Archives For author

jacket  A. J. Jacobs has amused and informed us by living for a year following the tenets of the Bible, reading the Encyclopedia Britannica to become the smartest person in the world, becoming a human guinea pig, and attempting to become the healthiest person in the world. He now tackles genealogy and what is means to be family in It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree.

What started his quest to help build the World Family Tree was an email from Jules Feldman. Feldman is a dairy farmer in Israel who in his spare time is building a family tree. A huge family tree consisting of 80,000 relatives including Jacobs who is the eighth cousin of Mrs. Feldman.

Skeptical but intrigued Jacobs follows the suggestion of his brother-in-law and contacts Randy Schoenberg. Randy is a lawyer of some repute (see the film Woman in Gold) and a genealogist.  According to Randy genealogy in undergoing two revolutions, DNA and Internet family trees.

He introduces Jacobs to the collaborative genealogy site (Internet family tree) Geni.com. There are others like WikiTree and FamilySearch where you find an ancestor on your tree who is on another family’s tree and soon you are connected to thousands (or more) new relatives. A check of Geni at the time showed over 70 million people in 160+ countries listed on the site.

Geni also has an interesting feature you can use to find your connection to famous people. He describes it as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon where everyone is Kevin Bacon. Jacobs finds he has connections to Dr. Ruth, Jackson Pollock, Rachel Weisz and Barack Obama who is his fifth-great aunt’s husband’s father’s wife’s seventh-great nephew.

Geni has his interest; next for Jacobs is DNA testing. His DNA test matches him with 1009 presumed cousins including his wife Julie, his seventh cousin. Julie is less than thrilled but as Jacobs finds marriage between distant cousins is not that unusual.

With all these cousins and the potential to uncover more Jacobs comes up with the idea to hold a family reunion – a worldwide family reunion. Bringing all these people together he can make even more connections plus he might get in the Guinness Book of World Records. Now all he needs is a place, money and plenty of help.

The reunion is the conclusion of the book and its progress is remarked upon at the end of most chapters but most of the book is about family. What family is, all its different forms, and how would your worldview and prejudice’s change if you thought of people of different nationalities and ethnic background or even the guy who cut in front of you in line as your cousins.

The author talks about Y-Chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve, evolution, and the DNA humans share with animals. Jacobs explores many aspects of genealogical research including privacy, the emphasis on celebrity connections, how some cultures and ethnicities are not represented, and the significance of names. He even includes an appendix with a guide to getting started on your family tree.

He made connections with a lot of people gathering information, promoting his family reunion and lining up speakers for his event. Most had a story to tell and Jacobs does a wonderful job using them to highlight his chapters.

Jacobs also uses a lot of his own family history which is by turns amusing, touching, and surprising. The story of his great grandmother Gertrude Sunstein emphasizes the point that women are not well represented in the historical documents. Gertrude was a suffragist and very active. When she died in her obituary her suffrage work was noted but she was identified only as Mrs. Elias Sunstein, no first name.

As word of the reunion spreads he hears about other reunions.  One is the Hatfield-McCoy event. Yes, the famous feuding Hatfields and McCoys.  He also explores black sheep in your family tree and that for every connection you get to Isaac Newton or Malala Yousafzai you get one for John Wayne Gacy or Joseph Stalin.

The global family reunion does happen, in fact 44 simultaneous reunions were held around the world. As Jacobs points out success or failure depended on point of view and I’ll let you be the judge.

Jacobs is an amusing writer and his style is engaging but he also makes you think. How differently would you react and how would your views change if you think of everyone as family?

Advertisements

51Gg7c6xadL._AC_US327_QL65_Jennifer Egan began the research for her latest book years ago. It was 2004 when she first learned of the significance of New York’s waterfront and the Brooklyn Naval Yard. The result of her years of research and interviews is a very compelling read titled Manhattan Beach.

The novel is in a way three different stories intertwined. The central story is Anna Kerrigan. She is both a secondary character and the catalyst for change in the stories of Eddie Kerrigan (her father) and Dexter Styles.

The Depression changed the fortunes of the Kerrigan family.  Before the crash Eddie and his wife Agnes worked in theater and lived well with Anna and her disabled sister Lydia. Eddie was forced to take a job with an old friend as a bagman to support his family.

He took Anna with him when he could as no one caused trouble in front of a child.  They formed a close bond that Anna believed was unbreakable until the day she accompanied him to see Dexter Styles. The meeting at Styles’ home wasn’t the normal errand she ran with her father but for a new job.

Anna didn’t know about the job but she knew instinctively that Eddie wanted her to lie about the day. Eddie began to worry about what he had exposed Anna to plus his new job took him to places a child couldn’t go.  The errands ended and the bond broke. Eddie worked long hours and one day he didn’t come home. As days turned to weeks the family accepted he wasn’t coming back and life went on.

Anna is in college when Pearl Harbor is attacked and the U.S. joins the war.  She gladly leaves college to work in the Naval Yard. She is patriotic and eager to do what she can for the war effort but longs for something more exciting than measuring small parts for ships.  Though frowned upon Anna goes out each day at lunch to explore the shipyard and witness the different jobs being done. She discovers the divers.

With so many men fighting the war women are doing jobs traditionally done by men but diving isn’t one of them. The suit alone is a deterrent because of the weight.  The dress or diving suit weighed 200 pounds with the shoes 35 pounds, then add the collar and helmet at 56 pounds and the belt at 84 pounds.  With the suit on you had to be able to walk with all that weight and perform tasks as delicate as unraveling a knot while wearing the three-fingered gloves.

Anna knows nothing of the requirements but she is determined to try. Her life outside the Naval Yard revolves around the care of Lydia but in her limited free time she visits her first nightclub. The club belongs to Dexter Styles. She remembers him and introduces herself but doesn’t reveal her true identity. Styles may hold the key to her father’s disappearance.

Dexter’s story now becomes part of the narrative. The author not only did her homework on the waterfront and naval yard but on organized crime as well. Styles runs his own small criminal empire and he married into society.  His relationship with his boss and his connections through his father-in-law make Dexter feel he is close to untouchable. But no one is untouchable.

Anna gets her chance to dive but tragedy at home has left her living alone. To escape her loneliness and to celebrate her new job as a diver Anna goes out and ends up at Dexter’s nightclub. She doesn’t see him but he finds her and what happens next changes the course of both their lives.

Anna does learn at least part of what happened to her father but not all of it. We now get Eddie’s story. Eddie was an astute, observant man and at his core moral. His jobs provided for his family and put him in a position to see things he couldn’t ignore. When one of his friends is murdered he makes a decision that changes all of their lives.

Egan’s writing style immerses you in the story but Eddie’s story was so compelling that it was as if I was reading another novel. I forgot about Anna and Dexter as Eddie’s life unfolded.

This is not a perfect novel. The switches in storyline from one character to another kills the momentum a little and she rushed to an end.  Anna’s life is glossed over at the end when before it was rich with detail.  But I’m being picky because the novel is well-done and an engrossing read.

The characters come alive in your mind and you can see the waterfront and hear the ocean. When I was a teen I read “Hannah Fowler. I don’t recall much about the story but I’ve never forgotten the character. This novel is like that – the nuances of the story will fade but I’ll remember Anna Kerrigan.

Accidental PresidentSome of the most significant events in world history transpired in April through August of 1945. Germany’s surrender, the creation of the United Nations, the Potsdam Conference, the testing and use of the atomic bomb, and Japan’s surrender to end World War II all happened from April 12 – August 14, 1945 – the first 4 months of the Truman presidency.

A.J.  Blaine has penned a compelling chronicle of this time in The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World. This well-researched work takes the reader day by day through this momentous period but this is not a dry timeline of events. Blaine brings the events and people to life on the page and you feel as if you are in the room.

Blaine starts his narrative on April 12th which began as an ordinary day for Harry Truman. He rose at his normal early hour and took his walk before heading to his office in the Senate building. But this was no ordinary day and by nightfall he was sworn in as president and briefed on the secret weapon being developed, the atomic bomb. Stunned by the death of Franklin Roosevelt, many in the country wondered who Harry Truman is and would he be able to do the job. Truman himself said “I’m not big enough for this job”.

Before continuing with Truman’s presidency Blaine gives us an abbreviated biography. The author uses these pages to show us the qualifications and character Truman brought to the White House. He never went to college but he was well read and loved music. He was devoted to and loved Bess from the time he met her. In the Army during World War I he showed his ability as a leader but was unsuccessful in business. Even though he was elected with the help of Tom Pendergast (who ran Kansas City politics) Truman was honest in all his dealings as presiding judge in Jackson County.

He was elected to the U.S. Senate while Pendergast was still powerful and was dubbed the senator from Pendergast. But he won, to the surprise of many, a second term after Pendergast’s arrest and imprisonment. His committee to investigate waste and corruption in the national defense program saved money and brought him some national recognition.

Even though Truman wasn’t a complete unknown, the Democratic Party was stunned by his nomination as Vice-President for Roosevelt’s historic fourth term. He was a reluctant nominee but once nominated he campaigned tirelessly for the president.

Even though he was Roosevelt’s choice for VP he was not part of the inner circle and was not included in briefings or negotiations. On April 13th, his first full day as president, Truman began to learn the depth of what he did not know.

As Blaine recounts the next 123 days not every decision and meeting is detailed. Instead you get a sense of just how busy each day was and the amount of information Truman has to absorb from meetings and reports. Unlike Roosevelt, Truman’s cabinet meetings were for reporting and information. Following this meeting he would sometimes spend his whole morning in back to back 15 minute meetings.

During the first 2 weeks of the new administration, Roosevelt was buried, Nazi death camps were liberated, the United Nations conference began in San Francisco, Berlin fell, Mussolini was executed, Hitler committed suicide, and on President Truman’s 61st birthday, Germany surrendered.

The next weeks and months were more of the same with a deteriorating relationship with the Soviets, the war with Japan and the fulfilling of his official duties as president. The conference with Stalin and Churchill was to begin in July and the president wanted to be prepared. While determining what he believed was best for the U.S., Truman was aware of his obligation to honor both the agreements Roosevelt had made and the man himself.

The Potsdam Conference, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan’s unconditional surrender on August 14th ends this historic and pivotal 4 months.

The biographical information was an important part of the book but slowed the pace of the narrative. Once the countdown of days began however, this work was hard to put down. This fascinating look at what has to be one of the most difficult periods any president has faced, shows that the man who thought “he wasn’t big enough” greatly underestimated his abilities.

With the opening of the new building it was a busy summer. I did however manage to find time to read some fun, relaxing cozies.

Cozies or cozy mysteries are crime fiction with amateur detectives. Usually they are set in small towns, involve a dastardly deed, contain a bit of humor, maybe a little romance, very little violence and have a satisfying ending. In my experience with the genre the ones in series also feature an interesting cast of characters.

Gone Gull   Donna Andrews pens the bird themed Meg Langslow series. This is a long running series and #21, Gone Gull, just came out. Artist Meg and her extended family are spending the summer teaching at her grandmother’s new craft center on Biscuit Mountain.

When random acts of vandalism turn deadly Meg has plenty of suspects. There is the rival art academy, a developer with designs on Biscuit Mountain, and seekers (including her grandfather) of a rare gull. If you are new to cozy mysteries, this amusing series is a good place to start reading.

The titles in the Dixie Hemingway series by Blaize Clement also have an animal theme. Dixie is a pet sitter in Siesta Key, a barrier island off the west coast of Florida. She starts her days early taking care of cats, dogs, birds, fish and other assorted pets.

Dixie’s first career was as a deputy in the Sarasota County Sheriff’s office. The tragic death of her husband and daughter ended that career. In an attempt to ease her grief and depression her brother volunteered her services as a pet sitter and Dixie found a new vocation.

cat sitterThe first in this 11 book series is Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter. Early one morning Dixie arrives to feed and groom Ghost, an Abyssinian cat, only to find a man seemingly drowned in the cat’s water dish. Lieutenant Guidry is handling the murder case but Dixie starts snooping when her client doesn’t return and can’t be reached. Dixie goes from snooping to investigating when she becomes Guidry’s prime suspect.

This book sets the tone for the series, somewhat darker than most cozy mysteries but still with touches of humor. Dixie is a complex but likeable character and the pets have personality. As the series progresses you may notice some subtle changes as authorship changed. Blaize Clement passed away in 2011 which is when #7 was published and her son John took over the series. Despite some differences the quality of the series was not affected.

The latest book, The Cat Sitter and the Canary, came out in 2015. In this one murder becomes personal when a note left on the victim indicates Dixie is next. This book had a surprise ending so I hope it’s not the last in the series.

skating     Joelle Charbonneau’s cozy series is centered on a skating rink. Rebecca Robbins grew up at the rink owned by her mother but escaped small town life to become a mortgage broker in Chicago. In the series debut, Skating Around the Law, the death of her mother makes Rebecca the new owner. Her return to Indian Falls to manage the business is only temporary. As soon as the rink sells, it’s back to the big city.

Selling suddenly becomes complicated when the local handyman is found dead in the ladies locker room. His head in the toilet, Mack Murphy has apparently drowned. The death is ruled a homicide but the sheriff is more interested in gardens than crime. Rebecca becomes determined to find the killer before her plan for the rink is as dead as Mack.

Rebecca is the central figure in this series but she is surrounded by a delightful cast of characters. There is her grandfather or “Pops” who helped raise her and is now the Romeo of the geriatric set. Lionel Franklin, the local vet, is very easy on the eyes and a distraction to Rebecca’s plans to sell and get back to Chicago. In addition there is George who teaches skating, Deputy Sean Holmes who finds her snooping to be very annoying and Elwood. Elwood is a hat-wearing retired circus camel with as much personality as he has hats and he has a hat for every occasion.

So far there are only 4 titles in the Rebecca Robbins’ mysteries and all are entertaining light reading. They are a good read-alike for Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. If you are a Plum fan, you might enjoy these while you’re waiting for Stephanie’s next adventure to publish (mid-November 2017).

matchup  More than 3800 suspense writers are part of an organization known as International Thrill Writers. They don’t pay dues but support the organization by publishing an anthology every few years. In 2014 the Faceoff anthology pitted popular characters from some of the most read male writers against each other.

The sequel published in June, MatchUp, pairs male and female writers together. The Booklist description says “Think Dancing with the Stars, but with mysteries.” The task for each pair of writers was to create a suspenseful short story starring their well-known characters.

Lee Child was the editor and also gives an introduction for each story. This information on the authors/characters and insight into the writing process is an interesting addition to an entertaining collection.

I am not familiar with all the characters depicted but for the most part that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the stories.  I saw the movie but have not read the Rambo series by David Morrell.  I was also unfamiliar with Gayle Lynds’ character Liz Sansborough but I thought their collaboration, “Rambo on Their Minds”, one of the best in the book.

“Midnight Flame” by Lara Adrian and Christopher Rice not only had characters I was unfamiliar with but also a genre I don’t usually read, the paranormal. The authors did an excellent job of taking two characters, Lucan Thorne and Lilliane, from different time periods and creating an entertaining tale. I probably won’t delve any further into the world of vampires and Radiants but I enjoyed this foray.

Child’s partner in prose was Kathy Reich with his character, Jack Reacher, coming to the rescue of Temperance Brennan. Brennan is charged with murdering a reporter who was going to expose her as inept or corrupt in her examination of the death of Army Colonel Calder Massee. As soon as he hears the news report Reacher knows she is being framed and heads her way to help.

In “Deserves to Be Dead” John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers is (to no one’s surprise) on a fishing trip when he becomes involved in a murder. Lisa Jackson’s Regan Pescoli is the investigating officer. In the intro Child’s identifies Sandford as the main author but surprisingly Regan Pescoli is the driving force for this dark tale.

Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta teamed up for the longest and in my opinion the best tale in the anthology called “Short Story”. The two authors take their characters back in time to younger days hinted about in the series.

Slaughter’s Jeffrey Tolliver has just received his shield and is in the north Georgia mountains for a romantic getaway. He is stood up but that doesn’t mean he goes without female company. His companion for the night tries to steal his car and winds up dead. Tolliver, who had given chase wearing his t-shirt, Auburn underwear and one shoe, is arrested.

At the same time Koryta’s Joe Pritchard and Lincoln Perry are sent to the same place to find a Detroit drug dealer who is in Georgia to meet his supplier. It doesn’t take long for Joe and Lincoln to get involved and determine Tolliver’s innocence. The three team-up to find the killer and the drug dealer during an all-time record snowstorm.

There are 11 total entries with something for everyone in this engaging collection of short stories. You may even find some characters and authors to add to your reading list. The library has both regular and large print editions of it as well as the eaudiobook for download.

index.aspxWorking at the reference desk I often learn about books by readers asking for help – either in locating the desired title or finding the next title in a series. Some titles peak my interest but with so many good books to read I lose track of the title/author.

Such was the case with Jill Eileen Smith’s historical fiction books on women of the Bible. Fortunately, I spotted the latest on the New Fiction shelves reminding me of my interest.

Redeeming Grace: Ruth’s Story is actually the third in the Daughters of the Promised Land series. However, the series is a theme not a continuation so you can read out of order and not feel as though you are missing anything. If you are a stickler for order, the library has the first two in the series “The Crimson Cord: Rehab’s Story” and “The Prophetess: Deborah’s Story”.

Ruth’s story is also the story of Naomi. Naomi lived in Bethlehem with her husband Elimelech, sons Mahlon and Chilion, and their extended family. In 1296 B.C. Bethlehem and Israel were suffering through drought and eventual famine. Elimelech’s brother Boaz had convinced him to keep working the land despite the drought.

But after 2 years he stopped listening to Boaz and gave up hoping and praying for rain. He made the decision to take his sons to Moab and work the fields there. Naomi did not want to leave Bethlehem but would not let them go without her so the whole family made the journey to Dibon. Ruth and her friend Orpah were at the marketplace when the family arrived and were the first to offer a welcome.

Elimelech was able to secure land from the governor and soon prospered in Moab. His crops flourished and he was able to build a home for his family. Naomi remained true to her faith but her husband and sons were seduced by the festivals and lifestyle of the Moabites spending more and more evenings in Dibon. One such evening Elimelech didn’t come home. Naomi found his body in the road; he had been mauled by a bear.

With the death of her husband Naomi tried to convince her sons to return to Bethlehem. However, the beauties Ruth and Orpah had caught the eye of her sons and they declared their intention to stay and marry.

The custom in Moab was for fathers to choose husbands for their daughters. Ruth and Orpah had both lost their fathers in the war with Israel meaning they could make the choice of who they would marry. Ruth’s mother and the governor planned for Ruth to marry his son, Te’oma. She wanted no part of that arrangement and readily accepted Mahlon’s request to marry.

Ruth’s story truly begins when she marries and becomes Naomi’s daughter-in-law.  Ruth’s devotion to her new family and the growth of her faith sustain her through the many trials she faces. Heartache, loss and hardship test both women but Ruth remains hopeful for a better life and a second chance for love.

This dramatization of Ruth’s life is well done and an engrossing read.  Smith’s research on life and customs of the Israelites and Moabites offers readers a glimpse into what life was like during Ruth’s time.

You can enjoy it without ever having read Ruth in the Old Testament. If you have read it, you’ll find that Smith has crafted a novel that captures the lesson of love exemplified by Ruth in the book.

dust bowlWith March Madness in full swing and the winning streak of the Connecticut Huskies women extending to 107 games, Lydia Reeder’s new book on another record setting basketball team is a timely addition to our collection.

Depression era Oklahoma was not the first place I thought of when talking about women’s basketball. Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team That Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory has changed my perception. It’s the story of the Oklahoma Presbyterian College Cardinals and their 1931/1932 championship season.

The author has combined family, social, and sports history to bring this remarkable team to life. Reeder’s great-uncle, Sam Babb, was coach, recruiter, and fund raiser for the Cardinals. He joined OPC, a tiny junior college located in Durant, in 1929 as professor and basketball coach.

When Babb recruited he looked for players with talent and character. He found both qualities in prolific shooter Doll Harris. She joined the Cardinals in the fall of 1930 and for the first time in team history they were invited to the American Athletic Union (AAU) National Tournament.

Doll was named an All-American and they brought home a trophy – for sportsmanship. The Dallas Golden Cyclones led by Babe Didrikson won the championship. Babb knew his team could do better so he took to the road travelling to farming communities in Oklahoma.

He offered the young women the opportunity to go college for free and play basketball for OPC. The Depression was worsening and many of these players worked family farms that were struggling to survive. The decision to leave, even for a free education, was not easy. Babb was persuasive and 35 players accepted scholarships.

Women’s basketball in the 1930s was much different than what we see today.  It wasn’t until 1970 that the game changed to what is played now. Then women were considered too delicate for such a vigorous sport so they played half court with 6 members to a team.

Some believed even this level of competition was too much. Reeder explores the history and attitudes on women and competitive sports throughout the book.  It’s interesting and highlights the difficulties for teams especially with funding.

The AAU encouraged competitive sports for women whereas most colleges emphasized less vigorous activity. Many of the teams in the AAU were sponsored by companies and college teams like the Cardinals needed donations and gate receipts to survive.

Babb was very good at fund-raising and managed to pay for scholarships but a barnstorming tour over Christmas break was needed to fund the team. Practice was every morning from 4am -6am (they used Southeastern State’s gym when the men didn’t need it). They also had to run at least 1 mile and shoot 100 free throws each day. Their first game was in December when they scrimmaged with a high school team.

By the time of their barnstorm tour through Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas the rigorous practices in addition to school commitments had reduced the roster to 16. The tour started in Celeste, TX for the first of 17 games. Three weeks later they had won every game including one in Dallas with last year’s national champions. They finished the season undefeated and were invited to the national tournament.

Much of the story of the team and season is related by 2 of the players, Doll Harris and 16-year-old Lucille Thurman. Through Doll and Lucille you feel the drive, dedication, and camaraderie develop as they become a team.

You also see the conflict of being a woman and an athlete. News coverage gave as much emphasis to how they looked as to how they played. The biggest trophy awarded at the tournament was given to the winner of the player beauty pageant.

The record books tell us they won the AAU national championship becoming the first college team to hold the title. From 1931-1934 they won 2 championships and 89 straight games. What Reeder tells us is who Sam Babb and the OPC Cardinals were and how they did it.

If you enjoyed “The Boys in the Boat”, you will definitely want to read “Dust Bowl Girls”.