Search

Loading...

Monday, July 25, 2016

Orchard



by Jack H. Bailey
self published     2016
364 pages     Fiction
The Shortlist

I am deep into Wuthering Heights this week, but I didn't want to miss telling you about an interesting book that comes out tomorrow.

Orchard by Jack H. Bailey looks good. There are a variety of interesting facets to Orchard that would appeal to readers of history and of westerns. Jack Bailey grew up in Idaho, where the notorious criminal Orchard lived and worked. Bailey became fascinated with him at a young age, and finished this book shortly before his death in 2010. His wife has posthumously published this novel. It will be available July 26 from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Orchard combines mining history and true crime in an incredibly readable page turner. If you are a lover of Longmire, true crime, and history, you will enjoy Orchard. Also check out Shot All To Hell by Mark Lee Gardner about Jesse James and the Northfield Minnesota bank robbery.

Here is the information about Orchard from the publicist:
Description
This much is true. It's 1899. Harry Orchard is a member of the fire-breathing Western Federation of Miners. While other members labor underground to harvest the riches of the earth, Orchard is paid to kill men who are a problem for the union. He's an interesting killer, well-liked by his peers and by the ladies. 

After years of cat-and-mouse pursuit by legendary Pinkerton, Charles Siringo, when he's arrested in 1906 for the murder of Idaho's former Governor, Frank Steunenberg, he's killed nineteen men in Idaho and Colorado. Even today, in the silver mining towns of northern Idaho, his name is spoken in whispers by those familiar with his deeds.
"This much is true: Jack H. Bailey is a damn good writer. In Orchard he mixes facts with fiction as he spins a rollicking yarn of bombers, union busters, and political assassination. A dynamic novel." - Larry Karaszewski
Author Bio
Jack H. Bailey, author of Orchard, descended from gold miners and grew up in and around the locales frequented by Harry Orchard. It was while living in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho that his fascination with Orchard began. Jack joined the navy at seventeen and served in WWII aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington until she was sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea. He graduated from USC with a BA in English and spent sixteen years in aerospace during which time he wrote two critically praised novels, The Number Two Man and The Icarus Complex. Jack wrote prolifically until his death in 2010. Most notably, Jack was an annual participant in the prestigious Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and was one of only a handful of writers to have advanced in the competition seven times. Follow his author page on Facebook


Here is Jack Bailey's website

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The New Trail of Tears: How Washington is Destroying American Indians



by Naomi Schaefer Riley
Encounter Books     2016
214 pages     Nonfiction
The Shortlist

One of my childhood memories occurred at our family cabin in Bemidji, Minnesota. My father and I were out fishing, near one of the inlets of Big Turtle Lake. I saw some people in canoes doing something along the edges of the stream. My father took me closer so that I could see natives harvesting the wild rice that grew there. They pulled the stalks over the edge of the canoe and then whacked the stalks with sticks, loosening the seeds, which then fell into the bottom of the canoe. It was a fascinating operation, and my dad told me that Indians were the only people who could legally harvest wild rice in Minnesota. 

I grew up in areas where Chippewa and Ojibwa Indian reservations were prevalent; Native Americans were the "minorities" in Minnesota—they were part of our everyday life. The people on the reservations were poor and powerless. There are approximately 3 million Native Americans living in reservations, and all these years after my childhood, they are still poor and powerless.

Many people think that the lives of Native Americans improved with the advent of casinos and the money that came from working in the casinos. Riley's thesis is that the government has a paternalistic attitude toward native peoples and that paternalistic attitude is what has kept them in poverty with inferior educational and medical opportunities. I do have to mention that Riley is very conservative and her book reflects her conservative bias. 

I received The New Trail of Tears from the publicist, and while I didn't read the book all the way through, I found what I did read to be enlightening. I would recommend it to students of sociology and those interested in social justice issues. It is to be published this week.

Riley is married to Jason Riley, the author of Please Stop Helping Us, which I reviewed a year or so ago. His thesis about African Americans in American society is quite similar in tone to the thesis of The New Trail of Tears.

I would also recommend books by Sherman Alexie because he explores some of these same difficult themes in fiction—poverty, alcoholism, and identity. My favorite is the Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Then I love the Minnesota Native American author Louise Erdrich. I read and reviewed The Round House, a novel that deals with violence against Native American women very effectively. She has a new novel LaRose, which I plan to read yet this summer.

Finally, I have been watching Longmire, a Netflix series based on the books by Craig Johnson. It features a Wyoming sheriff whose district includes a reservation. Although it is primarily a mystery solving series, it includes the interplay between the white population of the county, the people who live on the "Rez", and the owners of the casino that is being established. It is very good.

The summary of The New Trail of Tears:
If you want to know why American Indians have the highest rates of poverty of any racial group, why suicide is the leading cause of death among Indian men, why native women are two and a half times more likely to be raped than the national average and why gang violence affects American Indian youth more than any other group, do not look to history. There is no doubt that white settlers devastated Indian communities in the 19th, and early 20th centuries. But it is our policies today—denying Indians ownership of their land, refusing them access to the free market and failing to provide the police and legal protections due to them as American citizens—that have turned reservations into small third-world countries in the middle of the richest and freest nation on earth.
The tragedy of our Indian policies demands reexamination immediately—not only because they make the lives of millions of American citizens harder and more dangerous—but also because they represent a microcosm of everything that has gone wrong with modern liberalism. They are the result of decades of politicians and bureaucrats showering a victimized people with money and cultural sensitivity instead of what they truly need—the education, the legal protections and the autonomy to improve their own situation.
If we are really ready to have a conversation about American Indians, it is time to stop bickering about the names of football teams and institute real reforms that will bring to an end this ongoing national shame.

Naomi Riley's website
Here is a recent opinion column she wrote for the New York Post about tribal sovereignty.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

All the Time in the World



by Caroline Angell
Henry Holt and Company     2016
324 pages     Fiction 

All the Time in the World is the exceptional first novel by a talented young author, Caroline Angell. It tells the story of a young woman, Charlotte, who has finished a master's degree in music composition but is now working as a nanny for two young boys, George and Matthew McLean, who are the children of Gretchen and Scotty McLean, wealthy New Yorkers. 

A gifted musician, babysitting wasn't in her career plans, but a betrayal by one of her trusted instructors has put Charlotte's career on hold. She falls in love with George and Matthew and finds her employment to be satisfying, although a bit stifling. She considers the job to be good for now; it pays for her life in the city. In the first few pages of the novel, the mother, Gretchen, dies in a taxi accident, and Charlotte's role in the family takes a significance that she had not imagined. The narrative moves backward and forward in time from her first days as the nanny to the day that Gretchen dies to the weeks and months following the tragedy. Charlotte remains as the stabilizing force in the children's lives because Scotty is barely functional. Charlotte's help is what keeps the family going for several months, until the exhaustion of being everyone's everything takes its toll on her well-being. I was impressed that Angell understood the effects of grief for all the family members as well as for Charlotte.

Angell gets a lot of things right. Having just come from a week with grandchildren of the same age, I was impressed that Angell understands the life and times of preschoolers so well, with all the minutia of child care. George and Matthew are very appealing children, and their confusion and grief when their mother dies is heartbreaking. George is too little to really understand what has happened, but as a 5-year-old, Matthew descends into a combative mess that Caroline has to manage every day. 

Angell has used her own experience as a music student, composer, and nanny to form the basis of her novel. But more than that, she draws upon a deep and intuitive understanding of death and grief as it plays out in the lives of a family with young children. The characters are all believable, and their reactions are realistic and relatable. Charlotte is a very sympathetic character. I loved her innate understanding of children and their needs, and I liked how she matured when she was called upon to keep the family functioning. I also appreciated the way she led Scotty through his grief and helped him find a path to wholeness.

 This novel could easily have been based on the experience of our Downey family—albeit the Downey experience occurred more than 30 years ago, when Lee, the father in our family, died of cancer. Little 2-year-old Rachel had no understanding of what was happening, but her brothers and I experienced a grief that lasted for a long time. The depiction of Scotty, the father, is quite true to my experience—a fog that gradually lifted.

I think that it would have been easy for Angell to have tied this novel up in a neat little bundle, like The Sound of Music, with Charlotte marrying her employer and everyone living happily ever after. I was proud of her for not descending to a formulaic ending. The conclusion was far more satisfying. 

As an aside, one detail that I found amusing was about Pale Male, the red-tailed hawk that lives on the facade of a building across from Central Park. My book club had read Red Tails in Love by Marie Winn, so I was familiar with Pale Male. I felt quite smug about knowing that!

As you can tell, All the Time in the World hit fairly close to home for me, bringing back many memories that had laid buried. I did get a bit bogged down in the back and forth of the narration and a lot of details about child care, but I persisted and in the end, I was glad that I did. All the Time in the World is true and heartfelt—it didn't feel like a first novel. Kudos to Caroline Angell.

Caroline Angell's website.
Here is a YouTube video of a review by a young British woman.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Trap

By Melanie Raabe

Translated by Imogen Taylor
Grand Central     2015
329 pages     Thriller

It is a family gathering at the beach with two preschool grandchildren. The water continues to beckon, the children are running around, and Grandma is trying to read. I began a spiritual book about the Buddhist way to financial freedom—too dense; then tried The Nordic Theory of Everything—great book but couldn’t concentrate in the sun and the wind; so I moved on to The Trap. BINGO! I sat on the porch all day, and just before bedtime, I closed the book. Totally engrossed!

The tagline of The Trap is “I know who killed my sister. I wrote this book for him.” Linda Conrads (the pen name for Linda Michaelis) is a famous German author of literary fiction. Unfortunately, her sister Anna was murdered twelve years ago, and Linda, in her grief, becomes housebound and a recluse. She only sees her gardener, her assistant, and her publisher. She is totally isolated by her phobias, her choices, and her writing. There are no author readings and no interviews. She is a mystery in Germany. (This, by the way, is too much of an allusion to Elena Ferrante, the mysterious Italian author.) Then one night, while watching television, she sees a news reporter who looks like her fleeting memory of the man that she saw leaving the scene of her sister’s murder. She is sure that this is the same man, and the news reporter is her sister’s murderer.

The story is told in the first person by Linda, who proves to be a totally unreliable narrator. Interspersed throughout Linda’s narration are selected chapters from the thriller she is writing to expose the murderer. The plot builds as the book is written and Linda builds her case against the murderer. A couple of times I found myself gasping as danger lurked for Linda; the scariest moment was when the news reporter/murder suspect comes to her house to conduct the first interview Linda has given in years.

The concept of The Trap is original, but the concept is frankly more thrilling than its execution. I am a little tired of the unreliable narrator concept, ala Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Perhaps this plot device has run its course, particularly with me. I do think that Gone Girl is the most intricately woven of the three, although I imagine that The Girl on the Train and The Trap will probably also make good movies. I agreed with the review by the Reaction to Reading blogger who says, “I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the unreliable narrator device but I can be swept along by it in the right circumstances. Sadly, I think it’s particularly poorly executed here as Linda’s unreliability is all too obvious and I never felt at all invested in whether or not she was actually telling the truth.”

I was intrigued with the idea of the protagonist as a recluse. It is totally understandable that someone would become unstable after seeing her sister murdered, but as Linda muses, “Eleven years is a long time. When I wake up at night and stare at my bedroom ceiling, I sometimes wonder whether I’ve dreamt the world out there. Maybe this world isn’t really my world; maybe it’s the only one there is.” If Linda hadn’t seen the murderer on television, how long would this self-imposed exile have lasted? How crazy would she have gotten? How many more stories could have come from her imagination without any interaction with the outside world?  


The Trap was a great sun and sand diversion, but it is not literature. Like many mystery novels that are just too “pat” in their construction, I found the characters a little boring and the plot a little too “constructed” to be even slightly believable. As a beach read, however, it was delightful. 

An interview with Melanie Raabe. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

All Waiting Is Long



by Barbara J. Taylor
Akashic Books     2016
316 pages     Historical Fiction

All Waiting is Long is a sequel to Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, a novel by Barbara Taylor published two years ago. This novel works very well as a stand-alone, and I don't believe that I missed anything by not reading Sing in the Morning

Set in 1930s Scranton PA, Lily Morgan gets pregnant when she is 16-years-old. In order to protect her from a lifetime of disgrace, she is sent to the Good Shepherd Infant Asylum in Philadelphia, and her older sister Violet is sent along to watch over her until the baby is born and put up for adoption. The Morgans are a Protestant family from Scranton, and the infant asylum is run by a group of benevolent nuns. Lily is very young and immature and doesn't understand the full impact of her situation. Violet, on the other hand, is hiding the pregnancy from her boyfriend Stanley, a law student. Everything is hush-hush, of course. Everyone at home thinks that the girls are helping their aunt move to Buffalo. Violet ends up volunteering at the home, helping out with the babies until they are adopted, which seems to happen quite regularly and easily. Enter the evil Dr. Peters, the physician who is called to the asylum when there is a difficult birth. Dr. Peters is committed to a popular concept of the time called eugenics, and he is sterilizing these wayward girls without them (or the nuns) knowing it. 

The first half of the novel concerns Lily and Violet and the birth of the Lily's baby girl. At the end of the first section, Violet makes a rash decision that affects the rest of her life as well as Lily's. The second section moves ahead five years back to Scranton, when both young women are married, and the community and family ties  propel the narrative to a startling climax. The plot includes commentary on striking coal miners, prostitutes, mobsters, prohibition, ladies' societies, Catholic-Protestant clashes, and all the other aspects of life in the 1930s. The plot twists and turns and takes us with it. Everything is feasible and historically accurate. The colorful characters add to the credibility of the narrative, and each character's circumstances is very sympathetically handled. After Lily's baby is born, All Waiting is Long very rapidly becomes a page turner.

  Although I was born in the 1940s, many of the societal norms illustrated in All Waiting is Long were still firmly in place in my childhood. I remember the daughter of my dad's secretary getting married under suspicious circumstances. It was the talk of the town because she was wearing a scandalous white wedding dress. I remember the school board election in which my dad ran against a Catholic. We sat in the car outside the school polling place watching carloads of nuns coming to vote for the Catholic against my father. I remember a school friend whose father was abusive and the struggle the mother had to leave him. I remember powerful labor unions causing problems for my father's factory. All of these were incisive influences in my childhood.

Eugenics was something that I knew little about until I read All Waiting is Long. The Eugenics movement believed that through selective mating and sterilization, the dominant groups in the population could be preserved and improved. The movement began in the 1880s, and its proponents believed that through selective breeding, the human species could direct its own evolution. Strict immigration, anti-miscegenation, and forced sterilization were among the ideas supported by the eugenics movement. In the novel, Dr. Peters believed that the poor unfortunate women at the Good Shepherd Infant Asylum should be sterilized so that more unfortunate babies wouldn't be brought into the world. The eugenics movement petered out during World War II, when eugenics became a German weapon of war.

Taylor very skillfully blends all the many forces determining life in the 1930s into a novel of tremendous strength and compulsive readability. I highly recommend it, and I believe that it would be a good choice for a book group. Finally, I love the idea that Barbara Taylor lives in Scranton, the setting for All Waiting is Long, and that she is a high school English teacher. Power to the teachers among us.


Barbara J. Taylor's website