Feb 8, 2013

Book Review: The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

Title: The Aviator's Wife: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin
Published January 15, 2013; Delacorte Press
Genre: historical fiction
Rating: 5/5

About the book: an historical novel about the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife and copilot, Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
"Certainly, despite his accomplishments, his busy schedule, Charles was never content.  The other morning, I happened to glimpse him as he left for work.... And I felt uneasy watching him leave, wondering for the first time, if today was the day he would decide to jump into a plane and fly away from me for good."(ch. 9, Advance Reader's Edition). 
The novel portrays Anne Morrow Lindbergh as a woman who willingly came second to her husband, the famous aviator who gained fame when he flew solo from New York to Paris on the now famous monoplane, The Spirit of St. Louis, in May 1927.  Charles carefully molded her life after their marriage, and made her into an aviatrix who became his copilot on numerous subsequent flights. He even insisted she leave her infant son Charlie to accompany him on a six month flying trip around the world, a compromise she reluctantly made.

Things changed for the famous couple after the kidnapping and murder of their first son. The couple moved to England to avoid the scrutiny of the press and the country, and Charles demanded that Anne never speak about the baby Charlie, not even to the five children they had afterwards.

Charles Lindberg is portrayed in the book as driven - a perfectionist, an almost obsessive compulsive man, in my thinking. With an eye always to the future, he hardly had time to spend with his children as they were growing up, leaving it up to Anne as he flew around the world in many capacities including being a flying consultant. Anne is seen as a woman searching for herself while raising her children alone. Charles encouraged her to write, which she did, and she helped him polish his memoir of his famous first flight, The Spirit of St. Louis, a book which won him a Pulitzer Prize and which was also made into a popular film. She also wrote her now famous book, Gift from the Sea.

When does a hero stop being a hero, the book made me wonder. The novel goes into the controversial wartime period when Charles's speeches seemed to support Hitler and the Nazis. He redeemed himself after the war, and became once again busy, being asked by the likes of Henry Ford and Pan Am to lend them his technical expertise. But this book is about Anne Morrow Lindberg, how she saw her life with Charles Lindbergh, the kidnapping of their son, her up and down life with her famous husband, and how she finally came into her own, toward the end of Charles's life.

The historical details are there in the book, but the feelings of Anne Morrow Lindbergh are a portrayal based on her diaries, letters, and books. Anne comes across as a very real person that you get to know intimately in the book. I think this novel is a stunning achievement as historical fiction. I recommend it for those interested in the Lindberghs and in American historical fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for an Advance Reader's Edition of this book. 

Feb 6, 2013

Author Khanh Ha, guest post

Welcome to Khanh Ha, author of the historical novel Flesh (Black Heron Press, 2012) set in early 20th century Vietnam. He gives us the background and inspiration for his book and the family history that impels this story.  He also discusses his upcoming and second novel.

The Ideas and Inspiration Behind It
by Khanh Ha
Flesh, is set in Tonkin (now northern Vietnam) at the turn of the 20th century. It tells the story of a sixteen-year-old boy who witnesses the execution, by beheading of his father, a notorious bandit and sets out to recover his father’s head, and then finds the man who betrayed his father to the authorities.

A coming-of-age story of brutal self-awakening and also a tender love story, takes the reader into places, both dark and wonderful, in the human condition where allies are not always your friends, true love hurts, and your worst enemy can bring you the most solace. As its author, I was asked what inspired me to write about this specific subject.

There was an image formed in my mind after I read a book called War and Peace in Hanoi and Tonkin, which was written by a French military doctor. In one chapter he depicted an execution by capital punishment. The scene took place on a wasteland outside Hanoi. This bandit was beheaded for his crime while the onlookers, some being his relatives with children, watched in muted fascination and horror. While reading it, I imagined a boy—his son—was witnessing the decapitation of his father by the hand of the executioner. I pictured him and his mother as they collected the body without the head which the government would display at the entrance of the village his father had looted. I thought what if the boy later set out to steal the head so he could give his father an honorable burial. What if he got his hand on the executioner’s sabre and used it to kill the man who betrayed his father for a large bounty. However, it really started with a story within my family.  My mom told me that my grandfather was one of the last mandarins of the Hue Court, circa 1930.
At that time the Vietnamese communists were coming into power. They condemned any person a traitor, who worked either for the French or the Hue Court. So my grandpa was a traitor in their eye. One day news came to him that a communist gathering was to be held in one of the remote villages from Hue. He set out to that village with some of his bodyguards to punish the communists. Unfortunately, news leaked out about his trip. He was ambushed on the road—his bodyguards were killed—and he was beheaded. The communists threw his body into a river.

My grandma hired a witch doctor to look for his headless body. Eventually the witch doctor found it. They were able to identify his body based on the ivory name tablet in his tunic. My grandma hired someone to make a fake head out of a coconut shell wrapped in gilded paper and buried my grandpa on the Ngu Binh Mountain. The beheading of grandpa surfaced again while I was reading the decapitation scene in War and Peace in Hanoi and Tonkin.

I spend much, much time in researching before I write. I’m a perfectionist and the harshest critic of myself. I have to know everything about what I’m going to write—well, sort of—before I ever pen the first word. Indeed much research was done before I felt dead sure about writing it.

More than once I was asked if I’m currently busy with a work-in-progress.

Yes, I’m about done with my next novel. But I rarely talk about what I’m working on. It may sound like a hard-line stance. But well, I can give you a harmless description. When I was still a struggling young writer, I came across a very old Vietnamese magazine article written about a centenarian eunuch of the Imperial Court of Hue. He was already dead the year the story was published, circa 1966. Two years before I was born. A sketchy story whose facts were gleaned from the eunuch’s adopted daughter, that ended with a small halftone photograph of her portrait. I put the article away. But I couldn’t put the story away, even months after. It dawned on me then that it wasn’t the story.

It was the face in the photograph. I traveled to Hue, Vietnam in the summer of 1991. I was 23. I went with her image in the photograph and when I finally met her, the eunuch’s daughter, that image hadn’t changed. She was someone like a forbidden love to a young man half her age. The first time she gave me a glimpse of her past from her spotted memory, it was in a sugarcane field where two decades earlier, her lover—a young American—had died in her arms.

Thanks to the author for this very interesting post. For reviews of his book, visit Virtual Author Book Tours.

About the book:  

The title refers to temptation-the temptation of the flesh. But it refers equally to the obligations of kinship, the connections between us and those to whom we are related, even if we would choose not to be. 

Khanh Ha was born in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. During his teen years, he began writing short stories, which won him several awards in the Vietnamese adolescent magazines. He graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. FLESH (Black Heron Press, June 2012) is his first novel (literary fiction).

Visit the author at: http://www.authorkhanhha.com

Thanks to Teddy Rose at Virtual Author Book Tours for this guest post by the author.

To see my July 26, 2012 comments on the book, visit my Review.

Feb 5, 2013

Book Teaser/First Paragraph: TARGETS OF REVENGE by Jeffrey S. Stephens

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB; choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify author and title for readers. 

First Chapter,  First Paragraph is hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea.

Over Lago de Maracaibo, Venezuela

Jordan Sandor was strapped into the small cockpit of the BSG-29 glider. The C-47 twin engine that had been rigged to draw him up into the moonless night began its run down the tarmac. There was an abrupt tug as the towrope was yanked taut, then Sandor felt a second more violent jerk as he was lifted into the air. (ch. 1)

What do you think of the opening sentences of Targets of Revenge, a Jordan Sandor thriller? Does the tease make you want to read on?

Publisher's description:CIA Agent Jordan Sandor is on the hunt for the cold-blooded sociopath known as Adina, whose indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people, including Sandor’s close friend, represents man at his worst.

Feb 4, 2013

Mailbox Monday and It's Monday: What Are You Reading, Feb. 4

It's Monday: What Are You Reading is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Mailbox Monday is being hosted by Unabridged Chick this month.

Check out both blogs and add yours!

I am most of the way through The Aviator's Wife, an emotional but well written book that I received a few weeks ago and am taking in small doses.

I never thought I'd be reading a YA fantasy/vampire novel, except for those written by Meg Cabot, but I've started The Lost Soul: a 666 Park Avenue Novel.  I missed the first two in the series, but I can still follow this one.  Publisher's summary: "Jane Boyle discovered her mother-in-law Lynne Doran is actually a powerful, ancient witch who prolongs her life over time by inhabiting the bodies of younger women! As Jane and her friends attempt to tap into power stronger than Lynne's, Jane's estranged husband Malcom arrives to join the fight ...but can she grow to trust him before it's too late?" I'm enjoying this one as the story is well written. Must be the child/YA in me!

Another witchy book that appeared on my doorsteps is Shattered Circle by Linda Robertson, with modern witch Persephone, a werewolf boyfriend, and a seductive vampire as the main characters. Sounds a bit over the top for me!

The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg is a book I can easily predict I'll like. It's by a well known Swedish crime writer, whose main characters - a local detective and his girlfriend - suspect that the drowning of their little girl is the result of black secrets in their quiet fishing village. Sounds suspenseful.

Another mystery I've received is Ring Around the Rosy by Jackie Fullerton. A law student and her attorney fiancĂ© leave their Midwestern town for a holiday in Florida, only to be faced with a murder they have to solve.

That should be enough to keep me busy this week and more..... What did you get in the mail or are reading this week?

Feb 2, 2013

Sunday Salon: No Shadows on the Snowiest Day

The Sunday Salon.com Welcome to the Sunday Salon!

Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow today in Pennsylvania and so predicted an early spring! That was nice to hear, considering today we had one of our snowiest days in Ohio, with several inches of white on the ground and more snow dusting down.

And never mind that our local groundhog, HuckyToo, saw his shadow and predicted the opposite - six more weeks of winter! We hope that Hucky is wrong and Punxy is right!

I finished a library book, one that I grabbed minutes after it hit the shelves for the first time in our library - Speaking From Among the Bones, the fifth in the Flavia de Luce mystery series by Alan Bradley.I finished it pronto and promptly wrote a review. (Click on the title to see it).

I am more than half way through the stirring and emotional novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh,  The Aviator's Wife written by Melanie Benjamin. I hope to write a review soon.

After a long period of not borrowing library books, I came away with three other books - two novels and a mystery. Click on the covers for the details.


This should help keep me occupied for the next six weeks of winter! What are you reading?

Book Review: Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley

Title: Speaking from Among the Bones: a Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley
Published January 29, 2013; Delacorte Press hardcover
Genre: mystery
Source: library
The face of a carved wooden imp grinned at me saucily in the shadows. I touched his puffed-out polished cheeks and gave them a twist.
There was a click and the panel slid open.
I stepped carefully inside.
(ch. 13)
Flavia de Luce, the young chemist and amateur sleuth, turns age 12 and begins to be taken more seriously by her older sisters, who used to tease her horribly, telling her she was adopted or a foundling. Her distracted father tells her that she is a "genius" like her mother, who died years ago in a mountaineering accident in the Himalayas.

Flavia, traveling around on a rickety bicycle she named Gladys, goes on to solve the murder of an organist at their church in the English village of Bishop's Lacy, and in so doing, unearths a mystery surrounding the local saint, St. Tancred, who may be an early ancestor of her family, the de Luces.

I liked this book as much as the first in the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, which won the author the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger Award, the Agatha Award, the Barry Award, the Dilys Award, the Arthur Ellis Award, the Macavity Award, and the Spotted Owl Award.

Feb 1, 2013

Book Tour/Review: A Tainted Dawn by B. N. Peacock

Title: A Tainted Dawn: The Great War, Book I by B. N. Peacock
Published March 1, 2012; Fireship Press
Genre: historical fiction
Setting: 18th century Europe, the Caribbean

Book description:
Setting and time: August 1789.  A new age dawns.The Rights of Man. Liberty. Equality. Idealism. Patriotism. And yet, old hostilities persist: England and Spain are on the brink of war. France, allied by treaty with Spain, readies her warships.

The main characters: Three youths – Jemmy Sweetman, the son of an English carpenter;  Edward Deveare, the son of a naval captain; and Louis Saulnier, the son of a French court tailor – meet in London, a chance encounter that entwines their lives. The English boys, Jemmy and Edward, find themselves on the same frigate bound for the Caribbean, while Louis, the Frenchman, sails to Trinidad, where he meets a Spanish revolutionary even more zealous than himself.

The conflict: As diplomats in Europe race to avoid conflict, war threatens in the Caribbean, with the three youths pitted against each other. Will the dawn of the boys’ young manhood remain bright with hope? Or will it become tainted with their countrymen’s spilled blood? (publisher's description)

My comments: Jemmy, the carpenter's son, joins the ship's crew to escape a life of hardship and a harsh and uncaring father. Edward is separated from his mother and sent by his guardian, an Admiral, to serve on the King's ship Amphitrite after the death of his father. The boys encounter Louis, the French boy, a staunch revolutionary who is dead set against the aristos or aristocrats, whether French or English.

I was taken with Edward's mother fighting to regain her son and to bring him home from what she saw as a life of hardship sailing. I appreciated that the novel is painstakingly researched and the historical times well recreated. As a novel of history, it is excellent. As a story about three boys, I felt that history took precedence and overrode the human aspects of the story. I would have liked to see the boys' individual characters more developed. Overall, an excellent effort for history lovers as well as for those curious about life and politics in the tumultuous times of 18th century Europe.

About the author: B. N. Peacock has had a life-long passion for history and writing. She majored in Classical languages and earned graduate degrees in International Relations and Agricultural Economics. She soon came up with the idea of writing about history from different perspectives. This was the start of A Tainted Dawn and the Great War (French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars) series. She lives in Manassas, Virginia with her family. Connect with her at her WEBSITE | BLOG

For other reviews, see the tour schedule.
Thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for a review copy of the book.

Sunday Salon: Japanese Authors and a Mystery

  Klara and the Sun   by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Klara and the Sun was easy to read for a literary novel of such magnitude and celebrity, I found...