Dead Wake – The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

22551730I read Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City and really enjoyed it so when I saw this was available in audio from my local library, I thought I’d give it a try.

Stats: Audio book is 13′ 4″ long narrated by Scott Brick. Print is 430 pages. Both published in 2015.

Blurb: On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds” and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship–the fastest then in service–could outrun any threat.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small–hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more–all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

What I liked: As Larson’s White City book, you can tell he has done his research. This “story” doesn’t have the real-life oddities that the White City story has but if you like history (and you have to like history to read this book), it gives you details and insights that you might not get in a history book. It has many first person accounts, but since I was listening to this, I don’t know if they were direct quotes. They sounded like it. Larson weaves a lot of different aspects of the ship’s journey and sinking with cold facts, but in a way that is generally entertaining. He also must have had access to the log of the submarine that sunk the ship because there is much information about what occured on that vessel as well. All the different things that had to be in place for this very large and famous ship to sink makes one wonder. Not to mention that the British really should have been escorting the ship when it got close to Ireland. Seems like that was quite on purpose – to pull the US into the war. Hard to really believe otherwise, though Larson doesn’t come right out and say this. Scott Brick’s narration helps move the story along.

What I didn’t like: It is a bit long. I’m glad I was listening to it vs reading it. As I mentioned, you have to be a history buff to want to read this book.

Rating: 4/5

Advertisements

A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

A Man Called OveMy husband liked this so I though I’d give it a try.

Stats: Published in 2014, print 337 pages, audio 9’9″, narrator George Newbern

BTW: Ove is pronounced “Uva”

Blurb: A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

What I liked: Pretty much everything about the book. I think we all know someone like Ove and his very real struggles with people and the world he lives in, so I imagine that is why so many people have enjoyed this book. What I find entertaining is that I live in the US and Ove is written about a man who lives in Norway, but the character is recognized in both places. I also thought it was interesting that even though Norway’s social system is touted, it may not always be as wonderful as it appears. Just makes the point that most governments try and get away with things that they probably shouldn’t. Now this is fiction, so it may be bogus. I really enjoyed the narration by George Newbern. All the characters were very distinct.

What I didn’t like: It is a bit slow getting into because of the different style, but easily overlooked.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

Spring with Emily Dickinson – Brain Pickings

Feeling inspired by spring. Here are some thoughts from Miss Emily on the subject. Thanks to Maria Popova

“Today is very beautiful — just as bright, just as blue, just as green and as white, and as crimson, as the cherry trees full in bloom, and the half opening peach blossoms, and the grass just…

Source: Spring with Emily Dickinson – Brain Pickings

Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear

83083 I saw this was available in audio from my libraries e-audio company, so I had to listen.

Stats: First published in 2004, the print is 320 pages. The audio is 10’21” narrated by Kim Hicks.

Blurb: It is the spring of 1930, and Maisie has been hired to find a runaway heiress. When three of the heiress’s old friends are found dead, Maisie must race to find out who would want to kill these seemingly respectable young women before it’s too late. As Maisie investigates, she discovers that the answers lie in the unforgettable agony of the Great War.

What I liked: Winspear doles out her stories in a very relaxed manner but usually not so slow as to put you to sleep. And all the character are created so they come across as very real – Maisie and her side kick in particular (I forget his name). The narration by Kim Hicks only adds to this with her exceptional rendition of the book. Each voice was very distinct and personal. The story itself seems very plausible as well, and illustrates an aspect of the “Great War” that we don’t hear a lot about. I couldn’t figure out “who done it” until the very end, which is always preferred.

What I didn’t like: Maisie’s intuitions are a little to spot on but it’s easy to overlook, since it does take her a bit to figure out the mystery. And it’s a bit hard to believe that the small clues that she finds at 2 of the murder scenes would have still been there to be found by Maisie (I won’t give away what these were because they are integral to the story), but it is fiction, after all.

Rating: 4/5

 

Author Interview – William Ried and His Travel Novel “Five Ferries”

Interview with Author of Five Ferries

42286682

William Michael Ried

I’ve worked with Bill and I think the story of how his book came to be is as interesting as the story itself.

What is Five Ferries about?
I hear this question all the time, but it focuses on the story at the expense of what is more important: the themes or abstract things that give the novel internal coherence. Five Ferries is “about” the hero’s post-college attempt to work his way around Europe and along the way to work out inner conflicts involving his family, his feelings about the Vietnam War and his relationship with a woman. More important are the underlying themes:

  • In an ordered, modern life, adventure is still possible. Stephen Kylemore takes his one chance to go off script, to throw a stick in the air and go the way it points and thus to get a taste of freedom and adventure.
  • Freedom comes at a cost. It isn’t easy to break away and seek your own path, but the reward is worth the price.
  • Survival on your own in an unknown country requires nothing more than flexibility, resilience and learning to trust your instincts.
  • People are basically kind, and are the same everywhere in their essential humanity.
  • The young must rebel, but in the end loyalty to family and country bind them and comfort them.

How did you do research for your book?
I researched Five Ferries by living it. For the first thirty years I spent writing, my book was a memoir. Only in the last ten years did I realize the book would find a wider audience as a novel, and so I adjusted the action and added an overall story arc. In the early years I researched details by reading other novels and books about the places I had visited and putting in time in the map room of the public library. In recent years research became available at the push of a key. It is simple to confirm a river’s direction or describe the architecture of a building when you can instantly call up images on a search engine.

Why does your book reference to so many novels, films and musical works?
I initially wrote Five Ferries as a memoir. Like my hero, on my trip I read all the books I could find. When traveling alone in places where I couldn’t speak the language, the characters in these books were my only traveling companions and they both comforted me and helped shape my view of the experience. By coincidence, the books that fell in my way turned out to be many classics, including those referenced in the novel: The Nick Adams Stories; The Innocents Abroad; Don Quixote; Steppenwolf; The Magus; The Ambassadors; Madam Bovary; The Trial; Anna Karenina; On the Road; Tom Jones; and Ulysses. To acknowledge my debt to these books I made my hero an English major obsessed with literature. But I needed more than novels to establish the story’s cultural and political context, and so I added I references to the music, film and visual arts that embodied Stephen’s perception of the creative world. I hoped these references would serve as a shorthand way of setting Stephen in a place and time.

There are many books about coming of age/travel adventure. What makes yours different?
I believe each novel builds upon those that came before. American literature has often told of the young man embarking on a travel adventure. Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn expressed this in traditional story-telling set in a nation itself coming of age in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, war became increasingly mechanized and destructive and caused upheavals in society and the literature of adventure. The hero of The Sun Also Rises travels from Paris to Spain, numbed by the experience of World War I, and Hemingway stripped away the pretense of past narrative style to express his characters’ cynicism about the cause of and justification for the “war to end all wars.” On the Road tells of the protagonist’s travels across North America following World War II, searching for self-knowledge and experience in a world and language of jazz in what Kerouac called the “beat generation.” In Five Ferries, I wanted to create a hero who leaves behind the tumult of the 1960s and the Vietnam War for his first trip to Europe, to seek freedom and a broader view of the world infused with both the great literature of the past and the rock music the 1970s.

Why did it take you forty years to finish Five Ferries? Did you suffer decades of writer’s block?
By the time I finished law school in 1982 I had outlined all the chapters of Five Ferries (under its earlier title “Europe on No Dollars a Day”) and written rough drafts of most. I then moved to New York City to look for work, taking only two suitcases and sleeping on a friend’s sofa. When I found a job and an apartment, a classmate offered to transport the rest of my belongings from Washington, D.C., including the cod box that kept my manuscript safe. After driving up to the city he parked his car on the street in Greenwich Village on Halloween night 1982, taking inside my portable black & white television set but leaving the rest of my belongings in the car. Someone broke into the car and took everything, including the cod box and four years of effort on my book.I was, of course, devastated. I spent nights and weekends patrolling the Village and the Lower East Side, looking in garbage piles and sketchy alleys for the cod box and the telltale typing paper boxes that held my chapters. I taped up signs asking for help. When I asked The New York Post to print an article about my plight, a reporter asked what the book was about. I said mostly about a trip I had taken to Europe. He laughed and said: “So what, did you do it on one leg or something?” (This was the beginning of my disdain for the question: “What is your book about?”)The loss of the manuscript blocked me from working on my novel for years. I turned to short stories, because I could hope to finish them and make copies so I would be sure I wouldn’t lose them. But by 1987 I again felt the need to write a novel and decided to rewrite what I knew rather than start from scratch. So, I replicated my outline and began again to write the chapters. In 1995 I got a computer, which made everything easier. Still, with work and young children it was hard to find time, and it took me until early 2017 to complete the book, and another sixteen months to publish it.

6. How would you describe the “style” of Five Ferries?
In one scene of Five Ferries the characters discuss “building” a novel, as if this might be building a house. In fact, I initially hoped to expand the concept of a novel by constructing chapters in an assortment of styles inspired by the literature and music Stephen encounters. After twenty years, the “blueprint” for this book included chapters in: (i) the omniscient style of Dickens; (ii) the character-centric perspective and flowery language of Cervantes; (iii) an invented fugue-like form inspired by Bach, with rhythms structured from word groupings and punctuation grouped in thematic voices; (iv) a narrative melding dreams with reality in the mode of Kafka; (v) a silent movie screenplay to represent the hero’s inability to communicate in the local language, with moods set by a musical score; (vi) a Henry Fielding romp across the English countryside; (vii) a recent past story interspersed with present-tense stream of consciousness; and (vii) a “mezzotint” of themes rising from a dark background of setting and flashbacks.

Reading such novel—if I could pull off the writing—would have required a huge investment of time and energy, and it finally occurred to me that no one would be writing a doctoral thesis on my debut novel. I thus shifted gears and tried to address my themes while giving readers what they mostly want: likeable characters in a believable story they can follow and enjoy. Thus, after numerous attempts to find a narrative voice, I completed Five Ferries in the consistent past tense, first-person perspective of the protagonist, Stephen Kylemore. The story unfolds for the most part chronologically and the setting follows Stephen’s path through Western Europe. As Flaubert famously said, the novelist is one who seeks to disappear behind his work, and I hope I succeeded in this.

What was your goal in writing Five Ferries?
E.M. Forster said the final test of novel is our affection for it, and for most readers this depends on how well the story catches their imagination and creates characters they like and how the plot makes them need to know what comes next. I hoped to check these boxes. But the real value of a novel, what justifies the time it takes to create and to read, is its unique ability to help the reader discover something unknown about the human condition, and it was my real goal to do that.

If there were one thing you wanted readers to remember about you, what would it be?
That I recorded something true about what it was like to be young man on the road in 1978.

Interesting in picking up Bill’s book?
Go to: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1949085023

ISBN: Paperback – 9781949085020;   Ebook – ISBN 9781949085013

You can also follow him on instagram: http://www.instagram.com/fiveferries

Or go to his website: fiveferries.com,

Here he is on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42286682-five-ferries

More about Bill: William Michael Ried was born on Long Island, graduated from the University of Michigan and Georgetown University Law Center and has practiced law in New York City for thirty-seven years, almost as long as he spent writing this book. He lives with his wife in Manhattan. Five Ferries is his first novel.

Old Tune Tuesday + Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage Review

40212914Thought I’d get two birds with one stone, as they say. Listen to this Old Tune while reading a book review!

Stats: The print book is 304 pages, published in 2018, audio book is 11′ long, narrated by Gabra Zackman.

Blurb: Sweetness can be deceptive. 
Meet Hanna.
She’s the sweet-but-silent angel in the adoring eyes of her Daddy. He’s the only person who understands her, and all Hanna wants is to live happily ever after with him. But Mommy stands in her way, and she’ll try any trick she can think of to get rid of her. Ideally for good.

Meet Suzette.
She loves her daughter, really, but after years of expulsions and strained home schooling, her precarious health and sanity are weakening day by day. As Hanna’s tricks become increasingly sophisticated, and Suzette’s husband remains blind to the failing family dynamics, Suzette starts to fear that there’s something seriously wrong, and that maybe home isn’t the best place for their baby girl after all.

What I liked: Stage does a good job at pulling you back and forth about who you are rooting for. Most times it is Suzette, but not always. Stage makes the character believable, more so Suzette than Hanna, but maybe only because I don’t know anyone like Hanna. I can’t quite figure out Hanna’s age from the story, which might help me decide if she was smarter than she normally would have been, but the narration and text makes me think she is 6 or so. The narration by Zackman is very good, btw, for all the characters. They sounded like very distinct people – and the text helped with that as well. The ending, which I won’t give away, was interesting.

What I didn’t like: Despite how real the characters are, I didn’t really empathize with any of them to any degree. I suppose that is part of the risk of making the reader go back and forth on who they were rooting for. The ending… well, I’m still not sure if I liked it or not. I think it was probably best left the way it was. Now you have to read it and decide for yourself!

Rating: 4/5

Bones on Ice by Kathy Reichs

25734320I saw this was available for an e-audio loan from my library system and I grabbed it. Always like Reichs’ Temperance Brenner books.

Stats: Published in 2015, the audio book is 3’28” long, narrated by Katheryn Borowitz (spelling?). The print book is 104 pages. It’s a novella.

Blurb: It is called the “death zone”: the point on Everest, nearly five miles high, above which a climber cannot be rescued. More than 250 souls have lost their lives there. Most of the bodies remain, abandoned, frozen in place. When an earthquake leads to a miraculous recovery, Dr. Temperance Brennan is hired to identify the frozen mummified human corpse. The victim is the daughter of a wealthy Charlotte couple who never got the chance to say goodbye. But far from offering solace and closure, Tempe’s findings only provoke more questions. What happened on Mount Everest? Was the young woman’s death an accident? Why aren’t the other climbers talking? And how far will those hiding the truth go to make sure the past stays buried?

What I liked: Of course, there is something fishy about the death of this young over achiever, but it’s not exactly what you might suspect. As usual, Reichs does her homework and you get to learn a bit about mountain climbing besides being entertained by Brennen’s/Reichs’ quick wit. And the story seemed very plausible. What’s not to like?

What I didn’t like: Can’t really say there was anything. I think that might be a first for me! See Rachel (my daughter), I don’t find fault in every book I’ve read – yes, most, but not every!

Rating: 5/5