Ada Blackjack

Niven, Jennifer. Ada Blackjack: a True Story of Survival in the Arctic. New York: Hyperion, 2003.

Reason read: Ear-marking the reindeer is an Arctic tradition that takes place in the summer.

Jennifer Niven calls Ada Blackjack a hero. I don’t think I would go that far. She didn’t save anyone’s life and her heroic deeds were limited to having the courage and resourcefulness to survive her unlikely predicament physically unscathed. I say unlikely because what would a impoverished and divorced 23 year old Inuit woman (a rumored prostitute) be doing on a potentially illegal expedition in the wilds of an Arctic island with four young white men and a cat? Desperate to find a husband and to make enough money to care for her oft-ill son, Ada signs on a seamstress with explorer Vilhjamur Stefansson’s mission to colonize barren Wrangel Island off the coast of Siberia. Using the theory of squatters’ rights, Stafansson sent four young men and six months worth of supplies to plant the British flag on what he thought was unclaimed land. He only sent them with six months of supplies because he was sure they could survive off the land once they had exhausted their stores. What could possibly go wrong in the “friendly” Arctic?
It’s not a plot spoiler to say that Ada was the only human to make it out alive (and yes, the cat survives, too). But, here’s where the story gets interesting. Stefansson vacillates between wanting to take all the credit for Ada’s survival and pretending he’s never heard of the woman. It’s what happens after the rescue that becomes the bigger story.

As an aside, I love the process of discovery. While Niven was researching her first book, The Ice Master she discovered Nome, Alaska native Ada Blackjack. Ada’s adventure intrigued Niven enough to prompt her to dig into Blackjack’s life story and ultimately, write a memoir about her expedition with four white men (and a cat) to Wrangel Island. To carry that idea of discovery a step further, after reading Ada Blackjack I found a documentary on her. I got caught up in her mystique, too.

Author fact: Niven also wrote The Ice Master which is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Ada Blackjack includes two wonderful sections of photographs. A handful of comments about the photos: the expedition cat, Vic, is fantastic. Milton Galle is a man’s man and my favorite photo is of Vic and Milton.  They were all good looking people.

Nancy said: If you like Krakauer or Junger, you will like Niven.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “To the Ends of the Earth: North and South” (p 231).


Coldest Winter

Halberstam, David. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. New York: Hyperion, 2007.

Reason read: the Korean War officially ended in July.

The interesting thing about the Korean War is that most were reluctant to call it an actual war. Those that admitted to it being a conflict were convinced it would be over in no time. What started in June of 1950 as a “clash” between North Korea and South Korea turned into a war of attrition when China and the Soviet Union came to the aid of North Korea and the UN and United States joined the South. Despite a treaty being signed in July of 1953, to this day, technically the conflict has not been recognized as over.
While Halberstam portrays the well-researched historical events with accuracy and thorough detail, his portrayals of key U.S. figures such as Generals MacArthur and Bradley, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and President Truman read like a fast paced political thriller. The larger than life personalities practically jump off the page.

As an aside: I suppose it would make sense if I thought about it more, but the Korean War was the first time air-to-air combat was conducted. Before then planes were mostly used to drop bombs and transport men and supplies.

Best line to quote, “Sometimes it is the fate of a given unit to get in that way of something so large it seems to have stepped into history’s own path” (p 258).

Author fact: Halberstam was born in April and died in April.

Book trivia: The Coldest Winter was published after Halberstam’s death.

Nancy said: Pearl called Coldest Winter the “best book for the nonhistorian on the Korean War” (Book Lust To Go p 127).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Korea – North and South” (p 125). I am willing to bet Coldest Winter would have been in More Book Lust’s chapter “David Halberstam: Too Good To Miss” (p 112) if it had been published in time. MBL was published in 2005 and Coldest Winter came two years later in 2007. It would appear Pearl is a fan and has read everything Halberstam has ever written.


Den of Thieves

Stewart, James B. Den of Thieves. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

Reason read: July is typically Job Fair month (although this is not the job most would want to have…).

In a nutshell, Den of Thieves recounts the largest insider-trading scandal in the all-about-me 1980s. It is what happens when all-out avarice collides with above-the-law arrogance. Everyone has a hazy remembrance of Milken, Siegel and Freeman (to name a few) but with thorough research Stewart’s book keeps the details in sharp focus.

Confessional: in this criminal climate we currently live in, I had a hard time reading about a group of individuals who had a blatant disregard for the law. Some things never change. I couldn’t finish this book.

Author fact: Stewart likes going after big time dirty deeds. He has written other books on big time falls from grace.

Book trivia: Stewart includes a great selection of photographs.

Nancy said: Nancy called Den of Thieves “frightening” (Book Lust, p 34).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “BBB: Best Business Books” (p 33). How it is considered a “best business book” I’ll never know.


Cop Hater

McBain, Ed. Cop Hater. New York: Pocket Books, 1999.

Reason read: McBain died in the month of July; read Cop Hater in his memory.

Someone is going around killing cops. One right after another in quick succession, three plain-clothed detectives are gunned down. At first glance Joe Public assumes someone out there is a serious cop hater. That seems to be the only connection between the three victims. They are all law enforcement. So, someone must really hate the fuzz, right? The only other common denominator is the heat. It’s summertime and every day is blazing hot, hot, hot. Tempers are flaring but is it hot enough to drive someone to murder? That’s what protagonist Detective Steve Carella needs to find out.
What I loved about McBain’s style is how he drops clues along the way. Once you know “whodunit” you can go back and see the answers peeking out way before the individual crimes are solved. While the details are a little dated and police procedures are very different than they were in the 50s, Cop Hater is still an entertaining read.

I forgot to mention my favorite line, “The elevator crawled up the intestinal track of the building” (p 92). Great image!

Author fact: Ed McBain is actually Evan Hunter and Cop Hater is his first 87th Precinct book of the series.

Book trivia: Cop Hater was originally published in 1956 and made into a movie in 1958. The funny thing is, as I was reading it I thought it would make the perfect crime series for television. Turns out, McBain modeled Cop Hater after the television show, Dragnet.

Nancy said: Nancy said Cop Hater takes place in New York City. I am guessing she didn’t read McBain’s introduction because he makes a point of explaining the Eighty-seventh Precinct is based on a New York City precinct. Cop Hater actually takes place in the fictional city of Isola.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the huge chapter “I Love a Mystery” (p 120).


Book of Mediterranean Cooking

David, Elizabeth. The Book of Mediterranean Cooking. London: Penguin Books, 1955.

Reason read: July is picnic month. Picnics = food. Food = Elizabeth David. Need I say anymore? If you know Elizabeth David you know I don’t.

Confessional #1: When I first picked up Mediterranean Cooking I was trying to decide if Elizabeth David truly expected the everyday housewife to cook from this book. The magic of her writing is that her methods as far as cooking is concerned are unconventional and languid. Who else measures their olive oil by the wineglass? Even if you don’t consider yourself a gourmet cook, The Book of Mediterranean Cooking is a sophisticated book to have on your shelf. It just looks impressive. It’s one of those cookbooks you can pull down to read on a snowy New England night and dream of a mile-long Tuscan table laden with meats and cheeses and fruits, jugs of green olive oil, freshly pressed while a handsome someone in a long white apron pours you ruby red wine by the barrel.

Confessional #2: When I finally closed the book I had only one thought. There were many recipes I couldn’t even entertain the thought of trying. So, in the end, I answered my own question.

Author fact: David wrote cookbooks covering French, Italian, and Mediterranean food (to name a few). I am reading seven such books by Elizabeth David.

Book trivia: Book of Mediterranean Cooking is full of illustrations and quotations. Both are gorgeous.

Nancy said: Nancy called David’s writing evocative saying, “you can smell and taste the ingredients as she describes them” (Book Lust, p 91).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food for Thought (p 91).


Animals

Mattison, Alice. Animals. Cambridge, MA: Alice James Books, 1979.

Reason read: July is Mattison’s birth month.

A collection of thirty poems rich and pulsating with human life make up Animals by Alice Mattison. Women come alive to argue, have sex, give birth, seek memories, laugh out loud, fiercely love family, change identities, experience sickness, learn to rescue, and accept failure. There is courage and wit in Mattison’s vision. Each poem is heartbeats and breath, like a roar of vibrant life.

Lines I liked, “throwing echoes between eardrums” (from Husband, p 11) and “The wildlife grows shameless in spring: it’s like putting out your hand in the dark and feeling a penis” (from Creatures, p 26).

Author fact: Mattison began her writing career as a poet.

Book trivia: Animals is Alice Mattison’s first book.

Nancy said: Nancy didn’t say anything specific about Animals but she did say Alice Mattison is “a multitalented writer” (p 1).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very first chapter called “A…My Name is Alice” (p 1).


Into the Storm

Korten, Tristam. Into the Storm: Two Ships, a Deadly Hurricane, and an Epic Battle For Survival.

Confessional: this was a very difficult book for me to read. When I first requested it from LibraryThing I thought time and circumstance had adequately removed me from emotion. In other words, I thought I was far enough away from the story’s potential emotional impact. My father was a member of the U. S. Coast Guard. His responsibility in the service was Search and Rescue. Even though my father has been dead for over 25 years the urgency with which the Coast Guard acted and the determination of rescue swimmer, Ben Cournia, had a profound effect on me.
Additionally, I am from Maine. My mother’s little town of Rockland was devastated by the loss of so many Maine Maritime Academy graduates. It’s a grief that, to this day, lingers on the resident’s stoic faces.

But, having made my confession there is something else to admit. Emotional impact, especially one that lingers, is the sign of a well-told story. Korten stirred the memory pot and moved me to tears with his eloquent writing. Even if I had been a landlocked farmer in the Midwest Into the Storm would be just as powerful.

Korten’s detail of the events of September 29th, 2015 builds in tempo like the events that unfolded before, during and after Hurricane Joaquin’s rage. In the beginning, seasoned seamen and meteorologists alike were not impressed by Joaquin. As a weather condition, nearly everyone underestimated the storm’s growing power and unpredictability. This languid misjudgment proved to be deadly. Additionally, there were the missed chances to take the El Faro out of commission. The Coast Guard had put it on its target list for 2016 for vessels deemed dangerous and a risk to marine safety. Even more devastating was the fact the El Faro crew tried numerous times to tell the captain they were in a risky situation. Finally, the last known communication with land didn’t sound dire enough. No one had a clue the ship was that close to the deadly eye of Joaquin.