Book Review – Bring Up the Bodies


Bring Up the Bodies
A Review by Wendy Jaensh

I loved Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall, so it was with great excitement, that I opened her new novel, Bring Up the Bodies.  By the second page I was completely confused since it wasn’t clear to me who “I” referred to:  Cromwell or Henry the VIII.  However, the writing was so beautiful that I kept reading and – within two chapters – my confusion was replaced with pleasure.

Bring Up the Bodies details the downfall of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, who was eventually convicted and beheaded under the direction of the King’s chief minister and confidant, Thomas Cromwell.  Writing from the perspective of Cromwell, Mantel does a wonderful job of using the Cromwell’s thoughts to build his character.

Much that is written about Cromwell argues that he was ruthless and self-involved, but this novel illustrates the author’s view of Cromwell’s internal dialogue. He still seems to be cold, but there is some thoughtfulness in his character, especially toward his son and his friend, Sir Thomas Wyatt, who was implicated in the plot of Anne’s supposedly treacherous sexual behavior.

Though I knew the queen’s accused lovers would eventually be put to death, the author does such a great job of sharing the emotional dialogue between Cromwell and the condemned men that I actually felt sympathy for the accused and found myself wishing they would be found innocent.

Hillary Mantel does an excellent job of bringing the sadness and horror of the 16th Century into the present. For a little while, I felt the terror they must have felt over 500 years ago because of the mastery of the author. What a great piece of historical fiction.

This book is available at The Rochester Public Library in traditional format, as well as on Audio CD and downloadable audio version.

Book Review – Shadow in Serenity

Shadow in Serenity
A Review by Kay Aune

Carney Sullivan is the daughter of professional con artists and grew up in a traveling carnival.  She learned and followed their criminal ways for 17 years, but had eloped with Abe Sullivan and settled in his hometown of Serenity, Texas.
Nine years have passed and Logan Brisco comes to town trying to gain economic support for the building of an amusement park.  Carney immediately recognizes Brisco’s con in the making and tries to get the town’s residents to protect themselves from him. If she fails, the very same people who have forgiven and accepted her back into their fold will lose their life savings!

This story is a great read, filled with suspense, learning, forgiveness, and loving.  It is available in the Rochester Public Library in traditional format and large print.

Book Review – “Flygirl”

A Review by Kathy Pestotnik

History is filled with moments that disrupt our lives and change the way we look at the world. Think Hurricane Katrina or September 11, 2001; or (if you’re old enough) the Challenger disaster or the Kennedy assassinations. Some historical novels center on events like these. The best ones, however, put these moments into the very personal context of their characters lives.

Flygirl, by Sherri L. Smith, begins in December, 1941. Ida Mae Jones is eighteen and old enough to make her dream of becoming a pilot come true. She grew up crop dusting with her daddy in Slidell, Louisiana.  She knows how to fly and she’s memorized all the manuals for her pilot’s license; but, since the death of her father, she cleans houses to help support her family. There are only two factors Ida Mae’s passion and determination can’t change: her sex and her race. That was the hard truth on December 6, 1941.

And then everything changed. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States entered World War II, and Ida Mae Jones made some hard choices. Altering her father’s pilot’s license was a risk. Trusting that her fair complexion and “easy” hair would be enough to allow her to pass for white was a dangerous gamble. Living with her choices was the hardest of all.

What I loved about this book was that it constantly challenged my assumptions and perspective. When I think of World War II, I think of the risks and sacrifices of those in the armed services. I think about their parents worrying and waiting for the next letter. I think about rationing, blackout curtains, and curfews. I think about women drawing lines up the back of their legs to camouflage the absence of stockings. Yet for Ida Mae, World War II presented an opportunity that could not have come to her any other way.

As I read I constantly worried that Ida Mae would accidentally walk into a Colored Only bathroom, or drink from the wrong fountain. Then it came to me. There were no colored people in the world Ida Mae stepped into. There had been no women. I’m sure there were no signs on the men’s room doors. They were all men’s rooms!

I also liked the ending. No spoiler, here. We all know World War II ended, and with it, the WASP program. I’ll just say that, to me, any other ending would have been hard to swallow. I promise, it will make you think.

So here’s to you, Ida Mae Jones, and to you, Sherri L. Smith! You had me all the way!

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in traditional format.

Book Review – “Doc”

A Review by Kathy Pestotnik

When I was a kid I used to watch a TV program called Wyatt Earp. The theme song was catchy and we sang it at the top of our lungs on the swings at recess. Wyatt Earp was a famous marshall of the Old West, which was sometime before World War II because my dad didn’t know much about it. I knew Wyatt Earp was quirky, because even though he was a good guy, he wore a black hat. And Hugh O’Brien, who played him, was plenty cute. Anyway, one of Wyatt’s sidekicks was Doc Holliday.

As you can plainly see, when I picked up Mary Doria Russell’s novel, Doc, I already had a wealth of knowledge on the subject of Doc Holliday. Or not. I didn’t know that John Henry (Doc) Holliday was born with a cleft lip and palate, and that his uncle and another surgeon repaired the lip when he was two months old…in 1851! Or that he was a Georgia boy, who grew into adolescence with an understandable disdain for Yankees.

Despite his cleft palate, he learned to speak elegantly, and not just in English, either. He was a talented classical pianist. He lost his mother to tuberculosis when he was 15, and his uncle (who took him in when his father remarried immediately) paid his way through a Northern dental school. Another young foster child in the family taught him to play cards. (This was a happy twist of fate, because a dental practice in Dodge City, Kansas, didn’t exactly bring home the bacon, or even the pork’n’beans).

Doc was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of 21, and treated his cough with liberal (and frequent) doses of bourbon, and his pain was self-treated with laudanum. I guess that’s why they called it the Wild West:  No Robitussin and no Advil!

Although Doc  is historical fiction, most of the characters are not.  Real or not, they are well-developed, believably flawed and humanly quirky. (If you don’t love Doc, the Earp brothers, China Joe, Eddie Foy and/or Father Alexander von Angensperg, see me after class.  I will eat my hat.)

The dialogue sparkles and made me laugh out loud more than once, so I wouldn’t read it on the bus if I were you. While I’m no expert on how much research a writer of historical fiction needs to do, Russell’s research was prodigious. I read the Author’s Note!  And I’m not even getting extra credit!

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in traditional format and for digital e-readers.

For more information on this book, you can follow this link and read an excerpt on the author’s website.

Book Review – Pretense

A Review by Kay Aune

Pretense, by Lori Wick, is a Contemporary Romance novel that covers the family dynamics of the Bishop sisters as they move from childhood into early adulthood.  Though their physical appearances are varied, their ties to each other are strong.  As the young women face the trials in the modern world, the strength of their unique talents will shine and show their equally unique natures.

In Pretense, we meet eight year old dark-haired, grey-green eyed Mackenzie (Micki) and her blond, blue-eyed, slightly younger sister, Delancey (D.J.) as the two girls and their parents face work, coupled with spiritual and emotional stresses.

Mackenzie is a strong athlete and a leader like her father.  She is thoughtful in nature, a book lover, and a story writer.  Delancey is emotional and beautiful, a gifted artist and into karate.  As the girls enter their teens and early twenties, we feel for them as they face many of the life situations of fun times, losses, togetherness, and emotionally distance.  Choices are made and some lead to heartache, and some to happiness.

This reader found herself crying, laughing out loud, and feeling very satisfied with this story.  Not religious, but full of basic Christian values.

This book is available in the Rochester Public Library in traditional format and large print.

Book Review – Florence of Arabia

Florence of Arabia
Review by Sam Hedrick, Guest Contributor

Florence Farfaletti had been sawing z-z-z-z’s when a casual acquaintence, Princess Nazrah, favorite wife of His Excellency Prince Bawad bin-Rumallah al-Hamooj, ambassordor of the oil rich Royal Kingdom of Wasabi found herself slobbering drunk, pursued by a Virginia State trooper at triple the speed limit, and surrounded by the airbags in one of her husband’s Cadillacs after plowing through the gate and a steel retainer of the George Bush Center for Intelligence in McLean, VA.  She was still deep in the Land of Nod when Princess Nazrah involked her name when, through a veil of runny mascara and tears, she asked for political asylum in the United States.  Be that as it may, as a mid-level minion in the State Department she was powerless to help her out of her fix.  Unfortunately, foreign relations being what they are, the price of oil and what not, Princess Nazrah found herself pumped full of valium, hustled back to Wasabi on the next royal jet, and eight inches shorter due to the strong arm and sharp sword of the royal executioner.

Stricken by her friend Nazrah’s death and her frustration at not being able to help her in her time of need, she fires off a passionate policy paper entitled “Female Emancipation As A Means Of Achieving Long-Term Political Stability In The Near East: An Operational Proposal.”  Although it it hits the bottom of the round file in her boss’ boss’ office in the State Department, it does catch the eye of some of the boys at Langely.  In short, her idea to establish a satellite television network for the women of Islam –  kind of an Oprah! Network for the burkah crowd –  catches the whim and fancy of the CIA.  Within hours she’s gotten clearance to fly to Mattar, Wasabi’s liberal neighbor, and an audience with Emir Gazzir Bin Haz – Gazzy to his friends.  Matar is very liberal by local standards.  A simple Hermes scarf to compliment the latest Parisian fashion is all that’s necessary in Matar to meet feminine modesty requirements.  It’s Florence’s job, in the guise of a big television producer, to pitch the network to Gazzy who, intelligence has told her, has a penchant for very high-class European call girls.  Florence convinces him that “A man who gives his wife an occupation creates himself an oasis” and wins his blessing as well as a meeting with his Oxford-educated, gorgeous, third and favorite wife, Sheika Laila.

Laila and Florence click, and their first offering –  an Oprah-esque talk show named “Cher Azade” –  is released. Soon households are filled with feminine laughter as their clever hostess, Farah, brings on guests like the “self-defense instructor who gave tips on how to cope with cranky, violent husbands and boyfriends during Ramadan.”  The show, the network, and the CIA operation are a smash hit.  The first Arab women’s network is born.

Great success is often hoped for but rarely predicted, so when the network becomes the toast of women across the Middle East, complete with lucrative advertising dollars to match, it would appear everyone’s goal has been achieved.  Not so quick.  No good deed goes unpunished, and when a video of an abducted Farah from neighboring Wasabi showing the hostess buried up to her neck in sand and pelted by small stones is delivered to the network, they realize they might have a problem.  Not only are Matar and Wasabi ideologically opposites but, as chronicled in “Let’s Put Iraq Here, and Lebanon Over Here: The Making of the Middle East,”  Matar was given the whole of Wasabi’s coastline by an arbitrary slash of Sir Winston Churchill’s pen.  Finally pushed to the limits of their fragile dignity, the Wasabi and their mullah’s lash out at the Matari heretics for corrupting the flower of Wasabi womanhood.  They enlist Gazzy’s jealous younger brother Maliq in an attempt to overthrow Gazzi, place Maliq on the Matari throne and return Matar back to Allah’s good graces… well as ceding Wasabi coastline and political power to Wasabi control.  All this puts Florence, Laila and a redneck CIA rogue-agent watchdog with ever-changing names and personas in a bad spot and, of course, the hijinks ensue.

Christopher Buckley, son of the conservative icon William F. Buckley,  has all of his father’s intelligence and an double helping of razor sharp wit and humor.  Florence of Arabia is a hilarious “what if” scenario that, as all the very best satire, has an undercurrent of truth and relevancy to current events.  The overall tone of the book is irreverent, clever, and very funny.  VERY timely.  Buckley, who also wrote Thank You For Smoking, has a penchant for taking on issues so plausible you can’t help but grin and nod your head while reading.  I often find myself CTMQ (Chuckling To Myself Quietly) whenever reading Buckley’s work.  In the margins though, is a more serious secondary theme.

Florence of Arabia was inspired by the work of Oklahoman Fern Holland, whom Buckley describes as a “real-life Florence of Arabia.” Holland was a 33-year-old lawyer who went to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.  On March 9, 2004, Holland was murdered for her work involving women’s rights. The rights of Florence have been purchased by actress Charlize Theron, with a film version due out in the near future.

I’ve read all of Buckley’s work I can put my hands on.  He’s insanely clever, caustic and an equal opportunity critic of anyone guilty of chronic stupidity.  For those who enjoy this book, I’d also highly recommend Supreme Courtship and No Way To Treat A First Lady, also by Christopher Buckley.  All of these titles are available at the Rochester Public Library.

Book Review – B is for Battle Cry

B is for Battle Cry
A review by Colleen Sallee, Guest Contributor and Gifted Education Specialist

When perusing through Patricia Bauer’s book, B is for Battle Cry, A Civil War Alphabet, the reader cannot help but be mesmerized by the intricate, captivating illustrations created by David Geister. However, Ms. Bauer quickly draws the reader in with her insightful presentation of detailed information relative to the Civil War. There are non-fictional anecdotes corresponding to each letter of the alphabet which engage the reader in discovering a plethora of information from diseases that plagued the soldiers, to the construction of ironclad ships, and the recognition of the significant roles that women assumed in this war.

B is for Battle Cry ia a successful collaborative effort between Patricia Bauer and her artist husband, David Geister.   While targeted for children, young and old alike will expand their knowledge of this historical time period by reading this masterfully created picture book.

This book is the Rochester Reads youth selection for 2012, and you are invited to join us on April 10th at 6:30 PM in the Library Auditorium to meet Patricia Bauer and David Geister as they present to our children this beautiful book on Civil War History.  Registration is not required, and parents are invited to remain with their children for this presentation.

Book Review – Citizen Vince

Citizen Vince
Jess Walter
by Sam Hedrick, Guest Contributor

To vote or not to vote- is this a question you’ve considered recently? With the election season in high gear, the nature of voting in our society takes on more immediate meaning. There are those who choose not to vote, dismissively assuming their single vote doesn’t matter. There are those who cast their votes for third-party candidates with little or no chance of succeeding as a protest against the “powers that be.”  Finally there are others who are so passionate about the process that they become intimately involved; ringing doorbells, making phone calls until late in the evening to marshal support, even losing friends in heated debates over the perceived qualities, or lack thereof, in the newest crop of candidates.

Jefferson said, “Those who don’t vote get the government they deserve.” The question put forth by Jess Walters in Citizen Vince is this:  would voting be more important to you if your voting rights – or responsibility to vote – was taken from you?

Vince Camden had never voted. Never really thought about it much. Most of his life had been consumed living on the streets of New Jersey, selling stolen credit cards purchased from crooked mailmen and just getting by. That was before he turned State’s evidence on his wise guy bosses, and the Witness Protection program hooked him up with a job at the “Donut Make You Hungry” shop in Spokane.  Late night poker games with lowlifes and hookers, his credit card sales and selling pot hidden in jelly jars full of commemorative Mt. St. Helen’s volcanic ash, make for what passes as a decent living. Looking over his shoulder takes up most of the time he has left. He’s popular and successful in his dysfunctional little circle of friends and associates; a big city fish in a small town pond.

It’s 1980, right in the middle of the Reagan/Carter election cycle, when he runs into what might be the love of his life. Well, love’s a pretty strong word. Certainly a better prospect than his neurotic ex-working girl squeeze. Kelly is blonde, gorgeous, classy; a donut shop regular who comes for coffee and two chapters of her latest novel on her morning break. Finding an opening, Vince breaks the ice by engaging her about their shared literary interests. After her initial aloofness, he finds she’s interested in politics, something he’s never really considered seriously, much less cast a ballot. Elections are rigged, voting is for suckers. Out of politeness as much as anything, Kelly invites Vince to a rally to hear Michael Reagan give a stump speech for his dad while throwing some support to Kelly’s lawyer boyfriend, who happens to be running for the state legislature. A desire to keep on Kelly’s radar finds Vince in an extended philosophical political discussion with Kelly’s lawyer friend, which in turn sparks a dawning interest in the election process.

Meanwhile, Vince’s past isn’t satisfied to simply stay buried. Old scores settle hard, and there are debts that have come due. Is it possible to actually forge a new future without shaking the past? Are there any second acts in an American life? Vince finds himself in a position that calls for hard choices that will have long-term implications and consequences that he may not be able to live with. He finds himself on the fence trying to decide whether to continue his reign as the “one-eyed king in the land of the blind”; or crawl into the daylight, searching for the promise of a better life that provides a chance to stand upright as a citizen, casting a vote that might free him from the moral ambiguity of his past. Is it possible to escape your past and redeem yourself to the point you can face a brave new future?

I liked this book for a variety of reasons. First, I was intrigued by the characters. Neon lights, half-lit alleys, all-night poker games and sporting women make for a colorful backdrop. Setting it in the recent past made it familiar and somewhat nostalgic at the same time. By using his criminality and the specter of his past catching up with him, Walter allows you to lead yourself into territory that is almost cliche, but then throws in the twist. His interest in the election, the perception that, while the candidates might be flawed, the process is vital take it in a new direction. Vince is forced to look on the things he thought he understood with fresh eyes, finding beauty and truth where he least expected it, as well as the dark decay below what seemed pristine at first glance. There’s plenty of intrigue and suspense to drive the story and keep the reader turning pages, but the subtext left me thinking about much bigger issues. To quote Franklin, “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

Citizen Vince is available at the Rochester Public Library in traditional format and audio CD.  For more information on this book, visit the author’s website by following this link.