Friday, August 8, 2014

I'm Movin' On - the Life and Legacy of Hank Snow by Vernon Oickle

Published by Nimbus

Hank Snow, a man who certainly has 'been everywhere'...a Canadian and international legend in his time and on through his legacy of country music. This biography by Vernon Oikle is a bit of an eye opener. We watched his burgeoning career, having been too young to see his beginnings. Born in 1914, his early life brutal and difficult, a life that began in the years of WW1, the Spanish 'flu, starvation and desperation in the small town of Brooklyn in Nova Scotia, Canada. This book follows his life from birth past death on to his post-mortem accolades. He may have been 'movin' on' but what he accomplished in his lifetime will fortunately remain with us. There are some wonderful old photos in the book, too.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves country music, ambition, accomplishment, and determination to succeed. Learn how one man accomplished so many dreams. I thought I knew Hank Snow's music, but soon discovered I didn't know much of anything. I knew his voice, but never understood his instrumental skills. Nor did I realize just how many hit songs he wrote that became huge hits for other vocalists of the '40s to '60s in particular, some who were in a completely different genre.

His legacy is not just his music, his fame, nor his name. His legacy includes the societies he set up and backed up for abused children. This, perhaps, was his biggest focus outside of music. As an abused child himself, he wanted to make a difference in the treatment of children. If he could have, he would have ended child abuse. That is how important this was to his life.

Hank Snow began his career as Jack Snow, regardless of the fact that his name was actually Clarence. This is just one of many strange facts scattered throughout this book. I wonder how many people living today remember that he began his career as a trick rider and yodeler. I wonder how many know that he wrote and recorded that still remain as best sellers. Today, in the digital world, this is a man who would have been in the forefront of writing songs for today’s country stars. He has so many awards, accolades, a museum and yearly festival in New Brunswick, where he was born, and inducted into so many Halls of Fame. A man who came from nothing but never gave up his dream. A man whose music goes on today, even 100 years after his birth.

The Hollywood Detective by Martha Steinway

Published by Venatrix

Quirky and entertaining take on the hard-boiled detectives of the '40s

Kind of a cheeky, fun version of the old '40s-type detective stories. Certainly not noir, but it has its moments. This detective with the messy office finds that the secretary he thinks he has hired is much better at being an associate investigator. More than a match for our 'hero'. A missing girl is the focus, but what happens to her is not only a mystery but with a wild rampage going on in the city it becomes very difficult to get close enough to solve the case. The book has unique moments and I quite enjoyed it as such. A fast, lighter read but the ending is definitely scary and surprising. I'm quite interested to find out what these two get up to in the next installment.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Published by Simon & Schuster Canada

A story of exploitation, broken trust, secrets and changes to come
A very unusual book, told from two main sources. Yes, there is a museum and it is fascinating, but there are dark secrets hidden here. The museum is owned by a refugee who lives alone on Coney Island with his young daughter, who tells one part of the story, and a housekeeper. Both are called monsters, though they are the most caring in the story. The girl is very young at the beginning of her story, and one hundred percent under the control of her father, though she is not aware of it. Nor is she aware of what his plan for her future is.

The second storyteller is an Orthodox Jew, a refugee from the Ukraine who lives with his father and both work in the textile mills in Boston. A young boy on the verge of rebellion at the beginning. He renounces his faith when he believes his father tried to commit suicide.

It is a time in New York when men were in charge and women were treated as possessions, a time when class distinction was not only strongly defined but often corrupt and hidden crime was rampant, a time when 'hired' help was more often than not mistreated. Also a time of workhouses where children and women were forced to work for a pittance and often accidents occurred. Such is the case when a fire breaks out while the workers are locked within. You thought this happened only in other countries? Murders and assaults occur while eyes remain closed. This is New York in the 1800s and early 1900s. Manhattan was not much more than a swamp at certain times of the year. Coney Island was just becoming the famous park and beach it would one day be. For the boy who renounced his faith he has found beauty in nature. For the girl living at the museum, she has found horror. Will the two ever be able to find each other in time?

Through all the brutality of the times, this story is beautiful in many ways. It flows between two sides, much like the Hudson River, featured so often in the story and integral to it in many ways. It is a story of betrayal, but also a love story of two storytellers. There is connection between many of the characters, and the spark of life, love and humanity exists and blooms against all odds. Alice Hoffman has not only captured the essence of early New York, she has integrated two historical events seamlessly, and recreated the crises so vividly you can almost feel the heat. Though the characters are fictional, the events are real. This is a wonderful story of compassion within a nightmare world. This story I will carry with me for a long time.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Shadow Lantern by Teresa Flavin

Published by Candlewick Press (July 2014) Templar

I was excited to receive this book for review, but what I didn't realize at the time was that it is not really a stand-alone but rather the final installment in a series. That said, I did enjoy the book and fairly quickly adjusted myself to what may have gone before. In fact, I hope to purchase the two previous books. This series by Teresa Flavin, judging from this book, is a fascinating journey of magic and time travel that I'm sure juvenile readers will enjoy as I did.

There is some confusion in trying to read this single book without knowing exactly what went on before, although there are many references in this book to the previous ones, enough possibly to keep the momentum flowing from one book to another. Enough to clue the reader in to what went before, and how the situation came to be in this book. Not to say too much about what happened previously, there is plenty of excitement and especially so when it comes to Hallowe'en night and the school community party.

The main characters in the present are teens Sunni, Blaise, Maddy and Dean. Among the adults are the parents and Mr. Bell, who is mainly in charge of the party, Angus, a former art forger who is Mr. Bell's cousin, and the mysterious Munroe, who claims to capture spirits on film and is giving a performance of a magical projecting lantern with hand-painted glass slides, a strange shadow lantern. From the past, we have Fausto Corvo in 1582, a purported magician and artist who combines the two, Lady Ishbel once alive and now a spirit in the present and Soranzo who would like to get his hands on Corvo's paintings.

Enigma Night is being planned for Hallowe'en night at Blackhope Tower, the place where so much has (and will) happen. Sunni and Blaise have disappeared from that tower in the past and it has a great deal to do with a Corvo painting that is housed there. Why was there a labyrinth in the tower room, why did skeletons pop up on it from thin air, why and how did it disappear? Munro is setting up a display and talks about his wonderful find, the antique and magical Oculus, apparently originally commissioned by Corvo. Is it possible that Corvo's secrets are trapped inside? The lamp is very unusual, but what is more unusual is what it does, something Sunni and Blaise will discover to their shock and amazement. What has happened to Mr. Bell, the art teacher who is mainly in charge of the party? He has disappeared. What causes the tower to begin to self-destruct? This book is full of fun, magic, adventure, and secret codes, perfect entertainment for the juvenile set. I enjoyed it to the point that I will probably obtain the other two books in the series, The Blackhope Enigma and The Crimson Shard.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Clubbed (a Booktown Mystery) by Lorna Barrett

 Published by Berkley Prime Crime

Death by books - a case full of murder.
A unique voice among cozy authors, capable of making us want more with every book, Lorna Barrett has returned to Booktown with this latest outing, Book 8 of the series. Lorna has given us many unusual ways for a killer to kill, and this book is no exception.

Angelica has taken over the Chamber of Commerce in a vote against former Chamber president Bob Kelly. But where is he? For reasons unknown, he has disappeared...or has he? The receptionist for the Chamber is not a person anyone would really attempt to make a friend. She is downright nasty...could that be the reason for her literal downfall? A tremendous crash brings Angelica and sister Tricia running and once again Tricia has found a body. No wonder she is known as the 'town jinx' and often assumed to be the suspect! But Tricia has many more things to confuse her and take up her time. With an ex-husband and ex-boyfriend trying to get back in favor with her, she also is, naturally, sleuthing to clear her name and solve the murder along with sister Angelica. Why was Betsy Dittmeyer so nasty? What secret has she harbored that sister Joelle needs to know? What is she hiding and who didn't want anyone to find out?

Meanwhile, it appears there is a new boon coming...a virtual explosion of future residents in the picture, along with Angelica's determination to expand the coverage of the Chamber of Commerce there should be a re-awakening of the small town and Tricia is privy to some of the newcomers already on the way, a secret that many people seem to know.

With this latest book, aside from the secrets, mysteries, murder and possible attempted murder, the author has left some tantalizing bits of what may be to come in a future book and indeed I, for one, am hoping that Booktown will survive it's latest crisis. Recipes are included in the book.
-Review based on Advance Reading Copy (ARC)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Defy the Night - a Novel by Heather Munn and Lydia Munn

Published by Kergel Publications

An absolutely wonderful book of hope and horror in early WWII

As a Canadian child born in 1940, this book had special meaning to me, not as a child participant, but as one whose father was at war while I was young, my brother even younger. In fact, whenever my brother was asked where his Daddy was he pointed to a picture on the wall.

I found this book more full of life with characters who had endured so little of family life, than many books I've read in the past. It tells the story of the internment camps, later changed to prison camps, in the south of France, of the people, mostly women, who risked their lives to bring children out of the camps to safe homes. France was under the rule of the Vichy Government at this time. Though this is a book of fiction, it is only fictional as to locations and names. The two camps specifically mentioned, Rivesaltes and Gurs are real and can be visited as they are still there and the CIMADE is a real rescue group. The rest is based on real people, real homes, real situations. The internment camps were used to enclose behind strong fences with barbed wire, 'undesirables': refugees from the Spanish Civil War which had just ended, gypsies, and foreign Jews. At this time, French Jews were still free, although many were in the 'Occupied' zone of France. The story covers 1941 and early 1942, a time before the camps became deportation camps from which the internees were sent to the death camps in Germany.

Heather and Lydia Munn have done excellent research and the writing is amazing. I was drawn in so completely I couldn't stop reading. The story begins with young teens in a rationing line-up. Many of their friends, kids who are immigrants from the 'wrong' countries, have already been placed into internment camps. Magali is fifteen and has a very strong will, but a compassionate heart. She and her friend Rosa like to meet the train and happen to note a young woman with four children get off the train and immediately be questioned about why she is in Tanieux. The woman instantly appears to be in command, intimidating the mayor, at the same time asking for directions. This is how the two girls become acquainted with Paquerette as they help her with the suitcases and children. The woman appears to be completely exhausted. They soon learn about her job through CIMADE, a Christian care agency, of rescuing children from the camps.

This story is told in the first person by Magali. She urgently feels she should be involved in bringing the children out, even knowing it is dangerous, that she is probably too young and Paquerette leaves to get more children almost as soon as she arrives. But Paquerette wants to take her to share the load, if her parents will allow it, even if only once.

We follow her story through her thoughts and actions, her horror, devastation and self-deprecation when she places her friend and personal 'Joan of Arc', Paquerette, in mortal danger when she is arrested because of an action by Magali. The characters in this book are strong, compassionate, and selfless. There are some natural character flaws as the teens grow up in such a dangerous and secretive situation wrought with hardship, but as they mature they are as strong and faithful as any adult could be.

The running theme is passion, care, fear, heroism and danger. This goes for all involved: the mothers who give up their children to save them, the secrets that must be kept hidden at all costs, the necessity to be fearful in order to perform well, and the very real danger of being caught. This is a book I would definitely encourage people of most ages to read, from perhaps even 12 to any adult. Written as a Young Adult book, I think that is too limited. Much as I thought I knew, I learned a lot more in this book.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

Published by Scribner Publishing
Review based on Advance Reading Copy (ARC)

Amazing true story, beautiful, horrific, courageous. I couldn't stop reading.
This book will take your breath away. From an abusive household in Alberta, Canada as a child whose escape is found in old National Geographic books, Amanda has no idea how much she is learning about escaping into her mind or how much she will need this in her future. Her future as she sees it is travelling to the many countries she reads about. After she and her brothers move with her mother to a safe house, she starts planning for a future to include this travel.

Amanda Lindhout's memoir is a masterpiece of how the mind can change itself whenever it needs to, how it compensates, over-rides, and deals with the worst kinds of trauma to keep lifeblood flowing. But not to get ahead of myself, first Amanda finds a way to earn enough money to finance a trip to South America. The first of many trips interspersed with coming home to work for more money. As a cocktail waitress, she has advanced through the ranks until she is in a place to earn high tips, enough to make a trip every year. This takes her to countries in South and Central America, Asia and Africa as what she considers a beginning to many more amazing places. The writing in this stage of the book is absolutely wonderful, bringing to mind all those National Geographics, while she backpacks her way through these countries, we feel we are seeing what she is seeing, experiencing what she is experiencing. She makes us feel what she is feeling, and it is consistently beautiful. Some countries like India and Pakistan she visits more than once, but then she begins to expand her horizons: Afghanistan, Iraq, Bangladesh, Ethiopia....

Between trips she turns again to cocktail waitressing, but her need to be somewhere exotic takes over every year, and each trip she gets deeper into dangerous territory. She travels fr a time with a freelance photographer, decides that next trip she wants to show the world to everyone. She becomes a freelance photojournalist, occasionally selling photos and stories to various papers and magazines. She has teamed up with Nigel, another freelance photographer, an Australian. When she decides to head into war zones, she asks him to join her and he semi-reluctantly does. Here the book shifts dramatically. It is 2008 and she has chosen to go into Somalia.

Once in Somalia, known as the 'most dangerous country in the world,' everything changes. Although at first she and Nigel are enjoying the relatively 'safe' city of Mogadishu, on the fourth day she, Nigel, and their drivers are abducted by extremist Muslims. Assuming that all North Americans are rich, their abductors set an impossibly high ransom, which their parents are unable to even come near to paying and their respective governments have no intention of paying. Thus begins their ordeal which will last for 463 days of captivity and isolation. Kept in one room at first, they pretend they want to convert to Islam as a way of staying alive. They are visited sometimes by their captors wanting to learn English, and to teach them the Koran.

As time goes by and their captors' demands are not met, they are moved from house to house, always in the dark. Nigel and Amanda escape from one of the houses and are recaptured. From that point on, the two are completely separated and are shackled; Amanda gets the brunt of punishment as a woman, which includes rape, beatings and torture but she is able to separate herself in her mind from what is happening, a product of her childhood days. She is kept in complete darkness, later she is also bound and gagged. As fever takes over, beatings and rape continue almost daily but she is now living in her mind and guided by a calmness brought on by what seems to be a voice and is able to use different approaches to this separation of her being and her mind. Her mind's eye sees a beautiful house, one that she constructs room by room, floor by floor, until it reaches the sky. A focus for survival.

When finally rescued, neither Amanda nor Nigel are able to comprehend the fact that they are free. They can't comprehend that the food they are given is meant for them, they are fearful it will be taken away or they will be beaten. Both are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and it will take a long time to learn how to handle that. It may never be gone. But Amanda has built that inner strength from her ordeals and although the fear is always with her, she becomes forgiving of many things, including forgiving herself. In the collaboration of writing this book, both Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett must have shared some very difficult and intimate moments, I can't even begin to know how hard this would have been. I commend both for how they went for it no holds barred.

In the Epilogue, we learn that she founds a non-profit organization, the Global Enrichment Foundation to help provide and support education in Somalia, and partnering with other groups, funding scholarships to thirty-six Somalian women attending university, among other projects. This book is gut-wrenchingly real, powerful, and well-written; although the memories and fears of the atrocities are obviously very much a part of her, she has chosen to move on with her life in a positive way.