Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton

There are books that are impossible to put down because the story is compelling, the pacing is brisk, and the suspense is palpable.  In this case, reading The Quality of Silence, I felt I actually had to take breaks because it was too intense, combining the threats of two implacable enemies, an anonymous but very sinister trucker who is following Yasmin and her daughter Ruby as they drive deeper and deeper into the vast and empty interior of Alaska in search of their husband and father, and the weather, cruelly cold and building quickly into a ferocious blizzard.  For Yasmin and Ruby are on their own, driving a "borrowed" semi north towards Anaktue, an isolated native village recently destroyed by fire.  The village is where Matt Alfredson was last seen alive.  They know they are being followed, but they didn't know why.  All Yasmin believes is that despite the police report, her husband is still alive but is now at the mercy of the Alaskan winter and won't survive unless she finds him.  Great stuff.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dead Wake: the last crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Erik Larson has a way of making history come alive.  Even though we know the ending,  it's almost impossible not to root for those passengers who have roles in the story.  Larson of course goes beyond the individual miracles and tragedies;  he sets the stage with the top secret British Room 40--a place where German wireless transmissions to its naval fleet were routinely captured and translated.  (The catch to having such a valuable trove of information was that if the British showed what they knew by their reactions, the Germans would soon realize their codes were broken.)    We can see inside of submarine U-20 as it travels from its home base around the Irish coast to take up a position along the highly traveled routes to Liverpool.  We become acquainted with life aboard ship, the degree of preparations for emergencies, and the general mood that no one could sink the Lusitania, one of the fastest  non-military vessels in service. News to me--Larson writes of how distracted President Wilson was at this point of the European War--mourning his dead wife and becoming involved with another woman.  How many American deaths would have to occur before he takes notice?  Tension builds as the strands of the story come together, and the details of the eventual torpedo attack and sinking are filled with drama and pathos.  This is a great way to absorb history.  Recommended

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely

It's one thing to read about the rash of sexual abuse cases in the Catholic church and quite another to see the looming tragedy through the life of one of its victims, sixteen-year-old Aiden Donovan. Trying to deal with his father's sudden abandonment of the family and his own loneliness, Aiden looks to his local priest for support.  Gradually he realizes that Father Greg's affections are not healthy, and he is not the only special boy in the priest's life.   Aiden's struggle to deal with his sense of betrayal, shame, and anger form the core of the book.  Related though Aiden, this is a thoughtful,  relevant, and eventually hopeful story.

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Jo Montfort lives a life of privilege in New York City during the Gilded Age.  For a young woman of her background, this means finishing her education at an elite, private academy and marrying a young man with an equivalent pedigree.  However, Jo is not like her friends; she loves to write and in her dreams she becomes the next Nellie Bly--a famous journalist.  When her father commits suicide, Jo is forced to face her future.  Does she marry her family's choice and assume her rightful place in society or does she start investigating her father's suspicious death  at the risk of ruining her reputation and, possibly, losing her life.  This mystery combines a complex and gripping plot with  glimpses of life amongst both the very rich and very poor in 1890's New York.  Author Donnelly seasons the story with romance, as Jo is drawn to a reporter, whom her family would never accept.  Great stuff.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

After the Wind by Lou Kasischke

Most readers of adventure and outdoor nonfiction are familiar with Jon Krakauer's account, Into Thin Air,  about the disaster that unfolded on Mt. Everest in 1996.  Krakauer's book combines both his personal and journalist's perspective, covering the stories of all of the expeditions involved, including the one where he was embedded.  In contrast, Kassichke focuses solely on his own experience, from his training regimen and initial contacts with expedition head Rob Hall to his own suffering and near-death experience on the mountain.  This is an absolutely gripping book . . .  I was reading it during the Seahawks/Vikings game and it made the description of the cold on Everest all the more real.  (Btw, the football players had nothing to complain about, compared to what the climbers endured!!)  Kassichke is refreshingly honest on where he feels the blame lies for this tragedy.  His personal struggle to make the right decision on whether to summit and the strength of his analysis of the inevitable fate of the Hall expedition make this a very compelling story.  Strongly recommended.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

At eighteen, Madeline Whittier remains a teenager who has never (within her memory) breathed fresh air, played outside, gone to school, or done anything a healthy teen might do.  Madeline has been diagnosed with severe combined immunodeficiency, or the "bubble baby disease."  She is allergic to many, if not most, things in the environment, any of which can trigger a fatal reaction.  So she reads, plays word games with her mom, and takes classes online.  Then Olly moves in next door.  What starts as sneaking peaks moves on to mime, then IM.  Madeline is falling in love.  The very things she wants--to meet Olly in person, to expand her universe, to live her life more fully, could also be her death warrant.  Beautifully told and illustrated, Everything, Everything is a moving love story.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi

Alix Banks is a model teenager--successful in school, good at sports, responsible for her kid brother, and very, very rich.  The problem is, all of that wealth and privilege comes at a cost, the way her father earns his living.  Alix is stalked and eventually kidnapped by a group of kids--orphans--who want her to know about her father and to help them "get even" for the damage he has done to them and to others like them.  The book is a roller coaster of plots, back-up plots, con jobs, betrayals, and dangers as the kids take on the powers of the public relations industry, pharmaceutical companies, private security firms and more.  Bacigalupi wraps serious social problems in a plot filled with action and ethical dilemmas.  Great read!