Monday, August 31, 2015

Imaginary Brightness: A Durant Family Saga by Sheila Myers


Set in the 1870s, the dawn of the Gilded Age, and while the American economy is reeling from over-speculation in railroads, the Durant family saga re-imagines the life story of William West Durant and his sister Ella, the children of a powerful American industrialist and railroad tycoon. 

William and Ella find their fortunes and reputations threatened by their father’s questionable business dealings as head of the Union Pacific Railroad. As the family's finances teeter on the brink of bankruptcy, both brother and sister are whisked from their privileged lifestyle in high society London to the untamed Adirondack forests.  It is in this wilderness landscape that the tension between passion and propriety, their future and their family, turn their worlds upside down. Imaginary Brightness explores the early conquest of the great north woods, eavesdrops on America’s robber barons from the supper clubs of Manhattan, and unravels the mystery of William West Durant’s secret passions and conflicting loyalties.

Reviewer: Linda Fagioli-Katsiotas
Author of

This book is so full of tasty tidbits; I don’t know where to start. It’s an historical fiction in which the author adeptly juxtaposes two very interesting tales. In one, she shows the saga of Thomas Durant’s children, Ella and William, as their father unscrupulously uses the land in the Adirondack Mountains of New York during the late 1800s to amass the family wealth. The other is a modern love story, more than a hundred years later, between twenty-eight-year-old researcher, Avery, studying the habits of the owl in that same area and Jake, an inhabitant of the area. 

Both accounts as Myers switches between present and past, keep the reader riveted to the pages. I love how Meyers uses the owl research to symbolize Avery’s relationship with Jake, specifically the one male owl that she seems unable to catch and tag. A more overt example is when Avery responds to a question about her research by saying, “I’m trying to discover why males of the species are so hard to track.” Also, within the 1800s account, there is the underlying theme of profit versus preservation as Myers' characters describe Durant’s intentions by saying that he is going to “rape the Adirondack wilderness and bring crystal and fine china to the woods,” while at the same time, the government is being lobbied by others to preserve that land, and Myers interjects with the timeless frustration of people against power: “the unappreciative idiots in Albany have no idea . . . of the vast resources this region has to offer. ”

Myers also cleverly but subtly shows the clash of culture between the natives of the region and the aristocracy that will vacation there. In one example, William stops local boys from hunting in a way that he feels is unfair to the game and berates them asking what kind of sport would allow the game to be so unfairly challenged. The local boy responds, “ We ain’t doing it for sport sir. We’re doing it to feed our family.”

In addition to a wonderful story that keeps the reader engaged and unable to put the book down, Myers has some very nice imagery, such as “the sleigh slogged along, crushing the snow with a sound like thousands of eggshells breaking in its wake.”

The only complaint I have—and it’s a small one—is that the mystery behind the old diary belonging to someone named Minnie, that Avery finds and strings the reader along with its writer’s excerpts, is resolved too fast and simplistically. I wanted Minnie to have some kind of meaningful self-discovery. However, the overall story is very good and I recommend it wholeheartedly. It is a tale in which you will find yourself gasping in alarm at the unexpected turns in the story and you will miss the characters when they are gone. 
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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade

Opening Paragraph:  From her bed of bundled newspapers under the kitchen table, Rachel Rabinowitz watched her mother's bare feet shuffle to the sink. She heard water filling the kettle, then saw her mother's heels lift as she stretched up to drop a nickel in the gas meter. There was the sizzle of a struck match, the hiss of the burner, the whoosh of catching flame. As her mother passed the table, Rachel reached out to catch the hem of her nighdress.

Synopsis:  In this stunning new historical novel inspired by true events, Kim van Alkemade tells the fascinating story of a woman who must choose between revenge and mercy when she encounters the doctor who subjected her to dangerous medical experiments in a New York City Jewish orphanage years before.
In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a vivacious four-year-old living with her family in a crowded tenement on New York City’s Lower Eastside. When tragedy strikes, Rachel is separated from her brother Sam and sent to a Jewish orphanage where Dr. Mildred Solomon is conducting medical research. Subjected to X-ray treatments that leave her disfigured, Rachel suffers years of cruel harassment from the other orphans. But when she turns fifteen, she runs away to Colorado hoping to find the brother she lost and discovers a family she never knew she had.
Though Rachel believes she’s shut out her painful childhood memories, years later she is confronted with her dark past when she becomes a nurse at Manhattan’s Old Hebrews Home and her patient is none other than the elderly, cancer-stricken Dr. Solomon. Rachel becomes obsessed with making Dr. Solomon acknowledge, and pay for, her wrongdoing. But each passing hour Rachel spends with the old doctor reveal to Rachel the complexities of her own nature. She realizes that a person’s fate—to be one who inflicts harm or one who heals—is not always set in stone.
Lush in historical detail, rich in atmosphere and based on true events, Orphan #8 is a powerful, affecting novel of the unexpected choices we are compelled to make that can shape our destinies.

Review by Mirella Patzer

Do you enjoy though-provoking books that have such heart-wrenching plots, such shocking storylines, that it moves you for many days to come? This gripping novel, based on actual, true events, provokes a plethora of deep thoughts and emotions. They are brought to the New York City Hebrew Orphans Home that existed in the early 1900’s. Rachel soon finds herself subjected to alarming medical experiments that leave Rachel scarred for life. The author does not shy away from describing the horrendously cruel experiments that included force feeding, physical restraints, and over exposure to radium through x-rays that left them bald. But Rachel survives and years later, she becomes a nurse. One of her patients, dying of terminal cancer, is the female doctor who subjected her to the medical trials. Now in a position of power over her previous tormenter, Rachel becomes obsessed with revenge.

The plot becomes rich with a bevy of emotion and thought-provoking twists regarding forgiveness, hate, love, trust, vengeance, and more. At the end of the book, the author has included photographs acquired in research. Tremendously stirring, this is one novel not to miss. So human, so real, so true!

Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Port of No Return by Michelle Saftich

Opening Paragraph: "Finally he sleeps," Ettore grumbled as he dipped a chunk of hardened bread into a shallow dish of olive oil. His arms rested upon the wooden kitchen tabletop. A lit candle cast no warmth and only enough light to reach his calloused hands. The oil caught the flame's reflection and glowed; he gazed past the golden orb, unseeing."


Contessa and Ettore Saforo awake to a normal day in war-stricken, occupied Italy. By the end of the day, however, their house is in ruins and they must seek shelter and protection wherever they can. But the turbulent politics of 1944 refuses to let them be.
As Tito and his Yugoslav Army threaten their German-held town of Fiume, Ettore finds himself running for his life, knowing that neither side is forgiving of those who have assisted the enemy. His wife and children must also flee the meagre life their town can offer, searching for a better life as displaced persons.
Ettore and Contessa's battle to find each other, and the struggle of their family and friends to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of a devastating war, provide a rich and varied account of Italian migration to Australia after World War II.
What can you do when you have nowhere left to call home? Port of No Return considers this question and more in a novel that is full of action, pain and laughter - a journey you will want to see through to the very end.

Review by Mirella Patzer

When it comes to stories set during World War II, I am always more interested in those that focus on the plight of the civilians rather than the military experience. This is why I was drawn to this novel as it reflects some of what my own family experienced before my parents immigrated to Canada. The story is set in the north east area of Italy in a city named Fiume which became part of Yugoslavia, or today's Croatia. Through the experiences of two families, the author does a great job of introducing the hardships the civilians faced living under the auspices of danger and war and occupation. The loss of home, displaced refugees, unbearable acts of terror and cruelty, and the severe hunger caused by enemy seizures. It is how many Italians of that era found themselves contemplating relocation as refugees to safer havens such as Australia, Canada, or the U.S. In this novel, it is Australia they seek. 

Through the eyes of the protagonists, Ettore and Contessa, we experience the danger, the many kindnesses, the poignanat and painful moments of war. These characters represent thousands of Italians forced to flee their beloved homeland.  The author did a wonderful job of describing the effects of the war, along with the history of how that area of Italy was affected. 

This novel is definitely a worth reading, especially for those whose roots are deeply embedded in Italy, like me! Recommended!

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