11/22/63

11/22/63

10644930 “11/22/63” by Stephen King

Synopsis: Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away…but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke… Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten…and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.

*******

5 out of 5 stars

I put off reading this book for a long time because I felt sure it wouldn’t interest me. I don’t care much for politics or political history and I was really afraid this would end my great love affair with Mr. King.

I should have known, I could not have been more wrong.

I don’t even know where to start with how much I loved this book. It ranks right up there with one of the best books I’ve ever read – hands down. This is not the Stephen King who wrote “The Shining” and “Pet Semetary” and scared the daylights out of me. This is the King who wrote “The Green Mile” and made me cry while reading it.

“11/23/63” is the story of Jake Epping who travels back in time from 2011 to 1958 with the help of his friend Al who has found a portal of sorts in the back of his restaurant. Al’s plan was to stop the JFK assassination, which then becomes Jake’s mission. He has to lay low for a few years before the event, but he has the opportunity to right some other wrongs in the meantime.

He lives for those some of those few short years in a small town in Texas, falling in love with the town and falling in love with the librarian at the high school where he works as a teacher while he waits and watches Oswald and the road that leads him to JFK. There was obviously a huge amount of research that went into this book. I don’t know if the facts are 100% correct and to be honest, I don’t care. The story is what interests me, the fiction. The story of Oswald’s descent into murder as written in this book is exceptionally well done. The details and the characters are brought to life in such a way that the writing must mix fact with fiction.

This book also relies heavily on the “butterfly effect” – that can be defined as “The scientific theory that a single occurrence, no matter how small, can change the course of the universe forever” by the Urban Dictionary. I often wonder if I could go back and change the past, would I? After reading this book, my answer is a resounding no.

“11/22/63” is a massive book but didn’t feel like a long read. The majority of the books I read are loaded onto my tablet so I don’t have to carry around a stack  everywhere I go. The book is over 800 pages long, and kept my attention for every one of those pages. I didn’t want it to end, but at the same time I did so I could find out what happened next. While “The Stand” remains my all time King favorite, “11/22/63” is a very close second.

The cover for this book is perfection.

 

 

 

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Chapelwood

Chapelwood

24611470 “Chapelwood” by Cherie Priest

Synopsis: Birmingham, Alabama is infested with malevolence. Prejudice and hatred have consumed the minds and hearts of its populace. A murderer, unimaginatively named “Harry the Hacker” by the press, has been carving up citizens with a hatchet. And from the church known as Chapelwood, an unholy gospel is being spread by a sect that worships dark gods from beyond the heavens.
This darkness calls to Lizzie Borden. It is reminiscent of an evil she had dared hoped was extinguished. The parishioners of Chapelwood plan to sacrifice a young woman to summon beings never meant to share reality with humanity. An apocalypse will follow in their wake which will scorch the earth of all life.
Unless she stops it…

*******

4 out of 5 stars

Loved this almost as much as the first book in the series, “Maplecroft”. The story begins almost 30 years after the Maplecroft murders. Lizzie has changed her last name to Andrews and lives a fairly quiet, although lonely life. Her sister, Emma died while they were estranged and her only friend through the Maplecroft murders, Dr. Seabury  descended into madness before his own death.

Lizzie is contacted by Inspector Wolf, who investigated the Maplecroft murders with an odd request – that she come to Birmingham, Alabama to consult on a new string of axe murders. He convinces her to come with a portrait of her long-lost love, Nance, drawn by the only survivor of the killing spree.

This book follows the same formula as the first book in the series and switches point of view with each chapter. A little confusing for me until I forced myself to read the names of each chapter – not something I normally do. Lizzie is also not the sole main character in this book. A girl named Ruth Gussman shares equal billing.

When Lizzie meets Inspector Wolf in Birmingham, she finds that a sinister church has taken hold of the town and another Lovecraftian theme threatens everyone there – particularly Ruth. She is a very strong and independent young woman who wants nothing more than to be left alone to live her life but the church has other plans for her.

Again, as with the first book, if the reader is not familiar with Lovecraft then much of the imagery and symbolism will be missed. It’s a great second book in the series and with everything Lovecraft, the heroes don’t always come out on top. The book is spooky and well written. I wish some characters could have been expanded upon, but I’m happy with what I read.

I’m not sure if or how there can be a third book but I will be watching for it just in case!

The cover – perfect. We get to see Lizzie older, still with her trusty axe.

 

 

Asylum: A Mystery

Asylum: A Mystery

22545444 “Asylum: A Mystery” by Jeanette de Beauvoir
Synopsis: Martine LeDuc is the director of PR for the mayor’s office in Montreal. When four women are found brutally murdered and shockingly posed on park benches throughout the city over several months, Martine’s boss fears a PR disaster for the still busy tourist season, and Martine is now also tasked with acting as liaison between the mayor and the police department. The women were of varying ages, backgrounds and bodytypes and seemed to have nothing in common. Yet the macabre presentation of their bodies hints at a connection. Martine is paired with a young detective, Julian Fletcher, and together they dig deep into the city’s and the country’s past, only to uncover a dark secret dating back to the 1950s, when orphanages in Montreal and elsewhere were converted to asylums in order to gain more funding. The children were subjected to horrific experiments such as lobotomies, electroshock therapy, and psychotropic medication, and many of them died in the process. The survivors were supposedly compensated for their trauma by the government and the cases seem to have been settled. So who is bearing a grudge now, and why did these four women have to die?
Not until Martine finds herself imprisoned in the terrifying steam tunnels underneath the old asylum does she put the pieces together. And it is almost too late for her…in Jeannette de Beauvoir’s Asylum.

*******

4 out of 5 stars

(Warning: Could be triggering for child abuse)

This is my first time reading Jeanette de Beauvoir and it was a treat. The book is set in Montreal Canada, and is interspersed with French phrases and words. I found that mix of languages charming and appropriate for the story and while I know no French whatsoever, I was able to read and understand just fine.

The book begins with a chapter from a young girl’s diary and hooks you almost immediately. Heartbreakingly sad, you want to know more about this child, but the story is not completely hers. The story is also based around Martine, who is the Publicity Director for the City.

Four women have been found, brutally murdered and sexually assaulted. The bodies have been posed on park benches throughout the city, and Martine has been tasked with partnering with the police to find out who did this. She is paired up with Julian Fletcher, a young incredibly wealthy detective who is refreshingly not a love interest.

The book switched between the two stories; the unknown girl’s diary and Martine’s investigation. The diary get’s progressively more horrific and more and more her story is linked directly with Martine’s investigation.

I found after reading this book that it is based on true events, which is one of my very favorite genres. This is based on the Duplessis Orphans, also called the “Canadian Holocaust”. In this case, truth is stranger that fiction, and de Beauvior was kind enough to include her sources at the end of the book. I did a bit of research.

In the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s there was widespread poverty in Quebec and the Roman Catholic Church held power over both city and state. It was the churches responsibility to take care of the poor, the unwed mothers, and the unwanted children. Due to overwhelming pressure by the Church, the children born out of wedlock were placed in orphanages along with children that families were unable to feed or care for (sources state the number as being around 22,000) Because the orphanages received so little financial support from the government, it was decided to convert them to insane asylums as there was more financial support available there.

The asylums were under no one’s supervision, and one can only imagine the abuse that occured there. It gets worse. Apparently in collusion with the United States, the CIA started testing mind control drugs on these orphans, known as Project MKUltra. In addition to the abuse, and mind altering drugs, scientific experiments were often performed on the children such as lobotomies or other dissections of the brain. Electric shock treatments, hydrotherapy, and a plentiful source of cheap cadavers kept this horror under wraps until the early 1960’s.

In the 1990’s about 3,000 survivors banded together for legal recourse. At first their claims were dismissed, but enough publicity had been garnered for them to receive a small settlement. In 2004 the remaining survivors asked the Quebec government to unearth the graves of the children that died in the asylums due to abuse or medical experimentation gone wrong.

The book itself is a great read and moves quickly. The characters are sympathetic and believable and the plot is amazing. What makes it hard is knowing the truth behind the story.

I really recommend this as it’s one of the best books I’ve read in while.

Sisters of Shiloh

Sisters of Shiloh

22749804 “Sisters of Shiloh” by Kathy and Becky Hepinstall
Synopsis: A best-selling novelist enlists her own sister to bring us the story of two Southern sisters, disguised as men, who join the Confederate Army—one seeking vengeance on the battlefield, the other finding love.
In a war pitting brother against brother, two sisters choose their own battle.
Joseph and Thomas are fresh recruits for the Confederate Army, daring to join the wild fray that has become the seemingly endless Civil War, sharing everything with their fellow soldiers—except the secret that would mean their undoing: they are sisters.
Before the war, Joseph and Thomas were Josephine and Libby. But that bloodiest battle, Antietam, leaves Libby to find her husband, Arden, dead. She vows vengeance, dons Arden’s clothes, and sneaks off to enlist with the Stonewall Brigade, swearing to kill one Yankee for every year of his too-short life. Desperate to protect her grief-crazed sister, Josephine insists on joining her. Surrounded by flying bullets, deprivation, and illness, the sisters are found by other dangers: Libby is hurtling toward madness, haunted and urged on by her husband’s ghost; Josephine is falling in love with a fellow soldier. She lives in fear both of revealing their disguise and of losing her first love before she can make her heart known to him.
In her trademark “vibrant” (Washington Post Book World) and “luscious” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) prose, Kathy Hepinstall joins with her sister Becky to show us the hopes of love and war, the impossible-to-sever bonds of sisterhood, and how what matters most can both hurt us and heal us.

*******

3 out of 5 stars

I’ve always been fascinated by stories of women who disguise themselves as men, whatever their reasons for doing so are. There are so many true stories about the women who fought in the Civil War, fighting to avenge a loved one, or fighting because they thought it was the right thing to do.

This is a story of both – fighting in the war to avenge a lost loved one and fighting because it’s the right thing to do. Josephine and Libby are as close as two sisters can be. Josephine is the older sister and Libby is the adored, beautiful younger sister. Each other’s best friend, until a neighboring boy, Arden,  takes an interest in Libby.

Josephine never forgave Arden for marrying her sister and taking her away from the family. During the battle of Antietam, Arden is mortally wounded and Libby takes a vow to kill as many Yankee soldiers as years that Arden lived – 21.

Josephine can’t let Libby go alone, so both sisters cut off their hair and pick up guns to join the Confederate army. The story is woven with flashbacks to the sister’s childhood, and to Libby and Arden’s short marriage.

Josephine/Joseph struggles to hold on to any vestige of femininity throughout the story and Libby/Thomas does the opposite by almost becoming her deceased husband. Thomas is the better soldier and intent on killing. Joseph is terrified of killing anyone and just wants to go home.

This is an interesting story, but I feel like I have read it before. I am in the middle of reading a similar story so perhaps that’s why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have. Still, a quick and easy read that I did like.

Becoming Clemetine

Becoming Clemetine

13542455 “Becoming Clementine” by Jennifer Niven
Publisher’s Synopsis: After delivering a B-17 Flying Fortress to Britain, an American volunteers to copilot a plane carrying special agents to their drop spot over Normandy. Her personal mission: to find her brother, who is missing in action. Their plane is shot down, and only she and five agents survive. Now they are on the run for their lives.
As they head to Paris, the beautiful aviatrix Velva Jean Hart becomes Clementine Roux, a daring woman on an epic adventure with her team to capture an operative known only as “Swan.” Once settled on Rue de la Néva, Clementine works as a spy with the Resistance and finds herself falling in love with her fellow agent, Émile, a handsome and mysterious Frenchman with secrets of his own. When Clementine ends up in the most brutal prison in Paris, trying to help Émile and the team rescue Swan, she discovers the depths of human cruelty, the triumph of her own spirit, and the bravery of her team, who will stop at nothing to carry out their mission.

******

2 out of 5 stars

Before reading this book, I was unaware this was the third in a series. It can and does stand alone, but makes frequent references to previous books and it would have been helpful to read those first.

Velva Jean is a WWII WASP, a member of the Women’s Air Service Pilot Corps in 1944 and it is her mission to fly over the Atlantic to deliver men and supplies. Velva Jean also has a secret agenda – to find her brother who has gone missing since D-Day.

While flying missions, she crashes in France and joins the Resistance as a way to both serve her country and keep searching for her brother. She must learn to survive unsuspected and becomes Clementine Roux, a spy for the French Resistance. Clementine has one mission: to find the operative Swan and bring her home.

I enjoyed the book, but felt a little disconnected from it. I think this would be a great book for someone who was looking for something light, something historical, perhaps something that could be considered YA reading. This book is all of those things, and wasn’t what I expected. I wanted more flying, more spying, more DOING something and there was a great deal of waiting in this book.

I guess I wanted a gritty retelling of what a WASP went through in WWII,and this book is not gritty. It’s a polished up version of a terrible time in history.

The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell

The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell

17347600  “The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell” by William Klaber

Publisher’s Synopsis: One day in 1855 Lucy Lobdell cut her hair, changed clothes, and went off to live her life as a man. By the time it was over, she was notorious. The New York Times thought her worthy of a lengthy obituary that began “Death of a Modern Diana . . . Dressed in Man’s Clothing She Win’s a Girl’s Love.” The obit detailed what the Times knew of Lucy’s life, from her backwoods upbringing to the dance school she ran disguised as a man, “where she won the love of a young lady scholar.” But that was just the start of the trouble; the Times did not know about Lucy’s arrest and trial for the crime of wearing men’s clothes or her jailbreak engineered by her wife, Marie Perry, to whom she had been married by an unsuspecting judge.
Lucy lived at a time when women did not commonly travel unescorted, carry a rifle, sit down in bars, or have romantic liaisons with other women. Lucy did these things in a personal quest—to work and be paid, to wear what she wanted, and to love whomever she cared to. But to gain those freedoms she had to endure public scorn and wrestle with a sexual identity whose vocabulary had yet to be invented. Lucy promised to write a book about it all, and over the decades, people have searched for that account. Author William Klaber searched also until he decided that the finding would have to be by way of echoes and dreams. This book is Lucy’s story, told in her words as heard and recorded by an upstream neighbor.
It has been named a Stonewall Book Award-Barbara Gittings Literature Award Honor Book for 2014.

******

4 out of 5 stars

This is once again, my favorite genre: real life figures set in a semi-fictional setting. I say semi-fictional because with Lucy Lobdell, there are quite a few facts that are known, but William Klaber has taken the liberty of mixing truth and fiction to create this outstanding memoir.

Lucy was born in upstate NY in 1879 where she was taught to hunt, and to play the violin by her father; both of which were considered unusual for that time. She married young to a scoundrel who left her soon after, alone and penniless and with a young daughter. Her family took her in, but never made her feel welcome and blamed her for the breakup of the marriage. Knowing there was no way for her to support her daughter as a woman, she left her family home dressed as a man in search of “man’s work” and became Joseph Lobdell.

Lobdell traveled all over the Midwest, hoping and planning to eventually buy land and raise horses. He did fall in love in the first town he lived in, where he posed as a violin teacher for the young society ladies, and his secret was almost discovered there. Choosing to run, he travels further Northwest into Minnesota. An ill-timed swim in the river left him discovered by a neighbor, who then raped him and had him arrested for masquerading as a man.

All charges were eventually dropped and Lodbell left Minnesota in search for his daughter. Finding that she had lived in an alms house, a poor house, before being adopted, Lobdell stayed at the same house and eventually married the proprietor, Marie. This could very well be the first same sex marriage on the books – I honestly don’t know.

Unfortunatly Lobdell was ultimately forced into multiple insane asylums later in life before his death at 83. It’s not clear if he was mentally ill, or defined as such by the times and the way he chose to live. There was no language at that time for gender identity, so anything differing from what was accepting was seen as an unholy aberration and locked away.

William Klaber was literally handed this book by a local historian as he lived in the area that Lucy/Joseph was born and raised in. I think he does a good job with the story and mixes fact and fiction well. Klaber tells us that the first time that the word “lesbian” was used, it was used to describe Lucy/Joseph Lobdell.

I found this book fascinating and an enjoyable read.

Beyond the Pale

Beyond the Pale

19420326 “Beyond the Pale ” by Elana Dykewomon
Publisher’s Synopsis: Elana Dykewomon’s Lambda Award-winning novel Beyond the Pale announces itself to the world with an infant’s scream–“a new voice, a tiny shofar announcing its own first year.” The midwife attending this birth is Gutke Gurvich, a half-Jew with different colored eyes and a gift for seeing into the spirit world. Beyond the Pale is Gutke’s story, detailing her odyssey from a Russian shtetl to a comfortable Manhattan brownstone. But, as Dykewomon puts it, “Whenever you tell the story of one woman, inside is another,” and this rich, multilayered novel is also the story of Chava Meyer, the baby girl Gutke delivered that day, as well as the story of the important women in both of their lives: mothers, sisters, neighbors, lovers, friends. After seeing her mother raped and killed during a particularly vicious pogrom in her native village of Kishinev, Chava immigrates to America. There, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, both she and Gutke find themselves involved in the nascent labor union and suffrage movements. Dykewomon has clearly done her research here, and Beyond the Pale presents a beautifully detailed account of life among turn-of-the-century immigrant Jews, from classes at the Henry Street Settlement House to the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Through the lens of several lesbians’ lives, Dykewomon draws a portrait of an entire Diasporan community living through the terror and uncertainties of both Russian progroms and life in the New World.

*****

5 out of 5 stars

This book is amazing. Written as historical fiction, this is a perfect capture of the last turn-of-the-century working class environment. It also is a story that touches on so many different topics: racism, sexism, feminism, migration, and lesbian/transgender issues.

It’s a difficult book to review. I loved it, yes, but it was not an easy read. The story revolves around Russian Jews and the treatment and emmigration of two families to America. My own knowledge of Judaism is limited; I live in an area that is predominantly Jewish and have celebrated Passover and Hanukkah with friends and that’s about it. My understanding of Yiddish is non-existent and I had trouble with some of the words in the story but was able to muddle through.

I found it fascinating, learning about the strict gender roles and beliefs held in that period in time. Dykewomon paints a very vivid picture when describing the pogroms, and the East Side tenements where our characters live. The story starts with Gutke, born in Russia and thought to be touched by Lilith as she has two different colored eyes. Trained to be a midwife, she makes her way to America on the arm of her husband, Dovid, who is a transman of that time. One of the children she delivers before leaving Russia is Chava, and the two women’s stories intertwine throughout the rest of the book.

Chava is orphaned when a pogrom breaks out in her village. She makes her way to America with her extended family and her cousin, Rose. The state of the ships, the filth in the steerage is detailed and vivid as well as the fear in passing through Ellis Island. Chava and her family wind up in a slum on the East Side, and are able to find factory work to survive.

The factories are sweatshops that Chava tries to rise above by joining labor organization and the suffragette movement and becomes an activist in her own right.

And she falls in love with her cousin, Rose, who shares her bed every night.

Tackling such difficult subjects such as the Shirtwaist Fire, and the sweatshops, the pain of hidden love, and the bravery of the characters in the book, I feel this is a must read for anyone who enjoys historical fiction as well as anyone who wants a peek into lesbian history.