Tag Archives: historical

Interview with Ruta Sepetys

Photo of Ruta Sepetys by by Magda Starowieyska

Photo by Magda Starowieyska

Ruta Sepetys is the New York Times bestselling author of Between Shades of Gray, Out of the Easy, and Salt to the Sea. Born and raised in Michigan, she grew up in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. She currently lives in a treehouse in the hills of Tennessee. You can find her online at rutasepetys.com.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your newest book, Salt to the Sea?

Ruta Sepetys: My father’s cousin was involved in the refugee evacuation of East Prussia and was granted passage on the Wilhelm Gustloff. By a twist of fate, she did not board the ship the day it sailed. She shared the story with me and that inspired me to write about it.

How fortunate! Your novels are all historical fiction; how much time do you typically spend on research for them?

I typically spend three years researching each novel. I know it seems like a very long time, but it goes so quickly!

What was the most interesting fact you discovered while researching the Wilhelm Gustloff?

There were so many interesting and surprising things I discovered, but one that stays with me is that it’s estimated that during World War II, over 25,000 people lost their lives in the Baltic Sea.

Wow! On your website, you say that while researching your books, you interview people who have experienced the event you’re writing about, then you combine their stories into one character.  Have you always used this method to make your characters?  

Yes, I generally interview and research the background of dozens of people and then weave elements of all of them into one character. That allows me to represent a larger human experience.

Are any of the characters in Salt to the Sea based off of real people, or are they all amalgamations of people you have interviewed?

The main character of Joana was partially inspired by the story of a Lithuanian nurse who fled during the evacuation, but then I quilted together elements from several other witnesses as well.

All three of your books are set between 1940-1950.  Why does that decade appeal to you?

I’m drawn to stories of strength through struggle and the journey of finding meaning through hardship. The war and post war period are full of experiences of hope, courage, love, and loss.

So what are you working on next?

I’m currently working on a novel set in 1957 Madrid, during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco in Spain.

Good luck with that!  Let’s finish up with a few quick questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

There were many authors and many books, but as a young child I was incredibly inspired by the work of Roald Dahl. His books are so full of creativity and imagination, of innocent young people at the mercy of unsavory adults. I still cherish my copy of James and the Giant Peach.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I love Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It reminds us that even if suffering is unavoidable, we alone choose how we cope with our suffering.

What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading research materials for my new book, so I’m reading Interrogating Francoism by Helen Graham. Once I’m finished with research, I can’t wait to read Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman.


Salt to the Sea cover

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume



Judy Blume is known for writing about teen angst in books like “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret”. She has written several books for adults as well, and “In the unlikely event” is her latest. The story centers on a series of real-life plane crashes which Blume, herself, experienced as a teen, and spirals out into the many lives that are changed, redirected and influenced by the tragedies. While the main character is a teenager, a wide-range of adult issues are addressed in Blume’s characteristic insightful prose.

Fact meets fiction as Blume weaves the stories of those who perished in the real crashes into her story. The website http://www.nj.com documents the disasters, and includes historic photographs. On this website Vicki Hyman writes: “One plane crash is a tragedy. Two in the same city is a catastrophe. And three is simply unfathomable. But that is just what happened in Elizabeth over a 58-day period in the early 1950s, a turbulent time for the historic city in the shadow of Newark Airport, and one that serves as the backdrop for Judy Blume‘s new novel…”.

At times I found the cast of characters a bit too long and got their stories mixed up. In her review in Chatelaine, Sarah Liss describes the cast as a “constellation of characters” (www.chatelaine.com). I think an annotated list, like a dramatis personae in a play, would have been useful to keep them straight.

The book’s blurb mentions a commemoration of the crashes decades after the events, which I felt was not given enough attention in the story. Blume reunites the characters and reveals that some things have changed, and some have not.

Personally I think the cover of this book needs a makeover. It’s drab and unexciting. I understand that the story is not a bright happy one, but I think book covers should entice readers and not discourage them. Don’t let the boring cover discourage you!

Despite these shortcomings, “In the unlikely event” is a well-written, tightly woven story. It gives life to historical events of the 1950s including the growth of commercial air travel, the frontier feeling of the development of Las Vegas and the evolving roles of women.




Interview with Adam Foulds


Adam 2Adam Foulds is a British novelist and poet. His most recent books are The Quickening Maze, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Encore Award and the European Union Prize for Literature, and The Broken Word, which won the Costa Poetry Award and the Somerset Maugham Award. He has recently been awarded the E.M. Forster Award by the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was named one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists.

Shauna Kosoris: Many of your books deal with modern (or relatively modern) historical events. What attracts you to this time period?

Adam Foulds: That really varies with each book. I can give specific answers about why I got interested in, say, the subject matter for The Broken Word. That had to do with learning about that history for the first time, which I did all at once when a couple of books were published about those events in Kenya. I hadn’t known about the conflict at all. Obviously that’s partly my fault. But also there was a silence about these events in Britain that seemed deliberate, an act of repression. I was very intrigued and kind of disturbed and sort of found myself wanting to write my way through it, to have my own reckoning with that bit of history. And that late Empire period of Britain, the decolonization and sort of post war period, is something I’m certainly still interested in. That’s when what’s left of the Empire is kind of coming apart and being dismantled, which seems like a very interesting set of stories to me. It feels like restless history, partly untold, ignored.

SK: Have you considered writing about more ancient history?

AF: No. I haven’t. Maybe one day. There are books like The Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch and Memories of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar that fictionalise ancient history that I like very much.

SK: Fair enough. Going back to contemporary history then, you’ve said that you wanted to contribute to breaking the silence around the events of Mau Mau in Kenya. Do you think The Broken Word was successful in doing so?

AF: The extent to which that happened is kind of unquantifiable but maybe in its small way. It sold relatively very well for a poem, certainly in the UK, and therefore that’s X thousand people who, whether they knew about this stuff before, they know about it now to some extent through the poem. There were much more visible and important events than the poem pertaining to these events in the last few years. A case for damages against the British government was brought by Kenyan survivors of torture in the internment camps which was won by those victims. That was an important cultural moment: the British government acknowledging responsibility. Damages will be awarded to those people. A fund is being set up to help other survivors. And I think a monument is being paid for by the British government that will go up in Nairobi. So The Broken Word sort of happened a bit before and alongside an important shift in the proper acknowledgement of the nature of these events by the British government.

SK: Why did you choose to write The Broken Word as a poem?

AF: For a number of reasons. I thought I might write a set of connected short stories, then realized that I only really wanted to tell Tom’s story. I didn’t then think I’m going to write it as a poem particularly. But I knew that I wanted to write lines along the page partly because it’s such a useful technical resource for writing violence (of which there’s obviously a lot in the poem). It gives you this very precise control of the way the reader moves through the action that you’re describing. And you can use that line break in all kinds of ways: you can use it to suddenly stop something, you can put nasty surprises around the corner of a line break, and you can give the sense of something kind of running on uncontrollably; that was very useful. Also I knew I wanted to write it in a very stripped down, hard and sort of classical sense. I was looking at Homer and classical drama and so I wanted something that’s very visual and objective because I didn’t want to moralize about the events that I was describing. I didn’t think that was useful or interesting. I had a strong sense that this situation and situations like these had just accelerated out of control by one thing happening after another and one reaction leading to another counter reaction and so on; I wanted the reader just to have Tom’s experience of getting caught up in these events and afterwards having to make sense of it for themself. I wanted them to have Tom’s experience as strongly as possible and not to be told what to think about it.

SK: Thinking of poetry, your second book, The Quickening Maze, deals with the English poet John Clare’s incarceration in High Beach Asylum. What attracted you to him and this period of his life?

AF: Well, lots of things. That book began in my imagination a long time before I wrote it. I was very interested in John Clare as an undergraduate and I came across this little coincidence in a biography I was reading of Tennyson that John Tarrant Tennyson and John Clare had been in the same place at the same time. Even more intriguing to me: that was a place I knew very well because I’d grown up on the edge of Epping Forest from the age of twelve. I immediately wondered what a meeting between them would have been like. It was a kind of “what if?” counterfactual. Well, not necessarily counterfactual actually; it’s quite likely that they did meet but there’s no record of them meeting. Anyway so that was what immediately interested me. I was particularly interested in Clare of the two because I liked his work very much (as I still do). He’s a very powerful poet and he’s someone who I think everyone who reads him, you know, your heart goes out to him because of his sweetness, his intensity of connection to the natural world, his pain at its destruction, and his bewilderment in life generally. That thought grew for a while. Then at some point I decided I will write this when I’ve learnt enough to be able to do it. And then as I got into researching I found more and more that was interesting and rich. You know, the character of Matthew Allen is a real person; he’s a very interesting guy between his progressive psychiatry, his plans for mechanical wood carving, and his personal history. And so I just found that lots of things were coming together in one place. I had this asylum in Epping Forest with these various people and what was happening at the time historically. John Clare entered the asylum in 1837, which is the year Queen Victoria came to the throne. So there’s all this richness, I mean in terms of Clare’s experience of the changing natural world, the industrial revolution, the changes in psychiatry, and social changes around the new Victorian ideal of respectability. The novel happens on this sort of pivot point between the end of the Regency world and the beginning of the Victorian period. So I just found this very detailed, very concentrated world that was full of these variegated personalities.

SK: Was it difficult to fictionalize this period of Clare’s life?

AF: Well, I had the idea for the best part of ten years before I wrote it and so I had a long time to research it (while, of course, doing other things). I learned a lot about the history of psychiatry and other various things. I had a long time to absorb all of the important information that I needed. But also when you’re dealing with great poets like Tennyson and Clare, you have thousands of pages of their own articulation of their consciousness and experience of the world and it’s as fine and as piercing as you could want it to be because they are such great writers. So in a way it is made easier by that. But it is also more daunting in some sense because you’re trying to inhabit for yourself these extraordinary minds. In the end you have to surrender yourself to that process and think readers will know that I’m only writing the best version of this person I can manage; it can’t be definitive because it is only as rich and as real as I can make it for myself.

SK: What first drew you to poetry?

AF: It was where writing began for me when I was 15 at school. I read an awful lot at that age and read really only poetry. Until I got to university I was not very interested in prose. I mean there were certain prose writers that I would read. I liked Nabokov as a teenager and a couple of others. Nabokov had the kind of density that I liked and the quantity of imagery I guess I found in poetry. I had these tunes in my head, these tunes of poems, that I was writing or that I read. I memorized poems very easily. I don’t really write short form poetry these days but I read it all the time. Poems enter your system and become part of your mental life, you know, in a way that prose can’t quite; it’s to do with the portability and the concentration of poems. They’re always there ready to unfurl in your thoughts.

SK: What is your favourite poem form to write and why?

AF: I write organic forms. I don’t tend to use formal stanza structures. I tend to do it by ear. I mean in a way you could say the form The Broken Word is written in is adapting itself to each kind of moment that it’s describing.

SK: I guess it’s kind of more free verse then?

AF: Yes, but it has to have enough that catches in the ear. That has a rhythmical sense. You know that kind of plants it on the page.

SK: The way you’ve just described your poetry makes me wonder if you’ve ever written to music?

AF: I’ve thought about it. I’d be interested if the right composer and project came along. But yes, it’s not something that has happened yet.

SK: What was your first published poem?

AF: Outside of school magazines, I published things in a couple of literary magazines when I was a student. When I was an undergraduate, the Australian poet Les Murray, who is someone I admire enormously, came to speak at my university and I went to see him and then afterwards kind of threw myself at him. I nervously went and essentially asked if he wouldn’t mind looking at these; he was very generous and did. I showed him, I don’t know, ten poems or something and he published two of those in an Australian magazine called Quadrant for which he was poetry editor. And that was hugely affirmative for me. That was an important stamp of approval.

SK: Oh definitely! I’ve read that you teach creative writing. How do you engage people who are not eager to read poetry?

AF: I teach prose. I mean, I went through my creative writing masters as a poet although I was starting to write more prose really at that time. Generally, in that context people are already eager to read poetry. I’m not a big fan of or willing contributor to poetry’s endless outreach attempts. Poetry is a minority interest and I think that’s fine. It won’t excite everyone. It’s rather like deciding everyone should have access to and a lifelong interest in windsurfing. I do enjoy the teaching; I find it enriching and it’s good to get out of the house as well.

SK: And I guess it gives you some of that real-world experience that enriches your writing, too.

AF: Yeah. I’ve tended to teach adults. I teach a course run by the Guardian newspaper and the University of East Anglia together. It’s an evening class once a week for six months. Basically you do as much as you do in terms of workshop time on an MA, with people who wouldn’t be able to commit to doing an MA; they tend to be older, professional people, quite often women who are just emerging from the busy years of motherhood and finding their own voices again. Working with those people can be very enjoyable. They really appreciate being there and the space for their creativity. It’s nice to be able to be for someone the encouraging and insightful friend that writers hope to have. Or at least, you know, try to be that person.

SK: So to switch gears a little bit, what can you tell me about your newest novel, In the Wolf’s Mouth?

AF: It is set in North Africa and Sicily during the Second World War, during the Allied campaigns to liberate/conquer both those places. It has in particular to do with Sicily and what happened with the Allied invasion and the later British-American overseen transition out of fascism (called AMOOT: the Allied Military Government of the Occupied Territories). Obviously Sicily had been under Mussolini’s fascist rule until then.

In the Wolf’s Mouth is also the complicated story of the mafia’s involvement. It seems Americans used Mafiosi from New York and other places as local intelligence. Mafiosi were released from prisons in Sicily where they had been imprisoned. This period is very murky; the allies are unsure of who might be involved in the mafia and only sort of understand what that means. It’s this slightly cloudy period where the mafia manages to get its grip back on the island in a way that has not loosened since. Fascism was essentially the only movement that ever properly curtailed the mafia in Sicily from its birth a couple hundred years ago. What has a contemporary resonance is this idea of the reconstruction of a country after conflict that’s full of these complicated local politics and affiliations that the occupiers don’t really understand. All these things are quite familiar to us from Iraq and Afghanistan, for example.

SK: What led you to Sicily and the mafia during World War II?

AF: I visited western Sicily on holiday, which is where that mafia culture is strongest, and I was very struck by how different it was to other places in Italy that I’ve been to. I went back a while later when I began researching the book in earnest and met a bunch of people including the historians at Plumber University and members of a landowning family who can remember that period. One of the people I spoke to told me that the Mafiosi were not in your face in quite the way that they used to be but they’re completely in the system. I recently read an article that cited figures from some study that showed the Ndrangheta, one of the southern Italian mafias, had a turnover of something insane like £44 billion in 2014, more than McDonald’s and Deutsche Bank put together.

One of the ways that the mafia’s presence was visible during my first trip to Sicily was that there were these odd bits of infrastructure that aren’t really doing anything. So you’ll see a bit of motorway that isn’t connected to anything or a bridge that’s not doing anything either and a sports stadium that’s half finished and obviously unused. I was told at the time that this is a mafia scam: they create these building projects and claim big subsidies from the European Union and then pocket the money and don’t finish the thing. That was so depressing, this kind of effort that’s completely useless and perverse.

SK: I’d like to finish up with a few questions about what you read. What author or in your case poet inspired you to write?

AF: When I started, I just wrote some poems and then thought, well I better read some poetry. Find out what it’s like. The first name that I had in my head, which I just sort of picked up from general culture, was Keats. I knew that Keats was a poet. So I went and got a copy of Keats’ collected poems and started reading that. And then Yeats also. Not because of that Smith’s song but I don’t know why, he was next. I benefitted from a good school library which had a good poetry section and good anthologies; I just kept reading. So early on Keats and Yeats. Actually, just as I started writing, Samuel Beckett died. Suddenly BBC TV was filled with Samuel Beckett stuff. I got to watch Waiting for Godot and Endgame and all these extraordinary things. I was fascinated and read a lot of Beckett. Once I was up and running I read a lot quickly. Poetry took over my thinking. Really it took over everything.

SK: What are you working on now?

AF: New fiction. And the second draft of a screenplay. We’ll see what happens with that. I mean it’s film so most things don’t happen.

SK: That’s exciting nonetheless.

AF: Sure. It would be nice if it comes off.

SK: What are you currently reading?

AF: Lots of things. I’ve been reading a bit of French stuff – Aragon and Mallarme – because I’m in France and trying to improve my French. But mostly at the moment I’m reading Henry James and Saul Bellow. I’m also reading a DeLillo novel that I’ve not read before called Great Jones Street. But James and Bellow feel like all I need at the moment.

SK: Any Screenplays too, just for fun?

AF: I’ve been watching more films rather than reading them. Actually this house happened to have a copy of some of Bergman’s screenplays so I was looking at those the other day and a while ago I read some Harold Pinter screenplays. I’m feeling my way with this screenplay. But certainly watching lots of films.

In the Wolf's Mouth front cover

Interview with Karen Autio


Karen-Autio-Author Karen Autio grew up in Nipigon, Ontario.  She began writing and illustrating stories as a child.  Her love of words continued as she grew up; along with being an author, she is also an editor and calligrapher.  Karen likes to collect objects with stories; it is this love that inspired Karen to write her historical trilogy which began with Second Watch.  You can come and meet Karen at the Waverley Library on October 9th; she will be sharing the final book of her trilogy, Sabotage, with us there.

Shauna Kosoris: Second Watch, the first book in your trilogy, was inspired by your grandmother giving you a silver spoon.  Her friend claimed that spoon had been on the Titanic.  How did that story lead to a trilogy of books?

Karen Autio: I wrote Second Watch thinking it was a standalone book. Shortly before it was released, my publisher asked me what other book ideas I had. That’s when I first realized I wasn’t ready to stop writing my characters’ stories. My grandmother, while quarantined in a tuberculosis sanatorium, wrote letters to her baby, my mother. This personal family story inspired the continuation of the Mäki family’s journey in my second book, Saara’s Passage. Then in my research for writing Saara’s Passage, I discovered that what I thought was a tall tale I’d heard growing up in Nipigon was actually true. There really were German spies at work in my hometown in 1915 plotting to destroy the Canadian Pacific Railway bridge. This was irresistible fodder for more research and then writing the third book in the trilogy, Sabotage.

SK: Have you found out the spoon’s actual history?  

KA: Yes—and it’s completely different from what I expected! Come to one of my presentations and I’ll explain.

SK: I’ll have to stop by when you’re at Waverley this October!  Second Watch deals with the Empress of Ireland tragedy.  What was the most interesting fact you discovered about the ship while researching for the book?

KA: The first passengers I learned about who were on the final voyage of the Empress of Ireland were Hilma Kivistö and her two children, from Port Arthur (now part of Thunder Bay). They were relatives of my grandmother’s friend from whom she’d received the silver spoon. Hilma was Finnish, and as I researched the Empress, I learned of several other Finnish passengers from Port Arthur and Fort William. Eventually I discovered a website listing 91 passengers involved in the shipwreck who were destined for Finland—all of whom were travelling in Third Class.

What amazed me was their survival rate. Of the 91, 21 were rescued—23%. This was a higher percentage than all of Third Class, and even all of Second Class (both were 19%). I attribute this to their Finnish sisu— strength, drive, and perseverance.

SK: Wow, that’s quite amazing.  So the second book in the trilogy, Saara’s Passage, deals with growing up during difficult times: Saara must deal with tuberculosis in her family, the growing threat of WW1, and her Post-Traumatic Stress from the Empress of Ireland.  Was it difficult to weave all three of these issues together into your narrative?

KA: Yes, there was definitely a lot to hold in my mind and consistently apply in the writing. As I researched, I immersed myself in the time period and imagined myself as Saara dealing with all of these challenges. The most difficult part of writing Saara’s Passage was the personal connection, thinking about my grandmother experiencing being quarantined in the Toronto sanatorium for months on end, and then in a separate building at home in Nipigon. To imagine the reality of her being able to see her infant (my mother) from a distance, but have no contact with her, was heart wrenching.

SK: What can you tell me about the third book, Sabotage, which came out last fall?

KA: Sabotage deals with spies, sabotage, enemy aliens, and internment in Canada during the First World War. My trilogy tells the adventures and mishaps of the Finnish-immigrant Sabotage coverMäki family living in Port Arthur in 1914-15. Readers discover both how much has changed since the early 1900s and what remains timeless, such as fickle friends, new-immigrant experiences, the struggle to do the right thing, and family dynamics.

Finding out that the plot to destroy the Nipigon River railway bridge was actually true inspired me to hunt for more information about wartime sabotage in Canada. What I learned astounded me. I turned my research into this adventure novel in which the courage and wits of siblings Saara and John Mäki are put to the test. Sabotage is suitable for any age of reader from grade 4 up and is of equal interest to boys and girls. Partly that’s due to the story being told by both Saara and her younger brother John, in alternating chapters.

Sabotage was:

  •         a 2014 Arthur Ellis Award finalist for Best Juvenile/YA Crime Book Finalist
  •         shortlisted for the 2015 Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award
  •         listed by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre as a “Best Book for Children”

SK: How much time did you spend researching the books of your trilogy?

KA: Years! Several years! I never have the freedom to research solidly, so it’s piecemeal and therefore difficult to tally the time.

SK: What are you working on now that your trilogy is finished?

KA: When I’m not busy copy editing fiction or non-fiction manuscripts for other writers as a freelance editor, I’m working on my next books. I’m excited that my first picture book, called Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon, has been accepted for publication by Sono Nis Press. It explores the history of where I live in the Okanagan Valley, B.C., in a unique way. I have the incredible opportunity to collaborate on this project with the illustrator, Loraine Kemp, of Kelowna. I’m also in the process of researching local history for a novel set in early Kelowna.

SK: Congratulations, that’s very exciting!  Thinking of history, you’ve said that you like collecting objects with stories.  What’s your favourite object that you’ve collected so far?

KA: One of my favourites is the Finnish-style wooden rocking chair that my great-grandfather built in 1939. He made it as a gift for his daughter, my grandmother who gave me the silver spoon. The rocking chair then belonged to my mother for several years before she passed it on to me. Its extra-long runners make for an exciting ride! As a child, I loved to rock it to its limits at Mummu’s house (which always made her nervous, despite trusting her father’s craftsmanship).

SK: How did growing up in Nipigon affect you?

KA: In Nipigon, I was surrounded by Finlanders! My grandparents shared their Finnish heritage with me by teaching me to bake coffee bread (pulla) and making sure we had plenty of pickerel and a hot sauna during summers at the lake. Growing up on the northern shore of Lake Superior instilled in me a love of water and now my favourite activities are walking or cycling along Mission Creek and getting out on Okanagan Lake in our canoe.

SK: I’d like to finish up by asking you some questions about what you read.  Is there a book or author that inspired you to write?

KA: I can’t pick only one! Going way back, I have fond memories of the Dr. Seuss Beginner’s Dictionary that played an important role in turning me into a lover of words. Julie Lawson’s historical novel Goldstone about Swedish immigrants in the early 1900s in British Columbia was an inspirational model for me as I was writing Second Watch.

SK: Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

KA: I’ve given this a lot of thought, but haven’t come up with a single book or author. Everyone is so diverse, with unique interests. The important thing is to read regularly and read Finnish Rocking Chairwidely. A book I would highly recommend for writers—one that I frequently reread—is Take Joy: A Book for Writers by Jane Yolen.

SK: Finally, what are you currently reading?

KA: In a recent online author interview, I was asked to think back to my childhood to recall a particular author who was a favourite. My answer was Rosemary Sutcliff. Her historical novels drew me into their time periods and brought history to life. As a result, I’m currently reading her book The Mark of the Horse Lord.

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson


While my reading tastes normally stick to fiction, every once in awhile I have to try out a non-fiction book (especially when a fellow co-worker says you just have to read this book and won’t leave you alone till you do. HA! Just kidding Lori). In truth though, Lori was explaining the concept of this book and it really piqued my curiosity.  Larson’s The Devil in the White City is a true crime novel wrapped up in fantastic history lesson involving the Chicago World’s Fair (World’s Columbian Exposition). This story takes place during the late 1800’s, early 20th century and centers around two men who are the complete polar opposites. The first man, Daniel H. Burnham was the chief architect of the Chicago World’s Fair and the second, a grisly serial killer with the alias H.H. Holmes. While one man struggles with the enormity of building a fair to rival anything ever done in the past, the other takes advantage of the chaos the building of the fair brings to the city of Chicago in order to easily commit murder.

To be quite honest, while I have heard the name Chicago’s World Fair before, I really had no clue what it actually was, when it took place or who was involved. What I really loved about this book was Larson’s account of early Chicago and the building of the fair and everything that went into it. While reading the book, I could not get over the size of the fair or Burnham’s brutally unrealistic timetable for completion. I feel that I can now confidently answer a number of Trivial Pursuit questions about the subject, such as who created the Ferris Wheel and for why was it created?  To find out the answer you’ll have to read the book……or just Google it. I also had no idea that there was a serial killer operating out of Chicago either near the turn of the century. Larson also does a great job of recounting the tale of H.H. Holmes. As this manipulative, charming but stone cold sociopath finds himself in Chicago, he must’ve compared himself to a kid in a candy store. As crime ran rampant in the streets of Chicago, disappearances were actually quite a common occurrence, much to Holm’s chagrin.

The only thing I can comment on is personal taste. While I did find the story of the World’s Columbian Exposition intriguing, I found myself wanting to skim over some chapters in order to get to the chapters involving Holmes. However, my patience persevered and I can say that I really liked this book. Okay, enough of this non-fiction stuff, back to a good Lee Child thriller.

Derek Gradner

The Magnificent Ambersons, by Booth Tarkington


This 1918 novel begins with: “Major Amberson had ‘made a fortune’ in 1873, when other people were losing fortunes, and the magnificence of the Ambersons began then.’ Set in a fictional town in the mid-west of the United States, the story is a snapshot in time describing the downfall of the rich and powerful family over a period of three generations. It is wonderfully illustrative, describing the gradual influence of the industrial age and the introduction of innovative inventions. Those who didn’t keep up were sooner or later left along the wayside, while automobiles and the like made their irrevocable mark on the landscape. Life became faster; fashions changed to comply with new discoveries; towns grew into cities as industry expanded; and attitudes altered towards the idle rich.

George Amberson Minafer, the major’s grandson, is the main character of the story. Spoiled to excess by his adoring mother, and despised by the townsfolk for his arrogant sense of entitlement and bullying ways, he is incapable of looking beyond the milieu of old money and his own self-importance. Those forced to suffer him on a daily basis, long for the day when he will finally get his ‘comeuppance.’

Unfortunately for young George, he falls in love with Lucy, the daughter of Eugene Morgan, an inventor of automobiles and a forward-looking entrepreneur. Eugene is new money and a threat to everything George stands for. Eugene was also almost engaged to George’s mother, Isabelle, and although she went on to marry George’s father and remained loyal and devoted to him, the sparks never totally died between Eugene and Isabelle.

Young George’s bitter stubbornness and old-school sense of propriety land him in more than one spot of bother, and as the family fortune diminishes and the Amberson name slips further into obscurity, the old townsfolk, if they would have remembered them, would have been quite satisfied to see that George finally did get what he deserved.

This is a most enjoyable read. Winner of the 1919 Pulitzer Prize and number 100 on the Modern Library`s list of top fiction, it gives a remarkable insight into the attitudes and lifestyles of people living at the time – of their foppery as well as their hardships; of their initial resistance to new inventions; and the manner in which people adapted old societal standards and re-invented a new, bold society.

It`s interesting how a lot of people initially reacted towards automobiles as they first went tearing about the countryside. The drivers and their passengers would often be assailed with cries of ‘git a hoss’ by baffled onlookers who couldn`t comprehend that the noisy vehicles could ever be more than a passing fad.


Louis L’Amour


Ok, I’m not much into westerns.  Don’t get me wrong, every single Clint Eastwood western rocks (especially Hang ‘em High and Unforgiven, even Two Mules for Sister Sara) but book wise, I’ve never been interested……until I actually picked up a Louis L’Amour novel and basically read it straight through.  A few years ago when my girlfriend and I decided to visit my parents at camp during the most rain filled weekend in the summer, bored out of my mind I picked up a leather bound Louis L’Amour novel titled Shalako.  I have to admit that I was instantly hooked.  The story was fast paced, character driven with excellent dialogue and basically right deadly.  Shalako, the book’s main character, stumbles upon a stranded European hunting party in the desert about to be overwhelmed and killed by Apaches.  Through Shalako’s intervention the party survives and Shalako finds himself positioned as the group’s protector and leader as he tries to navigate them back to safety.  Since, I have read numerous more L’Amour westerns and honestly, the stuff is really good.  They are almost all fast reads which can be read in a sitting and ideal for camping or travelling (especially for those lovely rainy days).  WORD!!