Archive for January, 2011

Hedy reviews “Winter’s Bone” by Daniel Woodrell

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell FIC WOOD

This is a slim novel which takes place in the Ozark Mountains and exhibits strong themes of family and honor.  The main character is a 16-year-old girl named Ree Dolly who finds herself responsible for caring for her ill mother and her two young brothers after her father disappears.  He’s up on charges of running a crystal meth lab and if he doesn’t show up in court, the family loses their house and all their land.  This is a desperate situation indeed, and Ree is absolutely determined to find her father no matter what.  The result is murder and mayhem.  The story is dark but the language is luminous.  Winter’s Bone was made into a movie which won the best picture award at the Sundance Film Festival.  The Bettendorf Public Library owns the videorecording: DVD DRAMA WINTERS (also in BLU-RAY).  I plan to put this title  in our DIBS (Discussions In BoxeS) collection in the near future too.

Melita reviews “Wolf: The Lives of Jack London” and “Jack London: Photographer”

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Wolf: The Lives of Jack London by James L. Haley (BIOG LONDON) and Jack London: Photographer by Jeanne Campbell Reesman (770.92 RE)

James Haley subtitled his book “the lives of Jack London” because London’s life included more careers and experiences than you would think possible for one man.  Anyone who has read his adventure novels, such as The Call of the Wild, White Fang, or The Sea-Wolf, will have been struck by the naturalism and immediacy of his writing.   He came by his knowledge of the sea and the Yukon wilderness by living, working, and risking his life in those environments, just as the protagonists of his novels.   Author Haley has divided London’s life into fourteen chapters, each investigating a portion of his amazing life. He was born in 1876, and after completing 8th grade began his work career at a pickle cannery , earning ten cents an hour.   Such early experiences as a “work beast” turned him towards a life-long support of socialism, reflected in such books as People of the Abyss and The Iron Heel.

As a teenager he taught himself to sail, and even while making a living as an oyster pirate (which was an actual illegal profession in California in the early 1900’s) he began his self-education with the help of a librarian at the Oakland Free Library.   Still a teenager, he signed on to a ship sailing the Pacific to hunt for seals and steered through a typhoon at sea such as is described in The Sea-Wolf.  After almost dying in the Yukon, prospecting for gold, he determined to become an author and work with his mind.  He accomplished this by strength of will, memorizing dictionaries, and setting himself the goal of writing 3,000 words per day.  He became a celebrity, a war correspondent, and last, a rancher, dying at the young age of 40 due to complications of alcoholism and kidney failure.

Jack London:Photographer is a fantastic companion book to any biography of Jack London.  London purchased a folding pocket Kodak, one of the first popular cameras for amateurs, and taught himself to take pictures.  There are over 12,000 prints in the London archive, and the ones selected for this book reflect his wide-ranging interests and travels.  His photos of 1903 London correspond to his book on grinding poverty in the industrial age, People of the Abyss.  Photos of the Russo-Japanese War and the 1914 Mexican Revolution reflect his work as a war correspondent.  London and wife, Charmian, were immediately on the scene of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake with his Kodak, and the depictions of the destruction are stunning.  Also included are photos of indigenous peoples of the Polynesian islands that the Londons visited by sailing ship, in the days when very few European or American travelers went there.  While not entirely free of the cultural prejudices of the time, London’s photos tend to be more realistic and less stagey than others of the time period.   A fascinating glimpse into the past, and the work of an important American author.

Barb R. reviews “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

This book has been on the New York Times best seller list for weeks, so it probably doesn’t need any publicity. But, if you’re looking for a great read, I highly recommend Unbroken.

After a troubled childhood, Louis Zamperini discovered running. After competing in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, he was closing in on the 4-minute mile when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Louie enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was made a bombardier. On one of the bombing missions, his plane was shot down; only Louie and two other crew members survived. They survived for forty-six days on a small raft in the middle of the ocean. But, Louie’s ordeal on the raft was nothing compared to the horrors of the Japanese prison camps. One particularly evil-minded Japanese corporal singled Louie out for forced labor and extreme torture. The POWs were also constantly aware of the order from the Japanese high command to “kill them all” if it appeared that the Allies would win the war.

 Louie miraculously survived the prison camps and tells his story in this memorable book, written by the author of Seabiscuit.  As he says in the “Acknowledgment” section at the end, “I’ll be an easier subject than Seabiscuit because I can talk.”

 This is terrific non-fiction that reads like a fiction adventure story.


Monday, January 10th, 2011

Girl sleuth: Nancy Drew and the women who created her by Melanie RehakThis nonfiction biographical/popular culture book can be found in the Bettendorf Public Library collection at 813.52 RE.  If you loved reading the Nancy Drew mysteries by Carolyn Keene, you’d probably enjoy reading about how they came to be and who wrote them.  Many readers are still surprised to learn that Carolyn Keene is a pseudonym and not just for one author, but for several.  Author Melanie Rehak concentrates on two women ahead of their time: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams who, with her sister, took over the Stratemeyer publishing syndicate after her father died in 1930; and Mildred Wirt Benson who was the ghost writer for the first Nancy Drew book in 1930 and for 22 of the next 30 in the original series.  One of the most interesting things to me was that Mildred was raised in Ladora, Iowa, wrote more than 130 books and 100 stories for young people and was a diving champion, a licensed pilot, and a journalist for the Toledo [Ohio] Blade newspaper until the day she died at the age of 96.  Her mantra was “I believe in absolute honesty and honesty in journalism.”  I am rather proud that I share an Iowa upbringing with her.   Nancy Drew, whether you’ve read the books or not, is presently and for the foreseeable future, a American cultural icon.   If you’re curious to find out why, read this book.

Hedy reviews A SHARE IN DEATH by Deborah Crombie MYS CROM

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

“A Share in Death” is the first in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery series.  Crombie is presently working on #14.  Kincaid and James work for Scotland Yard, so the mysteries take place all over Great Britain, this one in Yorkshire.  Crombie, who grew up in Texas and fell in love with England early on after reading “Winnie the Pooh”, has the great pleasure of taking research trips during the writing of each book.  “A Share in Death” is a lot like an Agatha Christie mystery with the country manor being a modern-day timeshare.  No one seems to have a motive for murder at first (and then everyone does), and there are some surprising connections among the guests.  Start with the first one because the relationship between Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, both on the job and off, develops continuously.  They become characters you care about.   Readalike authors include Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes.