The Defection Of A J Lewinter by Robert Littell

Winner of the 1973 Gold Dagger Award

A J Lewinter wants to defect from the USA to Russia. He has become disenchanted with his life in the US, and he believes his job has provided him with information the Russians will want about tracking missiles inside of ceramic nosecones on warheads. It's not so much that Lewinter wants to betray his country. He just wants to give the Russians an even chance of defending themselves against American aggression because he thinks it's more fair that way.

Lewinter has another reason for defecting. He has developed his own plan for worldwide recycling. The United States has not expressed any interest in implementing his plan. He hopes the Russians might feel differently.

While in Russia at a business conference, Lewinter walks into the Russian Embassy and announces his wish to defect. He convinces the person in charge that he has legitimate information the Russians can use. On the basis of this, Lewinter is taken to Russia for further evaluation.

Thus begins a story of espionage and intrigue. At times the story is downright hilarious... there is one particular passage with an explanation that defies Vizzini's logic. At the same time, the story is deadly serious because there's a lot of truth to be found in this tale. That makes it frightening.

I have always believed that espionage is nothing more than adult men's attempt to keep on playing the game of childhood Cowboys and Indians. This book confirms my belief in that theory. Only in the adult game of C & I we learned to call Espionage, there are dire consequences for those who knowingly participate and those who get enlisted whether they want to be or not.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the scripts played out during the Cold War, and the kinds of men this time of history not only produced but encouraged.

This Newberry Medalaward winning chidren's tale follows Meg (short for Margaret) Murray and her brother Charles Wallace on their adventures. Both are outcasts being though dumb and backwards by other children and adults, when in reality they are merely misunderstood. They team up with Calvin O'Keefe to battle the supreme evil, IT, who is also misunderstood and neglected in his extremely large family.

It all starts when Meg wants to go looking for her father. He disappeared some years ago amid speculation that he ran off with another woman which his family knows is a lie. He was secretly working on a government project and wrote often until the letters suddenly stop worrying his wife and children. Charles befriends the strange Mrs Whatsit and her friends Mrs Who and Mrs Which to track him down and defeat the evil that wants everyone to be the same. To save their father, and the universe, they must travel by tesser, a unique form of travel in the fifth dimension using a tesseract previously thought impossible.

A thoroughly enjoyable start to the series. The characters were well rounded and I liked that Meg was told to reply on her faults (impatience and stubborness for te most part!). There were some great ideas the author proposed and developed and I can picture many a children's author taking ideas from this novel. I loved her descriptions of people and places from outside our world out in space. Just enough detail to make it seem real without being too science fiction orientated. There was an interview with Madeleine at the eback along with her award acceptance speech which made for good additional reading.

Art Spiegelman won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize under the category of Special Awards and Citations - Letters for his amazing graphic books Maus I and Maus II. The books comprise a powerful memoir which recounts the lives and survival of the author’s parents Vladek and Anja Spiegelman during WWII in Poland where they were eventually captured and transported to Auswchitz. But it is also a story about Art Spiegelman’s difficult relationship with his father, and the impact of survival on the survivor’s family.

Told in a cartoon format where the Jews are portrayed as mice and the Nazi soldiers as cats, the story gains much of its power from the form in which it is written.

Spiegelman alternates between Poland during the war (where Vladek recounts the terrible and terrifying days of the Nazi occupation) and Rego Park, New York in the 1980s (where Art and his aging father struggle to establish meaningful lives together).

The result is a story which compels the reader to keep turning the pages while terror comes to life through vivid illustrations. It is a story of survival and finally of love - love between a man and a woman which the German camps could not destroy, and love between a father and son. Maus I: My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began are powerful documentaries of a family who survived the Holocaust and its impact on their future and the child who was born after the war.

This was my first foray into Graphic Art as story and I was moved and touched by it. If you decide to read Spiegelman’s work, you must read both books, back to back without a rest in between.

Highly recommended.

August '08 Reviews

1. Alice
2. Corinne (The Glass Castle)
3. Joy (The Spellman Files)
4. Alisia (The News from Paraguay)
5. Tara (B is for Burglar)
6. Jessica (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)
7. raidergirl3(Out Stealing Horses)
8. Lesley (Open Secrets)
9. Alice(Mariner\'s Compass)
10. Joy (Persepolis)
11. Mrs. V (The House of the Scorpion)
12. Teresa (Child 44)
13. Joy (B is for Burglar)
14. raidergirl3(Speaker for the Dead)
15. Elizabeth (The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher)
16. Robin (The Optimist\'s Daughter)
17. Robin (The Ghost\'s Grave)
18. Rebecca @ Readerville (The Handmaid\'s Tale)
19. raidergirl3(The Stone Diaries)
20. Ma Titwonky (Murder With Peacocks)
21. Rebecca-The Book Lady\'s Blog (The Handmaid\'s Tale)
22. Robin (Maus I: A Survivor\'s Tale)
23. Corinne (So Big)
24. Cath (Tamsin)
25. Rhinoa (The Complete Maus)
26. Joy (Flowers for Algernon)
27. Tiny Librarian (Hotel Du Lac)
28. Corinne (My Sister\'s Keeper)
29. Tricia (The Glass Castle)
30. Lightheaded (Story of O)
31. Alice(The Mandelbaum Gate)
32. Corinne (Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress)
33. Tricia (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas)
34. Robin (Esperanza Rising)
35. Juliann (The Book Thief)
36. Wendy (Maus I & II)
37. Rhinoa (A Wrinkle in Time)
38. Ma Titwonky (The Defection Of A J Lewinter)
39. Sanddancer (Stuart: A Life Backwards)
40. Teddy (Divisadero)
41. Callista (Fahrenheit 451)
42. Callista (To Kill a Mockingbird)
43. Lesley (The End of the Alphabet)

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Dragon's Teeth by Upton Sinclair, 1942

This novel was outstanding and introduced me to Upton Sinclair's 11 volume Lanny Budd series. Dragon's Teeth is the 3rd book of the series. Lanny Budd is a 30-something rich American living in Europe in the early 1930's. The plot revolves around the rise of Hitler in Germany and the beginning of Jewish persecution and the competing forces of socialism, facism, communism and capitalism. Lanny's sister's husband, Freddi Robbin is Jewish and Freddi's family has close connections to the Budds and their struggles in Europe create a riveting plot within the larger historical context. I rate it 5 out of 5 stars.

Here is a link to a New York Times article dated 7/22/2005 about the Lanny Budd series:

The Complete Maus - Art Spiegelman

Art Spiegelman tells his fathers story as a Jew in Poland during the Second World War in comic book format. The Jews are drawn as mice, the Germans as cats, the American's as dogs and the Polish as pigs. This is a truely harrowing story with lots of cross roads and choices made along the way with Spiegelman showing what happened to the familes who chose the alternative along the way.

His mother and father against all the odds managed to survive the war as well as being POWs in Auschwitz seeing many of their friends and family die in the camps and by Germans along the way. They are dehumanised, starved, beaten and betrayed along the way. Sadly his mother later killed herself in 1968 after suffering for depression for many years (since before the war) and writing this brings on a bout of depression also for the author who includes sections from his life whilst writing this comic.

Art and his father have a very strained relationship and he is often conflicted with how to write about him. He wants to remain true to their relationship whilst not living up the to the JEwish sterotypes. This is shown very well in the panels below.

His father is also racist and anti-communist which Art struggles with after knowing what he lived through at Hitler's persecution. He can't understand how someone who has been on the recieving end of such abuse and violence can perpetuate the same against another. The main thing is though that he cannot image the horrors his mother and father lived through. It is one thing to have them described, but it can never be the same.

Defintely a tale that sticks in the readers mind. Very personal and filled with tragedy and sadness, it is difficult to remember at times that this is a story of courage and survival. That anyone Jewish in Poland and Germany managed to survivie the war is a miracle and I hope one that is never forgotten. This is essential reading.

Winner Of: The 1998 St Martin's Malice Domestic Award

Murder With Peacocks by Donna Andrews; reviewed by Ma T

Meg Langslow, Donna Andrews' heroine in this first of a series mystery, is the voice of the person you want sitting next to you at one of those abominably awful events that are nevertheless very proper so that all you can do is mutter your wonderfully appropriate and sarcastic comments into the hand you keep over your mouth in some pretense of coughing. She's the one who perfectly understands your hilarity and counters with plenty of hilarious comments of her own. Needless to say, I loved this book.

It has befallen Meg Langslow to be maid of honor in 3 (count 'em THREE) weddings: her mother's, her best friend's, and her future sister-in-law's nuptials. Somehow all the planning and the perfect execution of these plans has fallen into Meg's capable, but extremely busy, hands. She has taken the summer off from her vocation as a blacksmith to go home to Yorktown so she can personally supervise all the details and make sure all 3 weddings come off without a hitch.

It is in her hometown she meets Michael, who has taken over the running of his mother's seamstress business (Be-Stitched) while she's in Florida recovering from a broken leg that has put her in traction for the long haul. Word around town has it that Michael is gay, but he and Meg hit it off immediately when she has to spend a great deal of time in his shop making arrangements for dress selections and fittings for all 3 weddings, and they first become friends. Later they become partners (along with Meg's father) in trying to figure out who is killing the citizens of Yorktown and why. Their sleuthing begins when Meg's mother's fiance's sister-in-law (yes, that's complicated, but then so is the whole Langslow family!) is found dead on the beach, and it looks like her death may not have been accidental.

Not since Charlotte McLeod's heroine Sarah Kelling (along with Max Bittersohn) have I been so captivated by the main character in the first book of a series. I didn't think Sarah Kelling's family could be surpassed for hilarity and lunacy, but Meg Langslow's family tree is right up there with anything the Kelling clan could dish out.

I have to say that some of the motivation for the murders in this book is vague, but I don't read cozy mysteries for mind boggling whodunnits. I read them every bit as much for the ongoing characters and what mischief they are up to in the latest version as I do because I like mysteries. However, there are enough twists and turns in the plot to have kept me guessing who might be at the center of all the intrigue. I thought I had one part all figured out... I was dead wrong.

I look forward to reading the rest of this series because not only is it well written and clever, but Meg Langslow's voice is definitely my kind of person!

Laura's Review - The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea
Ernest Hemingway
128 pages

When reviewing a classic like The Old Man and the Sea, it's difficult to find something to say that hasn't already been said. This concise novella packs a punch in 128 short pages. Santiago is the old man in the title, a Cuban fisherman who has gone more than 80 days without a catch. He's a lonely man, ridiculed by other fishermen and forced to fish alone after losing his assistant (forced by his parents to fish with another, luckier, fisherman). Santiago decides to go further out into the sea than the other fishermen and, sure enough, snags a marlin larger than his boat.

The rest of the book recounts Santiago's efforts to reel in the fish (this task alone takes more than a day), and then bring the fish back to port. He demonstrates powerful mental and physical strength as he combats the marlin, sharks, hunger, fatigue, and loneliness. Much has been written about this work's themes of pride and redemption, and comparisons to Hemingway's late career. And while there are certainly symbols and messages in this book, it's also a great story that holds your attention the entire way through. ( )
My original review can be found here.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher - Samuel Johnson Award for Nonfiction

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale

Pages: 304
First Published: Apr. 2008
Genre: true crime, nonfiction, history
Awards: Samuel Johnson Award for Nonfiction 2008
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

This is the story of a murder committed in an English country house in 1860, perhaps the most disturbing murder of its time.

Comments: This is a most ambitious book which documents the murder case of a three year old boy, is a biography of one of the very first police detectives and shows how this murder and this particular detective spurred on the very first detective fiction such as that written by Wilkie Collins. The book succeeds on all points and is a riveting and incredibly interesting read.

The murder is quite memorable in this time period because it is the first time that public attention focused on a murder committed in a middle class home where one of the inhabitants of the home must be the murderer. At this time in England a man's home was literally his castle and the recent ruling that allowed police to enter one's home without the owner's specific permission was absolutely shocking to the middle and upper classes.

The author takes the reader back to this time period (1860s onward) and expertly discusses the mindset and proprieties of the day which make the understanding of why this case was so scandalous for its time. The formation and early days of policing, plus the introduction of "detectives" into the force is fascinating, as is the life of the firstly lauded then scorned Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher. The references to the detective novels which were just starting to replace the sensationalist fiction of the previous generations is fascinating to the reader of Victorian literature. Wilkie Collins' "The Woman in White", Dickens' "Bleak House" and several books by a popular writer of the times known only as 'Waters' are quoted and referred to often, though many other books are also mentioned.

The book profusely uses direct quotes from contemporary sources such as newspapers, broadsheets, books, trial documents, journals, letters, etc. There are also a few helpful footnotes along the way and an extensive 'Notes' section at the back, along with illustrations, photographs, and endpapers that show the schematics of the house the reader is immersed in the time period.

Well written in an engaging voice and obviously well-researched this is a gem of a book for those interested in Victorian life. Though the book focuses on a true crime and the police procedures of the time there is a wealth of information on all aspects of life in the time period. I also went into this book not knowing anything about the murder case itself and found the revealing of the investigation and eventually the killer to be as exciting as any mystery novel. Highly recommended.

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
Illustrated by Sonja Lumat
Doctor Dolittle, Book 2

Pages: 276
First Published: 1922
Genre: children's animal fantasy, adventure
Awards: Newbery Medal (1923)
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

All that I have written so far about Doctor Dolittle I heard long after it happened from those who had known him -- indeed a great deal of it took place before I was born.

Comments: In this second book of the series we meet Tommy Stubbins, the boy who becomes Dolittle's assistant. Once again Dolittle sets off on a voyage this time to meet the great botanist Long Arrow, son of Golden Arrow and along the way they meet many side adventures. Dolittle becomes set on learning the shellfish language, meeting the Great Glass Sea Snail, ends up on Spidermonkey Island, saves the island from floating into the Antarctic and helps the natives build a thriving city and society.

Both the 8yo and I thoroughly enjoyed every word of this book. Everything a child could want in a book is here: adventure, fantasy, science and animals all rolled into one. The action starts in the first chapter and is non-stop right to the very end which comes to a heart warming ending that leaves the reader with the feeling that there most certainly must be a sequel.

The edition I have is unaltered from the original text. At least I can find no indication that it has been altered, though the spelling has been Americanized. This edition is part of the Grosset & Dunlap Illustrated junior Library which has been in publication since the 1950s so I am fairly confident the text has not been edited. Since these books are often cited as being racist by PC fanatics I will note that I found absolutely nothing offensive in the book at all. The original illustrations have been omitted and replaced by a handful of full-colour plates illustrated in a cute fashion which I am not fond of. I will look for an original edition with Lofting's illustrations to replace this one someday.

Having read the first two together I can say for certain we will continue on with the series. The 8yo thought it was one of the best books we've read together and we both agree it is even better than the first book. Having read this as a child myself it is great to see that it lived up to my expectations and then some. Recommended!

Postmortem - Macavity Award

Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell
First in the Dr. Kay Scarpetta series

Pages: 342
First Published: 1990
Genre: forensic mystery
Award: Macavity Award, First Novel 1991
Rating: 3.5/5

Reason for Reading: Medical Mystery Challenge. Book Awards Challenge.

Also, all my favourite authors Reichs, Gerritsen, Slaughter, etc have been compared to Cornwell so I thought I ought to go back and read the original author of the forensic mystery.

First sentence:

It was raining in Richmond on Friday, June 6.

Comments: Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia is working a case concerning a series of women who are brutally raped and strangled. Each case appears to be the work of the same man and a serial killer must be on the loose. Things escalate and danger feels closer to home, making Kay feel as if she can trust no one.

This is a well-paced and well written thriller. I often felt I knew where the story was going only to be surprised as it turned in a different direction. I enjoyed the mystery part of the story but was disappointed with the revelation of the killer.

Also, I read a lot of forensic mysteries and watch all the CSI-type shows on TV so I found the 1990s technology very hard to take seriously. In this book DNA was fairly new, there were big scenes describing high-tech for the layman such as how Kay could connect her modem to the 'server' computer at work, print outs were on perforated green-lined computer paper. All the emphasis on the pre-internet 1990 technology did spoil the effect for me a bit. I think another 20 years are needed to make this read more like an historical mystery, rather than just dated.

I will continue reading the series. I really enjoyed the characters especially Marino the brusque, burly, coarse cop Kay has to work with but does not like. Also Kay herself is a very likable strong, yet feminine female character.