There are several things about Missouri that are quite predictable, like brilliant fall colors and the cadence of the Missouri Waltz. As for the weather around here, it is as unpredictable as life itself. Take me, for example. Who would predict that a timid girl from Moscow would land in the American Midwest? Or that I — a person whose ancestry goes back to the Diaspora Jews and, more recently, to the Ukrainian small farmers who were sent to exile by the Stalin regime and died of hunger — would marry an American man whose great-great-great uncle was Henry Clay, a US senator, Speaker of the House and Secretary of State who ran for president four times? (No, my husband is not in politics, he’s in linguistics; no family can withstand the tide of time ).
Going back to Missouri weather. The worst thing about it is that summers here are hot and humid and winters are completely useless. What I mean by that is that if it snows, the snow doesn’t stick around long enough for cross-country skiing or sledging. And if the temperature falls below freezing without snow, it seldom stays cold long enough for us (my husband and I, and several more transplants from Michigan and Minnesota) to skate on the pond of our nearby wetland area. So, as a result, we have a lot of luke-cold days with no practical value whatsoever. (We do say “lukewarm,” so, I believe, the term “luke-cold” has the right to exist!)
Here’s a recent example. A couple of days before New Year’s the temperature dropped below freezing, and on New Year’s eve it was in single digits. Yet when I got up on January 1, the weather forecast was already showing a warming trend.
“Two more cold days would’ve made our wetlands skatable,” I said to my husband.
“I think it may be good even now,” he said.
“Well, there is only one way to find out. Let’s go and test the ice! If it’s good, we’ll come back and grab our skates. If not, we’ll just walk around the wetlands.”
“No, let’s take our skates with us, so if the ice is good, we won’t have to come back. I’ll carry them,” my husband said and headed to the basement to get our skates.
When he returned, a large blue bag with the skates was slung over his shoulder, making him look like Santa Claus. In his left hand he carried a lounge chair.
“What’s that chair for?” I said. “There are benches all around the pond. We can change our shoes there, if we need to.”
“I don’t want to scratch my skates,” my husband said sternly.
“You mean that if the ice is not thick, you’ll be walking with a large bag and a lounge char for two miles?” I said. “People will think we’re nuts!”
But he was already putting on his jacket.
“Whatever,” I said. “But I’ll walk behind you, like I don’t even know who you are!”
It was a typical winter day in Missouri, gray and windy, and not promising any fun. In 10 minutes or so, we reached the wetlands and carefully walked to their edge — the ice crackling noticeably under my husband’s feet and not so much under mine.
“The ice is too thin for me,” my husband said, putting his bag down on a bench several feet away from the ice.
“Too bad,” I said. “But I’ll try.”
I put my skates on and walked onto the ice. It seemed fine. Making small uncertain steps, I half-slid, half-walked farther from the edge. No crackling sounds. Getting bolder, I made the first sliding movement, then the second, and soon I was gliding along — at first somewhat awkwardly but more confident by the minute.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” I heard behind me. “Yes,” I waved in response.
It was still grim and windy, but I no longer cared. The air was fresh, the ice smooth, and although I did, sometimes, hear light crackling underneath, by the time my mind registered it, I was already safely away from the dangerous spot, enjoying the freedom of movement and the sounds of my skates cutting the ice.
To tell the truth, it was never really dangerous. The wetlands are shallow. The worst that can happen to a skater falling through its icy surface is wetting her feet and, possibly, catching a cold.
In 30 minutes or so, the pleasure of defying my weight and almost flying over the frozen water began wearing off, and I started paying attention to my surroundings: wilted grasses, bare trees and bushes, people taking their dogs (or children) for a walk and joggers in colorful Nikes — all staring at me as if I were a rare species released from some northern zoo.
Also, I suddenly noticed a round object lying on the bottom underneath the ice. “There’s a dead turtle down there!” I shouted to my husband who, while waiting for me, patiently walked around in circles. But as I was finishing my phrase, the turtle sprouted its head and short little legs and began moving.
“It’s not dead!” I shouted again. “It’s moving!” And I skated after the disappearing animal — only to notice another one nearby. In fact, there were quite a few of them there, all trying to get away from my unwanted attention.
How did they survive down there without oxygen? While it was true that the ice was not very thick, it had covered the wetlands for several days. The turtles, however, are air-breathing creatures, that is why we see them sitting on logs in the summer. Also, what will happen to them if the ice doesn’t melt soon? Will they die and be drowned in their icy prison?
We talked about the turtles all the way back to the house. When we got there, we Googled: “turtles under ice” and found our answer (try that, too ). No, the turtles are not going to drown. They will survive the winter and continue going about their business in the spring. Still, I couldn’t get the image of the animals crawling under my feet, confined by the ice and their slowing metabolism, but still alive nevertheless.
Is that how we live, too? — I kept thinking to myself. Believing that, as the Greek philosopher Protagoras put it a long time ago: “Man is the measure of all things.” But, in fact, are we scurrying around in endless pursuits while trying to escape our inevitable end? Maybe we are even observed by some bigger — and more sophisticated — creatures for whom our struggles make no sense and have no meaning.
I spent some time ruminating on that, but it was the first day of a new year, and it didn’t seem right to start it on such a gloomy note. So, I curtailed my contemplations and went on with my regular duties. After all, that small incident may not have been a sign of our falsehood and frailty but just an indication of a multitude of things we still do not know. A reminder that we should keep our eyes open and our minds active, because it is an act of learning that makes us human. And if you think about it, it was great to start a new year by solving a new — to me, anyway — mystery of life. Let’s hope that 2015 will bring us many more mysteries to solve :).
Happy New Year, everybody!
Here is a new DVD list highlighting various titles in fiction and nonfiction recently added to the library’s collection.
“Game of Thrones”
Season 1, Season 2, Season 3
Website / Reviews
This television drama series broadcast on HBO adapts the acclaimed series of fantasy novels written by George R. R. Martin. This is a story of duplicity and treachery, nobility and honor, conquest and triumph. In the Game of Thrones, you either win or you die.
“Who Is Dayani Cristal?”
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Shown at the True False Film Fest in 2013 and featuring reenactments by actor Gael García Bernal, this documentary tells the story of a migrant who found himself in the deadly stretch of the Sonora Desert known as “the corridor of death” and shows how one life becomes testimony to the tragic results of the U.S. war on immigration.
“The Walking Dead”
Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4
Website / Reviews
This television drama is based on the graphic novels of the same name by Robert Kirkman. Waking up in an empty hospital after weeks in a coma, County Sheriff Rick Grimes finds himself utterly alone. The world as he knows it is gone, ravaged by an epidemic. In the weeks and months that follow the apocalypse, Grimes will lead a group of survivors in a world overrun with zombies.
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Shown earlier this year at the 2014 True False Film Fest, this unusual film takes place entirely inside the narrow confines of a cable car, high above a jungle in Nepal that transports villagers to an ancient mountaintop temple. The film is an acute ethnographic investigation into culture, religion, technology and modernity.
“Sons of Anarchy”
Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4, Season 5, Season 6
Website / Reviews
This television drama takes you into the ruthless underworld of outlaw bikers. The Sons of Anarchy live, ride and die for brotherhood. But as the club’s leader (Ron Perlman) and his wife (Katey Sagal) steer them in an increasingly lawless direction, her son Jax (Charlie Hunnam) is torn between loyalty and the legacy.
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Shown earlier this year at Forum 8, this documentary is a glimpse of the face and co-founder of Burt’s Bees. The film shows the reclusive backwoods world of beekeeper Burt Shavitz, still committed to living off the land in Maine, as he has since the 1970s, in a renovated turkey coop with no running water. The film explores the peculiar relationship with the company he co-founded with Roxanne Quimby.
Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4
Website / Reviews
The short-based comedy series Portlandia was created, written by and stars Fred Armisen (SNL) and Carrie Brownstein (vocalist/guitarist, “Wild Flag,” “Sleater-Kinney“). Each episode’s character-based shorts draw viewers into “Portlandia,” the creators’ dreamy and absurd rendering of Portland, Oregon.
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Shown earlier this year at Forum 8, this documentary is a portrait of the late John Wojtowicz, whose attempted robbery of a Brooklyn bank to finance his male lover’s sex-reassignment surgery was the real-life inspiration for the 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon” starring Al Pacino.
Other notable releases:
- “Castle” – Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4, Season 5, Season 6 – Website / Reviews
- “K2: Siren of the Himalayas” – Trailer / Website / Reviews
- “Veep” – Season 1, Season 2 – Website / Reviews
- “Los Angeles Plays Itself” – Trailer / Website / Reviews
- “Under the Dome” – Season 1, Season 2 – Website / Reviews
- “Casting by” – Trailer / Website / Reviews
- “American Horror Story” – Season 1, Season 2 – Website / Reviews
- “Stripped” – Trailer / Website / Reviews
- “True Blood” – Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4, Season 5, Season 6, Season 7 – Website / Reviews
History! History! History!…and a little travel too! The 900s in nonfiction are a must for the history buff and the travel enthusiast. Did I mention history? In this section there is a wide variety of books including dictionaries, encyclopedias, ancient civilization, baby names, genealogy, geography, travel guides, world history, biographies and even local history! While browsing the aisles I found these curious titles tucked away on the bottom shelves.
- “Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania and Other States That Never Made It” by Michael J. Trinklein
This book was written to acknowledge these absurdly named territories that never made it to statehood for one reason or another. It’s a fun book with maps, stories and trivia to enhance any history buff’s knowledge!
- “Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing!” by Megan Smolenyak
Ms. Smolenyak has been call the “Indiana Jones” of genealogy. She is best know for revealing connections between famous people such as Al Sharpton and Strom Thurmond, using DNA to solve crimes for the real NCIS and FBI and to locate family members of fallen soldiers as far back as the Civil War! This book is not a how-to book, but a novice genealogist could learn some pointers from this super sleuth.
- “London: Everything You Wanted to Know” (part of the Not for Parents series) by Klay Lamprell.
This is not a travel guide, rather it is an insider’s guide to the native’s life. The book is a collage of colorful, funky photos and drawings similar to those in the “Guinness World Records” books, with facts, true tales and trivia interspersed. You will see photos of weird cuisine (eels on a plate!) and punk style dress with mohawks. You’ll read about murdered kings, famous and infamous people such as Jack the Ripper, the Royals’ ancestral tree, creepy underground catacombs, a famous graffiti artist, how the streets in London were named and much, much more!
The post It Came From the Bottom Shelf! Books Not to Overlook in the 900s appeared first on DBRL Next.
Best books of the year lists are one of my favorite things about winter. Adding titles I’ve overlooked to my to-be-read list is a great pleasure, and I enjoy looking back at the year in publishing. However, time for reminiscing is short, because suddenly blogs and magazines are all atwitter over those books they can’t wait to read in the New Year. The buzz seems warranted, with forthcoming titles from heavy hitters like Toni Morrison (“God Help the Child,” April 2015) and Jonathan Franzen (“Purity,” September 2015), as well as a boatload of promising debuts. Neil Gaiman, Kazuo Ishiguro, Nick Hornby and many other big names also have books hitting the shelves in the next several months. I’m going to have to get a bigger night stand for all of these novels and learn to do with less sleep.
Here’s a sampling of recommended books. There is some overlap among the lists, but each has at least a handful of gems the others omit.
- “2015 Books We Can’t Wait to Read” from The Huffington Post
- “Most Anticipated: The Great 2015 Book Preview” from The Millions
- “Top 10 most anticipated novels of 2015” from The Washington Post
- “Anticipations: Coming in Early 2015” from Barnes & Noble
What book are you most looking forward to reading this year? Let us know in the comments!
Here’s my New Year’s resolution: spend more time in the passenger seat of my car. The student driver in my house is a little over half-way through the 40 practice hours he needs before he can get his license. So, another 20 hours of putting my life in the hands of a 16-year-old. No biggy. I’m sure I’ve done things that were more terrifying, even if they don’t come to mind immediately.
According to Missouri‘s graduated licensing laws, residents are eligible to test for a learner’s permit at 15 and an intermediate license at 16. Your library is here to help your family through this difficult exciting time. Drop by one of our three buildings to pick up your very own free copy of the “Missouri Driver’s Guide.” Or if the audio or DVD version would work better for you, those are available for check-out. A copy of the guide is also online.
To reinforce responsible driving behavior, the library has books addressing the issue of drunk driving. For a wider range of related topics, check out “The Driving Book,” which promises to cover “everything new drivers need to know but don’t know to ask.” “Real Life Teen: Teen Driving” is a DVD about important facets of driving that might not be on the test. While teens are conscientiously perusing these materials, parents can enlighten themselves with the book “Not So Fast, Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving.”
In addition to the online guide for the written test, the state of Missouri has a web page devoted to all things teen driving. Another valuable Internet resource is teendriversource.org, with a bevy of downloadable fact sheets for teens, parents, educators, legislators and other interested parties.
Let me finish on an encouraging note. The kid I’m teaching to drive right now – he’s my second student. I’ve already been through this once and can promise it’s not all fear and danger. I’ve spent many hours of my parenting life sitting in cars waiting for a child to emerge from a school, movie theater or other building. A lot of time gets freed up when your teen obtains a license. And then there’s the errand thing. When I’m in the middle of cooking dinner and realize I’m out of an ingredient, I find real joy in being able to hand someone else the car keys while saying, “I need you to run to the store for me.”
The post Resources for Teen Drivers (and Their Terrified Parents) appeared first on DBRL Next.
Another year completed, another year begun. This is when we look behind us and say, “What was that all about?” while looking forward saying, “This time it will be different!” If you’re like me, this is also the time of year you take a long look in the mirror and say, “Grandpa?” To paraphrase the band They Might Be Giants, “We’re older than we’ve ever been, and now we’re even older.” We can’t hit the brakes on this process, and we can’t hit the reset button. Time waits for no one while it marches on like sands through the hourglass, or something. So we find our resolve, and we make promises we don’t keep, and we say to ourselves, “This time it will be different. We will eat better and get in shape. We will get a hobby, learn a skill or at least finally paint the house. We will find the cause of our dissatisfaction and fix it.” Then, next thing we know, it’s another new year.
So how do we break free from this Sisyphean hamster wheel of broken New Year’s resolutions and take care of business? Books (obvs)! There are many useful books to help guide and inspire us on the path to self-improvement. It just so happens that I have written three manuscripts which fall under this category (totally crushed my resolutions for that year!): “Cooking, With Food,” “Find the Right Pilates Instructor for Your Blood Type” and “Being Fat Is Stupid, Stupid!” Unfortunately, I have yet to find a forward-thinking publisher who wants to purchase the rights to these books. Until then, here are some titles that have actually been published to help you achieve your goals for 2015, or at least keep the trials and tribulations of this annual ritual in perspective.
“Stretch” by Neal Pollack
Based on Neal Pollack’s earlier satirical work it’s difficult to believe this man has a sincere dedication to the practice of yoga, but it’s true. Finding his career at a crossroads, and his body aging, he gives yoga a shot. He now writes a column for Yoga Journal and is a yoga instructor. The book is in a part a memoir of his experience as well as a look at the different corners of the yoga world. Don’t worry – despite the sincere devotion to his practice, he hasn’t lost his sense of humor or skeptical eye. This is an excellent introduction to yoga for people who think it “isn’t for them,” or are allergic to the earnestness often associated with it.
“Drop Dead Healthy” by A.J. Jacobs
A.J. Jacobs has cut out a successful career as a writer of “stunt journalism.” He regularly immerses himself in a subject to see what it’s like, using himself as a guinea pig (in one case, literally). In this book he sets a two-year goal to become as a healthy as possible. The book’s combination of thorough research and humorous tone make it a great survey of various health fads. It’s nice of him to put himself through all this so we don’t have to.
“The Road to Wellville” by T.C. Boyle
T.C. Boyle’s comic historical novel is set in Dr John Harvey Kellog’s (yes, the Corn Flakes guy) Battle Creek Spa. The book pokes fun at the strange “cures,” pseudo-science and hucksterism of the time. The scary part is when you start wondering how much resemblance there is to present-day health fads.
“Helping Me Help Myself” by Beth Lisick
Beth Lisick wakes up on New Years Day to find she is tired of dealing with the same problems year after year. Despite her skepticism, she binges on the works of successful self-help gurus. In addition to reading their books she attends their seminars and starts to fear she might actually learn something from these “gurus.”
“Promise Land” by Jessica Lamb Shapiro
Jessica Lamb Shapiro’s book takes on a similar challenge to the one in “Helping Me Help Myself,” but her skepticism has a more personal source because her father was an author of self-help books. The book is part memoir and part exploration of self-help culture. With an irreverent tone, she points out some of the snake-oil salesman in the field and attempts to determine if self-help culture really can be helpful.
“The Will To Whatevs: A Guide to Modern Life” by Eugene Mirman
Eugene Mirman is a writer and stand-up comedian. He also is the voice of Gene Belcher on the television show “Bob’s Burgers.” With a resume like that, why wouldn’t you accept his advice on life and act accordingly? His book contains advice on family, school, romance, money (to be exact, “The Money Lover’s Guide to Making Money”) and my favorite, “The Theory and Practice of Organizations Connected With Government, I think.” I’m pretty sure you could just read this book and throw all the others I’m recommending in the trash. (Wait! Forget that last part. Treat library books with kindness!)
“Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Principles for Delicious Living” by Nick Offerman
Nick Offerman is another comedian on another TV show (“Parks and Recreation” – watch it!). Messrs. Offerman and Mirman are making me me think the real answer to all our problems is to tell lots of jokes and get a TV show. Offerman’s character on “Parks and Rec” has taken on some of the traits of the man himself, most notably his appreciation of whiskey and his skills in the woodshop. Offerman’s book is part memoir, part manifesto for a life well lived, and all hilarious. It might even inspire you to dig your jigsaw out of that mess you call a workbench and start making something.
“How To Sharpen Pencils” by David Rees
For some, learning a new craft or honing a skill is simply a hobby. For others, the act of mastering that craft is transformative. Can mastering the art of pencil sharpening be transformative? The last chapter of this book is titled, “How to sharpen a pencil with your mind.” We’re talking about some serious Jedi-level pencil sharpening here. I doubt you come out of that experience the same way you entered into it.
“Simple Times” by Amy Sedaris
Not everyone’s New Year’s resolutions aspire to change their body, mind or entire way of life. Some people just want to get around to learning that craft they’ve never made the time for. Now is the time! Amy Sedaris has some excellent crafts to teach. Personally, I’m looking forward to watching squirrels get diabetes at the Donut Squirrel Feeder I’m going to construct. The perfect accompaniment to that scene will be the gentle clanging of the Rusty Nail Wind Chime I will also make. Very soon. Before 2015 is over. I swear.
“The best way to learn about a new country is to experience its native food and culture,” Tünde, our tour director, said before we left the bus. “We have the opportunity to have a traditional Hungarian dinner and see a folk performance afterwards. It’s optional, or course, but I highly recommend it.”
The dinner, which started with a shot of hard liquor offered to us before we even crossed the threshold of the large, brightly lit restaurant, was, let’s say, interesting. Since I left Russia in 1990, I hadn’t seen so much alcohol splashing around. There was a lot of food, too: goulash (meat stew in a thick, paprika-infused sauce), a dish called galuska (dumplings), and – for dessert – another galuska, this time with raisins, nuts and ice-cream.
Then the concert began. It was exactly what I had envisioned – lots of jumping and loud singing with several fiddlers accompanying the action. But, with help of plenty of wine, everybody seemed to enjoy it. In fact, several tourists joined the folk dancers, while my husband kept raising his eyebrows and rolling his eyes. (What can you expect from a guy who doesn’t drink? It’s a miracle that he can have fun at all!)
Our “official” introduction to Budapest started the next morning. A local tour guide told us that the name came about by joining the names of its twin cities: Buda, which is hilly and more historical, and Pest, flat and more commercial – with the Danube River dividing the two, and a series of bridges connecting them. We learned that the cultural fabric of the city had been woven by Hungarians, Slavs and Jews. We were shown the city’s major attractions: the Castle District, Heroes Square, the Hungarian Parliament, the Opera House and others. And, in the afternoon, we were left alone to shop and do other touristy things.
First, my husband and I had a lunch in an outdoor cafe, from where we enjoyed the view of St. Stephen’s Basilica and soaked up the atmosphere of the city. Then we continued our exploration. We walked for hours, passing by imposing buildings and statues, posters for upcoming concerts (it’s not for nothing that the Franz Liszt Museum is located in Budapest!), street vendors and restaurants, until our legs began to ache and the city began to grow on us.
It was cloudy, but the temperature was pleasant. For a while, I moaned about the lack of blue sky, but soon I stopped complaining and began enjoying the city. Budapest rewarded me grandly. From the hilly grounds of the Castle and the Royal Palace on the Buda side, we admired views of the Danube and its bridges, the Pest skyline across the river and busily shuttling tour boats. On the Pest side, we happened onto a qualifying race for the 2015 Ironman World Championship. At the beautiful Chain Bridge, we witnessed the arrival of a Viking Cruise boat. Once again, we circled the Parliament building and, finally, headed back along the Danube Promenade.
As we walked, I noticed some brown shoes sitting on the river bank – several people were taking pictures of them. What was that about? But then I remembered the tour guide’s story.
The shoes, 60 in all, were made of cast iron and set into the concrete of the embankment. They were a memorial to the people killed by the Hungarian Fascists in the winter of 1944-45. A vast majority of the victims were Jews, but there were some non-Jews, accused by the Fascists of “Jewish activities.” (The courageous efforts of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saved almost 100,000 people. Still, some 600,000 Hungarian Jews died during the war.)
The war was in its final stage, and the Fascists had no means of deporting people to Auschwitz. The easiest way to get rid of them was to shoot them by the Danube and let the river carry their bodies away. Before the Fascists murdered their victims they ordered them to take off their shoes, for the shoes could still be used or sold on the black market. Then people – men, women and children – were positioned on the edge of the embankment and shot, and their bodies fell into the river. Sometimes the militiamen tied several Jews together and then shot one of them, so that the dead body would pull the living into the river. If any of them survived the fall, the militiamen used them for target practice. This didn’t happen often, though. Most of the people – especially the children – died quickly in the freezing water.
I, too, took some photos, then we headed back to our hotel – quiet and suddenly tired. Oh, humanity – I thought to myself – how can you be so inhuman?
Luckily, that wasn’t my last memory of Budapest. At dusk, the ever energetic Tünde brought our group back to the river. We boarded a dinner boat, and while we ate, we listened to yet another tour guide and stared at the darkening city through the windows.
By dessert, magic happened. All the prominent buildings along the Danube suddenly lit up, transforming the river into a vast, Christmas-like alley, and the city skyline into geometric formations of glimmering stars. It was drizzling, but nobody paid attention. Budapest stood out in the dark – golden, enchanted and unforgettable.
At 11 p.m., the lights were switched off, and night overtook the city once again. We boarded our bus and headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow we would travel to Salzburg.
I saw a wonderful film not long ago called “Kill the Messenger.” That phrase is an old saw about taking out one’s displeasure on the one who brings bad news. This particular messenger was the San Jose Mercury reporter Gary Webb, and the message was his work tying the explosion of crack cocaine in the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles in the 1980s to important leaders of Ronald Reagan’s beloved Contras. The Contras were mercenaries who fought against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and who (believe it or not!) were supported by drug sales in Los Angeles and other cities after Congress voted down funding for Reagan’s war in Central America. Turns out they were protected by the CIA and the mainstream press, as well as functionaries close to the White House.
The film was a thriller with a bit of pathos thrown in to demonstrate what happened to a reporter who embarrassed the US “deep state.” It can be found online (if you have a credit card), but in any case, DBRL has Webb’s book “Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion,” as well as a few other interesting titles on the subject.
If you find it difficult to believe that the government prioritizes the “War on Drugs” and at the same time elements within the state are supporting the importation of those drugs, check out Douglas Valentine’s “The Strength of the Wolf,” which elucidates the many connections between the “deep state” and drug trafficking as discovered by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics prior to 1968 when the FBN was dissolved.
We also have Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall’s “Cocaine Politics,” perhaps the first to document the drug trafficking of Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries (the Contras) and the complicity of mercenaries and US government leaders and institutions. Here I bow to another reviewer, Marilynn Larew, who reviewed the book for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (September 22, 1991, N9):
“Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall expand on revelations in the Iran-Contra scandal and the 1989 Kerry Committee Report. They assert persuasively that the CIA has long-standing alliances with men who deal drugs while doing dirty tricks for us in Latin America. The links go as far back as 1961 and the Bay of Pigs. Their story, however, is about the contra war, in which drug money paid for arms, the planes that carried ‘humanitarian aid’ in [and] flew drugs out, and Latin American colonels [who] made fortunes on drugs destined for American streets, all with our government’s connivance….The core of the book, the adventures of Jack Terrell…the soldier of fortune who tried to blow the whistle on the contra drug dealers, is taut as a thriller….The authors appear to evaluate the murky evidence in the government documents and news stories temperately. The thesis rings true.”
Alex believes she is going to die. The tumor growing in her brain, she expects it to be her end. When an electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, all of Alex’s expectations change. Suddenly, everyone in the age range of 20 to 60 is dead. Technology no longer works, and the world Alex knew no longer exists. Alex bands together with a little girl and a young soldier to survive, finding family and friends in them she never expected.
Obviously, by my description of “Ashes,” you can tell it’s apocalyptic fiction. I admit I’ve never been a big fan of apocalyptic fiction. For me, I find it a hard genre to read because reading about the world ending can be a pretty depressing topic. But Ilsa J. Bick is an amazing writer, and “Ashes” is easily in the top five best books I have read in the past two years.
It’s a fast read, and if you like the TV show “The Walking Dead,” I’m pretty sure you’ll love “Ashes” too. “Ashes” has the same feel as “The Walking Dead.” Odd characters come together, they fight together, create bonds, and then bad things happen. You’ll scream internally for the characters, root for them and cry for them, all because Bick creates them so beautifully. Before you know it, you’ll have finished the entire book in a few days.
Bick is an amazing writer, and although “Ashes” is considered YA, I would highly recommend it to the adult reader. Bick’s writing style is very honest. She’s got a unique take on action scenes, and I believe this is due to her background as an Air Force major. Her writing has a militaristic aspect, which happens to be perfect for apocalyptic fiction. Between this and her beautifully rendered characters, “Ashes” stands apart from the other reads in its genre.
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