Tag Archives: member review

Member Book Review: Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution

Bunker Hill book coverBunker Hill: A City, A Siege, a Revolution, by Nathaniel Philbrick

The Battle of Bunker Hill is part myth and part bluster. First of all, it was not even fought on Bunker Hill, but on Breed’s Hill, a much lower hill. The actual battle was in some respects a blunder by both the rebels and the British, but is noted especially for the blunders made by the British commanding general, Lord William Howe, who had the reputation of being the most able of all British soldiers and leaders. This battle has the record for being the bloodiest battle of the eight-year-long Revolutionary War, and took place before General George Washington arrived in Massachusetts to take over command of the patriot army.

However the battle was fought, there was no definitive conclusion. The British lost more soldiers than did the rebels; nonetheless, they declared themselves the victors. Within months of his arrival, General Washington and the patriot army built vast earthworks with cannons aimed at the British in Boston and began to lay siege to the city. Observing the build-up of rebel forces around the city, General Howe and other British military leaders decided to withdraw. They loaded up their ships with more than 6,000 soldiers, supplies, and British loyalists and retreated to Halifax, Canada. So, the patriots won the Battle of Bunker Hill after all.

Nathaniel Philbrick traces the lives of a number of patriots during this time period, including Abigail Adams and her son, the future president John Quincy Adams. The book also includes information about John and Samuel Adams—who, along with John Hancock, happened to be in Philadelphia at the Continental Congress at the time of the battle—as well as Dr. Joseph Warren, a patriot general who chose to fight along with the patriot soldiers but who died during the battle.

–Submitted by avid Chatham County Library “power patron” Richard Peterson

Member review: Peaches for Father Francis

Remember Chocolat’s free spirit chocolatier Vianne Rocher?  Well, Peaches for Father Francis is the third book Ms. Harris has written with Vianne as the main character (The Girl with no Shadow is #2).  Not surprisingly, the wind is changing again for Vianne Rocher.

That wind and a cryptic letter from a dead woman lure Vianne back to the little village of Lansquenet, to jump right back into the middle of everyone’s lives.  But her reception is often puzzling to her.  The people needing her help are not always who she expects to help, and the story becomes as much about Vianne understanding what the concept of Home means for herself as what Home and community mean to those who rooted themselves in the village.

Vianne is surprised to find a large and active Muslim community has replaced the “riverrats” as the Village’s outsider culture which reflect the changes actually occurring in France today with a growing Muslim population creating communities within communities.  (In France, Islam is the second largest religious group after Catholicism.) Cultural and religious clashes abound but at the heart of the conflict is a universal clash that all of us can understand and unite against.  There’s also a bit of a mystery running through the story, actually several small mysteries, that add to the suspense.  How will it all turn out?  Will Vianne figure out what she should do?  Will she and Father Francis be on the same side this time or continue their sparring?  Is Vianne herself still considered an outsider or has she become aligned with the villagers?

I found Peaches for Father Francis was one of those sly stories that seems simple but once the last page was turned, I realized I had been artfully brought along a complicated trail of twists and turns.  It’s that kind of writing that brings me back to Joanne Harris every time.

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This post was written by a member of Chatham Community Library. If you’d like to write a review, check out our guidelines.

Member Book Review: The Garden of Evening Mists

garden of eveningThe Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

The Garden of Evening Mists is a deceptively simple story of one woman’s life after surviving a secret Japanese prison labor camp during WWII that quickly develops thematic layers for the reader to slowly peel back.   There is unconventional love as well as complications of patriotism as played out during the Occupation of Malaysian by Japanese, Maoists and even the aboriginal Orang Asli, all of whom threatened the lives of the Malaysian civilians.

Of course, the art of Japanese gardening itself is key to the book, specifically garden design based on Sakuteiki, a mid- to late-11th century book that teaches, among other things, how to use hidden aspects of a garden element to highlight something external; for instance, bending down to drink from a fountain and getting a glimpse of the sea beyond.  This idea of something being hidden fits the characters as well. No one in The Garden of Evening Mists is a simple stereotype, and this is one of Tan Twan Eng’s greatest strengths. He is able to portray the complexity of our universal humanity, showing the inconsistencies that make us who we are, the choices that shape us and especially how they shape our subsequent choices. His words remind me of the imposition of the cultivated Japanese garden onto the natural rainforest complexity because with simplicity, he builds emotions of love (filial, shared or unrequited), war, guilt, betrayal and  survival which are basic and yet never truly simple.

It’s easy to see why The Garden of Evening Mists was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize because it stays very reader-friendly even as it creates multiple, sometimes complex, story lines and timelines for us to follow.  If you like this novel, be sure to check out Tan Twan Eng’s earlier work, The Gift of Rain.

Ed. note: this post was written by a member of Chatham Community Library. If you’d like to write a review, check out our guidelines.

Member Book Review: The Cove–Ron Rash

The Cove by Ron Rash

As I drive around North Carolina and see falling-down, decrepit barns and homes, I try to imagine the lives that once occupied them, before the highway went two feet in front of the door and before they became splintered shells.

North Carolina native Ron Rash’s new novel, The Cove, tells a thrilling story of one of those farms, discovered by a present-day government worker in the prologue, long-abandoned and full of mystery. Two adult orphaned siblings live and farm on a piece of land near the end of World War I, in a dark and damp cove near Mars Hill, North Carolina. Laurel and Hank Shelton have more than their share of troubles and only a handful of friends between them, and Rash captures the taciturn, all-business characteristics of Western North Carolina people and culture with great aplomb. Laurel dreams of much more than her life as a farm matron, but she’s surrounded by superstition and judgment that severely limits her ambition. When a mute stranger appears on their land needing medical attention, Laurel and Hank’s lives are set on a course with dire consequences.

The chapters alternate between life in the cove and in Mars Hill, with a jingoistic army recruiter named Chauncey Feith, who seeks the town’s approval even as they mock him behind his back. His ambitions and extreme pride collide with the Sheltons in the climax. If the novel has a flaw, I found the initial Chauncey chapters a little slow, though the hard look at the prejudice and fear surrounding the “enemy” at wartime was interesting and well-developed. Like any small town with lost and injured soldiers, the shared tragedy leads to all levels of fear and ambivalence towards a collection of civilian Germans being held prisoner nearby. Rash handles the exploration of a far-away war with local consequences quite deftly.

Ed. note: this post was written by a member of Chatham Community Library. If you’d like to write a review, check out our guidelines.

Member Book Review: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank–Nathan Englander

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander

Nathan Englander’s new collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, was published in February, 2012. Englander grew up in an Orthodox Jewish New York home, but his adulthood led him on a secular path. In an interview with Book Browse, he said, “If it weren’t for fear of God’s instantaneous and violent retribution, I’d declare myself an atheist.”  Nevertheless, among his talents is the ability to make Judaism, the Holocaust, faith, loss of faith, family, love, and growing up in and out of religion both heartbreaking and hilarious. As a religious person myself, I am deeply moved by these characters’ struggles with and embracing of cultural and spiritual traditions. The title story in particular is a trifle of one-time pot-smoking adults until it’s very much not, and packs a gut punch in the last lines. I also loved “Free Fruit for Young Widows” and “Sister Hills” for similar reasons, and for their settings in Israel and Palestine. “Camp Sundown” is a darkly comic tale of old people at a leisure summer camp until it takes a turn that illustrates some profound and deep wounds. Overall this collection is incredibly strong.

I also greatly admire Englander’s beautiful prose, like this from “Everything I Know About My Family on My Mother’s Side” about locating dead relatives in a cemetery: “When you find your star and see the toasted-sand warmness of the name, you feel, in the strangest way, as if you’re being received as much as you’re there to pay tribute.”

If it’s frowned-upon to “trade” on the Holocaust, as some criticism of his stories seems to imply, I give Englander credit here for its every mention looming large over every character, and sometimes informing their actions in very meaningful ways.

Note: this post was written by a member of Chatham Community Library. If you’d like to write a review, check out our guidelines.