gimmethatbook

Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: Historical Fiction (page 1 of 2)

Old Bones (Nora Kelly #1) by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

 

The first in the groundbreaking Nora Kelly series from #1 bestselling authors Preston & Child blends the legend of the Donner party with a riveting suspense tale, taking the dynamic duo’s work to new heights.

Nora Kelly, a young but successful curator with a series of important excavations already under her belt, is approached by the handsome historian, Guy Porter, to lead an expedition unlike any other. Guy tells his story–one involving the ill-fated Donner Party, who became permanently lodged in the American consciousness in the winter of 1847, when the first skeletonized survivors of the party stumbled out of the California mountains, replete with tales of courage, resourcefulness, bad luck, murder, barbarism–and, finally, starvation and cannibalism.

Captivated by the Donner Party, Nora agrees and they venture into the Sierra Nevada in search of the camp. Quickly, they learn that the discovery of the missing starvation camp is just the tip of the iceberg–and that the real truth behind those long-dead pioneers is not only far more complex and surprising than they could have imagined…but it is one that puts them both in mortal danger from a very real, present-day threat in which the search for the lost party, and its fabled fortune in gold, are merely means to a horrifying end.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

OLD BONES is the first of the Nora Kelly series. As you may recall, Nora was the intrepid curator/archaeologist in some of the early Pendergast novels. The authors have decided to give Nora her own series, minus the usual Pendergast characters save one. Newly minted FBI agent Corrie Swanson is here also, investigating a murder.

Nora is on site excavating remains found of the famous Donner Party of 1847. What begins as a typical excavation turns into terror when members of their dig turn up dead. Corrie and the FBI are investigating these murders because they took place on Federal land, plus they tie in with another investigation involving grave robbing. Apparently, the robbed graves were descendants of a member of the Donner Party – but why the interest in them all of a sudden?

The premise sounds thrilling, but the telling of the tale is middling. Much of the action takes place on the dig and seems repetitive. Nora and Corrie butt heads during the course of the investigation and Corrie has to deal with the “good old boys” of law enforcement who mock her lack of experience.

The winning points of OLD BONES are the strong female characters – Nora, Corrie, and Nora’s boss Dr Fugit. It seems as though their characters are drawn well with good backstory, while the men are secondary. You won’t hear a complaint from me; I appreciate the authors giving Nora and Corrie their feisty personalities and strong work ethic.

Most of the book reads like a weak version of a Pendergast novel. I did keep expecting him to pop up somewhere to save the day. Final verdict – not the worst thing by far I’ve read, but just sort of dull. The best parts were the history, albeit gory, of the Donner Party and how they managed to survive.

Nora is a great character and I am looking forward to seeing her handle her next adventure. Perhaps the authors will hit their stride in the next book. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

The Ministry of Truth by Dorian Lynskey

An authoritative, wide-ranging and incredibly timely history of 1984 — its literary sources, its composition by Orwell, its deep and lasting effect on the Cold War, and its vast influence throughout world culture at every level, from high to pop.

Nineteen Eighty Four isn’t just a novel; it’s a key to understanding the modern world. George Orwell’s final work is a treasure chest of ideas and memes — Big Brother, the Thought Police, Doublethink, Newspeak, 2+2=5 — that gain potency with every year. Particularly in 2016, when the election of Donald Trump made it a bestseller (“Ministry of Alternative Facts,” anyone?). Its influence has morphed endlessly into novels (The Handmaid’s Tale), films (Brazil), television shows (V for Vendetta), rock albums (Diamond Dogs), commercials (Apple), even reality TV (Big Brother). The Ministry of Truth is the first book that fully examines the epochal and cultural event that is 1984 in all its aspects: its roots in the utopian and dystopian literature that preceded it; the personal experiences in wartime Great Britain that Orwell drew upon as he struggled to finish his masterpiece in his dying days; and the political and cultural phenomenon that the novel ignited at once upon publication and which far from subsiding, has only grown over the decades. It explains how fiction history informs fiction and how fiction explains history.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Be advised – if you loved 1984 you will also love the many companion works cited in THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH. 1984 was well-known and influential, but it was just one among many dystopian/utopian works during Orwell’s life. The author has definitely done his research and it shows. The beginning is heavy with politics, then smooths out about 20% in with excellent compare and contrast of HG Wells, Orwell, and Aldous Huxley.

Orwell admired Brave New World, up to a point. He had fond memories of being taught by Huxley at Eton in 1918; a classmate claimed Huxley had given Orwell a “taste for words and their accurate and significant use”. However, [Orwell] was unconvinced by Brave New World’s tyranny of gratification. He notes that there was no “power-hunger, no sadism, no hardness of any kind. (E)veryone is happy in a vacuous way….it is difficult to believe that such a society could endure”.

The author goes on to note that 1984 and BNW overlap in one area: the status of the proles, then provides more compare/contrast dialogue. This is what makes the book shine – thoughtful and erudite treatment of multiple dystopian works and the ways they matter.

Other authors whose history is intermingled with Orwell’s are included in this book. We will learn more about Yevgeny Zamyatin (who Orwell was accused of plagiarizing), Ayn Rand, and Jimmy Burnham. The movie THX1138 and Animal Farm are also discussed at length. Each of these chapters add another layer explaining the genius of the tortured and driven Orwell. As the book progresses, the politics and descriptions of war-torn London do so as well. Finally,  as the tubercular Orwell languishes in bed, post-war London starts its progression forward.

The second portion of the book brings 1984 into pop culture, and how the book affected music, movies, stagflation, and politics. Author Anthony Burgess compares his own blockbuster novel, A Clockwork Orange, to 1984 and shares his thoughts about Orwell. Time moves forward into the ‘60’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s, with politics continuing to be at the forefront. McCarthyism rears its ugly head, if only for a moment. It is amazing how the author is able to use 1984 as the center of everything – this novel was much more influential than anyone could guess.

Altogether, this book is layered with anecdotes, political views, comparison, and original thoughts. If you are a fan of Orwell, you will adore this book. I certainly gained a new view of both Animal Farm and 1984 and plan to go back to re-read both. You can pick up your copy of THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH here.

A PIECE OF THE WORLD by Christina Baker Kline

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the smash bestseller Orphan Train, a stunning and atmospheric novel of friendship, passion, and art, inspired by Andrew Wyeth’s mysterious and iconic painting Christina’s World.

“Later he told me that he’d been afraid to show me the painting. He thought I wouldn’t like the way he portrayed me: dragging myself across the field, fingers clutching dirt, my legs twisted behind. The arid moonscape of wheatgrass and timothy. That dilapidated house in the distance, looming up like a secret that won’t stay hidden.”

To Christina Olson, the entire world was her family’s remote farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. Born in the home her family had lived in for generations, and increasingly incapacitated by illness, Christina seemed destined for a small life. Instead, for more than twenty years, she was host and inspiration for the artist Andrew Wyeth, and became the subject of one of the best known American paintings of the twentieth century.
As she did in her beloved smash bestseller Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline interweaves fact and fiction in a powerful novel that illuminates a little-known part of America’s history. Bringing into focus the flesh-and-blood woman behind the portrait, she vividly imagines the life of a woman with a complicated relationship to her family and her past, and a special bond with one of our greatest modern artists.
Told in evocative and lucid prose, A Piece of the World is a story about the burdens and blessings of family history, and how artist and muse can come together to forge a new and timeless legacy.

I purchased this book on my own and so have no one to thank but myself 🙂

Who doesn’t love this iconic Wyeth painting? When I was growing up I had a print on my bedroom wall. There was a terrible beauty in the stark juxtaposition of the girl and the house; even without knowing that she had an affliction, I just knew that there was something wrong with her. Regardless, I wanted Christina in my life. I wanted to be her friend.

After reading A PIECE OF THE WORLD, I have changed my mind. I would not want to have the author’s Christina in my life. Despite the designation of “historical fiction”, my soul has been crushed by the portrayal of Christina as a mean spirited, stubborn, cold individual. Many times I wanted to grab her fictional neck and wring it! There is a lot to be said for staying the course and holding true to yourself, but there is also holding yourself back and making bad decisions. I’d love to know what impelled Kline to create this version of Christina. I have to hand it to her – she took an icon and tarnished it well, without fear of repercussion.

Kline brings us into Christina’s world bit by bit, making the years sadder and sadder, until we are numb. There are so many chances to make a change, and yet our heroine digs herself in stubbornly. In a way she is the sun around which various planets (Wyeth, her brother) revolve, and in other ways she is just a distant, minor, and fading star. Kline’s writing style is illuminative and evocative. She can make us cringe, gasp, or cheer appropriately. The Maine farming mentality is well illustrated (no electricity!) and helps us understand Christina’s reasons for living the way she does. The best thing about this book is that you will continue to wrestle with the characters for a while after you are done reading. What motivated Christina? Why did Al make the choice to stay with her? I wondered if I truly hated Christina or if I felt sorry for her after all she had been through. I also wished she had been written differently – but then the book wouldn’t have made the impact that it did. This is the crowning moment of what it means to be a writer…having readers continue to discuss the plot and characters long after the book is done. Regardless of whether I liked the fictional Christina, I was impressed with the author’s ability to stoke my emotions.

Whether you are a fan of Wyeth or just want to read some provoking historical fiction, grab this. You won’t be sorry. You can pick up your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”0062356267″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

 

 

GIDEON: THE BOER BLOOD by Malcolm Colley

By 1902 the war was over. It has taken three years and 330,000 soldiers to hammer 30,000 Boer men and boys into submission. The British employed a scorched earth policy and removed the women and children on the farms to stop the Boer Commandoes from obtaining supplies. Also with ammunition in short supply the Boers signed the Treaty of Peace of Vereeninging on May 31 1902. The Boers were forced to surrender their arms and sign a declaration of allegiance to the Queen.
Paul Kruger, the Boer leader, left the country but prior to him leaving he attempted to negotiate a deal with Holland and Germany for arms and ammunition in exchange for gold. The arms and ammunition reached the port of Lorenco Marques but the gold, sent by Kruger, went missing. It never reached the port so the ships sailed for home.
Into this chaos of the aftermath of the war with men, woman and children trying to make it back to the farms, Gideon Barron, an Irishman born in South Africa is accused of helping to steal the gold and hunted by his fellow Boers for treason. With the help of what becomes his friends, he attempts to prove his innocence. Travelling across, what was then, the Transvaal Republic they follow the path of the robbers
Meanwhile the true robbers manage to get away with most of the gold, some travelling into the Portuguese Protectorate of Mozambique and some beyond but some gold is left behind due to a misunderstanding.
This is just one of the many stories about the disappearance of the gold. According to many stories the gold never left South Africa. Some say the gold was worth £500,000 in the value of that time. Some say that there was no gold, that the boxes were filled with ammunition destined for the Boer Commandoes fighting on the front.

THE AUTHOR:

The author was born in South Africa in1942 and spent his teens of the 1950’s on a small farm just outside Naboomspruit in the Northern Province of South Africa, during which time he came to love the sounds, smells and sights of the bush. He did his basic training with 1st Special Service Battalion in Bloemfontein and has happy memories of army life in the bush. He also spent twenty-five years training in the martial arts.

During his work in a steel mill and underground in a diamond mine, he yearned to be back in the bush.

THE BOOK:

By 1902 the British war against South Africa, the so called “Boer War” was over. Paul Kruger, attempted to negotiate a deal with Holland and Germany for arms and ammunition in exchange for gold. The arms and ammunition reached the port of Lorenco Marques but the gold, sent by Kruger, went missing.

Into this chaos of the aftermath of the war, with men, woman and children trying to make it back to the farms, Gideon Barron, an Irishman born in South Africa is accused of helping to steal the gold. Wounded, he escapes but is followed and hunted by his fellow Boers for treason.

INSPIRATION FOR THE BOOK:

The disappearance of Kruger’s gold has always intrigued me. There are many stories, myths and legends about the whereabouts of this treasure. In this work of fiction adventure, I have put forward one possibility. I grew up in this area amongst these people whose stories to their grandchildren in the lamplight around the kitchen table, tell of the gold that may have changed the course of the war, told with the bitterness against the English.

WANT YOUR OWN COPY:

You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”B01KLUA09Y” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

The Conversations We Never Had by Jeffrey H Konis

Conversations cover

The Conversations We Never Had is a new memoir/historical fiction novel by Jeffrey H. Konis. It tells the tale of a grandson who had taken his grandmother for granted, but didn’t realize it until it was too late.

“My father remembers nothing about his real parents. They were dead by the time he was nine. Olga, his mother’s younger sister, not only survived the Holocaust, but was able to find my father at his hiding place – a farm in Poland – and later brought him to America to raise as her own. In all that time, he never asked her any questions about his parents,” says Jeffrey. “Years later, I moved in with Olga for a period of time, but I allowed history to repeat itself – a classic mistake – and failed to ask her the same questions my father avoided. Olga has been gone for more than twenty years, along with everything she could have told me. I am left with a sense of guilt and profound regret, wishing so badly that I could go back and have a second chance to get to know her better and learn more about my family from the only person in the world who knew them and remembered them.”

The Conversations We Never Had is a chronicle of Jeffrey’s time spent with his Grandma “Ola” and an imagining of the stories she might have shared had he only took the time to ask the questions. It is a heartwarming story that will leave you eager to spend time with your family and learn more about them before it’s too late.

Many thanks to Book Publicity Services for introducing me to this touching story. Many of us have regrets that we didn’t spend time with our family when we had the chance – myself included. Reading this story should encourage you to rectify that situation sooner rather than later.

Conversations Jeffrey H. Konis


Excerpt from Chapter 2 – Grandma Ola and Me

Over the following days, I found myself picking up the old routine of going to classes, hitting the library, getting a slice or two for dinner, going home and hibernating in my room. Grandma would occasionally check on me, I think more than anything to make sure it was indeed me and not some wayward stranger. I felt bad not spending more time with Grandma the way I had that night when we talked about her dad, but I guess I was too tired after my long days or unsure how to restart the conversation. I knew Grandma was lonely, lonelier with me around than she would have been alone. Then there was something of a break in my schedule. It was the weekend after Thanksgiving and, caught up with all my work, I decided to spend some time with Grandma and talk. Late Saturday afternoon, after the caregiver had left, I approached her.

” I know it’s been awhile but I was wondering whether we could talk some more, if you’re up for it, that is.”

“Up for it? I’ve been ‘up for it’ for the last two weeks. What do you think, that I’ll remember these things forever? You think my memory will get better as I get older?”

“I know, I’m sorry. I’ve been busy with school and…”
”Jeffrey, you barely say hello to me. How many grandmothers do you have anyways? Well?”

Interesting question but, of course, she was right. My maternal grandmother died when my mother was a young girl; I never knew her father, Grandpa Eugene, who died when I was two.

But Grandma Ola said something else that made me stop to think for a second: her memory would surely deteriorate, and in the not-too-distant future. Once that went, so did any chance of learning about my paternal grandparents. There was now a sense of urgency to my mission. Indeed, there were increasing signs that her mind was starting to slip.

The phone had rung, a few nights previously, and I gave Grandma first dibs to pick up the phone to see who it was, as this was pre-caller i.d. The phone kept ringing and I looked in on Grandma, who I knew was lying on the couch in her room. The scene upon which I stumbled was humorous, though it should not have been: there was Grandma, holding a pillow to her ear and talking into it, “Hol-low? Hol-low?” I quickly picked up the phone just as my dad was about to hang up. He often called to check on both of us, to make sure that we hadn’t yet killed each other, that we were still alive.

As willing as Grandma was to have me and as eager and grateful I was to live with her, we each had our own trepidations about this new living arrangement, this uncharted territory in which we were to find ourselves. Grandma Ola had taken in her first new roommate in over forty years. Grandma, I suspect, felt responsible for my well-being. For all she knew, I could be entertaining all sorts of guests and be a constant source of noise and irritation that she had been mercifully spared for so long. I, on the other hand, was moving in with an elderly woman whose mind was on the decline, someone for whose well-being I would be responsible. Not that Grandma expected this of me; then again maybe she did.

She had employed caregivers seven days a week from nine to seven, who would look after her needs, meals, laundry, baths, doctors’ visits, grocery shopping – everything. Grandma, who was a proud, independent woman, and did not wish to argue or appear unreasonable with these good- hearted people, particularly Anna, seemed to accept their help with graciousness and gratitude. Anna may well have a different story to share but this is what I had observed. Above all, Grandma was a realist; she was aware of her own limitations.

What did I add to this equation? Not a whole lot. I did provide Grandma with some psychological comfort in the evenings when I was home. Should some life-threatening event occur, a bad fall for example, I was there to help. My services had been called upon once in this regard, though the fall in question was more humorous than harmful.

I woke up to a yell from Grandma in the middle of one night. My first thought was that she was having a nightmare and ran to her room to check on her, only she wasn’t there. Puzzled, I was on my way to the kitchen but noticed the light was on in the bathroom. I knocked and opened the door a crack. “Grandma, are you in there? Are you okay?” I asked.

She cried that she wasn’t and asked for help. I walked in to find my grandmother stuck in the bathtub on her back from which she was unable to extricate herself. She explained that she had been about to sit on what she thought was the toilet, not realizing her error until it was too late. I scooped her up and carried her back to her bed. I made sure she was indeed okay and wished her goodnight.

I suppose I shouldn’t have found any of this humorous, that this was a sad result of aging, a dreaded process, and that I should have been more compassionate and understanding. True, I suppose, but my understanding under the circumstances consisted of making sure Grandma was all right, carrying her to bed and keeping a straight face through it all. But it was funny. The only thing that wasn’t so funny was that I would be exhausted in my classes the next day owing to my lack of sleep.

As her new roommate, I was also expected to provide Grandma with some company, particularly since she had recently lost her husband. My father, I knew, expected at least this much from me; I didn’t know, on the other hand, what she expected. She likely considered my presence a mixed blessing; I might be nice to have around but also something of an intrusion.


Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1478767294″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

About the Author

After practicing law for many years, Jeffrey H. Konis left the profession to embark on a career as a high school social studies teacher. His first book, From Courtroom to Classroom: Making a Case for Good Teaching, offers a unique perspective for teachers who seek to inspire their students to learn for the sake of learning. His latest work, The Conversations We Never Had, was released in May 2016. Jeffrey loves reading, collecting fine art photography, soccer – especially Liverpool F.C. – travel, and his family most of all. He currently resides in Goshen, New York with his wife, Pamela, and sons, Alexander and Marc.

Readers can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Guest Post by author Hal Levey (Under The Pong Pong Tree)

pong pong

“The Japanese invasion of Singapore sets the backdrop for this World War II saga of loyalty, love, and the promise of liberation. Under the Pong Pong Tree by Hal Levey delves into the brutality of foreign occupation from a woman’s perspective, allowing a candid portrayal of a war victim to emerge from the pages of this gritty chronicle. . . .The prose is sensitive, knowledgeable, and empathetic, covering intriguing topics across an extensive time line.” -Clarion Review 5 stars

“This utterly compelling historical novel revolves around several characters whose lives have been irrevocably changed and, for the most part, damaged, by the WWII Japanese invasion of Singapore. . .The plot moves quickly with continuing storylines of many characters, and the writing and editing is flawless. Under the Pong Pong Tree will be enjoyed by a wide readership, particularly those who appreciate a fast-paced, realistic tale of war, survival and, ultimately, redemption.” -Blue Ink Starred Review

Love and the brutality of war are woven together in a beautiful, heart-wrenching tapestry in Under the Pong Pong Tree.

Thanks to Publishing Push and the author for helping me create this guest post! UNDER THE PONG PONG TREE is a wonderful, character-driven novel about love and war. Here, author Hal Levey tells us how everything came to be:

 

Under the Pong Pong Tree was incubated long ago during a year spent as China Medical Board Visiting Professor on the medical faculty of the National University of Singapore. The eponymous pong pong tree of Southeast Asia also is called the suicide tree. It is intended as a metaphor for the cruelty suffered by the Chinese residents of Singapore under the heel of the Japanese during World War II. I kept a journal that became a background resourceI also met many colleagues who suffered under Japanese brutality. Nevertheless, the year in Singapore was an exhilarating experience. I did a certain amount of recreational jungle bashing upcountry in Malaysia, and befriended the RAF contingent at the Seletar Air Base in Singapore. I became close friends with Squadron Leader Darrol Stinton, MBE, and joined him and the RAF Seletar Sub-Aqua Club on an expedition to Pulau Perhentian (Perhentian Island) in the South China Sea. The purpose was to develop sea rescue capabilities for airmen lost at sea. The job previously was done by the Royal Navy, but, for some reason, they terminated such operations and the RAF was obliged to create their own system.

The airmen made me Honorary Member No. 1 of the club, but harbored the faint suspicion that I was a CIA plant. Darrol died in 2012 from a hospital-borne infection at a military hospital in London. He was there for surgical replacement of titanium rods that supported his spine, stress-fractured from his years as a test pilot for the RAF. I brought him back to life in my book as Squadron Leader Darrol Stanton. I also borrowed Chinese and Malay names of individuals I had met as characters in my book.  I did this to avoid inventing ethnic names that might inadvertently have had a lewd context.

The novel started to come to life when I spent a summer month in the Caribbean, lecturing to pre-med students at St. Georges University on the island of Granada. This was a pleasant diversion, and St. Georges relied on visiting faculty, mainly from Australia, India, and the USA. Part of my stipend was a room at a first-class hotel perched on a glittering white sandy beach. I delivered lectures in the morning, and spent the afternoons sipping rum punch at a tiki bar next to the hotel. Sitting on a bar stool with time on my hands, I started to scribble an outline in pencil on a yellow legal pad. I started with the setting and then populated it with my characters. Eventually they wrote their own stories and I merely transcribed them. After much picking up and putting down of the manuscript over several years, it ultimately emerged as Under the Pong Pong TreeThe first draft ran to about 185,000 words, but I chopped it down to 78,000 words in the final version.

It is a gripping story that also bears elements of a cautionary tale. In the book, the Japanese are portrayed as brutal and pitiless in their treatment of the Chinese residents of Singapore. They executed thousands and practiced decapitation almost as an art form. Today we view the Japanese as a tidy little people, hard-working, and steeped in their quaint cultural traditions. The other naughty nation, Germany, has emerged from the horrors of Nazism to become an economic powerhouse. One might wonder what the future holds for brutal regimes of the present day?

I am unaware of literary influences that have helped me along the way – although there must be some. I tend to write from the omniscient viewpoint, with little interest in the machine-gun conversational style of the contemporary best-seller. Nor do I have an affinity for the current obsession with zombies or mutated mosquitoes the size of Greyhound busses. I lost interest in fairy tales when I was about eight years old. Although, now that I think about it, I have toyed with the idea of writing a story about a hemophobic vampire. If I have a favorite author, it might be Archy, the poet reincarnated as a large cockroach, who held frequent conversations with Mehitabel, a morally ambiguous cat who claimed to be the reincarnation of Cleopatra. Mehitabel maintained her zest for life, proclaiming “there’s a dance or two in the old dame yet.” Archy typed messages to his boss, Don Marquis, by diving headfirst onto the keys. The messages understandably all were in lower case and lacked apostrophes. That did not disturb the editors of the New York Sun, who were happy to publish Archy’s messages in their daily edition.

As to the future: I might follow up with a prequel to Under the Pong Pong Treebut only if a readership emerges from the underbrush. Otherwise, I shall move in another direction – yet to be determined.

I am currently involved in the puzzling procedure called marketing. I won’t bore you with the details, but, if you write a book, you want it read. Of course, I also might call your attention to Boswell’s quote from Samuel Johnson: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Undiscovered authors are advised to refrain from such flippancies until THEY beg you to sign a major contract. Until then, we must be content to write because we are unable to not write.

 

Here are excerpts of excellent reviews of my book, by Clarion and Blue Ink:

“The Japanese invasion of Singapore sets the backdrop for this World War II saga of loyalty, love, and the promise of liberation. Under the Pong Pong Tree by Hal Levey delves into the brutality of foreign occupation from a woman’s perspective, allowing a candid portrayal of a war victim to emerge from the pages of this gritty chronicle. …The prose is sensitive, knowledgeable, and empathetic, covering intriguing topics across an extensive time line.”
—Clarion Review 5 stars

“This utterly compelling historical novel revolves around several characters whose lives have been irrevocably changed and, for the most part, damaged, by the WWII Japanese invasion of Singapore….The plot moves quickly with continuing storylines of many characters, and the writing and editing is flawless. Under the Pong Pong Tree will be enjoyed by a wide readership, particularly those who appreciate a fast-paced, realistic tale of war, survival and, ultimately, redemption.”
—Blue Ink Starred Review

 

 

Berth: Voices of the Titanic by Natalie Scott

berth

Natalie Scott’s debut collection of poetry, BERTH, brings together myriad diverse voices, tapping into the psyche of those affected by the sinking of the Titanic. Ambitious in its scope, Berth seems to unravel the myths that have emerged over the century since the tragedy. From the pathos of poems in the voices of the passengers who died, to the amusing reflections of the iceberg, dog and anchor, this collection commemorates those who were lost and celebrates those who survived that fateful night of 14 April 1912.

 

Thanks to Publishing Push and the author for gifting me this review copy!

BERTH is a delightful little book of poems that are eerie and thought provoking to read. Each one is “written” by various people who are connected with the ill fated ship in some way; a builder, a passenger, a Marconi wireless operator. There are also poems authored by the ship’s cat, an anchor, and the iceberg itself. After the name of the person the reader will find out if the person was lost or saved.

Here is a sample:

James Dobbins (shipyard worker for Harland and Wolff, Belfast. During construction of ship – LOST)

I was with her through the build                                                                                                                                             from the laying of keel plates                                                                                                                                                         to the last bristles of paint.

I considered myself lucky                                                                                                                                                                   to be called for launch-day;                                                                                                                                                         many poor surplus souls                                                                                                                                                               went missing a day’s pay.

I’d been freeing a support                                                                                                                                                           from the shores just below                                                                                                                                                            her hull, as she strained                                                                                                                                                                    on the workings like a feral                                                                                                                                                     animal tied to its post.

When the support was freed                                                                                                                                                       the shore pinned down my leg                                                                                                                                                    and I must’ve fallen unconscious                                                                                                                                                 as I’ve been in darkness ever since.

Please tell me, because I’m dying                                                                                                                                                 to know –  did she make a good,                                                                                                                                                 safe passage to New York?


That’s the first poem in the book. As soon as I finished it I read it again and tried to imagine this poor soul in my mind. It was easy to see Titanic straining like a  “feral animal” at the dock, a behemoth seeking her freedom.

Scott’s imagery is ethereal and true; the passenger’s voices reflect their station in life accurately, clearly demonstrated in the two poems Mrs Alma Palsson and Mrs Hudson JC Allison. These poems are shown side by side, a gentle hint to the reader that the emotions of the women were the same deep down inside, despite their money (or lack of it).

The connection between the poems is the emotion of the writer – some are arrogant, some are in denial, others painfully aware that their hours are numbered. The inclusion of the ship’s cat and a Newfoundland dog (both SAVED) add a touch of whimsy, despite the somber underlying tones.  Scott even creates a poem in the voice of the iceberg;  as much a part of history as Titanic.

Despite the death imagery on most pages, BERTH is a work that will move you by making the passengers more personal in a unique way. We have all read the first person accounts of the survivors and elevated them up to myth-like, god-like status. However, these poems recreate their voices in a way that seems more personal, as they share their deepest thoughts, hopes and fears with you. Even the Unsinkable Molly Brown has new things to say.

At a slim 76 pages this book seems to fly by quickly, making it easy to go back and read certain poems again while enjoying the wordplay and visceral feelings the poems evoke. Without a doubt this will be one of my favorite books this year.

Natalie Scott has created a shining jewel of a book that will be a welcome addition to the shelves of any Titanic aficionado. She has honored the memory of so many with her touching and beautiful words, words and images that will stay with you long after the book is closed.

Pick up your own copy [easyazon_link identifier=”1905374275″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link]. You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

Review & GIVEAWAY – Hidden From The Face Of Humans by Susan J. Slack

9 giveaway-01

 

Enter my giveaway to win a SIGNED hard copy of this book! Just use the box below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

hidden

Who Killed the High Priestess Thermafi?

Palace intrigue…sibling rivalries…mysticism…and murder.
Hidden From the Face of Humans is a sweeping epic that brings to vivid life the last native Egyptian dynasty of 400 BCE. Behind the banquets and the festivities, the world-changing battles and maneuvers, are the great powers of the day: the pharaohs of Egypt, Plato of Athens, Persian King Artaxerxes, and Spartan King Agesilaus.
Moving serenely amidst the political turmoil is Thermafi, an Egyptian Priestess of Isis who, like the Magi of the Middle Eastern deserts and the oracles at Delphi, travels the ancient, timeless path of the unseen. Thermafi seeks no power for herself, but she is privy to the secrets of the powerful. As the beloved confidante of the pharaoh and revered teacher of the heirs to the Egyptian throne, Thermafi has hidden enemies—and someone wants her dead.

A tour de force dramatizing actual events and characters, Hidden from the Face of Humans offers ingenious solutions to longtime historical mysteries—and a page-turning entertainment.

 

Thanks to the author for gifting me this book for review! There will be a GIVEAWAY of this book as well; link to the giveaway is at the top of this page.

This is a fascinating and well written book based on actual characters; the author states at the beginning of the story that only a few are fictitious. Evident right from the start is the undeniable fact that the author has done extensive research — the characters behave authentically and there is plenty of action.

Thermafi, an Egyptian Priestess, is murdered in the first chapter of the book, and the story works towards discovering her killer. She is blessed with a deep mystic understanding, and powerful men become either uneasy or entranced by her.

Almost 8 decades of history is woven into the story, brilliantly and seamlessly.The descriptions of the cities put you right into Egypt, alongside the royalty and the soldiers. Her villains are delightfully evil and power hungry, with egos as big as the land they wish to rule.

There are many characters in HIDDEN…so much so that there is a list in the beginning so you can keep them all straight. I had a bit of difficulty here and there, since the names are authentic and don’t provide a sense of masculine or feminine. That was my only issue; Slack’s writing is easy to follow, provides just the right amount of detail, and captures your interest by not spilling all the details at once.

The appearance of Plato was wonderfully refreshing; rather like being in an unfamiliar place and then seeing someone you know, doing things you’d never seen him do before.  I can easily say my knowledge of the Egyptian/Persian world is much richer having read this book.

There is something here for almost everyone, take away the Middle Eastern setting, and you have a multi layered murder mystery! Whether you are aware of the backstory here, or are new to the story of Thermafi, you will enjoy this book.


 

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0692379827″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

Silk Legacy by Richard Brawer

silk

In early twentieth century Paterson, New Jersey, dashing twenty-nine year old Abraham Bressler charms naïve nineteen year old Sarah Singer into marriage by making her believe he feels the same way she does about the new calling of a modern woman. He then turns around and gives her little more respect than he would a servant, demanding she stay home to care for “his” house and “his” children.

Feeling betrayed, Sarah defies him and joins women’s groups, actively participating in rallies for woman suffrage, child welfare and reproductive freedom. For a while she succeeds in treading delicately between the demands of her husband and her desire to be an independent woman. Her balancing act falters when a strike shuts down Paterson’s 300 silk mills. With many friends working in the mills, Sarah is forced to choose sides in the battle between her Capitalist husband and his Socialist brother, a union leader who happens to be her best friend’s husband.

Jealousy, infidelity, arrogance, greed—the characters’ titanic struggles will catapult you into the heights of their euphoria and the depths of their despair. Who will triumph and who will be humbled is not certain until the last page.

Thanks to the author for giving me this book in exchange for a review.

Excerpt:

Sarah pushed aside the muslin curtain on her bedroom window and stared at the sidewalk.  She was glad her father had invited him after dinner, rather than in the daytime.  The shops had closed.  The streets were empty of commercial traffic.  Most people had settled into their evening rituals of reading, sewing, playing a game of cards or checkers in their parlors, or sitting and gossiping on the building’s stoops enjoying this splendid May evening.  Even in the flickering light of the gas street lamps she would have no trouble spotting him coming down the sidewalk.
She first noticed him across the room at her best friend’s wedding.  When their eyes met and he smiled, her heart fluttered and she almost swooned.  He was so handsome, so distinguished with his sweeping handlebar mustache.  He carried himself straight and tall, sure of himself, not like the other men in the congregation who cowered when they walked, as if they were trying to draw themselves into a cocoon they thought would protect them from the outside world.
She ached to meet him right then and there, but women weren’t allowed to mix with men at weddings.  That Biblical edict did not stop her from discretely inquiring as to who he was.  When she learned he was the groom’s brother, she was overjoyed.  Her father had to know him.  He had taught all the Bresslers.  On their walk home from the wedding she asked her father about him.
Before her father could answer, her mother cut in and said, “He’s no one you are to concern yourself with, Sarah.”
“Why?  What’s wrong with him?”
“Nothing,” her father said.  “He was one of my best students.”  Looking quizzically at his wife, he said, “I invited him to our house Wednesday evening.”
Delight engulfed Sarah.  But her brief moment of ecstasy crashed into desolation when her mother shrieked, “You didn’t!”
Her father cowered at the rebuke, and offered his daughter no help when her mother told her, “You will be confined to your room.”
“Why?” Sarah cried.
“Because I said so.  That is all you have to know.”
Despite her mother’s forbidding, Sarah readied herself anyway in hopes her mother would have a last minute change of heart.  She put her hair up, and dressed in the white linen shirt-waist with flowing sleeves and ruffled cuffs trimmed in pink satin ribbon.
“Sarah, come away from the window.”
Startled by her mother’s voice, Sarah withdrew her hand from the curtain as if she had grabbed the hot handle of a skillet.  “Why won’t you let me meet him?” she asked.
Her mother crossed to the bed, sat down and patted a place next to her.  “Come, sit by me.”
Sarah obeyed and fidgeted with a strand of hair that had escaped from her bun.
Taking her daughter’s hand, her mother said, “He’s not right for you, my darling.  He’s too old.”
“But he’s only ten years older than I.  Father is twelve years older than you.”
“That’s true, but your father is a learned man—a scholar, a teacher.  He is counting on you to carry on for him.”
“And I will.”
“Not if you were to become attached to Mr. Bressler.”
“Why?  Mr. Bressler is an educated man.  He knows the value of learning.”
“Does he?”
“Father said he taught him.”
“But it does not mean he learned anything.”
Confused, Sarah stared at her mother.
“You know all the places you read about and are aching to see—the Eiffel Tower, Rome, the Great Wall of China?  You will never see them if you marry Mr. Bressler.”
“How do you know that?  My friend, Cecelia, Mr. Bressler’s sister-in-law, told me Mr. Bressler makes a wonderful living from his business.”
“Yes, a saloon.”
“He’s not a shiker?”
“His father is.”
“But he’s not a drunkard?”
“Not that I know.”
Sarah sighed with relief.  “Then why won’t you let me meet him?” 
“Sarah, please.  You knew the Bressler family back in Latvia.  The father is a carouser.  The uncle is an azes ponim—an arrogant man.  You are aware the uncle tried to get your father fired for teaching the writings of Karl Marx?”
Sarah didn’t answer, thinking, yes the father did neglect his family, and the uncle lorded his riches over everyone.  But that did not mean Abe was like them.  Her best friend, Cecelia—Abe’s new sister-in-law—said her husband was a wonderful man.
“You do know what a sow is?”  Sarah’s mother asked.
“Of course.  Trayf.  Not kosher.”
“There is a saying I picked up in this city of silk which fits Mr. Bressler very well. ‘You cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.’  Let him go.  He will stifle you.”

SILK LEGACY is two stories in one–a romance and a Capitalist/Socialist struggle pitting brother against brother. The first part of the book goes by smoothly, as we are introduced to the Bressler family. As the years go by the struggles surface, and while I was firmly in Sarah’s corner (as she struggles against the mighty thumb of opppression wielded by her husband, Abe), I was not sure who to support regarding the labor wars, Abe or Solomon. Both sides are equally represented, and the author paints a wonderfully accurate picture of working class struggles in burgeoning Paterson, NJ.

This book was written so well, I had to stop to double check the author’s name on the front! It could have easily been composed by Ken Follett or Colleen McCullough. There is history, romance, intrigue, and the setting is authentic. I especially was moved during the suffragette’s parade in Washington, as I read about their high hopes and what actually took place.

It is always interesting to see how an author handles a roman a clef, and Brawer intersperses real and fictional characters seamlessly. The dialogue flows smooothly and there are no awkward transitions that are the hallmark of a less talented author.

The only caveat I have to note is that the plot is taken over by the politics and labor talk, to the exclusion of everything else as the story progresses. It started to seem a bit unbalanced and I found myself becoming less enthralled with the story. Just as things move away from the union struggles, the book comes to an abrupt ending. It was a bit hard for me to see how Solomon would have acted the way he did, given his previous behavior, but there it is. That was the only stutter in an otherwise wonderfully written novel.

There is a great deal of history in these pages—anyone with an interest in how the unions came to be will want to pick this up. You can get your own copy [easyazon_link identifier=”B003BVJFJW” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

Guest Post by Suzanne Burdon, author of ALMOST INVINCIBLE

We will be reading and reviewing Suzanne Burdon‘s book at a later date, but in the meanwhile the author was kind enough to write this guest post for us! It’s quite apropos for the holiday.

 

Halloween – ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night. Whatever the early pagan or Christian origins of All Hallows’ Eve, the creatures of the netherworld are now thoroughly celebrated or lampooned, depending on your perspective, on October 31st. These are the creatures of the ‘natural’ world, but on a stormy night in 1816, Mary Shelley conceived a man-made monster that was to capture the imagination of generations and spawn many ‘hideous progeny’.

On All Hallows’ Eve in 1831, the Frankenstein novel that most people read today, was reprinted and published in a one volume popular format instead of the three volumes usual for the time, which gave it an even wider audience. The novel had already had considerable success since it was originally released in 1818 and almost immediately captured the popular imagination. Its fame was boosted by stage adaptations, notably Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein, which played at the Royal Opera House in London in 1823. Mary went to see the production and though she admitted that they had not followed the story closely, she thought it was well done. There were thunderstorms and a collapsing glacier and the monster was so suitably scary that women in the audience fainted.

franken

It is lucky that Mary was not precious about the representation of her work or she would surely be endlessly rotating in her grave. The themes and imagery from the novel have been recast into cartoons, music, plays, comedies, TV series and almost a hundred movies. The most iconic representation was of course Boris Karloff as the monster in the 1931 Hammer Horror movie adaption, with the monobrow and bolts through his neck. Frankenstein’s screen history started in 1910 in the first silent film from Edison studios and continues with new 2015 movie with James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe.

The story has been analysed and intellectualised endlessly, but the common, horror aspect of most incarnations has been the creation of an animated monster by human agency, and the failure to control it thereafter. Victor Frankenstein is a mad scientist who plays God and then refuses to take responsibility for his creation. The vulnerabilities of the characters and the moral and social implications of the original story are mostly marginalized. The abiding horror is contemplating human vanity and frailty.

Mary Shelley was only eighteen when she started her story and it was composed on a wild and stormy night in mid summer in Lord Byron’s villa on the lake at Geneva. That year, 1816, was known as The Year Without a Summer. Mount Tambora in Indonesia had erupted spectacularly – it was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history – and Europe was blanketed in dust. People thought the end of the world had come. It was a suitable backdrop to the creation of a gothic story as Byron, Mary and her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley, her stepsister Claire and Byron’s doctor, Polidori, huddled around the fire reading ghost stories. Byron then threw out the challenge for each of the company to try their hand at the creation of something frightening.

Mary had felt enormous pressure to validate her genes and produce a literary work of value, but until Frankenstein she had struggled to find the right outlet for her creativity. So Mary’s response to the challenge was inevitably more than a simple scary story. Her parents were both radical authors; her mother wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and is considered an early feminist and her father, William Godwin, wrote a groundbreaking anti-establishment book called Political Justice. So writing something that had social meaning was not surprising.

The scientific context of Frankenstein is more unexpected but was a result of her relationship with Shelley, the poet. When she eloped with him, Mary hadn’t realised the depth of his passion for chemical experiments, nor the potentially lethal impact of his obsession on working papers, tabletops or cushion covers, as smoke rose and glasses full of foul-coloured liquid shattered. Wires and crucibles of liquids would appear on the parlour table alongside the solar microscope and the extremely thumbed and stained copy of The Elements of Chemical Philosophy by Humphrey Davy. It didn’t add to their acceptability to landladies, but it did add to her inspiration for the science in Frankenstein.

franken two

In the 1931 edition, published on October 31st 1831, Mary added a new preface where she explained the circumstances in which the novel had been conceived. By that time, Shelley was dead and she was largely supporting herself with her writing. Her other novels were ‘by the Author of Frankenstein’. Frankenstein and his monster have passed into popular culture and show no signs of diminishing impact. Indeed with current forays into gene modification and limb replacement, it is still, potentially, very much a modern horror story.

 

 Suzanne Burdon: Author of Almost Invincible, A Biographical Novel of Mary Shelley

invincible

 

Look for our review of ALMOST INVINCIBLE, coming soon! Many thanks to Ms Burdon for sharing her story.   

 

Older posts

© 2019 gimmethatbook

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑