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review 2019-12-08 20:37
The Farm at the Edge of the World - Sarah Vaughan

"The Farm at the Edge of the World" is the second Sarah Vaughan novel I've had the pleasure of reading. It is a generational story spanning a little more than 70 years - from the earliest days of the Second World War to the summer of 2015 - that faithfully evokes the essence and spirit of an era fast receding into history, as well as a tangible look and feel of contemporary Cornwall.

The novel begins with the evacuation of a brother and sister - Will, 13 and his younger sister, Alice, 9 - from London to Cornwall in Southwest England shortly after Britain had declared war on Germany in September 1939. Many families with young children in London, fearful of being bombed by the Luftwaffe, entered into a government plan which relocated children from the urban areas of the country judged likely to be subjected to bombing to the countryside. Children were considered to be in places of greater safety in the countryside. So it was that Will and Alice Cooke were put in the care of the Retallick family, who owned and lived on a granite farm (Skylark) near the Cornish cliffs.

As I said, this novel is a story that spans the generations. And thus, the reader is provided in alternating chapters, views of the life Will and Alice had with the Retallicks at Skylark through most of the war to Skylark some 7 decades later. In the latter period (i.e. the summer of 2014), Maggie - who had befriended Will and struck up what began as a close friendship with him -- is nearing her 90th birthday. Her granddaughter Lucy, a nurse by training, has left London, where she lived with her husband Matt, to return to Cornwall to help her family from losing Skylark. She had lived many years in London, but in light of her father's death, feels the need to reconnect with her family. The author skillfully brings to life the struggles and divisions within the family in light of Skylark's troubles. This is wonderfully contrasted with life there during the war, which brought Will and Maggie Retallick closer together as both neared adulthood-- before Fate cruelly separated them.

The more I read this novel, the more the story grew within my imagination. There is something about Cornwall that is both evocative and mesmerized, situated as it is hard by the Atlantic Ocean. (Ever since I read the Poldark novels over 10 years ago, I have become utterly enchanted with Cornwall. I hope someday to visit there.) Vaughan has a knack for creating characters with whom the reader can relate to because they become real people. I love the way she writes.

"THE FARM AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD" is a novel the reader will find him/herself reflecting upon long after he/she has read it, for it is very well told and has elements of love, loss, nostalgia, hope, and rediscovery.

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review 2019-11-23 02:23
Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War - S.C. Gwynne

Two weeks ago (November 8, 2019), I had the opportunity to hear the author, S.C. Gwynne, speak about this book at a local bookstore. While I have at best a layman's interest in the Civil War, I was impressed with Gwynne's presentation, so much so that I put in a request with my neighborhood library to check out a copy of the book.

"HYMNS OF THE REPUBLIC: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War" provides an apt and well-written summation of the final year of the Civil War and how it impacted upon the nation (North and South) militarily, politically, economically, and on a psychological level. Gwynne also brings vividly to life the many personalities (military, civilian, and political) who played key and significant roles in a year - 1864 - that began with the appointment of Ulysses S. Grant (the hero of Vicksburg) as Lieutenant General in charge of the Army of the Potomac by President Lincoln, which initially gave the North much cause for optimism that the war could perhaps be won in a short time and thus, ensure Lincoln's re-election later in the year. But despite Grant's initial successes against the Army of Northern Virginia (commanded by Robert E. Lee), the war in the East ground into a virtual stalemate by the summer.


As a result of these setbacks on the battlefield in 1864 (as evidenced by the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and Cold Harbor), Lincoln's re-election prospects dimmed considerably. He felt certain that he was likely to be defeated in November by the Democratic candidate (George McClellan, the erstwhile commander of the Army of the Potomac til Lincoln relieved him of command late in 1862 because of McClellan's failure to mount an effective campaign against the Army of Northern Virginia throughout that year), leading to a likely truce between North and South resulting ultimately in the establishment of the Confederacy as an independent nation.  But then the fortunes of war would tilt in the North's favor by the early autumn of 1864.


Gwynne has written a history that reads like a novel comparable in some ways to Thackeray's 'Vanity Fair' with its dramatic sweep. Thanks to him, I learned so much more about why the Civil War continues to resonate in the nation's psyche. After all, it was a conflict that changed us from seeing ourselves as 'the United States are' to 'the United States IS.' That is, as one singular nation of Americans. 

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review 2019-09-23 02:51
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats - T.S. Eliot,Axel Scheffler

Recently, I learned that the musical "CATS" -- which drew its inspiration from this book of poetry -- is staging a revival where I live for a short time. And so, to better inform myself about it before seeing the musical, I decided to read "OLD POSSUM'S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS." And what a delightful, entertaining book of poetry it is. I read it in a very short time.

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review 2019-08-27 02:04
Beneath the Lion's Gaze - Maaza Mengiste

"BENEATH THE LION'S GAZE" tells a story of a family caught up in the full fury of a political revolution that took place in Ethiopia in 1974. 

In reading this novel, there were parallels between the overthrow of the Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. Both countries on the eve of revolution suffered from failed harvests and simmering internal dissent. In Ethiopia's case, a group of military officers formed a collective known as the Derg and forced Haile Selassie to abdicate. 

"BENEATH THE LION'S GAZE" conveys the full force of the reign of terror the Derg imposed on Ethiopia, the courage many Ethiopians showed in organizing a resistance movement (which ended up being brutally suppressed and stamped out by the late 1970s), and reinforced in my mind the corrosive effect bloody revolutions have on every aspect of society within a nation. 

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review 2019-08-09 15:34
No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories - Gabriel García Márquez
  "NO ONE WRITES TO THE COLONEL AND OTHER STORIES" is made up of 10 short stories, each more fantastic than the one that preceded it. Of the 10, my favorite was 'No One Writes to the Colonel' which provides the reader various glimpses into the lives of a colonel from Colombia's Thousand Day War (1899-1902) and his wife, amid the colonel's longstanding hope and expectation of receiving through the mail (which only arrives by boat once a week on Friday) his belated pension. This would prove to be a 60 year wait for the old colonel, who lived a rather threadbare existence in a small town near Colombia's Caribbean coast.

The other short stories focus on the lives of various people, rich and poor alike, in a Colombia that at times seems more mystical than real.

Sometimes the stories would drone on a bit. But I'm glad I read "NO ONE WRITES TO THE COLONEL AND OTHER STORIES" and have no intention to read it again. (Previously, I had read several years ago, Gabriel García Márquez' novels 'The General in His Labyrinth' and 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' - both of which I enjoyed reading very much, because each of them fed deeply into my imagination and thrilled it.)


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