April 26, 2011 by Reader's Connection
After graduating from Emory University in Atlanta in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska, where he went to live in the wilderness. Four months later, he turned up dead. His diary, letters and two notes found at a remote campsite tell of his desperate effort to survive, apparently stranded by an injury and slowly starving. They also reflect the posturing of a confused young man, raised in affluent Annandale, Va., who self-consciously adopted a Tolstoyan renunciation of wealth and return to nature. Krakauer, a contributing editor to Outside and Men’s Journal, retraces McCandless’s ill-fated antagonism toward his father, Walt, an eminent aerospace engineer. Krakauer also draws parallels to his own reckless youthful exploit in 1977 when he climbed Devils Thumb, a mountain on the Alaska-British Columbia border, partly as a symbolic act of rebellion against his autocratic father. In a moving narrative, Krakauer probes the mystery of McCandless´s death. — Publishers Weekly
Harding’s outstanding debut unfurls the history and final thoughts of a dying grandfather surrounded by his family in his New England home. George Washington Crosby repairs clocks for a living and on his deathbed revisits his turbulent childhood as the oldest son of an epileptic smalltime traveling salesman. The descriptions of the father’s epilepsy and the “cold halo of chemical electricity that encircled him immediately before he was struck by a full seizure” are stunning, and the household’s sadness permeates the narrative as George returns to more melancholy scenes. The real star is Harding’s language, which dazzles whether he’s describing the workings of clocks, sensory images of nature, the many engaging side characters who populate the book, or even a short passage on how to build a bird nest. This is an especially gorgeous example of novelistic craftsmanship. — Publishers Weekly
One of the first questions people ask about The Things They Carried is this: Is it a novel, or a collection of short stories? The title page refers to the book simply as “a work of fiction,” defying the conscientious reader’s need to categorize this masterpiece. It is both: a collection of interrelated short pieces which ultimately reads with the dramatic force and tension of a novel. Yet each one of the twenty-two short pieces is written with such care, emotional content, and prosaic precision that it could stand on its own. The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, the character Tim O’Brien who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. — Random House
Gladwell, author and journalist, sets out to provide an understanding of success using outliers, men and women with skills, talent, and drive who do things out of the ordinary. He contends that we must look beyond the merits of a successful individual to understand his culture, where he comes from, his friends and family, and the community values he inherits and shares. We learn that society s rules play a large role in who makes it and who does not. Success is a gift, and when opportunities are presented, some people have the strength and presence of mind to seize them, exhibiting qualities such as persistence and doggedness. Successful people are the products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy, and success ultimately is not exceptional or unattainable, nor does it depend upon innate ability. It is an attitude of willingness to try without regard for the sacrifice required. — Booklist
In her debut, Perkins-Valdez eloquently plunges into a dark period of American history, chronicling the lives of four slave women–Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu–who are their masters’ mistresses. The women meet when their owners vacation at the same summer resort in Ohio. There, they see free blacks for the first time and hear rumors of abolition, sparking their own desires to be free. For everyone but Lizzie, that is, who believes she is really in love with her master, and he with her. An extended flashback in the middle of the novel delves into Lizzie’s life and vividly explores the complicated psychological dynamic between master and slave. Jumping back to the final summer in Ohio, the women all have a decision to make–will they run? Heart-wrenching, intriguing, original and suspenseful, this novel showcases Perkins-Valdez’s ability to bring the unfortunate past to life. — Publishers Weekly
Established street lit author Brown offers up an epic tale of betrayal. Thirty-year-old Camille is wifey to Frankie, a player in the drug game connected to a powerful family who took him under their wing as a teen. Although Frankie is like a brother to Baron and Gillian, what’s up with Gillian’s late-night phone calls? Is something going on besides crime business? Camille begins to think so. Brown’s story is one of deception and complicated relationships. Camille’s friends Toya and Dominique have serious love issues of their own, but lust takes a backseat when violence explodes during a gangster party. VERDICT: Brown’s plot takes some time to get off the ground, but once the action starts, it comes fast and furious. Readers who like delving into complex relationships and characters creeping behind one another’s back will be drawn into this story involving five different love liaisons. — Library Journal
Murdered before he could wed Regin the Radiant, warlord Aidan the Fierce seeks his beloved through eternity, reborn again and again into new identities, yet with no memory of his past lives . . . When Regin encounters Declan Chase, a brutal Celtic soldier, she recognizes her proud warlord reincarnated. But Declan takes her captive, intending retribution against all immortals—unaware that he belongs to their world . . . Yet every reincarnation comes with a price, for Aidan is doomed to die when he remembers his past. To save herself from Declan’s torments, will Regin rekindle memories of the passion they once shared—even if it means once again losing the only man she could ever love? — Simon & Schuster
A vivid reconstruction of a volcanic explosion felt around the world–and a tale of curious twists it is.One of the most entertaining science-explainers at work today, Winchester brings fine credentials to bear on writing the story of Krakatoa: both a former Asia correspondent for the Manchester Guardian and an Oxford-trained geologist, he has an eye for the local and global significance of that volcano’s cataclysmic eruption 120 years ago . . . Winchester carefully builds a dramatic tale that begins with a few rumblings and ends with the end of the world as the Spice Islanders knew it . . . while giving the reader a crash course in tectonic theory, continental drift, volcanism, and other elemental matters . . . Not only did the explosion lead to the erasure of the volcanic island of Krakatoa from the world map and kill nearly 40,000 people, Winchester writes, but it was also felt halfway around the world, with its plume of ash and smoke blackening the skies over London and New York. Moreover, he adds, the explosion caused a wave of anti-Western violence in predominantly Muslim Indonesia.– Kirkus Reviews
Allison Hoover Bartlett’s The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession will be discussed at the Fountain Square Library on Thursday, May 12th at 1:30 p.m.
Rare bookstore owner Ken Saunders relishes catching book thieves, and his favorite target is John Gilkey, a repeat offender who has spent multiple stints in jail for using stolen credit card numbers and bad checks to purchase books estimated to be worth together more than $100,000. In this intriguing account, journalist Bartlett takes readers behind the scenes at antiquarian book fairs and rare bookstores, where sellers are always on the lookout for thieves. Bartlett first meets Gilkey when he is serving time near San Francisco. Over several meetings, Gilkey explains that he feels he builds his image through books, proving himself a man of taste, knowledge, and affluence. VERDICT This excellent tale of people’s intimate, complex, and sometimes dangerous relationships to books will be relished by readers, writers, and collectors who are passionate about books as well as fans of true crime stories. — Library Journal
Set in Stockett’s native Jackson, MS, in the early 1960s, this first novel adopts the complicated theme of blacks and whites living in a segregated South. A century after the Emancipation Proclamation, black maids raised white children and ran households but were paid poorly, often had to use separate toilets from the family, and watched the children they cared for commit bigotry. In Stockett’s narrative, Miss Skeeter, a young white woman, is a naive, aspiring writer who wants to create a series of interviews with local black maids. Even if they’re published anonymously, the risk is great; still, Aibileen and Minny agree to participate. Tension pervades the novel as its events are told by these three memorable women. Is this an easy book to read? No, but it is surely worth reading. It may even stir things up as readers in Jackson and beyond question their own discrimination and intolerance in the past and present. — Library Journal
On Monday, May 23rd, the Southport Library will host a discussion of Charles Lachman’s The Last Lincolns: The Rise & Fall of a Great American Family at 6:30 p.m.
This engaging book traces three generations of Abraham Lincoln’s descendants in the century following his assassination. Lincoln was a larger than life historical figure, and Lachman, a journalist and novelist (In the Name of the Law), presents the lives of Mary Todd and their sons as dramatically as possible: Tad, the rambunctious prankster who grows into a serious, intelligent adolescent while exiled in Europe with his mother; Willie, the Lincolns’ golden child, cut down in his youth by typhoid fever; and Robert, the most successful and complex of Lincoln’s progeny, a soldier, lawyer, Secretary of War, and caretaker of his aging and increasingly unstable mother. Pulling together an enormous range of historical material, uncovering some little-known family stories-including tales of isolation, agoraphobia and swinging debauchery, as well as a possible connection to infamous, never-captured airplane hijacker D.B. Cooper-Lachman’s chronicle is most notable for its liveliness. — Publishers Weekly
Fifth-grade scholarship students and best friends Henry and Keiko are the only Asians in their Seattle elementary school in 1942. Henry is Chinese, Keiko is Japanese, and Pearl Harbor has made all Asians–even those who are American born–targets for abuse. Because Henry’s nationalistic father has a deep-seated hatred for Japan, Henry keeps his friendship with and eventual love for Keiko a secret. When Keiko’s family is sent to an internment camp in Idaho, Henry vows to wait for her. Forty years later, Henry comes upon an old hotel where the belongings of dozens of displaced Japanese families have turned up in the basement, and his love for Keiko is reborn. In his first novel, award-winning short-story writer Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived. The result is a vivid picture of a confusing and critical time in American history. — Library Journal
An engrossing tale of an odd subject–a chance snipping of Beethoven’s hair and its perilous journey into the 21st century.In 1827, on his deathbed, Ludwig van Beethoven was visited by his friend, the composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel. In tow was Hummel’s talented 15-year-old pupil, Ferdinand Hiller . . . On a subsequent visit some days later the two found the great man dead. The awestruck Hiller asked and received permission from Hummel to clip a lock of the deceased’s hair, a common practice in those days . . . He had the lock framed and treasured it the rest of his life, presenting it to his son Paul shortly before his death in 1885. From that point on, the history of the lock remained murky until a few years ago, when it ended up in the joint possession of two Arizonans with the unlikely names of Ira Brilliant and Alfredo (“Che”) Guevara. In this quirky but enjoyable work, Martin sifts through the evidence he has unearthed and provides a highly entertaining and believable account of what happened to the lock during those missing years–amounting to a thumbnail biography of Beethoven that is eventually overshadowed by an account of the Third Reich’s persecution of the Jews. While some might object to this as gimmickry, Martin pulls it off, owing to his solid research and respect for the reader . . . When, toward the end of the book, the author writes of DNA tests on the hair that reveal new answers to the causes of Beethoven’s deafness and death, even the skeptic will share his enthusiasm for this peculiar subject. — Kirkus Reviews