The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin
I picked this up because we loved Sheinkin’s Bomb, and I wasn’t disappointed. Sheinkin poured through recorded oral histories and court documents to compile the story of 50 convicted mutineers who were some of our country’s first civil rights pioneers. Yet another piece of US history I didn’t learn in school, but Sheinkin’s book is fully accessible from middle grade readers up, and a is quick read. Highly recommended.
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
Countdown is the story of Franny Clapman, an eleven year-old in Maryland in October, 1962. She likes reading, headbands, and mysteries. She does not like bomb drills, not knowing what her older sister is up to, or how her best friend is treating her. I liked Franny’s voice, and I kept turning pages on this one long after I should have been asleep. It’s full of photographs and ad clips from 1962, which appeal to my daughter who is also reading the book. I loved Countdown’s vivid portrayal of the Cuban Missile Crisis as a part of Franny’s life, but I’m pretty sure my daughter won’t notice she’s reading history. She’ll just want to know what happens to Franny next. Highly recommended.
Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus by David Quammen
This slim book is excerpted from Quammen’s work Spillover and updated to include some of the preliminary information about the current outbreak of Ebola virus in west Africa. I’ve been fascinated (and horrified) by Ebola since hearing about it in medical school, and Quammen’s history of it here is clear, concise and riveting. Recommended.
Grandad, there’s a head on the Beach by Colin Cotterill
I really like Cotterill’s Dr. Siri mysteries, so I gave the Jimm Juree series a try. Jimm is a Thai journalist with a wacky family, and because of them, Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach reads very much like a cozy at a second-rate Thai motel. The mystery turned out to hinge on an issue very close to my heart, and between gags, Cotterrill tells some truth. Recommended.
The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter
The book is a carefully crafted account of the effort to save the cultural record of Europe as the Allies liberated Europe from Hitler. The first part of the book describes some of the key players in the fight and how they were uniquely skilled for the work. The second two-thirds of the book paints the recovery of the artwork and the effort to save the cathedrals that both sides were ready to destroy. Hitler’s Nero policy, which was a grown-up version of a two year-old’s “if I can’t have it, neither can they”, shocked me.
We see similar destruction going on right now under ISIS in Iraq, and in Syria. Millenia-old buildings, art and documents are being intentionally destroyed by ISIS as they take control. The war in Syria has demolished entire cities. The question posed by The Monuments Men- is saving a work of art worth the price of a life?- is worth asking, and this book poses it well. Recommended.
(P.S. The movie is worth watching as well. Here is a link to the plugged in review of it. And Google has a virtual exhibit on the recovery of art in WWII, link here.)
Connie Willis’s Blackout and All Clear
(For longer reviews of these books, click on their titles above.)
I am a fan of re-reading. I don’t re-read every book, but those I love I revisit. Without fail, I always see new things I didn’t see before. In fact, one of the times I heard Ms. Willis in person, she recommended reading Agatha Christie books twice through back-to-back: the first time to see what she does, and the second to see how she does it. These two books (one story, published in two volumes) are masterpieces of puzzle-making. The three main characters are historians at Oxford University in 2060, where they use time travel for their historical research. Except while each of the historians in is WWII, the time-travel net breaks down and they’re trapped. Highly recommended. But learn from my mistake. Make sure you have access to All Clear before you finish Blackout. Just sayin’. Highly recommended.
King Lear by William Shakespeare
Halfway through my reading, I realized that I had never read (or seen) this play before. The names were familiar, but that was about it. The whole time, I couldn’t decide if Lear had dementia or was just so used to the sycophancy that surrounded him as king that his expectations had become ridiculous. I suppose that was one of Shakespeare’s points.
Every time I read Shakespeare, I realize how bare the script is. It’s just dialogue, [Enter] and [Exeunt]. There aren’t liner notes full of the psychology of the characters. Because of that, each character is open to interpretation, which is so true to life. I can only infer meaning from the actions of those around me. Thank goodness I’m not an egotistical king with a kingdom to dispose of.
For more Quick Lit, check out Mrs. Darcy.