Endurance-Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

The Endurance Succumbing to the pressure of the ice pack

The Endurance
Succumbing to the pressure of the pack ice

In August 1914, the ship Endurance left England on the first leg of what was called the Imperial Trans-Arctic Expedition. Led by Ernest Shackleton, the purpose of the expedition was to cross the Antarctic continent on land, from one end to the other, across the South Pole. The ship was sturdily built, well-supplied, and had an able crew. The Endurance left for Antarctica from South Georgia Island on December 5. By February 1915, the ship was trapped in the ice.

The crew wintered on the ship. In October, when it became clear that the Endurance was going to be crushed by the pack ice, Shackleton ordered his crew to abandon ship. They set up camp on an ice floe, in the hopes that it would drift north towards land. When the ice floe broke up in April 1916, the crew gathered in their lifeboats and reached Elephant Island. From there, Shackleton and a crew of five journeyed through the roughest seas on the planet back to South Georgia Island, about 800 miles away. Shacklteon then returned by ship to Elephant Island to rescue his crew, arriving on August 30, 2016, two years after they had left England.

The miracle of this expedition is that every man on the expedition survived. Shackleton’s leadership ability and courage are legendary.

So-everyone knows the basics of this amazing story. What Alfred Lansing has done is bring these intrepid explorers to life. For his source material, Lansing had access to diaries and personal accounts of some members of the expedition, and was able to interview a a number of the surviving members of the expedition. Even knowing the outcome, I was riveted by the details that Lansing wrote about.

The crew was subject to the constantly changing Antarctic weather. Shrieking winds, blinding snow, high seas, sub-freezing temperatures, and months of darkness plagued them during the winter. The Antarctic summer brought little relief, as temperatures hovered near freezing, and the melting and shifting ice brought extraordinary danger.

The story of Shackleton’s expedition is a true life adventure, with true life heroes.

In USA-published in hardcover-Adventure Library-1994
Softcover edition-Basic Books-1999
(Original edition published in 1959)

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

The Transplant

I always applaud the author who the ability and grit to pen a long novel-such as this nearly 500 page tome by Alexandra Ulysses. However-and this is a big however-The Transplant is one of the dreariest, most dreadful books I’ve come across. It was sent to me from the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. I’m always excited and grateful when I receive the e-mail that I’ve won a new book; it’s like being chosen for a new adventure. But this was awful.

I will confess that I managed to slog through the first 124 pages, then skipped to the final 20 pages. I won’t recount the plot here, but suffice to say it not the least compelling. The main character is naive, selfish, whiny. The other characters in the book are equally unlikeable.

So-I do not recommend this book at all, and will be purging it from my home as soon as possible!

 

In USA:

Published in hardcover-United Arts Media-2010

The Dry Grass of August

Author Anna Jean Mayhew

Author Anna Jean Mayhew

The Dry Grass of August is the June selection of my book club. And once again, a selection has me pondering the reason for a book club. Other than spending a pleasant evening with friends, I guess the reason is to force me to read books that I otherwise would not. For my personal reading I gravitate to certain genres and authors, but book club forces me out of my comfort zone. And that’s a good thing, right?

Well-maybe not in this case. The Dry Grass of August is another book in the genre I like to call “depressing stories of ignorance and racism in the south in the 20th century”.

This novel centers on teenager Jubie Watts, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1954. Jubie, her mother, siblings, and Mary, the family’s maid, leave for vacation to visit Jubie’s uncle in Pensacola, Florida. The action  is interspersed with flashbacks to Jubie’s early childhood and very recent past. Jubie’s father, Bill, is a violent drunk, and Jubie, inexplicably, is the target of his rage. Her mother, Pauly, is benignly neglectful of her four children, leaving the work of child rearing to the family’s “colored” maid. Mary is the one caring and stable adult presence in Jubie’s life.

The violence that is simmering below the surface erupts in a predictable way. This of course forces Jubie to grow up and rebel against her parents. Yawn!

This book has, in my opinion, nothing to add to the genre of the southern novel. The themes are stale; the characters  I’ve met before. There remain three novels of the south worth reading: Gone With the Wind, The Sound and the Fury, and To Kill a Mockingbird. All the others are riffs on the same theme.

In USA:

Published in softcover-Kensington-2011

The Dry Grass of August

The Doll

Taylor Stevens

Taylor Stevens

The Doll is the third novel in Taylor Stevens’ series about Vanessa Michael Munroe. Michael, as she is generally called, is a deadly operative, currently employed by a security firm in Dallas. Having survived an abusive childhood, Michael now brings her many skills to helping exploited and abused people, particularly young girls.

Among Michael’s skills is the ability to absorb language. She is also well-versed in hand-to-hand combat and is expert in all kinds of weapons. Michael also uses her androgynous appearance to her advantage, thinking nothing of shaving her head to appear like a man.

One morning, Michael is ambushed while arriving at her office. She is shot with a tranquilizer gun and abducted while her boss is watching. Michael was on her way into the office to sign a contract accepting the assignment to locate a young actress who recently disappeared. Are these events related? Hmmm!

Compared to the first two books in the series, The Informationist and The Innocent, I’d say this is my least favorite. Like the others, The Doll deals with uncomfortable realities of life-in this case human trafficking. But I would say that Munroe’s character in this book is more caricature than flesh and blood person. Her motives and her background are fuzzier than in the others, so she is just not as interesting. I’d say that if you just picked up this book without reading the others, that you’d be confused about who this person is.

Beyond that, though, this is another fast-paced, interesting plot. The bad guys are really bad, and there is a very thin line separating them from the good guys. So-not my favorite, but I definitely plan on reading the fourth book in the series which is currently in progress.

In USA:

Published in hardcover-Crown-2013

The Doll: A Novel (Vanessa Michael Munroe)

42

Jackie Robinson in Dodgers Uniform

Jackie Robinson in Dodgers Uniform

I was at the Mets-Yankees game the other night at Citifield, the Mets home ballpark, where the only remaining active player to wear Number 42 on his uniform, New York Yankee relief great Mariano Rivera, was honored by his cross-town rival Mets.  Mariano is retiring after this current baseball season and when he does, all 30 Major Leagues baseball clubs will have retired the Number 42 in honor of the Brooklyn Dodgers player Jackie Robinson who was the first African-American to break the “color barrier” and play on a major league club.

The rough road to the major leagues and breaking baseball’s color barrier from his early playing days in the Negro League playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, are beautifully and artfully depicted in Brian Helgeland’s film 42.

Hard to believe that even when America was viewed around the world as “Protectors of Freedom and Democracy” during the Second World War, African- Americans back in the States were still absent from Major League rosters.  That situation all changed on April 15, 1947 when Jackie Robinson stepped onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn as the starting first basemen for the hometown Dodgers against the Boston Braves.

Even a life-long baseball fan like myself who grew up after Jackie Robinson had long ago retired as a player, but who heard stories about how hard it was for him to face racism from his teammates, opponents and the fans, learned just how difficult it was for Jackie Robinson, and his wife Rachel in “42”. Baseball fans and fans of American history and the Civil Rights movement should see this film.

Released in theatres April 12, 2013 (to coincide closely with Robinson’s first Major League game 66 years earlier) it should be available soon on DVD and On Demand. 42 is a must for any film collection.

Chadwick Boseman gives a powerful performance as Jackie Robinson with Nichole Beharie portraying his strong and supportive wife, Rachel.  Harrison Ford might be a little guilty of overplaying the role of Branch Rickey, the Dodgers President and General Manager, who made the bold decision to challenge baseball’s color barrier and sign Robinson to a professional baseball contract.  The interplay between Boseman and Ford’s characters provide a stark and authentic historical portrait of  Branch Rickey’s choice of Jackie Robinson to be America’s first “African-American” major league ballplayer.

Robinson had to promise Rickey he would not lose his temper on and off the ball field, even as racism flared in his face.  Rickey’s motives for wanting to bring African-Americans into baseball were honestly addressed in 42.  Socially, he knew it was the right thing to do, but Rickey knew the move would help increase attendance at Dodgers ballgames among the growing African-American population in America’s late 1940s.

After viewing 42 you can understand why, since April 15, 1997, the number 42 has been retired throughout baseball. And on each April 15th since 1997, every baseball player wears number 42 for games played on the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier.

He was a remarkable man and the same can be said about the movie “42”.

42

The Book of Mormon

It’s a little late in the game to be reviewing The Book of Mormon; it opened well over two years ago, and I just got to see it last night. So this very successful and original show doesn’t need my stamp of approval. But I do have to say-it is brilliant and funny. The cast is amazing. It is the funniest evening I’ve had in a long, long time.

With  so many Broadway shows designed to appeal to tourists and children, I’m thrilled that there is a sophisticated, adult option available. I can’t imagine that this will ever play in Peoria, but it’s a fabulous Broadway experience! Thanks so much to the creators of South Park who believed so much in this production and were able to bring it to Broadway.Book-Of-Mormon-Playbill-02-11

The Book of Mormon (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

The Thirteenth Tale

Author Diane Setterfield

Author Diane Setterfield

I can’t believe this book was published in 2006 and I just read it now! Where has it been? Where was I? Diane Setterfield’s debut novel grabbed me from the opening sentence, and never let go.

The Thirteenth Tale is a British mystery with so many interesting and fun elements I don’t know where to start. On the surface, it is the story of a young woman, Margaret Lea, who works in her father’s antiquarian bookshop. Margaret is well-read, intelligent, but socially awkward. While close with her father, Margaret has a strained relationship with her mother. Margaret amuses herself by writing short biographies of some of the lesser-knows authors whose works she has read.

One day, Margaret receives a long, hand-written letter from Vida Winter, a novelist. The reclusive and mysterious Winter is aging and very ill. In her 50+ years as a best-selling author, Winter has never told the truth about her background. She offers Margaret a large sum of money to write her story. Margaret must leave her comfortable home and travel to Winter’s isolated estate in Yorkshire. She will live with Winter while hearing her life story. There are, of course, conditions attached to the offer.

Margaret has never read any of Winter’s books, preferring 19th century novelists. Before accepting this commission, Margaret begins reading, and is immediately drawn in by Winter’s unique story-telling style. Most intriguing is Winter’s debut novel. Margaret reads a copy of this book,  titled Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, which she finds  in her father’s storeroom. Upon finishing the twelfth tale, the book ends. Margaret’s father explains that the book only contains twelve tales. They own the only known copy of the re-called first edition. All other published copies are simply called Tales of Change and Desperation.

This engaging story contains so many fascinating elements. It is a tale of a crazy family, twins, an addled housekeeper, a strange topiary garden, incest, and a fire. And more! It is a great mystery, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing until the very end.

In USA:
Published in hardcover-Atria Books-2006
Softcover edition-WashingtonSquare Press-2007

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel

Kiss the Water

Megan Boyd

Megan Boyd

In 2001, filmmaker Eric Steel read an obituary in the New York Times that intrigued and affected him deeply. Kiss the Water, a magical movie, is the result. It tells the tale of Megan Boyd, a legendary figure in the world of fly fishing. Yes-fly fishing, and specifically fishing for Atlantic salmon.

Ms. Boyd lived and worked for much of her life in the northern Scottish village of Kintradwell. She learned to tie flies, and supported herself selling flies. Her work was legendary for its precision, beauty, attention to details and effectiveness. Her customers included Prince Charles, who fished at his nearby lodge. Queen Elizabeth II awarded Boyd the British Empire Medal.

Those are the facts of Megan Boyd’s life. But Kiss the Water is more than a factual account of Boyd’s life. It is a beautiful rendering of a way of life. Combining dream-like animation, interviews with Boyd’s neighbors, and beautiful scenery and music, Kiss the Water is a fish tale of the best kind-perhaps not totally factual but a true picture of a unique individual.

I was fortunate enough to view this film at the Tribeca Film Festival. There is no information available about the movie’s general release. Hopefully many more people will get to view this treasure.

On a side note, until two weeks ago, I knew next to nothing about fly fishing. But I just returned from a vacation to Belize, where I spent a few days at Turneffe Flats Lodge. This lodge is located on an island in the Turneffe Atoll. Most of the guests at this small lodge come to Turneffe Flats to enjoy-you guessed it-world class salt water fly fishing, specifically coming to fish for bonefish, tarpon and permit. So I spent four days hearing about fly fishing (catch and release only!) in more detail than I ever thought possible.

I had purchased the tickets to Kiss the Water before leaving on vacation, having no idea what it was about. It was just a movie that fit into a time slot that I was able to attend, and there were tickets available. Clearly it was meant to be!

 

The Last Camellia

Strangely, just as I completed reading my first novel by Sarah Jio, I received a notice from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program that I was selected to receive a copy of Jio’s upcoming The Last Camellia.  This story is set in a very different place than The Violets of March, but there are some strong similarities between the books.

The Last Camellia takes place mainly in rural Great Britain. It toggles in time between 1940 and the present. The protagonist in both stories is  a young American woman. In 1940, we meet Flora, a budding (no pun intended) botanist. Flora lives in the Bronx, and helps out at her parents’ bakery. After hours, Flora volunteers at the New York Botanical Garden. One day at the bakery, Flora is approached by a man who offers her a large sum of money to take on an undisclosed task relating to her knowledge of plants. The job is in England, and Flora will have to leave home for an unspecified amount of time. She agrees to the terms and it is only on board the ship bound for England that Flora learns that she is working for a ring of flower thieves. Her task is to locate the last surviving “Middlebury Pink” camellia. It is believed to be in the orchard at Livingston Manor, an English country estate.

In the present time, we meet Addison. Addison is a garden designer living in New York City. Her wealthy in-laws have just purchased Livingston Manor. Unbeknownst to her husband, Addison is being stalked by someone from her past. Hoping to escape, she suggests to Rex that they summer at his parents’ new home. Within a day, they have arrived at Livingston Manor, greeted by Mrs. Dilloway, the housekeeper who has worked at the Manor for 70 years. Boy-does she have some secrets!

Jio does a good job of going back and forth between the present and the past. There is enough suspense in Flora’s story to make up for the lack of it in Addison’s. Addison just seems silly and hysterical, while Flora seems more of a real person with real problems.But this was an engaging, quick read; probably best for a plane ride or beach.

images

In USA:

Softcover edition-Penguin-to be published May 2013

The Last Camellia: A Novel

Five Star Billionaire

Author Tash AW

Author Tash Aw

Five Star Billionaire is the soon-to-be-released novel by Tash Aw, the award winning author of Harmony Silk Factory and Map of the Invisible World. This is a novel of the new China, specifically Shanghai. Aw was raised in Asia and has a gift for capturing life in China today. This novel centers on five characters who have come to Shanghai for different reasons, but their lives intersect in unexpected ways.

The first character we meet is Walter Chao, the five star billionaire of the title. Walter grew up poor in rural Malaysia, but was determined to become a wealthy man. Next we meet Phoebe, an illegal immigrant to Shanghai. Phoebe’s road to Shanghai also began in a rural village. Phoebe’s hope is to raise herself up, and also her family. She is uneducated, but willing to learn from her mistakes and work hard to achieve her goals.

Justin Lim is the eldest son from a wealthy family in Kuala Lumpur. He has been groomed from birth to manage the family’s immense real estate holdings. He is in Shanghai to cement the Lim family’s interests in China. Yinghui is a businesswoman who began her rise by establishing a chain of up-scale lingerie shops. She is also from a well-off Malaysian family; she and Justin share a history, but it was not always a pleasant one.

Gary is a pop star. He sells millions of record and performs concerts to thousand of screaming teenage fans. Gary also is from an impoverished Malaysian family. After winning a singing contest, he began a meteoric rise to stardom, yet he remains deeply unhappy.

It took me a few chapters to become accustomed to the style of this novel. Aw jumps around from one character’s story to another. The chapters are short, each one focused on the perspective of a single character. It takes much of the novel for the relationship between the characters to become clear.

Of course the sixth character in the book is the city of Shanghai. It is constantly being built and re-built. It is crowded and noisy. Shanghai is a magnet for immigrants, legal and illegal. Finding work is difficult-there are so many people willing to do anything to survive and send money to their families back home. The city is cruel to its inhabitants, yet it remains a beacon of hope throughout Asia.

Aw has set the stage for an interesting story, and Five Star Billionaire does not disappoint. I highly recommend this novel. Many thanks to the LibraryThing Early  Reviewers program for sending this on to me.

In USA:

Hardcover edition to be published-Spiegel & Grau-Jult 2013

Five Star Billionaire: A Novel