Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sunburn by Laura Lippman



A mysterious woman with a past and a detective hired to track her, these two threads of the story lead to a riveting tale to uncover the secrets of the past.  Polly has appeared at a roadside diner and Adam appears shortly thereafter.  They both get a job at the diner, one as a waitress, and one as a cook and their love interest simmers through the summer.  Adam finds he can’t keep away from Polly, but what is her true story?  Is she a murderer or a victim?

I enjoyed how the story unraveled over time and kept me guessing until the end.  There were many threads to this story and I really enjoyed how they were all revealed over time.  I liked the setting, although it did take me a bit to realize it was set twenty years in the past. I’ll admit, I didn’t enjoy this as much as I’ve enjoyed previous Laura Lippman books.  I had a hard time getting into it and I had a hard time caring about Polly.  The characters were well developed, but she was so much of an enigma, I found myself not caring for her much.  And at the end of the book I was left thinking, what the heck just happened?

Favorite Quotes:

“No one chases a waterfall.  You go for a swim and next thing you know, the current catches you and throws you right over.”

“June leaves her parents in the den, watching Murder She Wrote.  She worries a little about the watching crime shows, but it was always their favorite program.  Maybe it’s a good sign that they still want to visit Cabot Cove and follow J.B. Fletcher on her various trips.  Murder in J.B. Fletcher’s world is almost gentle, bloodless.  And there’s no follow-up, no future visits from J.B. Fletcher in which the bereaved are staring into space, indifferent to food, conversation, or even a possible Baltimore oriole sighing.”

“He’s not a bad man, he’s a good man who made some bad decisions.  It’s an important distinction.”
“Nothing makes you feel more alive than almost dying.”

Overall, Sunburn is an intriguing tale that kept me guessing, but I felt the ending was a bit flat.

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow – Thanks!

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin



January 12, 1888 was a date that lived in infamy for many settlers that lived in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska.  On that date they awoke to an abnormally warm winter day.  After many days of bitter cold, this seemed like the perfect day to do outdoor chores and attend school.  What they didn’t know was that a cold artic wind was blowing down from Canada that would drop the temperature as much as 70 to 80 degrees in some areas to forty below zero.  This came along with an ice driven blizzard and it arrived just when many of these children were walking home after school on the open prairie.

The Children’s Blizzard tells the personal tales of the immigrants who moved to the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska area and their brutal voyages overseas.  It also talks about the early days of the weather service.   Then the book tells the personal stories of many people on January 12th, 1888, and follows the aftermath.

The immigration stories following two main groups on their way from Norway and from the Ukraine were fascinating.  It made me realize how lucky I am that my own ancestors survived the journey over as even during the latter half of the nineteenth century, it was still common for 10% of immigrants to die on the boats over.  

I didn’t realize there was a weather prediction service in the 1880s, so reading about how it worked was fascinating to me. Although I think it’s a little harsh to totally blame the weather service.  In that day even if they would have gotten their warnings out via telegraph and hosted the cold wave flags, most of the people affected by the storms did not live close enough to see the flags and with no phones or means of communication, it’s hard to think it would have made a difference.

The varying personal stories of the day of the blizzard haunted me.  After I read the story of poor school boy Walter, I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day . . . and Walter has been dead for a long time!  There were so many tales of bravery, sacrifice, and just plain sadness.  It was nice that these real people are still remembered.

I also enjoyed that one of my favorite books, The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder was discussed.  The Long Winter was not the winter of 1888, but 1880 and Larkin verifies that Wilder captures what others experienced that winter in vivid prose.  Her descriptions describe what many others recorded in their journals and diaries in the winter of 1880.  “Laura Ingalls Wilder made the Snow Winter the subject of her novel The Long Winter.  Every detail in the book matches up exactly with the memoirs of the pioneers: the grinding of wheat in coffee mills, the endless hours of twisting prairie hay for fuel, the eerie gray twilight of the snowed-in houses, the agony of waiting and hoping that the trains would get through, the steady creep of starvation when they failed to yet again.”

I enjoyed the style of writing this non-fiction book.  I cared for the real characters and their stories felt alive.  It was a book that I have been telling everyone about and that I will think about long after I’ve read it.  The only negative I had about this book is that there were so many characters to follow, I sometimes got lost in the details.  And I like big and complicated books!  I think maybe having a section at the beginning like some novels do with a list of the real people in the book and how they are related would have been helpful.

Favorite Quotes:

“On January 12, 1888, a blizzard broke over the center of the North American continent.  Out of nowhere, a soot gray cloud appeared over the northwest horizon.  The air grew still for a long, eerie measure, then the sky began to roar and a wall of ice dust blasted the prairie.  Every crevice, every gap and orifice instantly filled with shattered crystals, blinding, smothering, suffocating, burying anything exposed to the wind.”  - Opening Lines

“Chance is always a silent partner in disaster.”  

“God inflicted ten plagues on the Egyptians to punish them for refusing to free the Israelites, but with the settlers of the North American prairie He limited himself to three:  fire grasshoppers, and weather.”

“Out on the frontier, working children made the difference between surviving and going under.”

“I am tired of talk that that comes to nothing . . .. You might as well expect the rivers to run backwards as that any man who was born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases.”  - Chief Joseph at his surrender.

“Under the banners of civilization and Christianity there have been committed wrongs against the Indian that must cause the most hardened man to blush with shame, “wrote Woodroof in 1881

“It’s time for us to acknowledge of American’s greatest mistakes,” wrote Nicholas D. Kristof on the op-ed page of the New York Times, “a 140-year-old scheme that has failed at a cost of trillions of dollars, countless lies and immeasurable heartbreak:  the settlement of the Great Plains.” – very controversial.  It’s an interesting topic to debate.

Overall, The Children’s Blizzards is a fascinating look into a heartbreaking chapter of our nation’s history.

Book Source: I purchased this book somewhere in South Dakota last summer on our family vacation to the Black Hills and Laura Ingalls Wilder stop of De Smet.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion



Looking for a quirky, fun romance with unique likeable characters?  Your hunt is over.  The Rosie Project is the story of Don Tillman.  Don knows he is wired differently than everyone else, and lives a very organized life as a professor in Australia.  He decides to enter the dating scene and starts a “wife project” complete with an extensive questionnaire.  He cannot find the “perfect” woman, but hopes his friend Gene can help out.  Gene sends over Rosie for a candidate and Don’s life is changed forever.  Will Don be able to find love?  Will he be able to change his routine?  Is he capable of feeling love?

I really liked how unique Don was and that novel was told from his point of view.  I like that he knows that he is “wired differently” than most people, but doesn’t seem to realize that he probably has Asperger’s like the many children in a seminar that he teaches once for his friend Gene.  Don has a hard time emphasizing with people, but he can make connections.  I loved the sweet story of his dinners with his elderly neighbor Daphne and how his trips continued to see her when she moved on to a nursing home with Alzheimer’s.  He has a hard time seeing beyond his routine and I love how the adventures he has with Rosie break him out of the routine and make him realize there could be fun doing different things.  I also like that Rosie realizes she can have fun with Don doing items in his routine.

This was a fun, quick story that made me laugh a lot.  I loved Don’s “voice” and how he uses logic to try to solve all problems.  As an engineer, I felt like I’ve met a lot of Dons. I read that it has been optioned as a movie and I really hope it is made into a romantic comedy.  There has really been a dearth of good romantic comedies lately.  The story was told from Don’s point of few, I wish we could have gotten more of Rosie’s point of view in the story.  Don is not always the most perceptive when it comes to lady’s feelings so sometimes I was wondering how exactly she felt.

This book was a Kewaunee Library Book Club selection for the month of February and is a great read for the month of Valentine’s Day.  I sadly will miss the meeting next week to discuss this book due to work.

Favorite Quotes:

“Gene and Claudia tried for a while to assist me with the Wife Problem.  Unfortunately, their approach was based on the traditional dating paradigm, which I had previously abandoned on the basis that the probability of success did not justify the effort and negative experiences.  I am thirty-nine years old, tall, fit and intelligent, with a relatively high status and above-average income as an associate professor.  Logically, I should be attractive to a wide range of women.  In the animal kingdom, I would succeed in reproducing.  However, there is something about me that women find unappealing.”

“At 2:50 a.m. I was riding through the inner suburbs.  It was not a totally unpleasant experience.  In fact, I could see major advantages for myself in working at night.  Empty laboratories.  Not students.  Faster response times on the network.  No contact with the Dean.  If I could find a pure research position, with no teaching, it would be entirely feasible.”

“In the last eight weeks I had experienced two of the three best times of my adult life, assuming all visits to the Museum of natural History were treated as one event.  They had both been with Rosie.  Was there a correlation?  It was critical to find out.”

Overall, this was a fun, exceptional book with one of my favorite new literary characters – Don Tillman.  I will be recommending this book to others!

Book Source:  The Kewaunee Public Library