Thursday, October 20, 2016

American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin

If you were old enough to hear a news broadcast in 1974, undoubtedly you are familiar with the bizarre saga of Patty Hearst.  Her kidnapping by a small group of so-called revolutionaries known as the Symbionese Liberation Army dominated the airwaves for months back then, during which time she topped the FBI's Most Wanted list.

An unlikely radical, Patricia Hearst was born into wealth and privilege, the granddaughter of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst.  In the early weeks of her captivity, she apparently became sufficiently indoctrinated by the SLA to participate willingly in car thefts, bombings, and bank robberies, one of which involved a murder.  Six SLA members died in a horrific shoot-out with police and FBI not long after her abduction, but Patty herself and a few other survivors eluded authorities for almost a year and a half.

Much has already been written on this topic, but author Toobin revisits the story with fresh detail.  His research includes extensive legal files he purchased from surviving SLA member Bill Harris after Harris' release from prison.  Toobin asserts that public perception of Patty's guilt or innocence was influenced by other world events at the time.  The case was and still is considered an example of how money and connections can result in lighter criminal sentences, and experts still disagree as to whether she was brainwashed or if she obeyed her captors out of fear for her life, as she claimed.

The incredible account of her ordeal is no less fascinating now 40 years later.  I very much enjoyed this well-researched book about a tumultuous time in America's history.  I predict you will, too.  ~Margie

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware had a hit suspense thriller with her previous book, In a Dark, Dark Wood. Her new book, The Woman in Cabin 10, proves she has mastered the art. Travel journalist Laura “Lo” Blackstock, has landed a plum assignment out of the blue, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Tension with her boyfriend at home means Lo is happy to join the maiden voyage of an exclusive cruise ship. The ship is designed to cater to the whims of the rich and famous, with fabulous luxuries for its limited numbers of passengers. The cruise is hosted by the ship’s owner, a fabled businessman, along with his enigmatic heiress wife. As the voyage gets underway, Lo knocks on the next cabin’s door, borrowing a forgotten item from the woman there. Late that night, she hears a heavy splash, and moving to her balcony, thinks she sees something slipping under the waves. Leaning over to look, Lo glimpses something that looks like blood on the railing of the next balcony. Surely something awful has happened to the woman. But when she alerts the ship’s security officer, he tells her that the cabin was unoccupied. And none of the passengers or crew are missing. Perhaps she was dreaming vividly after all the drinks at dinner? And perhaps those drinks didn’t mix well with that medication on her counter? And hadn’t she experienced a recent burglary at home? Lo knows she saw what she saw, but there’s no evidence to support it. And now she’s getting threats. The ship is out in the North Sea, far from any cell tower, and the ship’s own internet access is not working, so there’s nobody else she can report this to.

The Woman in Cabin 10 builds tension relentlessly. Ware has a gift for developing the ominous and claustrophobic atmosphere. The book invites comparison to The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, and there are many obvious points of similarity, but the mystery really has more of an Agatha Christie feel, with the cast of characters isolated on the high seas, nowhere for Lo to run, and communications cut off from the rest of the world. This is a book that leave you breathless as you race to the finish.  -DeeAnn

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Trumpet of the Swan, by E. B. White

Most of us heard Charlotte's Web read aloud in first or second grade.The older among us read Stuart Little back when "debonair" described a virtue. Fewer of us read E. B. White's third great children's novel, The Trumpet of the Swan. That's a pity because a Billings, Montana, music store plays a central role, as does the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge up in southwest Montana. 

A New Yorker stylist, White loved the intimations of English. He taught me that a male swan is a cob, and an avuncular, solemn cob fond of highfalutin language, at that. He also taught that innocence is a virtue which we all overcome. 

Not many trumpeter swans existed in the 1930s, when they had been shot for decades. They are the largest waterfowl, weighing 25 pounds or so, with 8-foot wingspans. White didn't get to writing about them until 1970, when their numbers were up at Red Rock Lakes and he was confronting his own mortality. White had co-authored the venerable Elements of Style which taught writers to Show, not Tell; and to Omit Needless Words. 

His language in The Trumpet of the Swan sings with that elan. He mocks solemnity. He also conflates trumpeter swans with their near relatives, mute swans, as his hero is born voiceless. Louis overcomes this disadvantage with a slate and chalk, his mutually adoring family, and a trumpet with which to woo. Born in remote Canada, where "to get lost is no laughing matter," Louis eventually solos with the Philadelphia Orchestra but returns to raise his children at Red Rock Lakes. Although thrice in the last pages, White asks "what does 'crepuscular' mean?", he also affirms that we live a good life.  --Jon

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Listen on CD to E. B. White read his own book.
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Friday, September 30, 2016

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Montana native Emily M. Danforth's Miseducation of Cameron Post was a YA blockbuster after its release in 2012, and was a critical hit as well. The book won both the High Plains Book Award and the Montana Book Award. It was a finalist for the Morris Award for a YA debut novel. It was named to best book of the year lists by Amazon, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal.

Cameron Post is a young girl living in Miles City, Montana. Her parents have been killed in a car wreck, just as she is dealing with confusion and guilt because she just kissed her best friend. Like any adolescent with a secret, her greatest fear is that somehow, somebody will know. And maybe this caused the wreck. At least her parents will never know. Now Cameron is under the guardianship of her grandmother and her very strong-willed aunt. Her Aunt Ruth was always a religious woman, but is becoming increasingly rigid with the teachings of her new church. When she inevitably discovers Cameron's secret, the girl is sent off to a special ultraconservative religious camp, one that will show her the error of her ways.

Cameron's story is one of coming of age. She may like girls, but ultimately her story is similar to any teen's. She is desperate for acceptance and love from her family and her community, and needs to find a way to discover the woman she is going to be.

The book was most prominently banned by a school district in Delaware, citing objections to profanity in the book and removing it from a summer reading list for high school students. When protesters noted that many of the other books on the list also contained profanity and had raised no objections, the board indicated that the book would be reinstated to the list, but instead it chose to eliminate the list altogether.

This is a wonderfully well-written book, and though a hefty one, it's a quick read.  Danforth shows sympathy for the points of view of all the characters, without denying them their worldviews. I recommend this book for anyone who has longed for acceptance.  -DeeAnn

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The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings is an epic high-fantasy novel written by English author J. R. R. Tolkien. Written in stages between 1937 and 1949, it is one of the best-selling novels ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.  The title of the novel refers to the story's main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron, who had in an earlier age created the One Ring to rule the other rings of power as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer and rule all of Middle-Earth. From quiet beginnings in the Shire, a hobbit land not unlike the English countryside, the story ranges across Middle-Earth, following the course of the War of the Ring through the eyes of its characters, not only the hobbits Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took, but also the hobbits' chief allies and traveling companions: Aragorn, a Ranger of the North; Boromir, a Captain of Gondor; along with Gimli, a Dwarven warrior; Legolas Greenleaf, an Elven prince; and Gandalf, a Wizard. (Summary modified from

My review: I adore this trilogy.  All three books, Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, are fabulous, both both really great reads and impressive recountings of fables. I tend to fall into the trilogy on a regular basis – I can’t start reading one without going back to the beginning and reading the whole thing over again, including the appendices at the end of Return of the King that give a lot of the backstory and additional details about the time of the quest itself.     Tolkien’s characters come alive from the first page, setting the stage with the great birthday party (I always wanted a birthday party like Bilbo’s, only I don’t have that many relatives, and I really don’t want any relatives like the Sackville-Bagginses!), to the last page, when Sam comes home to settle down contentedly with his wife and children. Everything needed for a good story is here someplace – engaging characters, evil to be overcome, hardships, parties, a cool horse, truly nasty bad guys, kings lost and found, princesses, elves, catharsis, and the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

These are such good stories...I keep gushing without saying anything about the plot, but who doesn’t know the plot already? Tolkien basically invented epic high fantasy, with LOTR and The Hobbit being the archetypes of the genre.  Frodo and his companions are on a classic quest, and it’s this trilogy that MADE this sort of quest a classic in the first place.  No one who reads modern fantasy can escape Tolkien’s influence, whether they know it or not.  Someone wanted LOTR banned because it was satanic – all I can think is that they didn’t really read the books, because that’s just nuts.  -Lynne

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison. (Taken from 

Exploring themes of humanity, love, and despair in raw images and language that will stay with the reader long after the final page, Beloved is a nightmarish ride through the depravities of slavery. A stirring work of art that remains prescient today as our Nation struggles with race relations, cultural identity, and forgiveness. In a way, Beloved could easily be given the moniker: Greatest American Horror Novel for its perfect exemplification of one of the most profoundly devastating periods of American history. –Gavin 

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Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tess of the D'Urbervilles was my accidental introduction into literature when I was 14.  Cruising through my school's spinner rack of paperbacks, it caught my eye and my love of literary tragedies was born.  Little did I realize that this book had been and would again become banned from both England and the United States.  The year I discovered it was 1970, and I'm pretty sure Tess was in many high schools through out the States at that time.   The incredible story of this English girl's life still remains on my list of top-ten favorite books forty-five years later.  I owned six copies, but felt I should share, so gave two away this year.

This is a story of a girl who is a pawn of every man she meets, from her father to men of great wealth and distinction.  In the 1890's, when Hardy was working on the novel, women were often used as maids, slaves, and objects of lust, passed on if any form of indiscretion was made known to neighbors.  Tess is seen as a seductress and murderess when she was actually raped and thrown out as so much dirty water.

I encourage everyone to read this book and learn more about another amazing banned book.  -Karen

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