Winter weather perfect for settling in with a good book
“Rasputin’s Daughter” by Robert Alexander. This novel brings to life one of history’s most fascinating and legendary periods. After the fury of the Russian Revolution swept Nicholas and Alexandra from the throne of Imperial Russia, a special commission was set up to investigate the “dark forces” that caused the downfall of the House of Romanov. The focus, of course, turns to Grigori Rasputin, the notorious holy man and healer who was never far from the throne. The commission interrogates his oldest daughter, Maria Rasputin. Beginning the week before her father’s murder in December 1916, Maria recounts in intimate detail the sexual, political and religious activities of the man she loved so dearly but who was universally reviled and blamed for the fall of the Romanov dynasty. She tells of her fathers numerous liaisons, as well as his real relationship with the Empress Alexandra, of how he treated her hemophiliac son, Aleksei, and the strange, little know truth of who really killed Rasputin and how he actually died.
“Ordinary Wolves” by Seth Kanter. In this novel about a boy growing up in the Alaskan wilderness, the reader is allowed no escape into the fuzzy myth of the arctic but instead is led down its true trail. The author describes the pliers’ pinch of cold, the taste of salmon shared with shivering sled dogs, and the moan of blizzards overhead while hunkering in an igloo. With his siblings and father, Cutuk Hawely lives a day’s sled-drive away from the nearest Inupiaq village, their link to the outside world. Brought up entirely on the land in the presence of wolves, moose and ravens, Cutuk’s imagination is shaped by his father Abe, the legendary hunter, Enuk Wolfglove, and the stories of an America he has never seen. The author makes use of the Inupiaq language throughout the novel and he includes a glossary.
“Fugitive Wife” by Peter C. Brown. This is a story based on the diaries and scrapbooks of the author’s grandfather, who was a prospector and engineer for a gold-mining company in Nome Alaska, 1900-1902. Esther, a farm girl from Minnesota, flees her difficult marriage and goes to Seattle, where she is hired to care for horses on a ship going to the Alaskan Gold Rush. On the ship, Esther befriends a college-educated black woman, a prospector, and Nate, foreman of the gold company that hired her. Once in Alaska, all begin a new way of living in this new world. The characters’ voices and the extreme hardships they faced seem realistic for the time period, and they show that even in the harshest conditions, understanding can grow.
“1776” by David McCullough. McCullough’s historical novel is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a must read for those interested and curious about that period in our history. Extensive research in both American and British archives has made this an accurate account, and Mr McCullough’s extraordinary narrative vitality brings the story to life. The story is of those who marched with Gen. George Washington in the year of the Declaration of Independence and their own personal stories. Farmers, schoolteachers, shoemakers, no-accounts and mere boys make up this army of sorts. However, it is the commander-in-chief who stands foremost – Washington, who had never led an army in battle. Defeat follows defeat, and in the long retreat across New Jersey, all hope seems gone until Washington launches the “brilliant stroke” that will change history. The story is an amazing course in history and how the war was won is a marvel.
“Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcom Gladwell. This is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem made in an instant – in the blink of an eye – are not as simple as they seem. Some of the questions explored and discussed are why do some people make brilliant decisions while others are constantly inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win while others end up stumbling in error? How do our brains really work, and why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others? A new way to think about thinking!
“Schopenhauer Cure” by Irvin D. Yalom. In his first novel since 1992’s acclaimed “When Nietzche Wept,” the renowned psychotherapist offers readers the world’s first accurate group-therapy novel. This is the story of people stripping away their defenses and barring their souls to one another gives valuable insight into the therapeutic process. In a series of fascinating and informative chapters, Yalom traces the work of Arthur Schopenhauer, a brilliant philosopher whose writings influenced Freud and Nietzche, among others. There are many touching passages, and the author embraces both the cerebral and emotional aspects of life in a tremendously entertaining story.
“Smashed” by Koren Zailckas. This isn’t just one girl’s story of sneaking drinks in junior high, creeping out for nightlong keg parties in high school and binge-drinking weeknights and weekends through college – it’s also a valuable cautionary tale. At 24 (her present age), Zailckas gave up drinking after a decade of getting drunk, having blackouts and experiencing brushes with comas, date rape and suicide. She weaves disturbing statistics (from Harvard School of Public Heath studies and elsewhere) into her memoir and tells how drinking began to replace intimacy. Alcohol defined Zailckas’s adolescence and college years to such an extent that, as she tells it, she lacks the tools to be an adult: she’s unsure how to maintain relationships and unclear about sex without an alcohol buzz. Zailckas is unsparingly insightful and acutely aware of what drinking can and does do to girls. She explains that while kids are taught that drugs are always dangerous, alcohol is perceived as an acceptable rite of passage. Her book is deeply moving and written in poetic prose that never obscures the dangerous truths she seeks to reveal.
“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” by Lisa See. This captivating novel is set in remote 19th-century China. It details the deeply affecting story of lifelong intimate friendship between Lily and Snow Flower and their imprisonment by rigid codes of conduct for women. See’s in-depth research into women’s ceremonies and duties in China’s rural interior shows fascinating revelations about arranged marriages, women’s inferior status in both their natal and married homes, and the Confucian proverbs and myriad superstitions that regulated daily life. See writes about nu shu, a secret written code among women that dates back 1,000 years and details a heartbreaking description of foot binding. Even though women’s culture is much different from today, the life lessons are much the same, and not quickly forgotten.
“Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Wartime Sarajevo” by Zlata Filipovic. This clear-eyed and often heart-wrenching book, first published in 1994 and now updated with a new introduction from the author, has been compared to the “Diary of Anne Frank,” both in the freshness of its voice and the grimness of the world it describes. Zlata Filipovic began her diary just before her 11th birthday, recording typical concerns of a girl her age like piano lessons, birthday parties and grades at school. Then, as war engulfs Sarajevo, the things she writes about change to the deaths of friends, food shortages and days spent waiting out in bombardments in a neighbor’s cellar. Yet throughout, Zlata herself remains observant and courageous, and it’s these qualities that remind readers of the ravages of war.
Compiled by owner Stacey Colin with contributions by JoAnn Marie at Harmony Books, 231 Broad St. Nevada City, 265-9564. Hours are Mon. through Sat. 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. and 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. Sunday.
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