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Refuge Denied: The St. Louis Passengers and the Holocaust by Sarah A Ogilvie and Scott Miller

>> Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Published: 2006
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 187

From the inside cover:
In May of 1939 the Cuban government turned away the Hamburg-America Line’s MS St. Louis, which carried more than 900 hopeful Jewish refugees escaping Nazi Germany. The passengers subsequently sought safe haven in the United States, but were rejected once again, and the St. Louis had to embark on an uncertain return voyage to Europe. Finally, the St. Louis passengers found refuge in four western European countries, but only the 288 passengers sent to England evaded the Nazi grip that closed upon continental Europe a year later. Over the years, the fateful voyage of the St. Louis has come to symbolize U.S. indifference to the plight of European Jewry on the eve of World War II.

Although the episode of the St. Louis is well known, the actual fates of the passengers, once they disembarked, slipped into historical obscurity. Prompted by a former passenger’s curiosity, Sarah Ogilvie and Scott Miller of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum set out in 1996 to discover what happened to each of the 937 passengers. Their investigation, spanning nine years and half the globe, took them to unexpected places and produced surprising results. Refuge Denied chronicles the unraveling of the mystery, from Los Angeles to Havana and from New York to Jerusalem.

Some of the most memorable stories include the fate of a young toolmaker who survived initial selection at Auschwitz because his glasses had gone flying moments before and a Jewish child whose apprenticeship with a baker in wartime France later translated into the establishment of a successful business in the United States. Unfolding like a compelling detective thriller, Refuge Denied is a must-read for anyone interested in the Holocaust and its impact on the lives of ordinary people.

I first heard about this book via an email newsletter from Capitol Book & News. It came highly recommended and I have to agree. The stories of the passengers are often tragic and sad, but there are many that are tributes to the human spirit.

This is a link to the Holocaust Memorial Museum's online exhibit about the St. Louis story and the passengers.


The Girls by Lori Lansens

>> Monday, May 28, 2007

Published: 2006
Genre: Fictional Autobiography
Pages: 343

I'm going to apologize in advance for the length of this post, but there was just so much I wanted to say about and quote from this book that I just couldn't shorten it.

I had already decided I wanted to read this book when I first read about it as a British Book Award nominee. Then, my Surly friend read and highly recommended it so it moved up to the read soon category. I’m so glad it did. This book is wonderful. It is funny, sad, heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time.

Rose and Ruby Darlen are 29 year old identical twins. They are very different individuals with different interests and viewpoints of their shared experiences. They are also conjoined twins. Joined at the head and not eligible for separation surgery, they have spent their lives together without being able to look each other in the eyes. This fictional autobiography begins as Rose’s story, but she encourages her reluctant twin to also write her story. They agree not to read what each other has written and have someone else combine their writing logically when they are done.

There has never been a possibility of my being separated from Ruby. We have known that it could not be, and declared that even if we could, we wouldn’t. Still, I have an elaborate fantasy life in which I am a singular woman. My right arm belongs to me. My right leg is the exact length of my left, and I tote nothing on my hip but a funky leather bag. My features have been surgically corrected and I have my sister’s pretty face. I am mysterious. I live alone in a small but chic apartment in Toronto with a view of the lake. I take long bubble baths with dozens of candles. I am a well-known author and I have a poet boyfriend (actually many boyfriends – not all poets) for whom I dress provocatively. (Oh yes, in this fantasy I also have large shapely breasts.)
There is some alienation, of course, in being so different, but it’s also been fascinating, and a unique opportunity, I think, to have observed our generation without fully participating in it.

Born to a teenage mother, the girls are raised by a nurse who was present at their birth. Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash, as they become to Rose and Ruby live in a small town in Southern Canada. The story of the girls is a fascinating one. The writing is wonderful and Lansens manages to give a unique voice to both writers. I found myself occasionally forgetting they were conjoined and then suddenly being reminded abruptly, such as when Rose stops to explain just why going down a staircase is so difficult for them, or the side effects she suffers from medication that Ruby requires.

When I groaned about it to Aunt Lovey, she’d said, “Ruby’s going to summer school for the math, but you’ll be learning a valuable lesson too, Rose.”

I’d have stomped if I were a stomper. “It’s just not fair,” I whined.

“Yep.” She’d nodded. “That’s the lesson.”

The individuality of Rose and Ruby is clear, and the places where they describe the same experiences with different viewpoints stress that. They even manage to keep some secrets from each other. The relationship between the sisters is fascinating and the book is just beautifully written.

I can’t say exactly why I’ve chosen to write about the particular things I’m writing about. There are doubtless better stories from my life that I’m missing, events and escapades I’m not wise enough to know were important. If heaven is tolerant and writers are allowed (bunch of liars though they are), I wonder if they gather for coffee to ponder the prose they should have written instead.

This is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year.

All of the above quotes are from Rose, but this final one is from Ruby

Before she closed her eyes tonight, Rose said she regretted that she has not done something heroic in her life. Well, it’s not like she can suddenly climb a tree and save a cat, or go to medical school and begin some important cancer research.

But Rose has been my sister.

I think that’s heroic.


First Degree by David Rosenfelt

>> Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Publication Date: 2003
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 273

This is the second book in the Andy Carpenter series. Andy is still irreverent and funny. He’s got his loyal dog Tara by his side. This one opens with the death of a former cop, but he’s not someone that will be missed. Andy’s investigator and girlfriend Laurie is glad to hear Dolan is dead because he’s got a lot to do with why she’s no longer a cop. A potential client shows up at Andy’s office and tells Andy he’s the one who killed Dolan. Andy refuses to take the case mainly because the guy gives him the creeps.

I can’t say much more about the mystery or trial without giving away plot, but it’s another fun legal mystery type with more of and about Andy’s friends and staff.

I can share a few quotes that made me giggle along the way.

This is one of the reasons I like Andy – I suffer from the same addiction to sarcasm.

I mentally vow to swear off sarcasm for the duration of this case. I'm not sure if I can do it; my addiction goes way back. I wonder if they can make a sarcasm patch that I can wear to wean me off it.
Haven’t we all had meetings like this?
I leave after about a half hour, with Hobbs wishing me luck and offering to be available should I need more help in the future. I make a note to myself that if I ever want to have another completely unproductive meeeting that is a total waste of time, I will give him a call.
I think my uncle had this same medical problem

Vince snorts and points to his right knee. "Of course I'm sure. If I didn't have this trick knee, I would have been fighting commies right alongside him."

I point to his other knee. "I thought your left knee was the trick one."

He nods without embarrassment. "That's part of the trick."

Start with the first one (Open and Shut) and enjoy this series, I’m looking forward to the next one in the series.


Isle of Palms by Dorothea Benton Frank

>> Monday, May 21, 2007

Publication Date: 2003
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 486

I read and liked Dorothea Benton Frank’s first two books (Sullivan’s Island and Plantation). This was also quite enjoyable. It was similar to the other two. Set in the Charleston, SC area with a lot of local color and accents and a few over the top characters, but not enough to keep the book from being a nice read.

Anna Abbot had decided that it’s time for changes and boy does she get them. She buys a small cottage on the Isle of Palms where she spent the early years of her ‘not from a storybook’ childhood. Her dad starts dating the bombshell who lives next door, her daughter comes home from college for the summer with a new goth look and attitude, her ex-husband is in town, she’s opening her own business and the guy she’s dating doesn’t want to get ‘too involved’. Wrap it all up in some southern charm and wit and you’ve got a good summertime beach read.


Summer Mystery Reading Challenge

>> Saturday, May 19, 2007

So, I had just decided to try some new authors for the Medical Mystery Madness Challenge. Somehow the folks at Reviewed by Liz read my mind and decided that I needed to do more. They’re hosting the Summer Mystery Reading Challenge. The goal of this one is to read six mysteries of any type by authors whose works you haven’t read before between June 1st and August 31st.

Well since I already had 3 “new to me” medical mystery authors planned for that time frame, I was halfway there. I’ve added 3 additional “new to me” authors that were already on my TBR list or bookshelf and I’m all set.

These are the books I’ve got planned for this challenge:


Medical Mystery Madness Challenge

Oh yes, another Challenge that I can’t resist. I love mysteries and I’ve read and enjoyed quite a few medical mysteries. This one is hosted by Twiga. The rules are simple – 2 or more medical mystery thrillers between June 1 and November 1.

I decided that this would be a good opportunity to read some new authors. I’m tentatively planning to read 4 books for this challenge (there’s always a chance that a bonus or two might get added later)


Southern Reading Challenge

It seems like I've always liked books by Southern writers and books set in the South, so when I saw that Maggie at Maggie Reads was planning The Southern Reading Challenge it was an easy choice. I'm in !!

Between June 1st and August 31st read three "Southern" books. The books must contain a Southern setting by a Southern author.

I'm already reading Peachtree Road by Anne Rivers Siddons in June for
The Chunkster Challenge so I was already a third of the way through before I even started thinking.

So - here are the books I'm planning to read for this challenge:

6/4/07 Updating to cancel Peachtree Road and substitute


Audiobook - Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley by M.C. Beaton

>> Friday, May 18, 2007

Publication Date: 1995
Genre: Cozy mystery

After spending 6 months back in London working in PR again, Agatha is more than happy to return to her country retirement life in the Cotswolds. She’s glad to be back in the little village of Carsley with all it’s quirky inhabitants. It doesn’t take long, however for Agatha to get recruited by a friend to investigate a murder in nearby Dembley. Jessica Tartink is the leader of a local walking group, but she’s more interested in demanding public right of way to the estates of wealthy landowners. When Jessica is found murdered on an estate outside of Dembley, there are soon more suspects than even Agatha can keep track of. In order to infiltrate the walking group and find out more about what happened to Jessica, Agatha and her friend James Lacey end up posing as a married couple living in Dembley. Between investigating the murder and wishing that the temporary living arrangement with James would lead to romance, Agatha has her hands full.

In this 4th book in the series, Agatha Raisin continues to balance being cranky and charmingly naïve and vulnerable. Since the story takes Agatha and James away from Carsley, the familial quirky cast of villagers is absent for much of the book, but there are plenty of fun moments. Donada Peters is a great reader and I really enjoy listening to this series for driving around town books.


Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

>> Monday, May 14, 2007

Publication Date: 2001
Genre: Biography
Pages: 721

This is the first of my books for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge, and my 5th book for The Chunkster Challenge. It was a good one, but I also knew what I was getting into. Morris has written two volumes of what is planned to be a 3 volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt. Since there was a 22 year gap between the first two books, I’m not exactly holding my breath waiting for the third one.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt which covers his life from birth to just before he became President when William McKinley died. This period of his life was an amazingly adventurous and colorful story. That book truly read like an adventure tale as much as it did a biography. I hadn’t known that much about the man before reading that book and was fascinated with how much he had done and experienced before he even became President at 42.

Theodore Rex is a different style of book than the first one because it is a story of an extremely different part of this man’s life. It strictly covers his years as President and sticks very closely to telling about his Presidency more than it tells about his personal or family life during that time period. Therefore, it’s a tale of politics and foreign relations. The first book was more about Theodore Roosevelt (the man) and this one is about Theodore Roosevelt (the President). I learned a lot about the Panama Canal, and the various world crises and near-crises, but I was left wanting to know more about other aspects of his life during this time period.

There were places where I had trouble keeping track of all the political players and frequently used the extensive notes section for further information. Some things bothered me about the book. There’s an extremely brief mention of a future attempted assassin that is never followed up that I found to be annoying. There are many too brief hints at the turbulent relationship with his oldest daughter, Alice that are left unexplored. His family life in the White House as the first resident of that building with a family of young children is nearly ignored. However, the book is still an interesting story of his Presidency. I would like to read more about Theodore Roosevelt’s wife, daughter and sister because they all seemed to be quite strong women in their own right and the book left me wanting to know more about them.

If you only read one book about Theodore Roosevelt I would recommend The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Morris, rather than this one. This one was excellent, but it was definitely about his Presidency more than anything. It’s interesting, but not as fascinating as the first one.

I just hope it doesn’t take Morris until 2023 to write the third part of Roosevelt’s biography.


Vacation Bookstore Visiting

>> Saturday, May 12, 2007

I love finding cool little independent bookstores when we travel. Last weekend we spent a few days down in Humboldt County California. Our primary purpose for the trip was the Avenue of the Giants race at Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The Hubster ran the half marathon and I walked the 10k.

6.2 miles through this is just an amazing experience.

Oh right - this is a book blog. Well, besides the race and meeting up with some friends there we had 2 other goals for the weekend. Check out some local brewpubs and and some local bookstores.

Old town Eureka is just a wonderful area. Lots of beautifully restored Victorian buildings and interesting shops.

Isn't this wonderful??

Just a few blocks away is another little booklovers haven called "The Booklegger".

I could have spent hours here

but there were brewpubs to get to.


Audiobook – Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters

>> Wednesday, May 9, 2007

This is the second in the Amelia Peabody series about egyptology, excavations, and murder mysteries in the 1890s.

Amelia, her husband Emerson and their young son Ramses are living in England and both Amelia and Emerson are completely bored and missing the excavations in Egypt. The suspicious death of the wealthy Lord Baskerville while in the midst of exploring a tomb in Egypt and a plea from his young widow for Emerson to complete the exploration soon takes away the boredom and sends Amelia and Emerson back to Egypt. They leave their son with his aunt and uncle but only after some tales of this child prodigy’s antics. I haven't decided yet whether the son is irritating or amusing, but since he's not much of a presence in this book, I'll wait to see how the character plays out in the next books in the series.

Amelia has a really funny way of talking about her son and husband and the reader of this audiobook (Susan O’Malley) does a great job of conveying the sarcastic tone and making me giggle while listening in the car.

Once in Egypt, the mystery of Lord Baskerville’s death gets more and more complicated with every new and quirky character that enters the story. Amelia’s confidence that she knows more about just about anything than most people is actually kind of fun. This series is one I’ll continue to listen to as audio books. I’m enjoying them so far.


The Last Catholic in America by John R. Powers

>> Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Publication Date: 1982
Genre: Fictionalized Memoir
Pages: 224

I needed something light, quick and funny so I pulled this one off the shelf for a re-read. It’s probably been 20 years since I first read this and it still makes me giggle.

This is the fictionalized memoir of Eddie Ryan about his years at St. Bastion’s Catholic Grammar School in suburban 1950s Chicago.

Although the neighborhood is legally part of Chicago, it is isolated from the rest of the city by grave markers and evergreens. The area is entirely surrounded by cemeteries, seven of them to be exact. The neighborhood is named after the largest of these Cemeteries, Seven Holy Tombs.

Then, there were two major religions in the world, Catholic and “Public”.
Eddie’s reminiscences begin with his first day of first grade at St. Bastion’s. His First Confession is memorable mostly because he realizes on the way home that he inadvertently lied about the number of lies he confessed and has to go back for more confession after lunch. The neighborhood kids and schoolmates bring back many memories of the same types of kids from my own childhood, even though I was a “public” and not from Chicago. His adventures continue through 8th grade, including such things as learning from “Felix the Filth Fiend Lindor” how to buy a dirty book, Cub Scouts, the annual Parish Carnival, going to a baseball game with his grandfather, etc.

The Saturday afternoon double feature had apparently ended. Already kids were beginning to explode out of the doors of the Hollywood Theater.

I knew how they felt. If the two movies were good, you’d sit through four hours of almost total darkness, the only light coming from the stars overhead and a few exit signs that you could see speckled along the edges of the dark. You’d sit there so long you’d actually forget that it wasn’t nighttime.

After the show, you’d walk through the lobby feeling tired and lousy, like you’d been in school all day. It wasn’t until you made the turn around the popcorn machine and saw the daylight through the front doors that you realized it was light out. Like finding a few hours of sunshine you’d thought you’d already lived through. It felt good to discover that sunlight and it really excited you. That’s why people exploded out of the Hollywood Theater instead of just walking out.

I remember that feeling. It was great!


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