Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Boy on the Wooden Box

Wow.  Just wow. This is the true story of Leon Leyson, a young man whose family lost almost everything in Poland during the Holocaust, yet made it through alive thanks to Oskar Schindler and his famous list. This is a story of the survival of humans through the generosity of those who seem least likely to offer it, and it is a story of bold chances taken and grateful, hopeful people. 

From the first words, Leon draws us into his story of life as a young boy in Krakow, and how that life changed as the Nazis invaded; how his family managed to stay together (mostly) for the duration of the war, and how he was reduced to digging through garbage for food and lying to soldiers to stay alive. But it is a fortuitous meeting of Leon's father with Schindler that ultimately keeps Leon's family alive; one by one they are taken from their camp and brought to work in Schindler's factory. The fact that young Leon, small in body from his years of starvation, was taken into Schindler's group attests to the good this one man was able to do right under the noses of the Nazis hungering for death for all Jews. Leon is mindful of his good fortune but doesn't shy away from the hard, brutal details of life in the Krakow ghetto and the internment camp. The fact that many times it all might have gone even more horribly wrong than it already had is proof of the triumph of spirit, and it is beautiful.

Leon Leyson was a gifted storyteller, and his story is one that will capture you, enlighten you, and uplift you. This is a look at Schindler's List from one of the workers who was saved, and it's a story that we need to know.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Sad Tale of Typhoid Mary

We've probably all heard someone use the term "Typhoid Mary", but many of us likely don't know the truth behind the words. Typhoid Mary was a real person, a cook in the early 1900s, who was accused of spreading typhoid to many through her skills as a cook; she was tracked down, harassed, and imprisoned until the end of her life, though others with similar issues were allowed to remain free. Susan Campbell Bartoletti brings the story of Mary Mallon to life in her children's book on the subject.

I've read a bit about Mary Mallon in the past, and I have to say that Bartoletti's story is well researched and well written; the author doesn't shy away from the more upsetting facts (Mary was demanded to give all sorts of bodily samples, even being locked away in a room until she could no longer wait) and she gives us as much background on the situation as is known. It's very clear that Mary was oppressed by those who should have been in the business of helping her, including the New York Department of Health, and it's also clear that Mary wasn't going down without a fight. Bartoletti provides a balanced view of a horrible situation, with an objective hindsight that gives the reader a sense of the times and a feeling for Mary's personality and circumstances. Well done.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Rat Pack Mystery...Again!

Before I go any further, I have to admit that I absolutely adore the Rat Pack Mysteries: They sweep me away into the Vegas era of the 1960s, with the Rat Pack and various mobsters front and center.  And Eddie G.! What a guy. Okay, I'm done now.

This installment features Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra's ex-wife. Somehow, Ava turns up after a 40 hour drunken binge, covered in blood with somebody dead. She goes to Frank, but since he's with his children, she tries to quietly slip out of town, but since she's Ava Gardner, that doesn't go quite as planned. Of course our Eddie G is called in to find out what's going on, so he tracks her down in LA, only to find himself in danger now as well. Enter our friend Jerry Epstein, always ready to protect and eat, and soon the trio is traveling around looking for places to hide Ava from whomever is following her while Eddie tries to find out what took place in those missing hours.

This is standard fare for our hero, Eddie, and his pals, and throw in appearances from Frank, Dino, and Sammy, and you've got the perfect mix for a mystery. Randisi name-drops with the best of them, and it's easy to envision strolling through a Beverly Hills Hotel and encountering all the performers of the 60s. The mystery itself develops nicely and involves all our favorites with a couple of interesting surprises thrown in. Definitely another winning entry in this series that has me fully engaged.


A Little Bit of Nightfall

Fourteen years of Day, followed by fourteen years of Night...that's how the inhabitants of Martin's Island have lived for ages. They stay on the island in homes built by someone else, for fourteen years of Day, but as twilight falls, they prepare to leave to travel to the Desert Lands to live. Before they leave, however, they must go through some rather odd preparations, including "leaving the houses without stain." No one questions it; it's just what they do.

Marin and her twin Kana have lived their entire lives on Martin's Island, knowing they would leave at the next Nightfall. Kana's always been slight and blind, but with the oncoming Night, his vision begins to clear and he can feel himself  growing stronger. As they prepare to leave on the few boats coming to take them away, their friend Line disappears, in danger of being left behind. The twins set out on a search and rescue that ultimately leads to all three missing the boats...and being left alone. It doesn't take long for them to realize that something is out there, and something does not want them on their island.

This book has a great premise, and at times is very creepy indeed, especially when the teens are left behind and it becomes increasingly obvious that something is stalking them--and there's no waiting for daylight for things to get better. While I enjoyed it overall, I was left with some big questions, including....spoilers've been warned....what precisely the things are, where they came from, and why anyone would want to live on an island for fourteen years, just to move back and forth as the world changes. I didn't like what was going on with Kana, and found that no matter what, he was the least likable of the three. In fact, none of the teens were particularly engaging. I also felt there were too many coincidences that made things right; these youngsters were remarkably lucky throughout, even though they'd somehow managed to get themselves left behind. Mostly however, my biggest issue is the rather simplistic writing style. This is not a book older teens will get lost inside; sentences like "Line was very sick" seemed out of place and juvenile.

If there is a sequel to this book--and the jury is still out, based on the ending--I'm not positive I'd read it. Though I liked the general plot and the premise, there was just something vital missing in the execution and style of writing that kept me from feeling fully engaged. It's not a bad book, but it's not one I'd feel comfortable recommending to anyone over age fourteen or so. I really wish I'd like the main characters more, but it is what it is.


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Fairest (The Lunar Chronicles)

Having finished Fairest, a novella of the Lunar Chronicles, I do feel as though I have more insight into Lunar Queen Levana's behavior as we see it in the other books. Fairest follows her from the time she's sixteen and has just lost her parents to assassins; her sister Channary has been named queen. That's less problematic to Levana than the fact that her crush, palace guard Evret Hayle, is married and unavailable. When his wife dies, Levana uses her gifts to ensnare him, but obviously that's not the way to make a happy relationship. The relationship between the two is the main focus of Fairest; the way Levana chooses to ensure that she becomes queen and remains that way is the second, lesser sub-plot. In a short novel, it's easy to see where the plot is going but it's the insight into Levana's thoughts that make this more than just a throwaway story.

All that said, I really wasn't all that thrilled with Fairest. Levana is, of course, the villain in the Lunar Chronicles, but her own self-delusion is really pitiful and her mistreatment of others places her on the same level as the sister she dislikes. I'm aware that I'm not supposed to like her (and I don't) but there was almost a time when I felt sorry for her. It seems whatever she wants, she cannot have, and she takes all this out on the situations and people around her. By the time I was done with the book, I definitely wanted to see her destroyed, not just redeemed (not that I think that's possible). This is a fast read, but not really one that made me think, "Wow, so there's a whole, well-rounded backstory to Levana." I wish it had given me a more multi-dimensional feeling for Levana, because that would certainly have made for a conflicted, exciting next installment.  Instead, it simply reinforces my low opinion and makes me ready to get to Winter...which, I suppose, was the author's intent all along.