On The Sickle’s Edge by Neville Frankel

On The Sickle's Edge

Set in the 20th century and spanning generations, On the Sickle’s Edge chronicles a Jewish family’s struggle to survive in Soviet Russia.  Lena Shtein, born in South Africa of Latvian parents, suffers her first loss at birth.  Following the death of her mother delivering twins, Lena’s father divides his family, leaving his two older sons behind in South Africa, and travels back to Latvia with his three younger children.  Neville Frankel has written a compelling novel – part saga, part historical fiction, and part thriller – as the family endures the persecution associated with their faith, and makes the decisions necessary for them to survive.

What an amazing book!  Frankel is a master story-teller, with vivid imagery and nail-biting suspense.  The historical aspect of this novel would have been enough to keep me interested, but the story about Lena’s granddaughter, Darya, and her violent KGB husband kept me up late reading every night.  I’d like to thank TLC Book Tours for allowing me to read and review this excellent novel.  I am only asked to provide an honest review and here it is: go out and buy this book, it’s fantastic!

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2016
474 pages

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Last Bus To Wisdom by Ivan Doig

The Last Bus To Wisdom

This isn’t my first book by Ivan Doig.  I read English Creek a few years back and thought it a solid four star novel and Doig an excellent writer.  Well, Last Bus to Wisdom took my opinion of Doig to another level altogether.

The story begins when eleven year old orphan, Donal Cameron, is sent to spent the summer with a great-aunt he’s never met, because his grandmother has to have surgery that will leave her unable to care for him.  He must ride the “dog bus” (aka Greyhound) from Montana to Manitowoc, Wisconsin by himself.  It’s the 1950’s, when this sometimes happened, although probably not very often.

What follows is an adventure and a coming of age journey that left me smiling when I put it down and eager to get back to it every chance I could get.  Doig is a master at relating that certain feeling of childhood, when you don’t quite worry about all the “what-ifs,” but you feel frustrated at the “can’t haves.”  It’s a book full of awe and wonder and humanity and love.  Quite frankly, it’s the best book I’ve read in a very long time.

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2015
453 pages

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Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly

Killing Jesus

Bill O’Reilly is, like me, a lover of history.  He makes no bones about being Catholic, but he also makes it clear that this is not a religious book.  It’s meant to present the historical facts about the life of Jesus that will help readers to better understand the story they already know.

I’ve read a fair amount of material endorsed by the Catholic Church about Jesus Christ. Some of it does try to include a historical context, but I found there was fascinating information in this book that I hadn’t heard before.  It was interesting, informative and  even enlightening in some respects.  It is by no means thorough, but it’s meant to be a beginner course – narrative non-fiction for the masses.  For believers and non-believers alike, there is something here for everyone.

3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2013
293 pages

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The Coconut Latitudes by Rita M. Gardner

The Coconut Latitudes

Sometimes what seems to be Paradise is actually the opposite.  I picked this book up for two reasons.  First, it had the word “coconut” in the title – which helped to meet a book I needed for the Geocache Challenge I’m working on.  Second, most books with “coconut” in the title were either mysteries or chick-lit, and I’m not a fan of either.  I assumed this was a travel memoir of Ms. Gardner’s time in the Dominican Republic.

Well, I was in for a shocker.  It was a memoir, and it did include the author’s experiences when they moved to the Caribbean island, but it was not pleasant.  She was a young girl when her father quit his engineering job and decided buy a few hundred acres in the Dominican Republic and go into coconut farming.  Maybe this wouldn’t have been so bad, except the father was an alcoholic and it was the 1950’s when political instability and fear ruled the island.  I found myself weeping as her tale got progressively worse.  I’d find myself thinking I was at a point where things would get better, and then WHAM, tragedy would strike again.

I’m glad the author seems to have a happy life now.  It just goes to show you how resilient the human spirit is.  And I’m equally glad to have read this book.  I did get the “childhood in the Dominican Republic” experience, and I also received the gift of a tale of personal triumph over terrible circumstances.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2014
207 pages

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After Nature by W.G. Sebald

After Nature

After Nature is a collection of three long poems, about three men: Matthias Grunewald (German Renaissance painter), Georg Steller, (scientist and Arctic explorer) and W.G. Sebald (the author).
I read the book twice in a row. Not because the book is so good, or so bad, but because I got the nagging feeling that it would read better as prose than as a highly formatted poem. So I took my epub version in to Calibre, converted it to an html file, stripped all the formatting out, converted it back to an epub file, and then read it as three short stories. It was definitely easier to read but it still didn’t do anything for me. I found myself looking references online. The art of Grunewald, and a short biography of Steller on Wikipedia, which I found more enjoyable to read.
Patti Smith makes much of this work in “M Train” but it’s not for me. Nature can often be cruel, but so can I.

D
130 pages

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North And South by John Jakes

North And South

Back in 1985, I was one of millions who swooned over the southern charm of Patrick Swayze’s character, Orry Main, in the television adaption of John Jakes’ novel North and South.  I still have a soft spot for the story, and thought it was high time I read the book.

Once I started reading I was immediately immersed in the world of the Hazards and the Mains.  The story, in case you don’t know it, involves two young men who meet at West Point as cadets and become lifelong friends.  Orry Main is a southerner, and George Hazard, a Yankee.  The years leading up to the Civil War bring up issues that further divide the United States, and place a strain on their friendship.  At the end of this book, the war breaks out, with our protagonists on opposite sides.

This is only the first of three lengthy novels in Jakes North and South trilogy. I think it stands up fairly well since it was first written in 1982.  The dialogue could have been better (however, it is actually worse in the miniseries!), but the story still endears itself to me.  I found most interesting the areas where the television series differed from the book. Some parts, like how Orry and Madeline’s relationship was hurried along in the screen version, made much more sense in the slowed down book version.  But one could certainly understand the need to cut back due to time constraints.  I believe the movie version eliminated Orry’s older brother altogether, although he makes an appearance in the television adaption for Book III. I think I’m going to have to read the other two books and then watch all three television series.  It’s nice to have goals.  And to be charmed by Patrick Swayze again.

3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1982
812 pages

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Pompeii by Robert Harris

Pompeii

I was curious how Robert Harris would write a novel about the day Mt. Vesuvius erupted and buried the city of Pompeii.  Could he make it interesting?  How would he go about it?

I’m a sucker for apocalyptic movies.  I discovered within the first few pages that Harris used a couple of tried a true methods that are used in those movies.  First, we all know what’s going to happen, so he starts with a countdown, beginning two days before the eruption. Next, each chapter is prefaced with an interesting fact about volcanoes and the havoc they wreak.  Many of these facts are physical clues that serve as early warnings of the horror that is about to happen.

In this book, almost immediately all the valuable fish in a holding pond mysteriously die.  This sets off an investigation by a young engineer in charge of the aqueducts, Marcus Attilus Primus.  Clue after clue, Attilus eventually discovers the terrible truth, but is he too late to save himself and the girl he loves?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.  It’s a fun read.  Trust me, you’ll enjoy it!

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2005
304 pages

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