Historical / Art

Palm Trees in the Snow

Palm Trees in the Snow

Summary: 

When Clarence of Rabaltué discovers a series of old letters from her father’s past, she begins to doubt everything she thought she knew about her once-noble family. Her father and his brother worked in the colony of Fernando Po, but these letters tell a different story than the tales of life in Africa that made it to the dinner table. Clarence has no idea what really went on during their time at the cocoa plantations—or why no one in her family has ever returned to the island in all the years since. But the letters suggest that a great love story is buried beneath the years of silence.

Setting out from her home in Spain’s snowy mountains, Clarence makes the same journey across the sea that her uncle and father traveled before her. There, she unlocks the painful secrets her family has hidden in the rich African soil. But what she discovers may also be the key to awakening her own listless heart. (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This was a book that I was interested in to understand some of the colonial period for Spain.  Then, I was more interested in understanding who did what, and how the mystery aligned within the family.  Ultimately, however Gabas delivered so much more than a simple reveal, but instead a story infused with love, politics and the complex situations forced upon the family.  I loved that the great reveal ended up being much more complex than I was guessing and that we got a deep dive with both generations of the family.

One of the other things I really appreciated in the book is the unflinching perspectives about colonialism, race, dynamics on the island and where loyalties lie.  Often, it feels that retrospective views on situations are over-simplified and don’t do the country justice.  “Palm Trees in the Snow” gives an authentic view of why people would have conflicting views and, ultimately, created political turmoil for those caught in the middle of it.

Warning: Contains sexual content and violence.

Rating: 5 stars!

Who should read it? Highly recommended! Anyone willing to dive into the complexities of multi-generational families and interacting with the colonial legacy.

Master of Alaska

Master of Alaska

Summary:

The detail and research that author Roger Seiler used – from biographies to actual letters and reports by the Governor Baranov himself - creates a riveting story.

“Master of Alaska” - a compelling Historical Fiction about the first governor of Alaska sent to the colony by Russia in 1790 – George Washington was President at the time. “Master of Alaska” starts in October 1790 when Aleksandr Baranov left his family in Russia and sails across the North Pacific to Kodiak to become the chief manager for Tsarina Catherine the Great’s colony in the far Northwest of North America. Baranov is shipwrecked, saved and adopted by the Aleut natives. Later he is forced to marry Anooka the daughter of the tribal chief, despite still having a wife back in Russia to save his men from starvation. Only slated to serve five years, Baranov spends the next 28 years in Alaska, surviving natural disasters, a massacre of his people at Sitka, meddling competing Russian authorities, a British attempt to undermine his colony and an assassination attempt. Interestingly, Baranov’s native wife and teenage daughter play an intricate role and contribute much to his success and survival in Alaska. Baranov built an empire and sought peace with the warring Tlingit, and thanks largely to his efforts Alaska is part of the U.S. today.  (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Please note: I received a free copy of this book courtesy of Sage’s Blog Tours and I voluntarily chose to write a review

Review:

This was as a 3.5 star book with some fantastic history naturally weaved throughout.  The early information I had about for Alaska was very sketchy and it was fascinating to get an in depth timeline without reading simple dry facts.  I liked that the arc was told through the experiences and challenges of Baranov although some times the events jumped from one to another fairly quickly.  One thing that is for sure is that life in Alaska wasn’t for everyone!  I have always wanted to visit and this makes me even more determined to make it up there.

One thing that I found a little distracting throughout the book was the very matter-of-fact dialogue throughout.  I couldn’t tell if this was something due to the translation of letters, a choice by the author or the form that the individuals naturally took.  It didn’t take away from the overall story, but did keep me from being completely absorbed in the story.

Warning: Contains some violence and sexual content.

Rating: 4 stars!

Who should read it? Fans of history and true adventure.

The Emerald Mile

The Emerald Mile

Summary:

From one of Outside magazine’s “Literary All-Stars” comes the thrilling true tale of the fastest boat ride ever, down the entire length of the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, during the legendary flood of 1983.

In the tradition of “The Perfect Storm” and “Seabiscuit”, the engrossing tale of the fastest boat ride ever down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

In the winter of 1983, the largest El Niño event on record—a chain of “superstorms” that swept in from the Pacific Ocean—battered the entire West. That spring, a massive snowmelt sent runoff racing down the Colorado River toward the Glen Canyon Dam, a 710-foot-high wall of concrete that sat at the head of the most iconic landscape feature in America, the Grand Canyon. As the water clawed toward the parapet of the dam, worried federal officials desperately scrambled to avoid a worst-case scenario: one of the most dramatic dam failures in history.

In the midst of this crisis, beneath the light of a full moon, a trio of river guides secretly launched a small, hand-built wooden boat, a dory named the “Emerald Mile”, into the Colorado just below the dam’s base and rocketed toward the dark chasm downstream, where the torrents of water released by the dam engineers had created a rock-walled maelstrom so powerful it shifted giant boulders and created bizarre hydraulic features never previously seen. The river was already choked with the wreckage of commercial rafting trips: injured passengers clung to the remnants of three-ton motorboats that had been turned upside down and torn to pieces. The chaos had claimed its first fatality, further launches were forbidden, and rangers were conducting the largest helicopter evacuation in the history of Grand Canyon National Park.

An insurgent river run under such conditions seemed to border on the suicidal, but Kenton Grua, the captain of that dory, was on an unusual mission: a gesture of defiance unlike anything the river world had ever seen. His aim was to use the flood as a hydraulic slingshot that would hurl him and two companions through 277 miles of some of the most ferocious white water in North America and, if everything went as planned, catapult the Emerald Mile into legend as the fastest boat ever propelled—by oar, by motor, or by the grace of God—through the heart of the Grand Canyon.

Grua himself was already something of a mythic figure, a fearless boatman obsessed with the mysteries of the canyon. His quest embraced not only the trials of the speed run itself but also the larger story of his predecessors: the men who had first discovered the canyon and pioneered its exploration, as well as those who waged a landmark battle to prevent it from being hog-tied by a series of massive hydroelectric dams—a conflict that continues to this day.

A writer who has worked as a river guide himself and is intimately familiar with the canyon’s many secrets, Kevin Fedarko is the ideal narrator for this American epic. The saga of “The Emerald Mile” is a thrilling adventure, as well as a magisterial portrait of the hidden kingdom of white water at the bottom of the greatest river canyon on earth. This book announces Fedarko as a major writing talent and at last sets forth the full story of an American legend—the legend of “The Emerald Mile”. (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This book is so much more than just the story of the fastest run down the Grand Canyon.  What makes the book so wonderful is the history and time devoted to explaining the circumstances that culminated in the fastest run down the Grand Canyon.  There is a huge difference between the facts written down on paper and the story laid out by a passionate guide, outdoor enthusiast and writer.

As someone who did their undergraduate studies in engineering, I absolutely adored getting to know the details behind the damn, what was going on and why it was such a big deal.  Purely engineering books can sometimes be a bit dry so alternating between the events building up on the river with the ones at the damn kept the story moving quickly while also imparting a lot of interesting information.  This was a fantastic book that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Rating: 5 stars!

Who should read it? Any adventure fan with an interest in the wild, national parks or white-water rafting.

On the Sickle’s Edge

On the Sickle's Edge

Summary:

A sweeping masterwork of love and loss, secrets and survival, “On the Sickle's Edge” is told through the voices of three characters who lay bare their family’s saga: the endearing, scrappy South-African born Lena, transported to Latvia and later trapped in the USSR; her granddaughter Darya, a true Communist whose growing disillusionment with Soviet ideology places her family at mortal risk; and Steven, a painter from Boston who inadvertently stumbles into the tangled web of his family’s past. Against the roiling backdrop of twentieth-century Russia and Eastern Europe, the novel delivers equal parts historical drama, political thriller and poignant love story. (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Please note: I received a free copy of this book courtesy of TLC Book Tours and I voluntarily chose to write a review

Review:

This was a fantastic book that had a fairly slow start.  The book follows the history of three main characters: Lena (great-grandmother), Darya (grand-daughter) and Steven (a missing cousin).  The build-up is a little more of a meandering story giving the history of the each individual characters within the context of the historical changes in the USSR.  It is fascinating to see how things unfold, the decisions that people are forced to make and then how the political climate drove the decisions for survival.

As someone who doesn’t know very much about the internal workings of Russia, I found this extremely interesting both within the story and historically.  It is hefty, so it’s a commitment, but  I believe it is worth the time to become invested with the characters.

Warning: Contains sexual content and violence.

Rating: 4 stars!

Who should read it? Anyone with interest in history and would enjoy a family sweeping multiple generations.