What’s That Book? Seized by the Sun by James W. Ure

whats-that-book

TitleSeized by the Sun

Author:  James W. Ure

Genre: YA Nonfiction

Rating:  5 stars

What’s it about?  The life story of Gertrude Thompkins, a World War II pilot in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program. In 1944, Thompkins was flying a P-51D fighter plane when she disappeared during a short flight from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. Her plane has never been recovered and she is one of thirty-eight female pilots either confirmed or presumed dead.

Gertrude was raised in New Jersey and was the daughter of a wealthy business man. Her childhood was often unhappy and marked by a debilitating stutter. These years were consumed by her father’s endless efforts to cure her of the same affliction that plagued him and her mother’s depression. After high school, she earned a college degree in horticulture and traveled the world before she discovered a love for flying. It was her confidence in the air that finally cured her stuttering.

The book describes the rigorous WASP training and explains how the female pilots flew fighter planes to bases to be loaded with arsenals before enlisted male pilots flew into battle. The author includes many interesting details about the times and women during World War II. I enjoyed learning that the reason pilots wore silk scarves around their necks was to keep their necks from chafing as they constantly turned their heads to check their course.

How did you hear about it?  I saw it on our library’s online listing of new Young Adult books. I was attracted to the cover and immediately clicked on the book description.

Closing comments:  I knew a little bit about the WASP program, but didn’t completely understand what the female pilots did in the war effort. I had never heard about Gertrude Thompkins and was impressed with her fearless ambition.

Seized by the Sun is an excellent story for readers of all ages. The book includes many photographs and interesting sidebars and offers a great way to learn about history. It is part of the Women in Action Series of biographies.

Contributor:  Ginette


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Little House on the Prairie book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

little-house-on-the-prairie-set

Little House on the Prairie Book Series
by
Laura Ingalls Wilder

(and other titles by Roger Lea MacBride,
Melissa Wiley, 
Maria D. Wilkes and Celia Wilkins)

Rating:
bookmarks-5a

It all started when our youngest son was in second grade. “My teacher is reading us a great book,” he told me one day. “Little House in the Big Woods. Do you know that book, Mom?” I knew the book, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and, of course, the hit TV show that came after Little House on the Prairie.

So when we were looking for something to read together, he asked if we could read Little House in the Big Woods again. “You’ll like it Mom,” he told me.

little house in the big woods piclittle-house-on-the-prairie

I had the vague memory that these Little House books were more for girls than boys, but when we finished Little House in the Big Woods and then Little House on the Prairie, I remembered that there is plenty in these pages to keep a young boy interested. There are stories in every chapter about hunting and the dangers of living a frontier life. The conflicts between settlers and Native Americans are presented matter-of-factly and that makes them real. Illness and hardship, loss and set-backs occur regularly. Drought and bad weather ruin crops and threaten the family’s livelihood. Wilder also includes long descriptions of how things were made and the hard work that went into building log houses, doors, windows, sleighs and furniture.

But the stories are more than that. There is warmth and kindness in these books. As a mother, I like the family dynamic and the message it sends. The children in these books are far from spoiled and are happy with what they have. Laura Wilder’s writing style is both gentle and straightforward as she tells us what it was like for her to grow up during this time. She doesn’t sugarcoat and I like that.

When we finished the first two books, we moved on to Farmer Boy, one of my favorites. The months passed. We read a chapter each night. We watched Laura grow up. We watched her family move into town, watched Laura meet and marry Almanzo and start her own life. And then came Rose, Laura’s daughter.

farmer-boy-jpg
Ms. Wilder stopped writing at the end of The Laura Years, but Roger Lea MacBride, a long-time family friend, picked up with The Rose Years and continued writing in the same style as Ms. Wilder. We read about Rose and her family traveling in a covered wagon and settling in the Ozarks. We watched her grow into an independent spirit, move to New Orleans to finish high school and start a career.

Not ready to stop, we went backwards in time and read about Laura’s great-grandmother, Martha as a young girl in Scotland, written by Melissa Wiley. Wiley has also written a series about Laura’s grandmother, Charlotte and Laura’s mother, Caroline and she writes with the same pleasing style as Wilder and MacBride.

I recommend this classic series to anyone who is looking for realistic children’s books with the important themes of family, adventure, hardship and perseverance.

Check out all the Little House books!

The LAURA Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little House in the Big Woods
Little House on the Prairie
Farmer Boy
On the Banks of Plum Creek
By the Shores of Silver Lake
The Long Winter
Little Town on the Prairie
These Happy Golden Years
The First Four Years

The ROSE Years, by Roger Lea MacBride
Little House on Rocky Ridge
Little Farm in the Ozarks
In the Land of the Big Red Apple
On the Other Side of the Hill
Little Town in the Ozarks
New Dawn on Rocky Ridge
On the Banks of the Bayou
Bachelor Girl

The MARTHA Years, by Melissa Wiley
Little House in the Highlands
The Far Side of the Loch
Down to the Bonny Glen
Beyond the Heather Hills

The CHARLOTTE Years, by Melissa Wiley
Little House by Boston Bay
On Tide Mill Lane
The Road from Roxbury
Across the Puddingstone Dam

The CAROLINE Years, by Maria D. Wilkes & Celia Wilkins
Little House in Brookfield
Little Town at the Crossroads
Little Clearing in the Woods
On Top of Concord Hill
Across the Rolling River
Little City by the Lake
A Little House of Their Own

Image source:  lauraingallswilderhome.com

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From the Archives: Books about Water and the Sea

Ocean

With only a few weeks left on our summer calendars, there’s still time to read a book about water and the sea.  Take a look at this mix of classic tales, popular fiction and nonfiction!


Classic fiction

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
What happens to a group of young British schoolboys when their plane is shot down and they land on deserted island in the Pacific?


The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The classic Hemingway story of Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman who has not caught a fish in eighty-four days


Popular fiction

sea creatures pic

Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel
Set in Miami, Florida, a story about love, marriage, family, death, art, weather and the sea


stiltsville book cover

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel
All about marriage, family and relationships in a community of stilt houses in the Miami sand flats


The Dressmaker cover

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
Light historical fiction and romance written into the history of the Titanic’s voyage, its passengers and the disaster’s aftermath


the light between oceans pic

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
A story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife, who live alone on an island off Western Australia


The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Fast-paced, coming-of-age fantasy tale for adults about the mysteries of life, death, nature, the past, and the present


We Are Water

We Are Water by Wally Lamb
A rotating narrative about abuse over time and generations, and its range of effects


Mystery

Death in a Red Canvas Chair cover

Death in a Red Canvas Chair by N. A. Granger
Debut mystery novel, the first in a series about Rhe Brewster and her adventures as an amateur detective.  Set in the fictional coastal town of Pequod, Maine


Death in a Dacron Sail cover

Death in a Dacron Sail by N. A. Granger
The second in the Rhe Brewster mystery series, full of New England color and Maine personality


Romance

I also enjoyed reading Tracy's first love story!

Catalina Kiss by Tracy Ewens
Where the Tracy Ewens romance series begins.  Set on the island of Catalina during Prohibition, a light, feel-good romance


Young Adult/Children’s

Casey of Cranberry Cove

Casey of Cranberry Cove by Susan Kotch
Teen love on the Jersey shore, lots of fun shore references for Jersey guys and girls


the cay pic

The Cay by Theodore Taylor
Touching coming-of-age story about an eleven-year-old American boy living on the island of Curaçao during World War II


Tommy's Mommy's Fish

Tommy’s Mommy’s Fish by Nancy Dingman Watson
Tommy wants to give his mother the best birthday present so he heads to the beach to catch the biggest fish he can.


Non-fiction

Colors of Naples and the Amalfi Coast

Colors of Naples and the Amalfi Coast by Margie Miklas
Coffee table/photo book featuring the people, streets and culture of a beautiful part of Italy, showcasing magnificent coastlines, ancient architecture and vibrant street life


In the Heart of the Sea

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
True survival story of the whaleship Essex, attacked and sunk by an eighty-five foot sperm whale in the Pacific


Read but not reviewed

Billy Budd by Herman Melville
A classic Melville story about the battle between good and evil

Jaws by Peter Benchley
Gripping suspense novel about a killer shark off a Long Island beach

Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Ahab takes on a killer whale.  Classic story inspired by the whaleship Essex

Gift from the Sea by Ann Morrow Lindbergh
Meditations about love, marriage and family written by Charles Lindbergh’s American wife


Do you have any favorite tales about the sea?

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Summer Reading Challenge – The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

The Ghost Map
The Ghost Map
by Steven Johnson

A Book in a Genre You Typically Don’t Read

Rating:
3 book marks1 half bookmark

I chose this book to fit my summer challenge to read from a genre I don’t typically visit.  The book was required summer reading for my son last year as he prepared for his freshman year of college.

In the summer of 1854, in the Soho neighborhood of London, a baby girl became sick.  Her mother took care of her as well as she could, soaked her diapers in a tub and dumped the water in their front-yard cesspool.  A short distance away, neighbors pumped their drinking water from the Broad Street pump, known throughout town for supplying the best and cleanest well water.  On hot summer days, people from other neighborhoods went out of their way to get the cool, refreshing water from Broad Street.

Sadly, the baby girl died and within days, more and more people from the neighborhood fell ill and died.  Panic set in down the blocks as entire families were wiped out.  Although this deadly illness known as cholera had hit other parts of the country and world, no one knew how it spread.

It may seem obvious to readers today, but over a hundred and fifty years ago, people weren’t thinking about contaminated water.  In fact, officials and medical experts were obsessed with the miasma theory, the belief that all diseases were transmitted through the air.

The Ghost Map is the story of how two very different men investigated the cholera epidemic separately, and how they eventually met and convinced officials that the water from the Broad Street pump was making people sick.  Henry Whitehead was a popular clergyman and John Snow was a prominent doctor.  Both men were driven to understand why people were getting sick.  Snow was convinced the water was contaminated.  But it wasn’t simply a matter of testing the water. The technology didn’t exist.  In fact, the Broad Street water actually looked cleaner than water from other pumps in the city.  Over at St. Luke’s Church, Whitehead knew the people in his neighborhood better than anyone and he worked tirelessly to serve them and understand why they were getting sick.  When the two men eventually met, they collaborated to prove Snow’s theory.  The result was a map, connecting the neighborhood’s deaths to the Broad Street pump.

I enjoyed the book for its historical content and also because it reads a bit like a mystery, making it an interesting and somewhat casual read.  With all the references to the ghost map, however, except for the cover, I was surprised that the book didn’t actually include the final, convincing map.  The author also meanders a bit, especially at the end, as he finishes with a somewhat subjective view about why city dwellers are better, more cultured, more sophisticated and actually healthier than simple country folk.

Overall, however, it was an interesting and informative read.  It’s hard to believe that people didn’t initially consider drinking water as the cause of many illnesses, but it’s amazing to see how innovative doctors, city officials and ordinary citizens were without the advantage of technology.


Follow along as I work my way through my 16 in 16 Challenge!

Book 1 – A Book You Can Finish in a Day:  The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner

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What’s That Book? Their Fifteen Minutes: Biographical Sketches of the Lindbergh Case

Whats That Book

Their Fifteen Minutes.jpe

Title: Their Fifteen Minutes: Biographical Sketches of the Lindbergh Case

Author: Mark W. Falzini

Genre: Nonfiction

Rating: 4 stars

What’s it about: The Lindbergh kidnapping

How did you hear about it: Amazon

Photo: dailymail.co.uk
Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr./Photo: dailymail.co.uk

Exactly 84 years ago today, in the rural town of East Amwell, New Jersey, the most famous toddler in the world, Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr., was abducted from his second-floor nursery while his parents, Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow ate dinner downstairs. In the chaos that followed, with ransom demands from the kidnappers, a box with $50,000 was handed over to an unknown man in the shadows of a Bronx cemetery. All to no avail: The child’s body was discovered two months later just a few miles from the Lindbergh home. A ferocious hunt for justice ended with the sensational trial, conviction and execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann in New Jersey’s electric chair in 1936. Hauptmann refused all efforts for leniency in exchange for a confession, claiming innocence until the end.

Photo: clickamericana.com
Bruno Hauptmann/Photo: clickamericana.com

Book after book has been written about the case, but one book stands out for the simple reason the author doesn’t even try to second-guess the jury’s decision. In Their fifteen Minutes: Biographical Sketches of the Lindbergh Case, Mark W. Falzini offers short essays on 26 major and minor characters involved in the case. Writing in a simple style, Falzini provides biographical facts within the context of life in New Jersey and New York nearly a century ago, shaped by the Depression, Prohibition and immigration, both legal and illegal. The result is a poignant historiography of ordinary people hustling to make a living who are thrown by chance into their 15 minutes of fame.

While the subject matter is grim, the book’s style is anything but, with intermittent humor and impeccable research. Amid the profiles is a chapter on Hauptmann’s car, a dark blue 1930 Dodge with light blue striping and wire wheels, bought for $737 with an initial deposit of $25 cash and $2 credit.

There’s also a fascinating essay on the “Flemington Talesmen,” the four women and eight men who comprised the jury and were sequestered for 43 days and 42 nights in the Union Hotel across the street from the courthouse earning three dollars a day. The youngest juror was “Pretty Boy Bob,” a 28-year old unmarried schoolteacher, who held out for a non-guilty verdict until the final, fifth ballot. And then there was juror Ethel Morgan Stockton, nicknamed the “beauty in the box” who almost caused a mistrial when she smiled at Hauptmann as he took the witness stand to testify.

The Hauptmann trial jury/Photo: jimfisher.edinboro.edu
The Hauptmann trial jury/Photo: jimfisher.edinboro.edu

A rather sad essay profiles Violet Sharp, the English maid who worked for the Morrow household and killed herself by drinking silver polish barely two months after the baby disappeared. And then, of course, there are the experts, including xylotomist Arthur Koehler, who identified the wood of one rail of the kidnap ladder as coming from Hauptmann’s attic floor, arguably the most incriminating of the evidence.

Contributor: Kathleen Le Dain

Their Fifteen Minutes: Biographical Sketches of the Lindbergh Case was published in 2008 by iUniverse.


the aviator's picClick here to read about The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin, an excellent historical fiction about the Lindberghs.


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In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

In the Heart of the Sea
In the Heart of the Sea

by
Nathaniel Philbrick

Rating:
4 book marks

I had a general idea about what life as a whaleman was like in the 1800s. Things were a lot harder for everyone back then, so in my mind, I added the risk of being on a ship in the high seas and trying to harpoon a huge whale while standing in an open row boat.

That sounds hard enough, but after reading In the Heart of the Sea, by Nathaniel Philbrick, I came to understand that while whaling was a lucrative enterprise for the ship owners, captains and officers, it was also a seriously dangerous business for everyone on the ship. Nantucket whalers were out at sea for long periods of time, and once the whaling business had exhausted the local supply of sperm whales, ships had to sail all the way around South America and into the open Pacific to catch their whales.

In the Heart of the Sea is the true story of the whaleship Essex, a ship with a crew of twenty-one men. Its captain, George Pollard, was twenty-eight years old and this was his first time commanding a ship. His first and second mates were experienced sailors, but many of his crew were young and inexperienced, including Pollard’s young cabin boy, Thomas Nickerson, Pollard’s cousin, who was only fourteen when the ship set sail in 1819.

The ship was already battered by the time it made it around Cape Horn. But then it was attacked and sunk by an eighty-five foot sperm whale, whose nose is built like a battering ram. With only three remaining whaleboats and a limited supply of hardtack and fresh water, Captain Pollard and his crew salvaged what they could, rigged up some makeshift masts and sails, and did the best they could to aim towards land. But they were smack in the middle of the Pacific, in boats that were mostly meant for rowing.

What impressed me most about their situation was just how huge the Pacific Ocean really is. These men were thousands of miles away from South America and had limited knowledge of the few Pacific islands that dotted to the west. They had to sail wherever the prevailing wind took them or they drifted aimlessly when there was no wind, or they were blown wherever the storms sent them.

Only eight men survived and the shocking story of what these men suffered and did to survive is nearly beyond comprehension. They resisted traveling to islands to the west because they were afraid of natives and cannibalism. But in the end, Pollard and his surviving crew had to resort to the very same, at one point drawing lots to see who would become the next crewman to die and be eaten.

This is a story of extreme hardship and human challenge and it is both fascinating and appalling. Herman Melville was so taken by the whale in the story of the Essex, he was inspired to write Moby-Dick.

Philbrick conducted a tremendous amount of research for this book. He’s a terrific story-teller and you hardly notice that you’re actually reading a history book. There are lots of details about life on the predominantly Quaker island of Nantucket and about the valuable whale oil.

The most shocking part of the story is the account of cannibalism, and the fact that the men who died first were the black crewmen. They were already weaker because on the ship, they had more meager provisions than the rest of the crew. And although men were paid by rank, not color, the blacks were not treated well by ship captains and were quartered in the worst part of the ship. The reaction to all this back home was mixed. There was a degree of acceptance due to how severe the conditions were, and although Captain Pollard went on to command another ship, he spent most of his later years as the town watchman and was troubled by his experience.

It’s no surprise that In the Heart of the Sea has already been made into a movie by Ron Howard, starring Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker and Cillian Murphy. The movie will be in theaters in December 2015. Check out the book first and you’ll be ready!

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If you liked In the Heart of the Sea, you may also enjoy Mayflower.
Click here to read my review.

Mayflower pic

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

Mayflower picMayflower
by
Nathaniel Philbrick

Rating:
4 book marks

Do you think you know all about the Mayflower?  Check out Nathaniel Philbrick’s comprehensive and scholarly account that begins with Mayflower’s voyage in 1620 and ends with the conclusion of King Philip’s War in 1676. These 102 Separatists and Non-Separatists struggled to survive when they arrived in Plymouth and did anything they could to keep from starving or freezing to death.  Made up of printers and weavers and other tradesmen, women and children, they were woefully unprepared for the desperate conditions that killed nearly half of them in the first year.

I think Philbrick’s goal in this book is to dispel the comfortable myth of the harmonious relationship between settlers and Indians, happily sitting at a Thanksgiving table.  He tells a much more complicated story of the knotty relationships between the original settlers and their neighboring Indian tribes, who had their own dynamics and conflicts between tribal leaders to manage.

The obvious question is just how did it happen that all the Indians’ land was transferred over to the settlers?  An ultimately colossal problem and tragedy, it started with a small act, a trade that seemed fair at the time and was agreeable to both sides.  Subesquent trading of land for guns and other English goods also seemed fair to the Indians and the English and Philbrick works to explain how that trading system went terribly bad.

There are many players in this time period, most notably William Bradford, William Brewster, Captain Miles Standish, the Winslows, Massasoit and his sons Alexander and Philip, later known as King Philip.  I liked reading about the early political and strategic maneuvering between the English settlers and with the Indian tribes.  The period of relative peace during these early times was the most interesting to me because it showed the progress and development of communities.  Being an Easterner, I also liked thinking about what the land and shorelines were like in New England so many years ago.

Philbrick explains in great detail the events leading up to King Philip’s War and the horribly violent acts committed by both armies.  It was also interesting reading about the battles during this war, whose English leaders included Benjamin Church, Major William Bradford and James Cudworth.  There were many confusing alliances between the English and some “friendly” Indian tribes and there were also forced alliances between some Indian leaders, some of whom were women. Philbrick explains the many superior fighting strategies used by the Indians in the forests and swamps.  An ingenious Indian fort built in a Rhode Island swamp shows what shrewd fighters and defenders the Native Americans were during this time.

An excellent and informative read, with some political correctness, but who can blame the author?  I started out knowing the basic facts of how America began, and how the Indians taught the settlers how to grown corn and how to use fish as a fertilizer.  Now I know more and the story is a lot more complicated!

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Check out another interesting book by Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea.  Click here to read my review.
In the Heart of the Sea