Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Salt to the Sea by Ruta_Sepetys

Salt to the SeaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The title and cover of Salt to the Sea focus on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, so I guess talking about it doesn't count as a spoiler. It was, according to Wikipedia, “the deadliest maritime disaster in history.” I was surprised that such a major tragedy has gotten so little recognition in accounts of World War II. 9,400 people died, many of them children. I suppose the reason this disaster is not recalled as often as other catastrophes is due to the fact that these people were mostly German citizens and countries that lose wars don't get to write history.

The other historic event that plays a major role in the plot of Salt to the Sea is the looting of art by the Nazis. The book focuses on The Amber Room, a major collection of priceless art in, again according to Wikipedia, a “chamber decorated in amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors.” One of the book's major characters, Florian Beck, was working for Germany as an art expert. After discovering that he had been misled about the purpose of his work, he ran, taking with him a priceless swan, which was Hitler's favorite.

Despite the fascinating historic events Ruta Sepetys included in her novel, its greatest strength is the relationships of the characters. Florian encounters, Emilia Stożeka, a young Polish girl who is trying to escape the advancing Russians by making her way west. Emilia follows Florian and they soon encounter a group of refugees also trying to escape the Russians. Florian is on the run, so he's trying his best not to make friendships that might tie him down, but he finds it impossible not to like and respect most of the people he's traveling with. His relationships with Emilia and with Joana Vilkaitė are the most interesting, but the "shoe poet" is also a great character.

Salt to the Sea is from the perspective of innocent civilians caught in a defeated country. Since the plot is about desperate people running for their lives, there's plenty of tension and action. This makes for an exciting read. Another of my favorites about this time period is Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Friday, November 17, 2017

A Pyrrhic Victory: Volume II, Destiny Unfolds by Ian Crouch

A Pyrrhic Victory: Volume II, Destiny UnfoldsA Pyrrhic Victory: Volume II, Destiny Unfolds by Ian Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Pyrrhic Victory: Volume II, Destiny Unfolds is the second book in a series. I haven't read the first, but it stands well on its own. I chose it because it won a (2017) CIPA EVVY Merit Award in historical fiction. My own book, Hopatcong Vision Quest was also a winner, so I decided to read the others in my category. So far the books have been wonderful and this one continues the trend.

Destiny Unfolds is about the historic role of Pyrrhus, who lived from 318 to 272 BC and rose up to become the King of Epirus, an ancient Greek State, which is now a region shared by Albania and Greece. Although the plot is more about political and military decisions than about character relationships, there are many fascinating aspects to the way the characters treat each other. The advisers and friends around Pyrrhus treat him deferentially, which makes sense given what a powerful man he was. The battlefield opponents treat each other with honor and respect when the fighting is on hold, sometimes to an extent that seems absurd. Even the sexual/romantic relationships of Pyrrhus are decided through politics.

Ian Crouch creates a feeling for the priorities of the powerful in ancient Greece by showing their love of fighting and their rigid definition of honor. He shows us the nature of Pyrrhus by taking us into his method of planning his battles and his reaction to his successes. This is a wonderful book for people who enjoy carefully researched stories of ancient military conquests.

Steve Lindahl author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James

An Inquiry Into Love and DeathAn Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James is a good read, especially around Halloween. It's a ghost story with a little romance rolled in. Jillian Leigh is an Oxford student in 1920's England when women were just beginning to attend the school. She has to leave her studies to identify the body of her Uncle Toby. Toby was a ghost hunter. He is one of the most interesting characters in the book, especially considering he only appears through memories and notes left behind.

Jillian's parents are busy with their own lives, so it falls to her to go to Rothwell, a town in Northamptonshire, England where her uncle had been searching for ghosts. One of those ghosts was Walking John, a famous local spirit haunting the woods near Blood Moon Bay. While in Rothwell, Uncle Toby fell off a cliff, which is how he died.

Jillian stays at the house her uncle had been renting because she needs to collect his belongings and, also, because the rent has been paid through the end of the month. But there's a reason a ghost hunter would choose to live in Barrow House and Jillian soon discovers the reason.

I loved the setting of An Inquiry Into Love and Death. The story takes place in post World War I, rural England. All of the characters have been affected in some way by the horrible events they've lived through. Some have come out stronger, some damaged, but all are changed. I also enjoyed the romance between Jillian and Drew Merriken, a Scotland Yard inspector in the area investigating Uncle Toby's death. The were both strong characters with their own interests and responsibilities. The one aspect of the plot I did not like was the relationship between Jillian and her parents. Their actions didn't seem believable, especially late in the book when some secrets began to be revealed.

Overall, this is a good ghost story with lots of tension and strong characters.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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