Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Pub. Date: September 18, 2018
If booksellers need to call this autobiography a memoir for sales purposes then it should be labeled a literary memoir. The first thing the reader needs to know is that this is not a kiss-and-tell book. If that is what you are looking for, search somewhere else. I’m sure there are a few promiscuous celebs out there with juicy memoirs currently on the bestseller list. This life story “isn’t about Hollywood or any of that,” Field said in an interview with Publisher’s Weekly. “It is about my mother and me, my trying to find [out] more about that. And the craft I found at the age of 12.” The intelligent actress-turned-author, Sally Field took seven years to write her soul-searching, often critical self-examination without a ghost writer. It is a heartbreaking read about a little girl who was sexually abused by her stepfather from ages four to fourteen and how that affected every feeling and decision she made in adulthood. The book is divided into three sections. Each begins with quotes of wisdom by authors such as Emily Dickson, Mary Oliver, and others. Some readers might find this tiresome. This reviewer personally enjoyed them.
Fields begins her quest for self-discovery by reading her journals that she has kept her entire life. She pours over old photos and goes into the far corners of her mind to find memories she worked a lifetime to forget. The first half of the book centers on her financially strained family living in a small California cottage. Their home consists of baby Sally, her toddler brother (both from a marriage that dissolved in divorce) and four no-frills hard-working women: her great-grandmother, great-aunt, grandmother, and mother, all of whom were in pain but maintained a culture of household silence. It is here she learned not to talk out loud of hurt or angry feelings. Out of this very maternal household, she had the most fraught relationship with her mother. Fields proves skilled at painting vignettes of her childhood that convey how complicated the dynamic between them could be.
In the style of a memoir, she does talk about some celebrities such as her one-time boyfriend Burt Reynolds and even The Monkees. But one gets the distinct impression while reading that her goal in sharing these stories is to help us understand how she approached intimacy, not simply to name drop. Why didn’t she explain to Davy Jones that his sexual innuendos made her uncomfortable? Why did she always need to put Reynolds’ needs above her own? Including her own career and sometimes even before her own children? Years later, in therapy, she learned that she didn’t possess any coping skills when stressed or frightened, nor did she know how to express her discomfort.
Fields writes that she spent most of her childhood “going into a cloud of fog, hidden in a mental whiteout…and floating through the fog was the familiar feeling of fear.” When making the film “Sybil” about a woman with multiple personalities she was aware that she was using her childhood fog to help her nail the scenes, but “never consciously saw how connected [she] was to Sybil, never saw [her]self as having used similar psychological survival techniques.” One day her therapist asked her in a casual tone if she could name all the different parts of herself. “Parts, fragments…or personalities” she replied “I call them my pieces.” And to her surprise, she immediately, without hesitation, named all the parts of who she is.”
Because of this, Fields candidly lets the reader know some of her memories are shattered and she is not always sure she is remembering everything correctly. The three-time Oscar-winning actress is a private person and throughout the years of working on this book she was never sure she would actually take her haunting finished product to a publisher. The reader will be glad that she did.
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“We raked books off the shelves by the dozen and hauled them along on picnics, to haylofts, up oak trees, to bath and to bed, the one terrifying possibility was to find oneself without a book.”—Kathleen Norris
Genre: Historical Murder Mystery
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: Sept. 28, 2018
A murder-thriller nestled in historical fiction, The Age of Exodus reads like a blend of James Bond, Mickey Spillane, and Indiana Jones. The result, I’m pleased to report, is an addictive reading experience. Exodus brims with compelling research without sacrificing the breakneck speed at which it unfolds. The author, Gavin Scott, juggles archaeological artifacts, demon gods of Mesopotamia, and British espionage. Scott rarely misses a beat.
The year is 1947. The story begins in England and then shifts to America via the legendary British luxury liner, the Queen Mary. A General Assembly Meeting of the United Nations is its destination. Aboard is our protagonist, the charming archeologist and Oxford lecturer named Duncan Forrester. This is the third book in Scott’s Duncan Forrester Mystery Series, but one needn’t read the first two novels to follow along. The author smoothly informs us that Forrester was a trained British special operations agent in the war, just what the UN needs.
Scott builds tension skillfully. You will witness a trail of grisly murders that echo ancient rituals. You will meet the real-life Aleister Crowley, an English occultist, who founded his own religion in the dark arts. Remember, the book and movie The Exorcist? Yes, this novel has sections that can get that terrifying. You will also meet other real-life persons that played a part in history, such as Ernest Bevin and Arthur Koestler. Bevin was a British unionist and statesman whose help was instrumental in winning the war. As Foreign Secretary in 1947, he announced that the “Palestinian problem” will no longer be a British issue because Britain was handing it over to the United Nations. As in the tale, his announcement caused quite the uproar inside the UN. Arthur Koestler was a Hungarian journalist who achieved fame during this time period as the author of the anti-Communist novel, Darkness at Noon. Interestingly, his books had been burned by both the Nazis and the Communists.
There is not an excess of Forrester’s love life in the plot, but enough to please. After all, where would Indiana Jones be without a beautiful woman by his side? The reader will discover that tough guy Forrester is not so tough at all. The woman who has caught his eye and has romantic feelings towards him is the younger sister of his deceased girlfriend, making him shy around her. Unlike so many romantic subplots, Forrester’s plight endears him to the reader.
Be prepared to learn of the intricate history between the Jewish Zionists and Palestinian Arabs who fought over the creation of a Jewish nation for Holocaust survivors. Our hero has a role on the non-fictional historical steamer, the SS President Warfield. Once in French waters, the ship donned a banner renaming the vessel, Exodus 1947. The fictional commander tries to kill our hero because he is unaware that the British man, Forrester, is actually trying to help him. Sadly, in the story, as well as in the history books, the Exodus 1947 did not succeed. On July 11, 1947, the ship was boarded by the British in international waters. The Jews trying to immigrate to Israel were taken to Haifa where ships were waiting to return them to refugee camps in Europe. “But by this time the ship was big news around the world, and the pitiful sight of the frightened children and former concentration camp victims…undermined everything Ernest Bevin had been claiming about the justice of his policy on the Jewish Homeland.” Ernest Bevin was a man Forrester had once greatly admired, but not after this tragedy. Such moments are effective at raising the emotional stakes.
After getting lost in such a gripping moment in history, the reader may feel a tad disappointed when the story returns to another demon murder. However, later events will reignite the story’s historical charge. The ending makes one hopeful that there will be a number four in the series to pick up where number three left off. There is such creative finesse in Scott’s presentation of history that you can easily forget you’ve returned to the classroom. But a word of caution to the reader: although this book is a murder-mystery page-turner, read slowly. With so many real and fictional characters, it can get confusing if you are tempted to fly right through the novel in one sitting. Still, if you do, the story is so enjoyable you will probably just reread it again for any clarifications that you might have missed, and you’re likely to take delight in it, even more, the second time around.
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I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the author at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Pub. Date: August 21, 2018
My first thought, once I finished the last page of this connected short story collection, was that the author, D. Wystan Owen, manages to pen a book to the Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby.” With its lyrics of, “All the lonely people, Where do they all come from? All the lonely people, Where do they all belong?” This mostly brilliant ten story collection follows the lives of characters who live in the same coastal English village. All are unhappy. All are desperately lonely. All are disappointed in life.
The title story is one of the weakest tales in the collection. Two women have lived together for twenty years. Neither the village people nor the reader knows if they are lovers or simply friends. No matter, they are passionately devoted to one another and inseparable. After the death of one, the other learns that years ago the deceased had a male lover. The living companion is devastated to learn this news. She is left feeling that she never really knew her partner at all. Reading of their longtime relationship is glorious. The tale is filled with pieces of the fine and playful life that they made together. The ending is a bit melodramatic.
“Housekeeper” is the stellar story in the collection. An unmarried woman cares for an old man with dementia. From the beginning, when she moves into his home, she is grateful that she is no longer alone in the world. She is pleased when he mistakes her for his deceased wife. She encourages his confusion and pretends to be the wife. She now feels that she too can say she has been in a marriage. She is very loving towards him. She is an endearing character. And yes, to be pleased with this fictional marriage and other actions I cannot mention for fear of a spoiler, also makes her very creepy.
Owen frequently changes voices within a story, allowing the reader different interruptions of the characters. This can clearly be seen in “The Patroness.” A widow of a wealthy man hosts elaborate bi-weekly luncheons to make herself feel special among the once-famous. At such an event, she purposely seats next to one another an elderly, once-beautiful film goddess and a young male student. This reviewer was surprised by the malice intentions of the generous hostess. There is darkness and devastation in the storylines, but there is also a dual sweetness to the characters that lingers.
I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
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Genre: Historical Non-Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
Pub. Date: July 10, 2018
If you did not see the movie “Jaws” (1975) you missed the actor Robert Shaw’s iconic scene describing the experiences the boys/men endured during WWII when their ship the USS Indianapolis was sunk by enemy fire. They spent four horrific days in shark-infested waters watching each other being eaten alive. The late actor will put more goose bumps on you than my words ever could: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=204&v=u9S41Kplsbs.
In this book, you will find that there is so much more than just sharks to this historical non-fiction that reads like a fictional page-turner. If you are unfamiliar with the worst sea disaster in U.S. naval history, you may not be aware that the ship was on a secret mission to deliver some of the components for the atomic weapons that were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Albert Einstein makes an early appearance since he signed a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt urging that the bomb be built. However, he also repeatedly warned the world about the dangers of nuclear weapons and its impact on the human race. In 1954 he wrote another letter “I made one great mistake in my life…recommending that the atom bombs be made; but there was some justification – the danger that the Germans would make them first.” Einstein’s conflicted feelings pave the way for the rest of the roller coaster ride the reader will be on before the book’s ending.
The beginning chapters alternate between the Japanese Lieutenant Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto, who torpedoed and sunk the ship, and the “Indy’s” Captain Charles B. McVay III. This writing style gives the reader a ringside seat into their surprising similar thoughts and emotions, making one feel as if they knew them both personally. The same is true (on the American side) of the ship’s crew.
One of this reviewer’s favorites is Adolfo “Harpo” Celaya. A Mexican American who lied about his age and enlisted in the navy at 17. It is heartbreaking to read just how many teenagers and young men in their early twenties served on the USS Indianapolis. And that out of the 1,196 men aboard only 317 survived. In 2016 the U.S. post office in Florence, Arizona, Harpo’s hometown, was renamed in his honor. How could I not mention this fact when in 2018 there is much anti-Mexican rhetoric coming from the White House?
When McVay and his men were finally rescued from the waters, McVay’s nightmare was just beginning. He went on trial with the charge of failing to zigzag, which caused the ship to sink when it was hit. Many ships were lost in combat during World War II but McVay was the only captain to be court-martialed for the loss of his ship. The pressure for his trial came from the deceased’s families. To add salt to the families’ wounds, the men died immediately before the end of the war. Many received the dreaded telegram while watching other Americans celebrate in the streets. The families, as well as the press, were out for the captain’s blood as if they were great white sharks themselves. If not a naval person, the trial scenes could get dull from the technical and naval jargon. However, the authors manage to have most of the dialogue reading like a suspenseful courtroom drama, complete with a jaw-dropping witness who happened to be the Japanese commander Hashimoto.
The surviving members of the crew claimed that their captain did nothing wrong and was innocent. In the 1990s they still hadn’t stopped trying to clear his name. In 1998, they received help from a very usual source—a sixth-grade male student who researched the sinking of the Indy for his history fair project. Once the men learned of this kid they jumped onboard to help him. This led to a United States Congressional investigation that ended with the captain’s exoneration. Interestingly enough, one of the co-authors of this book, Sara Vladic, was just a 13-year-old schoolgirl when she learned of the USS Indianapolis and was captivated by all of the ship’s history. She wanted to see the story made into a movie. She figured some grown-up eventually would. In 2015, Vladic made the documentary, “USS Indianapolis: The Legacy.”
In this meticulously researched book, 25% of its pages are in the endnotes. It is extensively based on interviews with the survivors. Here I felt was a potential trial problem. The men themselves say that after days in the shark-infested waters there were widespread hallucinations. One could argue that their memories of the actual sinking were no longer intact. Furthermore, many of them had such severe post traumatic stress that they, like their Captain, committed suicide. But, after reading this book, how can anyone ever again wonder about McVay’s innocence? You will cheer that the “50-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man” is finally over. Still, it is a bittersweet vindication. This is a gut-wrenchingly hard story to read. Expect to feel a strong personal connection to the men from the re-telling of the tragedy. Once finished, it might be hard to process your own roller coaster emotions. Still, this is a book that should be read. An epic tale in American history.
I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
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