Review: Jackaby ~ William Ritter

JackabyISBN ~ 978-1616203535
Publisher ~ Algonquin Young Readers
No. Of Pages ~ 299 pages
Links ~ Algonquin Young Readers, Barnes & Noble,

“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion–and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

5 Thumbs-UpThis is the first one in a series and, when I realised it was aimed at the young reader market it made me come to the conclusion that all hope of ever finding a good read in this genre is not dead.

The Author certainly has a way with words, and a wonderful way of using them.  This becomes apparent from the first character introduction he writes.  Not only does he make his characters three-dimensional and interesting from the very first meeting, but he manages to keep this standard up and apply it to all subsequent characters that appear throughout the book.  It may be wrong of me but, as the title of the book suggests, Jackaby is not the only front and centre main protagonist in this novel; his assistant takes equal footing as the story progresses and, in some places outshines Jackaby.  When this happens it doesn’t read as if the Author ran out of steam as far as Jackaby was concerned, but rather embraced the ebb and flow of real life into the plot that makes it inevitable that lead roles will change.  The description of our title character, and his actions, had me swinging between wondering if he was truly the genius he purported to be and also trying to figure out how he had evaded being consigned to the nearest asylum long before the story takes place.  His assistant on the other hand shows all the traits and stubbornness that many young women were feeling in this time period, and went to extraordinary lengths to stretch those newly discovered wings.  I particularly liked with her character the way in which the Author had her determined in her path but at times interspersed this with a glimpse at the closeted lifestyle she had left behind.  In the supporting cast of characters, some of whom I do hope will appear in future instalments, they too were treated with as much care and consideration as the main characters.  Do I have a favourite in all those presented to me within this novel’s pages?  I certainly do, and I would have to say there wasn’t one that I didn’t like.

With as much care as he put into his characters, this Author sets the locations and events within the book.  He pulls on the weather and lifestyles of the period to create atmosphere and suspense in a way that I can honestly say I haven’t seen in a YA book before.  The Author manages to blend the thought processes of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Harry Dresden together in a seamless manner; the end result being something that really shouldn’t work producing a whole new way to look at the world of detection.  There is no wasted area in the book, as scenes visited early on come back at some point to play an integral part of the plot; the result of this is an engrossing read that will pull you into the mystery from the very first chapters.

I would highly recommend this book to readers of all ages, not just those in the aimed demographic, and also anyone who enjoys any of the characters mentioned in the previous paragraph.  Will I read anymore by this Author?  Definitely, I am already halfway through book two in the series.

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Review: Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-69 ~ Stephen E. Ambrose

Transcontinental RRISBN ~ 978-0743203173
Publisher ~ Simon & Schuster (NYC)
No. Of Pages ~ 432 pages
Links ~ All Bookstores, Amazon

Nothing Like It in the World gives the account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage. It is the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad—the investors who risked their businesses and money; the enlightened politicians who understood its importance; the engineers and surveyors who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives; and the Irish and Chinese immigrants, the defeated Confederate soldiers, and the other laborers who did the backbreaking and dangerous work on the tracks.

The U.S. government pitted two companies—the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads—against each other in a race for funding, encouraging speed over caution. Locomotives, rails, and spikes were shipped from the East through Panama or around South America to the West or lugged across the country to the Plains. In Ambrose’s hands, this enterprise, with its huge expenditure of brainpower, muscle, and sweat, comes vibrantly to life.

3 Thumbs-UpI initially picked this book up to help in my PhD research, intending only to look through the index and make notes on the parts and people who I needed; instead I found myself reading this book from cover to cover.

I am not a railroad enthusiast by any means, but I found the story of how the railroad was built across America to be fascinating and, from reading this book am now intending to research into this subject a little more.  The Author always writes good books based upon historical events, but I am a little wary as to how factual their accounts are, and this book was no different.

My main problem with this book was how the Author appeared to praise and admire those men in big business that funded the railroad, but did little of the actual work itself.  I was hoping to find more on the plight of the Chinese, Irish and Mormon labourers as well as details about life in the hell on wheels towns they lived in that followed the railways progress as well as the encounters the workers had with the Native Americans and Homesteaders who refused to relocate so the railway could cut through their land.  Despite this lack of detail that, in my opinion, would have resulted in a first class account of the building of the railroad, the Author does an excellent job when writing about the backbreaking and soul-destroying amount of work that went into laying every mile of these tracks.  With a skilful pen he makes the reader realise what a momentously huge project this was, and how much of an accomplishment in the advancement of westbound migration the railroad was.

If you are interested in this period of American history, or in railroad history, this is a book that you would enjoy; although I would recommend doing additional reading and would recommend Empire Express for a follow-up book, as well as a book written by William Francis Bailey.

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American Boys, Hello! ~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox

 captain-america

American Boys, Hello!

Oh! we love all the French, and we speak in French
As along through France we go.
But the moments to us that are keen and sweet
Are the ones when our khaki boys we meet,
Stalwart and handsome and trim and neat;
And we call to them—‘Boys, hello!’
‘Hello, American boys,
Luck to you, and life’s best joys!
American boys, hello!’

We couldn’t do that if we were at home—
It never would do, you know!
For there you must wait till you’re told who’s who,
And to meet in the way that nice folks do.
Though you knew his name, and your name he knew—
You never would say ‘Hello, hello, American boy!’
But here it’s just a joy,
As we pass along in the stranger throng,
To call out, ‘Boys, hello!’

For each is a brother away from home;
And this we are sure is so,
There’s a lonesome spot in his heart somewhere,
And we want him to feel there are friends
right there

In this foreign land, and so we dare
To call out ‘Boys, hello!’
‘Hello, American boys,
Luck to you, and life’s best joys!
American boys, hello!’

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

I Hear America Singing ~ Walt Whitman

i-hear-america-singing-300x210

I Hear America Singing

I HEAR America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and
strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off
work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand
singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as
he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning,
or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or
of the girl sewing or washing—Each singing what belongs to
her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day—At night, the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

Walt Whitman

Review: 1776 ~ David McCullough

1776
America’s most acclaimed historian presents the intricate story of the year of the birth of the United States of America. “1776” tells two gripping stories: how a group of squabbling, disparate colonies became the United States, and how the British Empire tried to stop them. A story with a cast of amazing characters from George III to George Washington, to soldiers and their families, this exhilarating book is one of the great pieces of historical narrative

4 Thumbs-UpThis is the first piece of work I have read by this Author and it exceeded all my expectations.  As with most narratives concerning well know historical facts, most educated readers already know the way things turn out before they even start the book; but with this one that doesn’t really matter as the Author does a skilful job at keeping the reader hooked right to the bitter end.

By choosing this one year in history, as opposed to cramming in everything he possibly can about this pivotal period of time for America, the Author is easily able to describe the unfolding events  in a way that turns this history book from dry and brittle to interesting and captivating; events are detailed in a logical chronological order that is easy to follow for even the most novice of readers.

Although this book was initially a narrative about the Continental Army from Bunker Hill to its victory at Trenton, the book could quite easily been a biography about George Washington.   The Author paints a portrait of Washington that is not the usual fodder a reader comes across when reading about this man. As expected he is shown as a man of faith and with exemplary leadership skills while at the same time showing he was just a man with normal traits such as feelings of self-doubt especially after the defeats at Brooklyn and Fort Washington.  Not content with revealing this all too human side of the man, the Author through extensive research, shows that two of Washington’s closest generals, General Charles Lee and Joseph Reed, lost a great deal of confidence in him after the Continental Army’s retreat across the Hudson.  With all the background provided it is easier for the reader to paint a more realistic picture of Washington in their minds, and although I felt I could connect with the man there were also parts of his personality that came through in the Authors writing which made me feel mighty uncomfortable when he was in the room.

Surprisingly, in a book on this topic, not everything is about the Continental Army, and its driving of the Redcoats from America: this Author also gives over a large portion of their book to the personalities, actions and motivations of the King’s Army.  By doing this a book is written that gives a well-rounded account of events that happened in this year, and possibly why the Continental Army was victorious.

I could write for hours on this book, but then this would turn from a review into a possible thesis, and also negate any reason for someone to read this.  It is a book well worth spending time with, and I would highly recommend it to any lovers of this time period and all historical nonfiction readers in general.

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Review: Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence (#1) ~ Stephanie Baumgartner

Sophias WarSophia can hardly wait to return to Germany to help her great-aunt run the town library, despite her father’s distrust of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. But Sophia’s not worried; she knows she will be safe with her extended family.

Unfortunately, the beautiful country that she remembers from her childhood visits is almost unrecognizable. Almost every man is in uniform, and everyone she meets seems watchful and secretive. It quickly becomes apparent that Germany is not what it used to be, and neither is her cousin, Diedrich.

Will Sophia return home when Diedrich gives her an ultimatum that defies her conscience? Or will her desire to fulfill her aunt’s wishes keep her in a dangerous foreign land on the brink of war?

2 Thumbs-UpI can only say a few things about this book and to be honest that is a shame.  Here is a book I wanted to truly love, after all I thoroughly enjoy both fiction and non-fiction works set in this era, so by the time I reached the end of this novel, I was so disappointed that I only just liked it.

I have no issue with Christian fiction, as sometimes it can be a lot better written and put together than those outside this genre; the Authors of this kind of work always seem to be able to show the sliver of light in the darkness, but this novel was just too much and led to my being really irritated in parts.  This impression was fuelled mainly by the featured protagonist of the title; she was just too good to be true.  Her most annoying trait was putting off thinking about things that she didn’t like, or upset her all too sheltered little world.  This may sound like a natural human reaction when dealing with the issue of war, but then the reader discovers that the most important things in her world are all centred on her.  I found there to be no strength of will or conviction in this character at all, and as a whole found her to be rather vapid and flimsy.  The main protagonist was not the only character I had issues with; her all too perfect devoutly Christian family were written in such a way that I felt downright disgust at their hypocrisy, and this made me come to think of them as “Sunday Christians”, not an image I should imagine the Author was looking to create at all.

Repetition featured heavily in this novel and, not intending to insult the Author in any way, it came across as if they had reached a wall with the storyline and brought back time and again feelings and impressions that had been covered earlier, to bridge a gap until the plot could be picked up again.  If it was used as a tool to ensure the reader understood the motivations behind everything, good for them but if you are going to use this style in the future it may do well to come across a little less heavy-handedly.  Also, and this is definitely just my personal opinion like everything else in the reviews I write, I feel this book should be reclassified as Christian Fiction; in this way the Author would probably reach a larger target audience.  Classified as it is, readers picking this up and expecting to read about World War II Germany from a young American woman’s viewpoint will be sorely disappointed.  I’m in two minds whether I will read anymore in the series; as one part of me would like to see if the Authors writing style and approach develop; but the other side of me is loath to have to go through the same thing I went through with this novel.

I would recommend this book to those readers who enjoy inspirational Christian fiction and who don’t mind embarking on yet another series of books.

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Review: Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America ~ Jane Allen Petrick

Hidden in plain sightNorman Rockwell’s America was not all white. As early as 1936, Rockwell was portraying people of color with empathy and a dignity often denied them at the time. And he created these portraits from live models.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America unfolds, for the first time, the stories of the Asian, African, and Native Americans who modeled for Norman Rockwell. These people of color, though often hidden in plain sight, are present throughout Rockwell’s more than 4000 illustrations. People like the John Lane family, Navajos poignantly depicted in the virtually unknown Norman Rockwell painting, “Glen Canyon Dam.” People like Isaac Crawford, a ten-year old African-American Boy Scout who helped Norman Rockwell finally integrate the Boy Scout calendar.

In this engrossing and often humorous narrative, Jane Allen Petrick explores what motivated Norman Rockwell to slip people of color “into the picture” in the first place. And in so doing, she persuasively documents the famous illustrator’s deep commitment to and pointed portrayals of ethnic tolerance, portrayals that up to now have been, as Norman Rockwell biographer Laura Claridge so clearly put it, “bizarrely neglected”.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America is an eye opener for everyone who loves Norman Rockwell, everyone who hates Norman Rockwell and for all those people in between who never thought much about Norman Rockwell because they believed Norman Rockwell never thought much about them. This book will expand the way you think about Norman Rockwell. And it will deepen the way you think about Norman Rockwell’s America.

4 Thumbs-UpWhether you love the work of Norman Rockwell, hate it or just haven’t given it that much thought, after all it pervades most of American life in one way or another, this book is well worth your time to read to gain a new perspective on his work, or allow you to look at it with fresh eyes.

In this short 125 page book, the Author illustrates how the Artist used his talents to give a voice to his feelings about the happenings of the time.  Through thoroughly engaging and captivating stories the Author lets the reader into the mind of Mr. Rockwell and experience his feelings about those in society who are ‘hidden in plain sight’.  This book features a section of those people, those of colour, who he used as models for his work which in turn served to give his illustrations a depth and also a social awareness that many have failed to notice.  In compiling this book the Author provides the reader with a greater understanding of America, as seen through the brush strokes of an artist who snubbed his nose at convention and included people in his artwork that were largely overlooked by society as a whole.  My only issue about this book was that there were not more illustrations to support the stories contained within its pages; I suspect this may be more due to copyright issues than intentional omission

I highly recommend it for readers of any age that are interested in the arts or art history and lovers of Norman Rockwell’s work. Reading this certainly gave me a new appreciation for the work of Norman Rockwell.

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