girl is me. The world was at war, so instead of playing and learning, we were busy escaping and hiding. During this time, we quietly celebrated my thirteenth birthday. And while I had nothing to unwrap that year, no ribbons to untie, I received the most beautiful gift I could wish for: Life."

 

 

Through Miri's story, the reader is given specific details on how individuals and families were treated within the concentration camps. Such details covered:

 

> Mandatory curfews within Jewish communities prior to residents being forced to move to the camps; also business licenses of Jewish owners being revoked, removing the business owners' ability to provide for their families. There are descriptions within this book of some families being forced to cut up a dead horse to keep from starving to death themselves.

 

> Families were driven out of nice, clean communities into cramped, dirty ghettos. Miri's family was living with 4 other families in a one bedroom apartment in one such ghetto! 

 

> While still residing in their towns, Jewish residents were forced to wear circular yellow patches signifying that they were Jewish. These were the precursors to the yellow stars Jewish people were forced to wear in the camps. 

 

> Miri describes the children in her village learning how to speak in code from an early age, as well as learning to decifer coded letters from family during the war. In her story, she explains that there was a false sense of security that came with being educated and behaving cooperatively with the Nazi soldiers. You never knew who they were going to turn on. Miri's own father, Apu (aka Naftuli), was considered a doomsday-ish worrywart type with his gloomy prophecies about the Nazis, until his predictions started coming true. 

 

I was, naturally, distressed by our chance in circumstances. Most of my belongings had been left at home, including my schoolbooks. I was, however, able to bring my geography text and a slim volume of some of Shakespeare's plays. Anyu had told me when she slipped them into my suitcase that with these books I'd always have the world in my hands and poetry in my heart. 

 

Miri's tale also gives reader an idea of the lengths Jewish citizens had to go to to escape German capture: the complex escape plots; creating fake transportation / documentation papers, relocating and living under new names altogether; families sometimes forced to split up (maybe forever) as a matter of survival. As Nessya reads of the tension, anxiety and uncertainty swirling around her grandmother's fate, the reader feels Nessya's emotions right along with her. The author also works in an important idea at this point: It's easy to judge the past actions of our relatives / ancestors (and possibly how those choices affected later behavior) from the comfort of present day.  Lowenstein-Malz illustrates this nicely with the description of Nessya reading her grandmother's words and feeling utterly heartbroken for her... but Nessya is reading these words sitting outside in the sun with a nice glass of iced tea and a plate of cookies.

 

This novel has a bit of a slow beginning, and while the book in its entirety is very short (less than 200 pages), there were passages that dragged a bit, sometimes reading more like a textbook than a novel. But the story does pick up and soon enough you are very much in Miri's world getting quite the education on this time period. The storytelling is enhanced by lovely pencil sketch illustrations done by Laurie McGaw. 

 

 

Translated from the original Hebrew by Leora Frankel, this novel was first published in Tel Aviv, Israel in 2006 under the title A Miracle of Love. In 2008, it was awarded the Yad Vashem Prize for Children's Holocaust Literature. The English translation provides a handy pronunciation guide for the some of the Hebrew vocabulary and Jewish cities mentioned throughout the novel, but there were a few lines here and there where the English grammar still seemed just slightly off.

 

FTC Disclaimer:  MB Publishing kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

Review
4 Stars
Is It Night Or Day? by Fern Schumer Chapman | Holocaust Remembrance Day (April 12th)
Is It Night or Day? - Fern Schumer Chapman

1938. Twelve-year old Edith  has lived a protected life in the tiny German town of Stockstadt am Rhein. Now, as brutal acts of anti-Semitism explode in Hitler's Germany, she is about to travel thousands of miles over land and sea to a place that seems as foreign as the moon: Chicago, Illinois. And because her parents can't get permission to leave Germany, she is traveling alone. Haunted by losses, Edith must adjust to life in a country where everyone she meets tries to define her with a single phrase -- German, Jew, enemy alien. And as she struggles to uncover who she really is, the answers arrive from some surprising places. Inspired by the experiences of Fern Schumer Chapman's own mother, one of the 1200 children rescued from the Holocaust by Americans as part of the One Thousand Children project, this dramatic first person story asks the chilling question that all immigrant children who flee alone must answer: What is left when everything is taken away?

~ Hardcover ed. synopsis

 

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel does touch upon the topic of suicide. 

 

Teenage Edith's family has lived in the small town of Stockstadt, Germany (just outside of Frankfurt) for two centuries. Even much of Edith's childhood consisted of a very safe, sheltered existence. But now, in the 1930s, the political climate has changed. Suddenly, the most general outings such as grocery shopping, attending movies, even using the community pool, are all carried out with intense fear. Once closeted anti-Semitic neighbors begin to cut ties with Edith's family. {Similar behavior was being carried out all over the world, actually -- South America, Cuba, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Palestine, just to name a few.}

 

This rising anti-Semitism brings Edith's family the decision to relocate to the United States. During this period in history, there was a program called Kindertransport that sent Jewish children to England for protection, but so many were seeking help that it quickly became near impossible to get into this program, so the States seemed like the next best option. Edith's parents arrange for her to be taken in with relatives in Chicago, Illinois but then soon find out they themselves are unable to leave Germany, so she's forced to make the trip alone. 

 

Is It Night Or Day? is told from Edith's first person perspective. The reader travels with her as she moves through the immigrant lines at Ellis Island, the whirlwind sensory experience she has seeing Times Square for the first time, taking in Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, the Empire State Building ---- the works! She finds herself immediately fascinated with all the freedoms of America, particularly within the Jewish neighborhood she's moved into: women are wearing nail polish (deemed sinful under Hitler's reign) and both men and women walk about freely displacing Star of David necklaces around their necks. 

 

 

Edith settles in with her Uncle Jakob and Aunt Mildred. There's immediate tension in the house though, as Mildred seems disgusted with anything German-related (umm, has she met her husband?!) Mildred ends up treating Edith more like a house servant than her niece. In fact, not long after Edith moves in, Mildred hands her a long list of areas of the house she expects Edith to clean every day; she's not given a room of her own but forced to sleep on the living room couch; allowed NO extra snacks between meals; virtually no socializing is allowed in the home AND Mildred is pretty emotionally abusive to Edith to boot. Uncle Jakob (Mildred insists he be called "Uncle Jack") works long hours as an accountant so he's largely unaware of the hard time his niece is having trying to co-exist with his wife. 

 

This being her first experience in her new life in a foreign land, Edith is naturally depressed, but she tries to make the best of her experiences outside the home. Even there, though, life is a constant challenge. She takes in Snow White at the theater, but finds the experience terrifying. She attends her first school dance, develops a crush on a boy, but then feels guilty for feeling joy about something when she thinks of how much her parents back in Germany must be struggling. 

 

I couldn't enjoy anything. Just like when I had come over on the boat years ago, I wasn't hungry and, when I did eat, nothing had any taste -- even ice cream. Sorrow was always with me. And when I experienced things that had brought me pleasure in the past -- a warm day, a walk, a meal with braided bread, anything that I might have shared with my parents -- I was overwhelmed with grief.

 

Her experiences in the American school system prove to be some of her biggest challenges in this new life. Because her English is limited, teenage Edith is placed in a class of first graders and from day one forced to say The Pledge of Allegiance. What I thought was odd was the description of how the pledge was done. Never in all my school years, did we ever recite the pledge with our arms straight out?! But the moment proves triggering for Edith, as it looks too close to the Nazi salute:

 

The children stood facing the flag and lifted their right arms straight out in front of their bodies, palms down, while saying the pledge. Watching them, I gasped, remembering when students in my German classroom started using the Nazi salute, just about the time the neighbors beat up my father. 

 

But she soon discovers she has a knack for learning language, so she finds herself grasping English very quickly, moving through the grades until she is with her peer grade in just a matter of months. But here again comes the guilt: Does success in her American studies mean she is betraying or disrespecting her German roots? 

 

Edith struggles to find a balance in her heart, a struggle that seems amplified whenever she tries to set up meetings with her sister, Betty. Betty had come to the States some time before Edith and was placed with a foster family about an hour away from where Edith is living now. Though it might not seem such a distance, it takes about a month after Edith's arrival in the country for the sisters to find opportunity to meet up. Though happy for the reunion, Edith is taken aback at just how much Betty seems to have embraced her life in America. Much like Mildred, Betty prefers to distance herself from anything German now, even advising Edith to stop speaking in German altogether as soon as possible. Once again, that torn feeling. She sees the benefits of "toning down" her German-ness here, but she also wants to honor her parents who have sacrificed so much to provide her with a safer life situation. 

 

This novel also provides a bit of a side story on the historical fiction front. At one point, Edith receives a letter from a boy she met and befriended on the boat to America. He writes that he was placed in an orphanage in Alabama, and from his town has witnessed first hand the result of Jim Crow laws, likening the signs he sees to the "No Jews" signs they'd both seen posted elsewhere. The education on racism continues when Edith first discovers a love for the game of baseball. When invited to attend her first stadium game to see the White Sox, she is so taken with the excitement of the environment! That is, until she hears men in the seats in front of her hurling racial slurs at Jewish Detroit Tigers power-hitter Hank Greenberg

 

Instead of trying to make friends, I started going to the library; it was the only place where I wasn't the poor refugee girl or the Kraut or, even worse, the Jew. I could just be me and lose myself in books. And there, I got the first thing that could belong only to me: a library card.... What was really important though, was that I felt safe there. The characters in my books didn't tease me, hurt me, reject or abandon me. They were much more reliable than real people, and not even Aunt Mildred could take them away. 

 

Inspired by the true story of her own mother, author / journalist Fern Schumer Chapman writes one moving tale of one of the lesser known aspects of this heartbreaking era in history. Chapman writes in her afterword that her mother (also named Edith) was one of the children taken into the One Thousand Children Project. While relaying a dramatic but continually interesting story regarding an important historical snapshot, Chapman's writing style itself has a natural, comfortable flow to it that sets the reader up for a touching, empathy-inducing reading experience all around. I highly recommend educators try this one as a teaching tool for easing middle-grade history students into such a heart-wrenching history lesson. 

Review
2.5 Stars
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
Days Without End - Sebastian Barry

Thomas McNulty, aged barely seventeen and having fled the Great Famine in Ireland, signs up for the U.S. Army in the 1850s. With his brother in arms, John Cole, Thomas goes on to fight in the Indian Wars—against the Sioux and the Yurok—and, ultimately, the Civil War. Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, the men find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in. Moving from the plains of Wyoming to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry’s latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. An intensely poignant story of two men and the makeshift family they create with a young Sioux girl, Winona, Days Without End is a fresh and haunting portrait of the most fateful years in American history and is a novel never to be forgotten.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Just after his 17th birthday, Thomas McNulty and his friend, John Cole, decide to enlist in the US Army as a way to escape their bleak home lives. This decision takes them through service during the Indian and Civil Wars. While they may have anticipated great adventures, they had no way of knowing the horrors of war that awaited them. 

 

The first half of the novel focuses on the Indian War years, as the boys not only learn basic soldiering, but also how to survive all the different types of weather and terrain as they march or ride across the country. Mother Nature brings them battles of her own in the form of vicious heat over the flatlands, freezing winters in camps with beyond meager supplies, fever epidemics, and food shortages (even the horses are starving to death). 

 

Racism of the day is another strong theme in this work. Though not written as one of the novel's racist characters himself, Thomas points out to the reader various examples he sees throughout the course of his life. For one, an Army acquaintance of Thomas and John's falls in love with an Ogalala Sioux woman, fathers a son with her. Thomas's response to the news: "I guess love laughs at history a little." Then there's John himself, who is part Native American... apparently that "part" is visible enough in his appearance for him to get a dose of hate speech directed his way.

 

We were two wood shavings of humanity in a rough world.. (Thomas re: him and John)... You had to love John Cole for what he chose never to say. He said plenty of the useful stuff

 

 

There's also the matter of Thomas and his friends working at a theater between tours of duty, a job that occasionally has them doing minstrel shows in blackface. I'd also mention that there is a description near the end of the book where the men remember coming upon 30 black people who had recently been hanged together. I warn you, this description is mildly graphic.

 

In truth, there's a strong dose of graphic material throughout the whole novel. Chapter 2 is mostly about hunting, killing, and cutting up buffalo. Chapter 3 focuses on massacring Indians. The gritty, graphic nature of the writing only increases as you approach the closing chapters of the story. 

 

Chapter 12 starts the Civil War experiences, sending Thomas and John to Boston, Massachusetts for training. There Thomas meets a fellow Irish immigrant. They swap stories of their "coming over" experience on the boats, giving the reader a grim look at the reality of what families risked to get here for the chance at a new life. It is through this meeting that Thomas ponders on the realization of just how often Irish men were treated like total scum... until the Army needed soldiers for their causes. 

 

The story is told in Thomas's first person perspective, but as an older man now retired and living in Tennessee, looking back on his wild youth. Said youth starts in Ireland, but (after he loses his entire family) soon brings him to the US as a teenage immigrant, eventually deciding to settle in Missouri. If you struggle with reading stories written in dialects, I warn you that this one is written in a kind of "country boy" voice that only gets stronger as your reading progresses. There's also a healthy dose of cursing -- some used just as a matter of speech, some as actual intended profanity in the situation. 

 

Thomas also describes what it was like being a gay man -- his lover being his friend John -- in this era, with a penchant for cross dressing. Every so often we also get a glimpse of his sassiness, such as his thoughts on his short stature: "I'm a little man right enough but maybe the best dagger is a short one sometimes." (Meanwhile, John is 6'3.)

 

The plot didn't keep my attention all that well. There is something to Barry's writing that I could appreciate. The verbiage itself is solid enough, Thomas gives the reader a good laugh here and there, there are lots of pretty lines -- such as "our breath is flowing out like lonesome flowers that die on the air" --  but something was still lacking. I just didn't find myself emotionally committing to these characters, as far as their life stories go. What I do give points for are the themes / topics Barry leaves you to ponder on, such as racism of the era, the topic of immigration, or my favorite, the dichotomy that extends to exist within the Irish spirit. The sweetness vs. the hellfire. There's a whole passage on this that really rang true with me and had me nodding in recognition! 

 

Review
3 Stars
Touchy Subjects by Emma Donoghue
Touchy Subjects - Emma Donoghue

How do you make conversation with a sperm donor? How do you say someone's novel is drivel? Would you give a screaming baby brandy? In what words would you tell your girlfriend to pluck a hair on her chin? Touchy Subjects is about things that make people wince: taboos, controversies, secrets and lies. Some of the events that characters crash into are grand, tragic ones: miscarriage, overdose, missing persons, a mother who deserts her children. Other topics, like religion and money, are not inherently taboo, but they can cause acute discomfort because people disagree so vehemently. Many of these stories are about the spectrum of constrained, convoluted feeling that runs from awkwardness through embarrassment to shame.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

In this odd little short story collection, Emma Donoghue breaks up her tales into five categories of general life: Babies, Domesticity, Strangers, Desire and Death. A rundown of of the stories:

 

BABIES

 

"Touchy Subjects" (title story) -- a man agrees to be the sperm donor to his wife's best friend. Story gets into general discussion of fertility struggles of women

 

"Expecting" -- a woman lies about being pregnant, the lie gets out of hand

 

"The Man Who Wrote On Beaches" -- a man turns 43 and finds religion, which causes upset in his relationship with his agnostic girlfriend (there is a baby discussion here, if you're wondering)

 

"OOPS" -- James helps friend Neasa through a pregnancy he assumes is unplanned and unwanted, sets himself up as surrogate "uncle" to the child, helping with child rearing over the years

 

"Through The Night" -- Pre-motherhood Una was known for being quite the stoic. Now after giving birth, she finds herself deep in the throws of sleep deprivation and postpartum depression, uneasy with the dark places her mind is drifting. 

 

"Do They Know It's Christmas?" -- A childless couple has embraced their life as dog parents and all is well until the holidays come and they're asked to leave the dogs at home while they attend a family gathering.

 

DOMESTICITY

 

"Lavender's Blue" -- A couple goes near-mad trying to agree on the perfect shade of slate blue to paint the exterior of their house

 

"The Cost of Things" -- An emotional rift develops between a lesbian couple over the medical expenses for their sick cat

 

"Pluck" -- A husband becomes fixated on a single dark hair on his wife's chin

 

STRANGERS

 

"Good Deed" -- A wealthy Canadian man struggles to decide on a course of action over a homeless man he finds laying in the street, bleeding from the mouth 

 

"The Sanctuary of Hands" -- In Toulouse, France, a woman decides to take a tour of underground caverns, but is unsettled by a group of special needs adults joining her tour group. 

 

"WritOr" -- A once successful writer, now struggling with mounting debt, grudgingly agrees to accept a "Writer In Residence" position at a small college, giving writing advice to aspiring authors. 

 

DESIRE

 

"Team Men" -- Teenager Jonathan plays on a football team, with his dad as the coach. His dad is pretty hard on him, when it comes to critiquing Jonathan's athletic ability. When new guy Davy joins the team, Davy quickly becomes the star player. Jonathan feels a little threatened by him at first, but before long they become good friends who progess into secret lovers. Though they think they've been successful keeping their relationship under wraps, Jonathan's father turns mysteriously, progressively angry towards the both of them. 

 

"Speaking In Tongues" -- Ladies Lee and Sylvia fall for each other after meeting at a conference

 

"The Welcome" -- Luce sees one 5-line ad for womens' housing, finds herself triggered by the spelling errors and the political correctness seeping through the choice of wording 

 

DEATH

 

"The Dormition of the Virgin" -- George is vacationing in Italy. The last day of his stay he comes upon a dead body.

 

"Enchantment" -- Pitre and Bunch are two longtime friends living in Louisiana who get competitive with running swamp tours... until Pitre falls gravely ill

 

"Baggage" -- Niniane is in Hollywood .... partly on holiday, partly to find out information regarding her estranged brother

 

"Necessary Noise" -- Two sisters pick up their brother from a nightclub, immediately have to rush him to a hospital when he appears to be extremely ill and under the influence of serious drugs. 

 

 

 

Overall Impressions:

 

I closed the book with a strong feeling of MEH. In a number of these stories, there are definitely intriguing ideas that Donoghue experiments with.. they just didn't really go anywhere. Most of these stories didn't close on strong, impactful moments, instead just kinda .. dropped off... which is one of my big peeves with short story collections in general. I will say though, I enjoyed the second half of the book much more than the first. I was close to DNF-ing after the first few stories but something was telling me to hang in there.

 

I'm glad I did, largely for "WritOr", which ended up being my favorite story in the whole book. After a number of bland bits in the earlier portion of this collection, I was pleasantly surprised to find such humor in "WritOr". Granted, it might be the "you had to be there" brand of humor. Being a writer myself, who worked as a writing tutor in college, a lot of what Donoghue illustrates in this particular story brought back vivid memories of my own experiences in that environment. Perhaps for that story alone, maybe a couple others that made me smile or think for a moment, I'll likely end up keeping this one on my shelves, at least for the time being. But if you haven't tried any of Donoghue's work before, I would NOT recommend starting here. 

Review
3 Stars
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
TransAtlantic - Colum McCann

Newfoundland, 1919. Two aviators—Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown—set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, placing their trust in a modified bomber to heal the wounds of the Great War. Dublin, 1845 and ’46. On an international lecture tour in support of his subversive autobiography, Frederick Douglass finds the Irish people sympathetic to the abolitionist cause—despite the fact that, as famine ravages the countryside, the poor suffer from hardships that are astonishing even to an American slave. New York, 1998. Leaving behind a young wife and newborn child, Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, where it has fallen to him, the son of an Irish-American father and a Lebanese mother, to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion. These three iconic crossings are connected by a series of remarkable women whose personal stories are caught up in the swells of history. Beginning with Irish housemaid Lily Duggan, who crosses paths with Frederick Douglass, the novel follows her daughter and granddaughter, Emily and Lottie, and culminates in the present-day story of Hannah Carson, in whom all the hopes and failures of previous generations live on. From the loughs of Ireland to the flatlands of Missouri and the windswept coast of Newfoundland, their journeys mirror the progress and shape of history. They each learn that even the most unassuming moments of grace have a way of rippling through time, space, and memory.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

This novel open in 2012 but before the final page ends up spanning two continents and three centuries. Though considered a complete novel, TransAtlantic ends up having more the feel of interconnected short stories, the first being of two former WW1 pilots, Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown, in Newfoundland in 1919, who are attempting the first nonstop transatlantic flight after modifying an old bomber plane.

 

Days of welding, soldering, sanding, stitching. The bomb bays were replaced by extra petrol tanks. That's what pleased Brown the most. They were using the bomber in a brand-new way: taking the war out of the plane, stripping the whole thing of its penchant for carnage. 

 

 

Their destination: Ireland. The project is riddled with setbacks. Just the attempt to fly from London -- when they're SO close to the finish line! --  to Clifden, Ireland causes the plane to basically crumble apart at times, nearly killing them more than once! 

 

From there, the story stays in Ireland but jumps back to the year 1845. Former slave / abolitionist Frederick Douglass is visiting Dublin while on a European tour to promote his memoirs (and thereby his abolitionist message). It is during this time that author Colum McCann paints a picture of what the era of the potato famine might have looked like to someone who had likewise known extreme hardships such as Douglass. 

 

Douglass writes to wife Anna about his impressions of Ireland and its people, initially noting that he finds himself quite at ease, as the people are incredibly friendly and respectful, not an n-word hurled at him once. That, the reader will find, is short-lived. Douglass starts doing joint speaking engagements with "The Great Liberator" Daniel O'Connell. People start calling Douglass "the black O'Connell". As the tour continues, Douglass starts to notice his own publisher (international, that is), Webb, treats him more and more like a specimen or a roadshow attraction. Webb becomes noticeably more stingy with covering Douglass' travel expenses. That slur usage Douglass thought was absent in Ireland ends up rearing its head in Cork as Douglass is simply walking down a street one day. It is during this time that author McCann also works in the storyline of Douglass making plans on how to officially negotiate his freedom while in England. 

 

Douglass (at least McCann's portrayal of him) does describe a moment of PTSD while being fitted for a suit while overseas, a moment in the experience throwing him back to his days as a slave. 

 

The reader is also given a more modern story, comparatively, involving Irish-American senator George Mitchell, based in NYC, who heads to Belfast in 1998 to try to help promote peace talks in Northern Ireland. (Colum McCann himself, per his author blurb, was born in Dublin but now lives in NYC). When it came to this portion of the book, the bits about the senator being so in love with his wife were very sweet but overall I found myself a bit bored by his storyline.

 

Have I mentioned how much this book jumps back and forth between all these different eras? Yeah, if you like your fiction strictly chronological, TransAtlantic might prove to be a challenge for you. Comfortable in that 1990s setting? Too bad! McCann will slingshot you over to Civil War era and back again. A heads up regarding that, if you are a sensitive reader: much of this book is pretty tame (low violence factor), but the Civil War portions do contain some crude, graphic descriptions that may possibly turn your stomach. 

 

Part of what kept me reading was trying to figure out how all these characters were connected ... I assumed there must be at least some link, even a thin one... it wasn't always immediately evident what those connections were. But in the case of Douglass's story, there was a character there that comes back around years later and links stuff up for the reader in Part 2. This character's story, with her connection to Douglass... in a way it saddened me, but there was something there that leaves a feeling of optimism for the future. 

 

In general, the plots going on within the various storylines were mildly interesting, but nothing really deeply hooked me as a reader. Also, the jumping around seemed to lack finesse, instead giving me a bit of a headache trying to keep up and make sense of all the details being tossed about. 

 

_____

 

EXTRAS

 

* In his acknowledgements section, Colum McCann gives a shout-out to Irish actor Gabriel Byrne as part of the "TransAtlantic Crew"... makes me wonder if a movie adaptation was ever in the works? I can't find evidence of this anywhere online... later on he also gives nods to fellow writers Michael Ondaatje (of The English Patient fame) and Wendell Berry.

Review
2 Stars
Alpha & Omega -- Cry Wolf: Volume One by Patricia Briggs
Alpha and Omega: Cry Wolf  -  David Lawrence,  Todd Herman,  Jenny Frison, Patricia Briggs

Anna never knew werewolves existed, until the night she survived a violent attack…and became one herself. After three years at the bottom of the pack, she’s learned to keep her head down and never, ever trust dominant males. Then Charles Cornick, the enforcer—and son—of the leader of the North American werewolves, came into her life. Charles insists that not only is Anna his mate, but she is also a rare and valued Omega wolf. And it is Anna’s inner strength and calming presence that will prove invaluable as she and Charles go on the hunt in search of a rogue werewolf—a creature bound in magic so dark that it could threaten all the pack…

Amazon.com

 

 

Text Adaptation of the novels: David Lawrence

Art: Todd Herman

Coloring: Mohan

Cover Art: Jenny Frison

 

This graphic novel collection is based on Patricia Briggs' novel Cry Wolf, this book rounding up the first four issues of the graphic novel adaptation. The cover also proclaims that this special edition offers a previously unpublished version of Issue 1. 

 

In a nutshell, here's the rundown of the story: Anna Latham goes on what amounts to a pity date with this guy (she's not really feelin' him but agrees to go out anyway). Turns out the guy is a werewolf who essentially kidnaps her, takes her to his pack in Chicago (or the area anyway), transforms her into a werewolf and then him and his crew proceed to torture her in various ways until she is somehow rescued by the Cornick werewolves of Montana (this book doesn't really offer too much in details on that portion of the story, guess you'll have to rely on the novel to fill you in).

 

Bran Cornick is the "marrok" -- or basically the Godfather -- of ALL North American werewolves. His son, Charles, insists that newcomer Anna is an Omega wolf and claims her as his mate. But Anna is still struggling with some PTSD from her hellish experience in Chicago... and it seems there's also some more protocol ceremonial stuff to be done before these two are officially mated... so, in the meantime, they team up to try to track down and capture an elusive rogue werewolf who is on a murderous rampage lately, threatening the safety of the Cornick pack. 

 

I have many friends who rave about Briggs' books and even though I'm a lover of the paranormal genre, I've never tried her books myself. Maybe because my personal interest gravitates to ghost stories over werewolves. Still, I found a bargain priced copy of this one and figured I'd finally give the woman's work a go. That said, I did notice that the title page notes "text adaptation by David Lawrence"... so maybe Briggs' name is just stamped on the cover because they're her characters but is Lawrence doing the actual story writing here? Not sure. 

 

Plotwise, this fell short for me. I was left with so many questions. Granted, those questions might've been answered if I was an avid follower of this series in its novel form but as a Briggs newbie, I definitely felt out of the loop here. I also found it mildly irritating how everyone kept talking about what a superpower Omega Anna was, how strong and all that.. but her actions SCREAMED delicate, trembling snowflake most of the time. I realize there's only four issues in this collection but I didn't feel like I got a strong enough grasp on her character or what was supposed to be so amazing about her and I'm sorry, if you can't at least somewhat snag my curiosity by four issues, this series is probably not for me. To be honest, I was left not really giving a flip about ANY character in this story. Not. A. One. 

 

Artwork: The issue covers for each section, done by Jenny Frison, were very nice. Clean, fluid lines, attractive color work.

 

 

The artwork within the issues themselves? Not so much. Todd Herman's art had an overall muddled look to me. What was going on with the faces? In nearly every shot, the characters look either angry, murderous, or even sometimes a little lecherous...even when it was a very average, uneventful conversation.. almost as if the act of conversing were the most painful thing ever. Everyone just walking around rockin' Joker faces at all times. Weird. Thankfully, this was toned down some by Issues 3-4. 

 

The end of the book features a "Gallery" section where you can see samples of the artwork uncolored, initial sketches, etc. which I found interesting, especially when looking at the uncolored version of Issue 1 cover. It was nice with color, but I was surprised to see how much prettier I found the black and white sketch version. 

 

 

 

Following the Gallery section is an excerpt from Patricia Briggs' novel FAIR GAME, so you can sample her writing style if you're a newbie to her work like me. 

 

 

 

 

Review
3 Stars
Red Sonja by Amy Chu
Red Sonja Vol. 4 #0  - Amy Chu, Carlos Gomez

The barbarian She-Devil with a Sword faces a whole different world and challenges in this new adventure written by Amy Chu and drawn by Carlos Gomez. Somewhere deep underground, strange and powerful demons clad in metal armor attack and roust Red Sonja from a deep magical sleep. Confused and weaponless, she must find a way to defeat these mysterious creatures, escape from her solitary prison, and make her way to the surface to discover where she is, and why she was put there...

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illustrations by Carlos Gomez

Coloring by Mohan

Cover Art by Nick Bradshaw

 

 

Once again, I'm sampling another version of the Red Sonja story. In this one, author Amy Chu places our heroine in more modern times, facing a world full of technology she struggles to understand. 

 

Can't say I enjoyed this one quite as much as Michael Oeming's work. All the classic traits of the character are still honored here, but in Chu's version it feels like overkill. Nearly every panel here seems to put the perspective emphasis on Sonja's lady bits more than the storyline at hand. I'm not necessarily bothered by Sonja being scantily clad, but do we need SO many panels of her derriere photobombing the scenes? I do like to have SOME villain backstory.

 

Coming off of Oeming's lush version, the artwork in this sampling also struck me as more cartoonish in style, the dialogue a bit more cringe inducing. I appreciate wanting to have humor worked into the character, but here it veered a little too far into cheeze-fest for me, sometimes bringing to mind old TMNT (the original one) episodes.. only not as good with the laugh-facepalm blend. As a whole, the story here had its fun elements... I just find myself not really in a rush to continue with this line in Sonja's story. 

 

The kindle edition features "exclusive digital content", which pretty much amounts to a collection of un-colored versions of some of the panels you see earlier in the book, as well as a few examples of illustrator Carlos Gomez's sketches laying out ideas for the Sonja character -- costume details, different versions of facial characteristics, that kind of thing. 

 

 

 

Review
5 Stars
Red Sonja: She-Devil With a Sword #0 (Graphic Novel) By Michael Oeming & Mike Carey
Red Sonja: She-Devil With a Sword #0 - Michael Oeming, Mike Carey, Mel Rubi, Caesar Rodriguez, Richard Isanove

 

 

Writers: Michael Oeming & Mike Carey
Art: Mel Rubi
Coloring: Caesar Rodriguez & Richard Isanove
Cover Art: Greg Land; Inking: Matt Ryan, Cover Coloring: Jason Keith

 

 

This is a 17 page prequel to Oeming's rendition (a 50 issue series) of the epic Red Sonja tale. This first offering is told from the POV of Jessa, a bartender who tries to get Red Sonja drunk so she can steal Sonja's blade. Fighting and hell-fury ensues.

 

I've enjoyed the Red Sonja story in its various forms since my childhood. Being a (natural) redhead myself, it was cool to have such a strong, bold fellow red to look up to! Hardcore feminists in this modern age might not love Sonja as she is typically portrayed, with overflowing lady bits and ridiculously useless chainmail bikini... as a woman, let me say, either take this for what it is and have fun with it or don't read it. I find the chain bikini hilarious the same way I laugh my way through the old movie adaptation that was done back in the 80s (I think.. maybe the 70s), where Bridgette Nielsen had to wear equally ridiculous outfits. I love it all. It's campy at times, laughably stupid in some scenes, but there are also moments where you can't help but cheer for Sonja's undeniable fierceness.

 

Oeming's version here offers gorgeous color work as well as prose that just oozes that legend feel. The reader, even if only briefly, gets the chance to escape into something with a true sense of epic-ness and just downright FUN. I thought this was a blast to read and look forward to trying out the rest in the series.

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