Review: A Lady in the Smoke

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Review: A Lady in the Smoke

Author: Karen Odden

Format: audiobook

Setting: 1874 England

Themes: love, family, medicine, addiction, revenge, politics, law

Lady Elizabeth Fraser and her mother are returning home after a miserable London Season only to be involved in a train wreck. Elizabeth has a minor concussion and her mother’s ankle is sprained, but she can’t manage anything without Elizabeth’s help. Only handsome Dr. Wilcox is able to provide the care her mother needs. Elizabeth is drawn to the young man, but such a match would never be permitted by Society. Elizabeth knows this, but her heart refuses to listen. She’s drawn into Dr. Wilcox’s life, his crusade for safer railway conditions, and the bitter struggle against his powerful enemies.

I found this one while browsing the titles my library had available for online audiobooks, and I have to say I was hooked. I love a good historical mystery and this one was very promising. Victorian setting, star-crossed lovers, class struggles, and a new author, it was lots of fun. Definitely recommended.

 

Review: Animal Farm

PrintTitle: Animal Farm

Author: George Orwell

I’m really having a hard time writing a review on this book. Pigs. Communism. Stalin. Heavy stuff, even in a barnyard allegory. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s much easier to read that you would expect. BTW, capitalism isn’t all bread and roses either. Neither is socialism. In fact, a lot of isms just basically stink.

Wow, what a downer. But I still think you should read this book.

Book Review: City of Scoundrels

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Title: City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster that Gave Birth to Modern Chicago

Author: Gary Krist

Setting: Chicago, Illinois, July 1919

Themes: Race, Politics, Labor Relations, Crime

My parents moved to Chicago after I graduated, but I would visit them during my summer break from college. It was a great place to be single. The food, the energy, the shopping, the cultural events, and most of all, the people – I loved it. It’s still one of my favorite cities in the world.

So this book really caught my eye. I have read about New York’s history, and about New Orleans, but I didn’t know much about Chicago. This was an eye opener. So many historic Chicago figures are in here. And like the title promises, the events in this brief period really did affect the shape of the city for years to come. The roots of racial tension, of political corruption, of the rise of Al Capone – it’s all here.

The action starts with the first documented air disaster when a hydrogen-filled dirigible crashes into a bank. Yeah, who saw that one coming? But that’s only the beginning. Mayor “Big Bill” Thompson soon has to deal with broiling racial tensions, a looming transit strike, and the widely publicized disappearance of a little girl. By themselves, none of these incidents would have been that difficult to resolve. But with them all occurring in a two week period, the problems just built on one another until there were riots in the streets and hundreds left dead. The press didn’t make matters better, by whitewashing the whole the thing and inflaming the crowds.

I would definitely recommend it if you love Chicago, or if you are interested in politics or 20th century racial tensions. I liked the pictures that were included, as well as the map. They really helped set the scene. Toward the end of the book, I felt a little overwhelmed by so many names to keep track of, but it was worth my time.

 

Anti-Establishment Books

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This is a hard week. This blog is not centered around politics, but around books; and yet I feel I have to address what’s going on in my country right now. I’m deeply worried about the future of our nation, about the racial hatred, the silencing of press, and the religious intolerance that’s going on right now.

But I’m not a political analyst; I’m a book critic. So while I can contact my elected representatives (and I have), when I’m frustrated or depressed or in need of some inspiration, I turn to books. Here’s a few I found helpful that I want to share.

1. Animal Farm by George Orwell

Orwell didn’t ever go for the easy, happy ending – he went straight for the gut. Want to see how bad it could get? Here you go. I know a lot of folks read this in school, but it’s time to pull it out again, and instead of inserting famous Communists, stick some current political figures in there. Some pigs is more equal than others, he says. Sound familiar?

2. Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson

Yeah, Jefferson was a lying hypocrite. But dude could write. This one is in here mainly to remind us that dissent is a central part of our nation’s history. The Boston tea party was not an actual tea party, remember? It involved destruction of property, threats of violence, trespassing. It was a crime. But it is remembered today as a bunch of dudes in culturally inappropriate dress perpetrating a prank. Don’t be fooled into thinking that we’re the only ones whining about politics – our country started as an act of treason.

3. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

This book is a reminder that dissent can have consequences. Corrie’s family living in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam and hid a Jewish family in their attic. When they were caught, they were all sent to the concentration camps. Corrie’s beloved sister died there. But Corrie clung on, and when she was liberated she spend her WHOLE LIFE preaching forgiveness. It’s amazing. But it’s a true story.

4. The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

The previous books are written for adults, although I think a teen could enjoy any of them. But this one is written for teens. Holling is the only one in his class who doesn’t go to the religion class, so he winds up studying Shakespeare with his teacher. In the meantime, his sister is embracing the Counterculture revolution of the 60s, his dad is impossible, and the Vietnam War is raging. How Holling decides where he stands will have you feeling inspired, and we could use that right now.

5. Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation by John Carlin

This book is not perfect, but what I loved about it what the way it showed two very different groups coming together to unite their country. Nelson Mandela is a 20th century giant of resistance, and he’s shown at his best in this book. There was also a LOT of rugby, South African politics that I didn’t understand, and names I didn’t know. But it was powerful. Even better (and I’m sorry, but it’s true), check out the movie with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. It will make you stand up and cheer.

I hope these books will motivate you to keep resisting. Make a call to your senator. Send an actual letter. Join a protest group. Donate to a good cause. Do something.