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Archive for the ‘book review’ Category

X is for The Book Whose Title I Can’t Remember

When I was about ten, early 1958, my parents took us to New York City to see the United Nations. Living in Trenton, New Jersey, we were only a few hours’ drive from the Big Apple, but in reality we were a continent removed. Trenton, though it was the capitol of NJ, was small town compared to cosmopolitan NYC. After a tour of the building, (no meeting in session that day) we three kids each got to pick a souvenir from the gift shop. I chose a kid’s book of short stories, and it’s this book I want to honor as my choice for the letter X.

I can no longer recall the title or author, or even if it was written by one person or several. The stories were intended to relate the good work of UN programs and workers all over the world: the unnamed, unsung heroes who brought modernity to cultures lost in the inefficiency of past centuries, health to tribes hampered by eradicable illnesses and looked after by primitive medicine men, and a sense of the connections that the symbol of world unity promised everyone. I will never forget a few of the stories, especially the one I want to tell you about here.

Less than six months after the visit, my parents moved us to Hawaii where we lived for two years before returning to the mainland on my thirteenth birthday. This was our second inhabitance of O’ahu, the first being when I was nearing the age of four. My dad had graduated in 1952 from Thomas Jefferson University Medical College (now Sidney Kimmel Medical College) in Philadelphia, where I’d been born. He joined the army and did his first year of medical residency at Tripler Army Medical Center on the mountainous slopes of the Moanalua Ridge. We lived on base housing. It’s comical to call the units “housing.” In the very early 1900’s, they’d been the hospital wards at Fort Shafter, later converted to physician and officer housing when the iconic coral pink edifice was built around 1944. By the time we moved in, my mom was uncomfortably pregnant and unbearably lonely for her family, and the tiny row of converted quarters were nearly unlivable.

Tripler was and remains the largest Army medical facility in the region, serving Hawaii, Guam, Japan, and various other locations in the Pacific Rim and Asia. It’s important to understand that Hawaii was a Petri dish of cultures that converged and mingled from China, Japan, Philippines, and the US mainland, among others. Everyone brought their native diseases along with their luggage and aging grandparents. In addition, Hawaii is tropical, hot and wet, a fertile nursery for bugs, viruses, and germs, pervasive, exotic, and sometimes fatal. My parents made certain that the three of us were inoculated against smallpox, a genuine threat then, before we left Philadelphia. It kept me safe from smallpox.

They couldn’t vaccinate me against my idiotic four-year-old self.

The story I most remember from the UN book tells about an African village where the natives lived in grass huts and suffered from all kinds of illnesses, many borne by bugs. Malaria, widespread because of Anopheles mosquitoes prevalent in many parts of Africa, was of greatest concern, though I don’t know if the disease was mentioned in the story. It was and is a terrible disease, one that causes raging high fevers, vomiting, brutal headaches, long term physical debilitation, coma, even death, especially to young children.

The UN team entered one tiny hamlet and demanded, nicely of course, that every villager present himself to be doused with a miracle spray that would kill any bug making them ill. Everyone showed up and was sprayed with the wonder insecticide: dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane – DDT, as you’ve probably guessed. Yep, the toxic pollutant that eventually wiped out or endangered many species, is absorbed into the soil, and may be responsible for carcinogenic illnesses in humans. Then the team went hut to hut and sprayed the interiors and all belongings of each. At one hut, a nervous woman tried to prevent the team from entering. When they did, they spotted a bundle of rags, unwrapped it, and discovered her newborn child. She didn’t want her baby sprayed. Smiling, they insisted, and pulled the infant from its swaddling, sprayed its entire body, and returned the baby to mother’s arms. At ten, I considered it a fabulous conclusion. Ignorant, uneducated mother’s baby was now safe from bad bugs. God knows, I hate bugs.

The first time we lived on O’ahu in the ramshackle base housing, (1952 – ‘53) my mom figured I was relatively safe and let me have the run of the area around the houses, as did all the other children. Imagine, two rows of cardboard-thin buildings facing each other across a swath of lush lawn, lantana, Poinciana, hibiscus, plumeria, coconut, and palm trees, and dozens of kids running all over. All the moms looked out for all the kids – sort of. No one really stood watch as it wasn’t necessary. We ran up and down the gardens all day, getting home before dark every evening. Nothing bad ever happened to any of us.

Except that I started coughing. A lot. A deep persistent cough I couldn’t control no matter how often my parents yelled at me. I was a bad advertisement for a doctor. Finally, suspecting tuberculosis, dad and another physician sneaked me into Tripler’s laboratory at midnight, (completely illegal entry) drew my blood, and looked at it under a microscope. No tubercular bugs, thank God, so they went back to telling me to stop coughing. No one knew why I coughed so much, but I knew I couldn’t stop the tickle, the itch, the discomfort that caused me to choke until I coughed. The year after we left Hawaii, we moved to army housing in Enterprise, Alabama. I was five now and kindergarten delayed because I suffered from a strange illness that made me cough and feel exhausted all the time. I was an adult, married and living in California with two sons before my dad told me I’d had mononucleosis that year.

Decades later I came across the UN book and reread it in an afternoon, paying special attention to the story about the African woman and her baby who got sprayed with DDT. And I remembered something long forgotten till then.

In Hawaii in 1952 and ‘53, a small truck came around the base housing neighborhood once a week, driving up the adjacent street, and emitting a sweetish smelling spray from its backside. We kids were fascinated by that truck. We ran through its rear mist, sniffing the spray, lost in its peculiar thick fog, unable to see our own hands much less the other kids. If an adult had been watching, they might not have seen us either. Maybe as many as twenty-five times during that year, I chased the truck, laughing and breathing in DDT.

Rachel Carson, the brilliant, tenacious, observant naturalist, wrote of the dangers of DDT in Silent Spring, published in 1962. The same toxic chemical identified by Rachel Carson as so very dangerous to the environment, to animals, and to people that she advocated persuasively for it to be banned. We’d moved to Hawaii for the second time in 1959, (dad was no longer in the military, he just wanted to live in paradise,) then moved to California in 1961. Whatever damage was done to our young family in 1952 and ‘53, was not repeated during our second sojourn.

I’ve since suffered bronchitis innumerable times and serious bouts of pneumonia approximately ten or eleven times. I’ve had both pneumonia shots and still caught a nasty case of it a day after getting one of them.

Chemical pesticides are dangerous to earth and living things – we know this now. The few who knew early about the dangers of DDT were muffled or ignored. All those illnesses it tried to eradicate were/are also extremely dangerous. I’ve since lost the book, probably forever, but it is my choice for the letter X, representing the unknown factor.

 

NOTE: I read Silent Spring in the 1970’s. Since the book was published and DDT ultimately banned, malaria increased in enormous numbers around the globe but especially in third world countries where other medical help was not easily available. Millions of people suffered and died from malaria. It’s been disputed that DDT caused the numerous deaths from all kinds of cancers that Rachel Carson claimed, and the chemical has since been reinstated. I am neither scientist nor researcher. Readers should consult those who are expert in the field for accurate information. My purpose in writing this review of a non-book was to show my actual experience with DDT and to suggest a warning. Not everything is what appears on its surface, and most new solutions to any kind of problem also generate unexpected consequences. X does indeed represent the unknown factor.

 

I look forward to learning about your favorite X fiction books.

I offer no other books as contenders for X.

 

United Nations image courtesy: Google images and Wikimedia Commons; photo of Sharon Bonin, age 4, courtesy Bonin Family archives

 

 

W is for Where the Wild Things Are

When our oldest son was nearly four and I was well on my way to delivering a baby of unknown gender, my husband and I wandered into a bookstore in the nearby mall. Back then bookstores were not mega edifices, I’d never heard of Maurice Sendak, and the space allotted for picture books was a single half-shelf near the floor. Our budget was too tight for even one book. Still, Where the Wild Things Are stood out for the cover image of a chubby monster with human feet dozing near an ocean. That was my kid, a brilliant, adorable boy who drove me nuts sometimes.

We purchased the book knowing we’d do without the few extras that marked our thin-wallet lifestyle. When it comes to your kid, you suck in a bit to give what you know he should have. I had very few toys as a child, but I had books, and my kids would have books. Still, why choose this picture book to represent my all-time favorite W book when the list at the bottom of this post notes some of the most incredible stories ever written?

It has something to do with childhood, something to do with art, and something to do with the continuing evolvement of human beings.

We all begin as wild things, our dividing first cells connected to the atoms that indicate some kind of life, then developing into homo sapiens. As Newborn Progeny announces his presence with wails and flailing fists, we parent-adults sprint to satisfy his needs – food, comfort, a safe place to sleep – eventually understanding we are giving in to outrageous demands. Food, comfort, a safe place to sleep, entertainment on demand, the center of attention all the time, and everything now, now, now. We parent-adults are exhausted, grumpy, and lacking substantial nourishment, but we still adore the little moppet until we see that he isn’t always so cute and he can take care of some of his own needs, dammit.

There he is, selfish Max in his wolf suit, a wild child who stomps to his bedroom, soon overrun by a forest of Amazonian dimensions. A boat sails by and picks him up to deliver him to the place where the wild things are. Where he belongs, dammit. Who of us does not remember roaring their terrible roars at the injustice of rules, gnashing their terrible teeth when asked to apologize for bad behavior, rolling their terrible eyes at parental expectations, and showing their terrible claws in defense of all things Child? Max may have been only four or five, but I’m certain his terrible attitude continued throughout his teenage years. My sons’ did, as did mine a hundred years before.

Where the Wild Things Are is not about the innocence of babyhood or the curiosity of toddler years. It’s about the primal non-compliance of every growing child who says, “No, I don’t want to, you’re not the boss of me, you can’t make me, I won’t.” And turns his back on you. Every parent (and every teacher) knows this kid: the girl who throws a temper tantrum until she nearly stops breathing, the boy who flings all his toys onto the floor, the child who tears the heads off dolls.

Max partakes of a “wild rumpus,” an activity akin to play. He and the monsters hang from trees and strut in a parade. Best of all, he finds a safe and peaceful way to vent his fury – he retreats into his imagination where he is king of the wild things, until he becomes weary with his rebellion and returns home. Consequences are painless and fleeting, a natural outcome of letting a tantrum deflate on its own, showing the way a child should be able to deal with his demons, if the adults are understanding. The end of the time out, a renewed chance to win favor with his mom. After all, Max is only five.

Sendak’s illustrations show Max as the captain of the ship that sails to the land of the wild things, the monsters themselves featuring huge claws, bulbous eyes, and sharp fangs. They’re not really terrifying but more like a kid’s stuffed animal with a few pointy parts added. Pictures are buffed until soft, rendered with delicate pen and ink lines over pale watercolor washes. They don’t stab you in the eyes – they sidle up to you, letting you linger. The layout of the book lends to its brilliance. Several pages show double-paged illustrations with no words, and the very last page reads simply, “and it was still hot,” with no image at all.

As an art teacher, the story of Max and the wild things provided inspiration for the creation of hundreds of wild monsters, all manner of paintings and collages crafted by my students. I encouraged them to explore every abominable or fantastic thing they could think of. And they did. Because all kids need an outlet for the things without names or borders that rage inside them. Because they do, at times. And that’s what Maurice Sendak understood. We are not perfect as parents, teachers, adults, and not when we were kids either. We were and still are full of fears of the unknown, ire at what seems unfair, confusion over what we cannot grasp. Life is not just, and all we want to do is hang from the trees and make mischief.

We know this wild little one, whether big or small, who wants someone to hug him no matter what. Someone to listen to his outrageous complaints, to hear his ridiculous excuses, to tell him it will be alright. Someone to keep supper hot until the spell of rage is over, the wolf suit lies discarded on the floor, and the child has completed the journey home.

Let me give you a hug, Max, my student, my child, my son. I will love you forever, “back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day,” as long as it takes, as much as you need me. It’s what we parents (and teachers) do – we wait it out until it’s spent.

Maurice Sendak understood the great paradox of childhood: beneath the imploring eyes, between the small shoulders, a child of enormous strength and righteous indignation must learn to grow into his power with grace. But it takes a very long time and a whole lot of failure and a gigantic amount of patience before the monster becomes human. As an art teacher, eager to hang my students’ monsters on the wall. And as a parent, waiting to comfort my child at the end of a very arduous journey.

I still marvel at Sendak’s economically worded story, a skill I have yet to master. He describes the psychological territory of a child in less than four hundred words. After reading Wild Things to my sons and my older grandchildren hundreds of times, I sent my copy to my two younger grandchildren for many more years of enjoyment.

Where the Wild Things Are was written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. It won the 1964 Caldecott Award for “the Most Distinguished Picture Book of the Year.” It remains one of the most requested and beloved books ever. Miss you, Maurice. Love you always, Max, Noah, Ethan, and our four Grands. Dinner is waiting – and it’s still hot.

I look forward to learning about your favorite W fiction books.

Other books that were serious contenders for W:

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Watership Down by Richard Adams
We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
White Oleander by Janet Fitch,
The Wicked Day by Mary Stewart
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence
The World to Come by Dara Horn
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

 

Book cover image courtesy: Google images and Harper Row Publishers

V is for The Valley of Amazement

Like so many kids, I was sure I lived in the home of strangers, people who’d stolen me out of my royal crib and thrust their last name upon me. To wash dishes. To mind the younger kids. To iron laundry. To be quiet in the presence of others. Life would be wonderful when my true parents finally claimed me and set me free. My dolls acted out my dilemma, standing in for my sojourn among foreigners, risking reputation and security in tenacious pursuit of true identity. If you are female, you are nodding your head, maybe with a wry smile. If you are male, you scratch your head a few times, be quiet in the presence of others? So? But young men bristle under their own mistreatment. Send us to the corner once, the punishment seethes in our marrow forever.

So it was no surprise that The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan touched my childhood longing to be reunited with my long lost family. It’s just as much a fabricated story as the one I wove about myself, except that Tan is a much better writer. I’ve read all of her novels, each evocative of other locales, other cultures, reverberations of the relationships that define our human limitations and echo our noble aspirations.

Violet, of the phoenix eyes, is the American daughter of the madam of Hidden Jade Path, an exclusive house of courtesans in Shanghai in the early 1900’s. In other words, she is born in a whorehouse but in a prestigious part of town, one that caters to wealthy Americans and powerful Chinese. No, my young life was not so bad, and I can barely imagine a person born to be abused in such fashion, yet I know how much Tan researches history for her books. An ember smolders in the ash.

I’d already read In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant and Geisha by Arthur Golden, both about women in sexual service. Women in bondage to male authority is not an unusual topic, and if not the primary idea it is often a major component of stories. Still, each book exposes something unexpected – debasing and maddening – about how half the world’s population is forced to endure in order to survive. One would think I’d be a bit inured. Maybe it’s the estrogen in me screaming, “Enough.”

Young Violet’s rebellious and curious nature finds her spying on those who frame sex as an alluring and mysterious contract between men of high station and women of unique talents. Violet knows she is part orphan so she also spies on her mother, trying to ascertain who her father is. She learns there is a brother living in America, a child her mother loves far more. She is left behind when her mother escapes back to the States as Chinese rebellion against the imperial reign looms. She’s then sold to a competitor’s bordello where she is forced into a life of prostitution. She falls in love with an impoverished man she cannot marry, as did her mother years before. In the cruelest turn, she becomes pregnant with a child she cannot keep, and her baby girl is taken from her.

Violet is tutored about dramatic (and bizarre) lessons on how to advertise one’s virginity to be sold to the highest bidder, then how to perform sexual moves to ensure the most male pleasure – and guarantee return liaisons. Her instructor, Magic Gourd, advises Violet on the professional name by which she’ll be known as a courtesan – A Waterfall Dream. “We can come up with the exact meaning later when decide who you really are,” One after another, each experience is more vulgar and humiliating, acts of betrayal, manipulation, and violence. Confronted with dire circumstances, Violet survives, learning to use men as much as they use her. Yet always she longs for love, family, identity, and her daughter.

Toward the end of the story, we again meet Lulu Mintern, Violet’s mother, and discover the history of the woman whose flight for independence wrought the worst kind of confinement – estrangement from her daughter. The story of The Valley of Amazement thus comes full circle, a reflection in the daughter and granddaughter of the grandmother, one generation impacting the next. The title of the book is taken from a painting created by the artist whom Lulu loved, the motivation for her to go to China as a lovelorn teenager. The image haunts some viewers, promises others, depicting illusion or reality depending on what one needs to see.

Amy Tan’s books explore identity and mother-daughter relationships. Eventually I realized I was not a stolen princess consigned to a dreggy life; I really am the ordinary daughter of ordinary people. But I’ve struggled all my life with my relationship with my mother, always needing more love and understanding than she could give. It isn’t easy to read a book where women are a negotiable commodity for a particular attribute of their bodies. China is not unique in forcing women and young girls to labor on their backs, then or now. Amazement divulges the complexity and commonality of human estrangement in a way that is both intimate and universal. My problems are my own, issues I’ll have to resolve, and I am damn lucky that I never faced the brutality of Violet and Lulu’s lives. But they’re also like those of everyone else who struggles to find a way to get along. I’ve come to terms with myself, my family, my mother, not because of Tan’s stories, but because I grew up. Not satisfaction, but a status I can accept.

Maybe it’s the estrogen in me screaming, “Don’t you dare. I know who I am.”

I look forward to learning about your favorite V fiction books.

 

Other books that were serious contenders for V:

The Valley of Horses by Jean M. Auel

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

 

Book cover image courtesy: Google images and Harper Collins Publishers

 

U is for The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera is considered the Czech writer’s masterpiece. He is regarded as one of the world’s most important authors, having won numerous awards, commendations, international acclaim, and often short listed for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Being is one of the most unusual novels I’ve ever read. In fact, I couldn’t get through it the first two times I tried, so you’d be right if you’re questioning whether this is actually my favorite U book. I’m glad I finally completed it but it was a challenge from beginning to end.

I don’t think it’s possible to read Being without knowing something of the background of Kundera’s life and the history of Czechoslovakia. Kundera was born in Brno in 1929 and lived much of his adult life in Prague. The book reflects some of the events of his life. In fact, all of his books except for the very last describe life in Czechoslovakia. I’m no expert on this history, and what I do know I gleaned from the Internet and a bit of awareness of world issues as they happened.

Kundera’s first political association was with the Communist party but he eventually gave it up in favor of championing human rights, Czech political freedom, and support of the arts. He was one of many intellectuals who participated in the Prague Spring in 1968 in opposition to the Soviet invasion and takeover of his country. They banned his books. They reduced many of the intelligentsia and artistic community to second class citizenry and encouraged them to leave the country. Kundera and his wife emigrated to France where he taught at university, continued to write, and eventually became a French citizen. All of this is loosely exposed in Being, especially in the character of Tomas, Kundera’s alter ego.

The book begins with a lengthy discussion of human existence as a challenge between positive lightness, without emotional burden, and negative heaviness, requiring eternal return. Since we only get one life, we have no basis for comparison to determine which quality reflects life more accurately.* Many people take refuge in the aesthetic kitsch of religion or other distracting and sentimental activities to escape from Soviet oppression, a situation the author found deplorable and expressed within the viewpoints of characters. Kundera’s question about lightness versus heaviness is at the heart of living under a totalitarian government that destroyed the very nature of his country. Were I to be asked, I find the novel loaded with author intrusion, an absolute no-no according to modern writing standards (and many readers’ tastes.)

Ordinary writing rules don’t count under such circumstances. Throughout the book, philosophical arguments take more space than the activities of the characters. Most of the action revolves around their sexual relationships and betrayals, a kind of carousel of bed hopping, party attendance, and café sitting. Kundera devotes pages to definitions of words that later impact the characters. Words like “woman,” “cemetery,” and “the beauty of New York” create an internal dictionary of important ideas. Yeah, let’s you or I try that tactic in our novels and see how well it’s accepted by editors or readers.

Tomas, the primary character, is a brilliant surgeon who questions the quality and meaning of his life. He engages in an astonishing number of throwaway sexual liaisons, even while claiming to love only his wife, Tereza. At first a waitress escaping her vulgar mother, Tereza becomes a capable photo-journalist. She is always emotionally dependent on Tomas to the point that she is sickened and feels betrayed by his sexual exploits.

Tomas’ most important other sexual partner is Sabina, a talented painter and free spirit who even wins over Tereza. Sabina stays true to her values and eventually settles in America where she disavows her homeland and her past. The final significant character is Franz who becomes Sabina’s other lover. Franz lives a tragic life and dies abroad though he is essentially a kind person who recognizes his mistakes.

All four characters flee Czechoslovakia, though Tomas and Teresa return. Their lives take a difficult turn under the Communist occupation which demands slavish obeisance to party lines. They are forced to give up their previous professional identities. Their skills are wasted doing menial jobs, yet they accept this reduction in their status.

My most favorite character (actually, the only character I like) is the smiling dog, Kerenin. Tereza walks Kerenin every day to get a bun which he carries home in his mouth and does not eat until he roughhouses with Tomas. Though we know long before the end of the book that Tomas and Tereza die together in a car accident, for which no details are provided, it is Kerenin’s illness, death, and funeral that take up the final passages of the book. Other than anger at the heartlessness of the Soviet regime, only this section made me feel an emotional response to anything in the story.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a serious and important work for its depiction of the conflict of loyalty when one’s beloved country is invaded by an oppressive regime. It portrays the ways in which people tolerate and submit or flee and survive. Or rebel, as the author did. It doesn’t let you forget you’re reading a book the Communists hated. This is the distracting weight of the book for me, and it created a cleft between me and attachment to the story. As writers, we’ve learned that we must know the rules before we break them, and we better not break them unless we know how to do it so the entire story doesn’t shatter. Kundera knows how. I didn’t love this book but I will never forget it.

If you’ve read this book or any of his other works, I’d love to know your impression.

 

*My explanation of the basic conundrum of the book is poorly described here, but Kundera gives it plenty of space and makes it comprehensible.

I look forward to learning about your favorite U fiction books.

 

One other book that was a serious contender for U:

Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman

 

Book cover image courtesy: Google images and Harper Perennial

T is for The Time Traveler’s Wife

I was completely spellbound by The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel. It was a story that seized me by my heart and imagination and didn’t let go for over five hundred pages and many hours of reading. It begins with Clare’s voice: It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays… Long ago, men went to sea, and women waited for them, standing on the edge of the water, scanning the horizon for the tiny ship. Now I wait for Henry. He vanishes unwillingly, without warning. I wait for him.

I’ve been in love. Sometimes that means being left at the margins, wondering about the man I love, the parts of him he won’t reveal, waiting for him to come to me, to talk with me. Worrying about the state of our relationship. Clare has my thoughts in her throat.

Henry speaks next: How does it feel? How does it feel? Sometimes it feels as though your attention has wandered for just an instant… I am always going, and she cannot follow.

Is this how my husband feels about us, that he must leave, at least emotionally, and always leave without me? Is this the mutable state of all relationships, that we move not so much together as in close proximity to each other and sometimes in different spheres altogether?

Love stories are a staple of book plots and often boringly predictable. Not so the love story in Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.  Its transcendent circumstances lift its characters well beyond the bonds of earth’s calculable orbit and launch them into a world where calendars can’t determine the time of year, and presence in one year won’t predict continuity. The book follows the relationship of Clare and Henry, a couple who barely stay in touch with each other physically yet remain loyal and infatuated forever – both before and after they’ve met. Nothing in this world or outside of it will ever interrupt the love that binds them, not even Henry’s inability to remain in his wife’s presence for any length of time.

Back and forth between Clare and Henry, the story navigates the complexity of their relationship, in and out of various time periods. The lovers confront each other at different moments of their lives, not always recognizing who they are. Clare is a child. Henry is an adult in his prime. Finally they are at a compatible age to marry and so they do. Then they are apart. Clare, old now, waits. Henry, in trouble, hopes to return to her. In Niffenegger’s deft hands, time is neither permanent, reliable, nor linear but a malleable element to be bent for the purpose of describing the depth of their romance.

Henry suffers greatly for the disorder that causes him to jump in and out of time periods without warning, often landing him in perilous situations, unclothed, vulnerable. His jumps leave him confused, injured, pursued, accused of crimes, and uncertain of his future, even if there will be a future. The one thing he can count on is Clare’s steadfast love, the quality of constancy that brings him back to her.

Anyone who has ever felt the despair of betrayal or of a broken relationship will be moved by the endurance of Henry and Clare’s love, he who meanders in and out of their lives, she who waits devotedly. No one will experience the fabricated genetic disorder that precipitates Henry’s time traveling, but all of us have felt the depth of the couple’s passion. Or long to. Between the book’s covers is a soaring sci-fi/fantasy romance twisted inside a freakish yet compelling storyline.

I’ve read that Niffenegger wrote the book at a time that she was questioning her own relationships. She was also influenced by her father who traveled often during her childhood.

If you’ve seen the movie, but have not read the book, read the book. If you wait for love or have been fortunate to have found it, read the book. And to all others – read the book.

The Time Traveler’s Wife won the Exclusive Books Boeke Prize awarded in South Africa and follows this award given to many other prestigious books, most of which I’ve also read. In other words, a book in excellent company.

I look forward to learning about your favorite T fiction books.

 

Other books that were serious contenders for T:

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Tar Baby by Toni Morrison

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Time to Kill by John Grisham

The Tortilla Curtain by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck

To the End of the Land by David Grossman

A Town like Alice by Neville Shute

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

 

 

Book cover image courtesy: Google images and MacAdam/Cage

 

 

A Thrilling Pursuit in Twenty-four Days

Twenty-four Days is the second thriller in J. Murray’s Rowe-Delamagente series about forces combating a terrorist nuclear attack. And lest you think the potential threat of a nuclear attack could never happen, as in what fool would provoke such world-wide disaster, just remember Kim Jung-un still sits on his North Korean dictator’s throne, threatening the world with his paranoid delusions – and his nation’s nuclear weapons program.

Murray gathers a talented and sometimes unlikely crew of heroes, including a brilliant American scientist, the quirky AI (artificial intelligence robot) she built, a former Navy SEAL, and an MI 6 (British Secret Intelligence Service) special agent, each of whom contributes a unique expertise toward locating and obliterating the peril. Then there are the antagonists, beginning with terrorist Salah Al-Zahrawi. And someone has attacked American submarines with a cyber virus, making them disappear.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is how Murray includes an early hominid named Lucy to help resolve the crisis facing the team hunting the lost submarine as they attempt to defuse the nuclear threat. The author reaches back into the anthropological evolution of human beings to take us into the future. I enjoyed how this reminded me that all accomplishments stand on the shoulders of those who came before. Way before, in this case.

 

In Murray’s own words, here is a summary of her book:

World-renowned paleoanthropologist, Dr. Zeke Rowe is surprised when a friend from his SEAL past shows up in his Columbia lab and asks for help: Two submarines have been hijacked and Rowe might be the only man who can find them.

At first he refuses, fearing a return to his former life will end a sputtering romance with fellow scientist and love of his life, Kali Delamagente, but when one of his closest friends is killed by the hijackers, he changes his mind. He asks Delamagente for the use of her one-of-a-kind AI, Otto, who possesses the unique skill of being able to follow anything with a digital trail.

In a matter of hours, Otto finds one of the subs and it is neutralized.

But the second, Otto can’t locate.

Piece by piece, Rowe uncovers a bizarre nexus between Salah Al-Zahrawi, the world’s most dangerous terrorist and a man Rowe thought he had killed a year ago, a North Korean communications satellite America believes is a nuclear-tipped weapon, an ideologue that cares only about revenge, and the USS Bunker Hill (a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser) tasked with supervising the satellite launch.

And a deadline that expires in twenty-four days.

As America teeters on the brink of destruction, Rowe finally realizes that Al-Zahrawi’s goal isn’t nuclear war but payback against the country that cost him so much.

 

It’s no surprise how pleased I was that J. Murray graciously agreed to an interview about her new book.

 

S: Can today’s science make a warship invisible?

J: If not today, in the very near future. DARPA and other scientific arms of the US Military are experimenting with approaches such as the use of metamaterials (the device used in Twenty-four Days) To hide military equipment from all sorts of waves—like sound waves and light waves. In a nutshell, here’s how they work: Rather than the sound or light waves hitting the object, they are deflected around the object and they land on what’s behind it. That means, the viewer (or in the book’s case, sonar) see what’s behind the object rather than the object. This is already effective for small objects, but is experimental for large ones like tanks and subs, and planning stages for sonar.

Pretty cool.

 

S: I’d day that’s way more than cool – it’s astonishing to think we are on the brink of such a scientific breakthrough.

Is the technology described in the book really possible?

J: Absolutely. It takes real laws of physics—science in general—and extrapolates intelligently on those to what could be if there was time and money. It follows the model of what is commonly referred to as Star Trek Science. But in the case of Twenty-four Days science, you don’t have to wait centuries. It’ll probably be around in a matter of decades. You can say you read about it first in Twenty-four Days.

 

S: I’m going to remember that. Is this a romantic thriller?

J: Maybe. There is a budding romance in it.

 

S: That sounds compelling. How did you choose this topic?

J: I actually didn’t choose it—it chose me. My daughter worked as an officer on the Bunker Hill, but it didn’t start there. That just gave me the nautical tie-in. I really can’t say how the rest of it developed. It just did, over time. Sigh.

 

S: Did you encounter anything unexpected either when doing research or writing this book?

J: I did. I was surprised how often if I dug deep enough, I found synergies between the plot and reality. For example, I needed a way to for a third-world nation like North Korea to defeat one of America’s premier warships. By digging, I came up with one. Pretty cool.

 

S:  Can we look forward to another book in this vein, with these characters?

J: Yes! I’m working on book three. I’ll probably move from the Fleet to the backwoods and feature more of Otto, but that could completely change when I start doing more research. Plots have a way of unveiling themselves despite my best of plans.

 

S: I know what they say about plans. What’s on the horizon for the rest of your writing career?

J: I hope to publish a book a year, to build my portfolio. Right now, I’m working on a spin-off of To Hunt a Sub featuring Lucy, the ancient human. The working title is Born in a Treacherous Time. I hope to publish that next summer which will give me two years to prepare book three of the Rowe-Delamagente series.

 

S: I’m very pleased to hear this, as you know how fond I am of the character, Lucy. Anything else we should know about?

J: Besides fiction, I continue to work on my non-fiction books*. I have over a hundred out, but they do require constant attention to be sure they remain current.

 

S: Thank you for this interview, Jacqui. It was so interesting to discover what inspires your writing and to pick your brain about the advances in science and technology. What sounds like science fiction is coming true, and that’s just incredible.

J: You’re welcome, Shari.

 

Twenty-four Days by J. Murray is a terrific book, that I can promise you. Fast paced, exhilarating, and engaging, this is a book to keep you turning pages and make you proud of what’s right and good in the world.

 

*J. Murray is the brain and brawn behind Structured Learning which is the premier provider of technology books and eBooks to the education community.

 

Book information:

Title and author: Twenty-four Days by J. Murray

Genre: Thriller, military thriller

Cover by: Paper and Sage Design 

Available at: Kindle US, Kindle UK, Kindle Canada

 

 

Cover image courtesy: Paper and Sage Design

 

Dark Wine at Midnight – A Book to Keep You Up All Night

Dark Wine at Midnight by Jenna Barwin will keep you up all night – reading, not hiding under the bed in fright. It’s Book I of A Hill Vampire Novel, and I can’t wait till Book II is available.

Murderous attacks on prominent vampires unsettle everyone who must adhere to the rigid rules of living on the Hill of Sierra Escondida. We meet Cerissa Patel, a medical scientist from New York and member of the mysterious Lux, and Henry Bautista, a successful vineyard owner on the Hill. A host of other vampires compete to attract the attention of the intelligent and beautiful Patel, some for love, or friendship, or business prospects – or to ban her from their protected enclave.

Pursuit by two of the town’s most eligible vampire bachelors complicates things. Has Cerissa been sent to spy on the residents, to kill them, or only to open the research lab she claims is her goal? Is the danger to her or because of her? And just what is the research she wants to pursue?

Barwin’s intelligence shows in her authentic rendering of blackjack, wine making, horseback riding, vampires, business politics, and a complex plot that never wanders off track. It leaves plenty of suspects about who might hold a grudge big enough to kill, and who is a spy or a loyal friend. One of the most rewarding aspects of the book is the characterization of every person – each is believable and has depth, no matter how much or little their presence in the book. The story is paced just right as Barwin lingers over some scenes and plows through others, leaving the reader breathless at every turn. Did I mention the sexy romance? Oh yeah, that too.

Vampire stories aren’t something I usually seek out but I do look for excellent writing, a compelling story line, and characters who are interesting and unique. Dark Wine fulfilled all my hopes for a story that would keep me engaged, and it did that with aplomb and sparkles. Barwin is a talented writer who tops out on all the markers that identify really good writing.

If you like fantasy romance, you’ll love this book.

That’s what I wrote for my review of Barwin’s book on the Amazon site. As a writer, I’m interested in finding out about the journey of other writers, both in creating and marketing their stories. So you’ll appreciate my excitement when I had a chance to interview the author.

May I now introduce you to Jenna Barwin.

S: Jenna, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

J: Thanks for asking, Shari. I’m very happy to talk with you about my writing.

S: What’s the “elevator pitch” for Dark Wine at Midnight?

J: Dark Wine at Midnight, the first book in my urban fantasy Hill Vampire series, is equal parts mystery, political intrigue, and love story. It’s also a little bit Dr. Frankenstein meets Shark Tank, but with vampire entrepreneurs.

Here’s the elevator pitch: A research scientist is forced by her people to spy on the vampires she’s trying to help. One of those vampires is an expert winemaker with eyes the color of dark bourbon—and just as intoxicating. To succeed, she must convince him to trust her, despite the dark secrets each carries, and the mutual attraction they can’t resist.

S: What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

J: Escaping into the fantasy and watching the story unfold. I particularly enjoyed discovering the chemistry between the lovers, Henry and Cerissa, and learning who they are as people.

S: Escaping into fantasy sounds like a fun adventure. What inspired you to write about vampires?

J: I’ve always been fascinated by vampires. I read Dracula as a young teen, and watched all the horror movies. And something in me wanted the vampire, the tragic hero, to get the girl.

I’m also fascinated by what the vampire represents in society. I saw Dracula as the clash between modern science and superstition. But over one family dinner, I listened to a relative argue that the 19th century vampire tale represented the Englishman’s fear of losing his “women” to Eastern European immigrants.

The more you dig, the more there is to see. In some ways, I think the vampire story parallels substance addiction—the vampire is addicted to drinking a substance that, by drinking it, hurts the one he/she loves.

S: Addiction is a very interesting metaphor I’d never considered before in relationship to vampires, but I see your point. It makes the theme of your book a current topic, something on everyone’s mind, as many of us confront addiction in the people we love or in ourselves.

J: There are so many interesting themes to play with when it comes to vampires. I enjoyed flipping some of them around. For example, I got tired of reading about white European vampires. The vampire community in Dark Wine at Midnight is multicultural, with residents from places like Mexico and Kenya. They are immigrants who came to California, and made their home here.

S: Are you married to a vampire?

J: LOL, no, I’m happily married to a mortal. Although he’ll tell you he’s a superhuman ninja.

S: OK, I didn’t really think so, but you probably wouldn’t admit if you were. So tell me one quirky thing about your writing process.

J: I see the movie in my head before I write a scene. I’ll hear the characters speaking, and see them move in their environment. Because of that, my first draft reads like a movie script. Then I have to go back and ask myself, what is the point-of-view character thinking about? What are they feeling? And I have to try to show that, too.

S: By the way, the book cover is gorgeous.

J: Why, thank you. I’m glad you like it.

S: Aside from vampires, what inspires your writing?

J: Relationships. I think relationships change people. They call us to be our best selves, to have insight into who we are, and why we do what we do.

In addition to relationships, I get some of my most creative spurts after long hours spent applying analytical and logic skills to a task. Too much left brain work will cause my right brain to jump up and down and scream “Let me out! I wanna play, I wanna play.”

S: Do you have any favorite books about writing?

J: It’s a toss-up. Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story is at the top of my list, but Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict follows as a close second. At this year’s California Dreamin’ Conference, both authors gave presentations on writing, and I was taking notes as fast as I could type.

S: What’s next on your writing agenda?

J: Dark Wine at Sunrise is book 2 in the Hill Vampire series, and I’m currently editing it.

S: I’m happy to know that as I’m looking forward to reading the next book soon. Where can we find your current book?

J: Dark Wine at Midnight is currently free in Kindle Unlimited. The eBook and paperback are also available for purchase on Amazon. Here is the link:

https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Wine-Midnight-Vampire-Novel-ebook/dp/B06XTKJRHZ/

S: Where can we find out more about you and what you write?

J: For the latest news and special offers, sign up to be a VIP Reader at: https://jennabarwin.com/jenna-barwins-newsletter/

Or find me on social media and join the conversation:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jennabarwin/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JennaBarwin (@JennaBarwin)

Instagram: jennabarwin

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/jennabarwin/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Jenna-Barwin/e/B06XV6TMG9/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16632097.Jenna_Barwin

 

S: Thanks for the information, Jenna. I wish you well on your writing career.

 

My dear Ink Flare Readers, I hope you find this interview illuminating, and I bet you’ll love Barwin’s book.

 

 

Cover image courtesy: Author