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Number 86 on the Random House Board’s list of 100 Greatest Novels is Ragtime. A business associate had given me the book as a present. I finally got finished reading it.

Ragtime tells the story of life in New York City in the years before World War I. It brings together a number of famous contemporaries of the time, including Henry Ford, Houdini, the famous anarchist revolutionary Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan and many others, and weaves them into the fictional characters of Doctorow that tell a compelling story of racism in America.

The main storyline is about Coalhouse Walker, a black American Ragtime musician who, through talent, hard work and discipline creates a successful life for himself in New York. He can even afford a car, and the drives around in a new shiny black Model T. Most whites cannot afford cars, and when he runs into a roadblock in front of a firehouse, the firemen thugs are harassing him. But Coalhouse Walker does not bend to injustice. He starts a one-man war, and it does not end well for the firemen and the city of New York.

More poignant than the story itself are the graphic description of life of the common man, the black man, and immigrants, at that time in our history. Here is an excerpt on immigration:

Most of the immigrants came from Italy and Eastern Europe. They were taken in launches to Ellis Island. There, in a curiously ornate human warehouse of red brick and gray stone, they were tagged, given showers, and arranged on benches in waiting pens. They were immediately sensitive to the enormous power of the immigration officials. These officials changed names they couldn’t pronounce and tore people from their families, consigning to a return voyage old folks, people with bad eyes, riffraff and also those who looked insolent. Such power was dazzling. The immigrants were reminded of home. They went into the streets and were somehow absorbed in the tenements. They were despised by New Yorkers. They were filthy and illiterate. They stank of fish and garlic. They had running sores. They had no honor and worked for next to nothing. They stole. They drank. They raped their own daughters. They killed each other casually. Among those who despised them the most were the second-generation Irish, whose fathers had been guilty of the same crimes. Irish kids pulled the beards of old Jews and knocked them down. The upended the pushcarts of Italian peddlers.

— page 16

I have been to Ellis Island. This description does not match the glorious pictures we have in our minds of immigration into the United States over the years. It matches more the descriptions of Trump today, does it not? Ragtime is a novel, of course, and not reality, but it paints a very dark picture of our history that does not match what we like to tell ourselves today about “this great country.”

Life in New York was very different a hundred years ago. I have always loved the city. When I walk through its streets today, as I did 45 years ago when I first came to this country, I always think about its rich history and all the stories that its walls and streets and parks and sidewalks could tell – if they could speak. Here is a particularly graphic paragraph depicting city life not as we think about it:

That evening White went to the opening night of Mamzelle Champagne at the roof garden at Madison Square. This was early in the month of June and by the end of the month a serious heat wave had begun to kill infants all over the slums. The tenements glowed like furnaces and the tenants had no water to drink. The sink at the bottom of the stairs was dry. Fathers raced through the streets looking for ice. Tammany Hall had been destroyed by reformers and the hustlers on the ward still cornered the ice supply and sold little chips of it at exorbitant prices. Pillows were placed on the sidewalks. Families slept on stoops and in doorways. Horses collapsed and died in the streets. The Department of Sanitation sent drays around the city to drag away horses that had died. But it was not an efficient service. Horses exploded in the heat. Their exposed intestines heaved with rats. And up through the slum alleys, through the gray clothes hanging listlessly on lines strung across air shafts, rose the smell of fried fish.

— page 19

Racism in America needs more coverage. Reading Ragtime today, thinking of our current policies as they relate to immigrants and racial minorities, opens our eyes about our sketchy history and terribly flawed past. Our politicians always talk about:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Oh no, those are illustrious words, but we haven’t really lived up to them, and we’re not living up to them today.

Ragtime is a powerful book, with 320 pages a fairly quick read, that I highly recommend.

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Readers of the diary will have no difficulty seeing the similarities between Friedrich’s world and our own. And with Friedrich they will wonder with alarm why the pillars of civilization are so meager they can be pulled down by brutes.

— Kellner, Robert Scott. My Opposition (p. xxxi). Cambridge University Press, speaking about the Nazis.

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This book is about trees.

You and the tree in your backyard come from a common ancestor. A billion and a half years ago, the two of you parted ways. But even now, after an immense journey in separate directions, that tree and you still share a quarter of your genes. . . .

Powers, Richard. The Overstory: A Novel (p. 132).

Have you ever thought about where the material for trees comes from? The wood is heavy. Does it come from the dirt? One of the protagonists, when she was a 10-year-old girl, asked her father, an arborist, this question. He suggested an experiment. They prepare a large tub behind their barn and fill it with an exact amount of dirt. They weigh the dirt and record the weight. Then they plant a seedling tree. He tells her that they’d weigh the tree and the dirt on her sixteenth birthday. They’d have their answer.

When the time finally came, it was a substantial tree. She dug it out and carefully removed all the dirt from the roots and then weighed the tree. It was heavier than she was. Then she weighed the dirt, and is was exactly the same weight it was many years before. Clearly, all the mass of the tree had come from the air.

I must admit, I had never thought of that before. We all know that trees tie up carbon, and the carbon is pulled out of the air. That’s one thing I learned from reading The Overstory.

Did you know that the American chestnut tree was once the most common tree in the country, until a disease wiped them out completely?

I learned many other fascinating facts I had never thought of before or knew nothing about.

The Overstory tells about the lives of trees through the lives, eyes and deeds of nine seemingly unrelated people whose paths cross over time and over generations.

It deals with issues like climate change, evolution and deforestation. We get a glimpse of the lives of “tree huggers” and ecoterrorists.

Deforestation: a bigger changer of climate than all of transportation put together. Twice as much carbon in the falling forests than in all the atmosphere. But that’s for another trial.

Powers, Richard. The Overstory: A Novel (p. 281).

The Overstory won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019. It is a worthwhile and very interesting book, yet it’s a hard read. Some of the characters are easy to follow, but some of them didn’t make sense to me and, as far as I could tell, could have been left out of the story completely. It’s quite possible they contributed and were somehow related, and I missed it. Due to the number of central characters, I had difficulty following what was going on at times. After a character was introduced, but then was absent for a while, I forgot about the character, and when he returned, I didn’t remember him.

Overall, this is an excellent book with some serious “flow flaws.” The subject matter warrants four stars, but the execution of the novel is clumsy, so my overall rating is only three stars.

After reading The Overstory, I will never think of forests and trees quite the same way again. It has fundamentally changed my perspective.

Do I recommend The Overstory?

Definitely yes.

 

 

Reading The Overstory reminded me of another “book about trees” I read a long time ago: The Wild Trees – by Richard Preston, is an incredible book which I rated four stars at the time. I highly recommend it.

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Here is a list of books about Nazis and their atrocities that I have read and reviewed in this blog. You can follow the links to the reviews.

Books about Nazis and their atrocities

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Lale was a Slovakian Jew who was ordered by the Nazis in 1942 to go to a work camp. After days of travel in a cramped and filthy cattle car, he stepped off the train in the infamous Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz.

Rather than despairing, he commits himself to survival. Because he speaks six languages, he is chosen to become the tattooist, the person who marks arriving prisoners with a number on their arms. He serves as the camp’s primary tattooist from 1942 to 1945. The position comes with privileges, like his own room to sleep in, additional rations, and the ability to come and go with much more freedom than the common inmates. Through his resourcefulness, he starts smuggling food into the camp, not just for himself to survive, but to help as many of his fellow prisoners as he can. One day, when he writes a number on a trembling girl’s arm, he looks up and instantly falls in love. Her name is Gita. Over time they develop a friendship and eventually a love that transcends the conditions in the camp and gives them both a reason to survive, and fight for their future.

This story is based on the true experiences of Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov, the tattooist of Auschwitz. Just last month I posted this story about three men who arrived at Auschwitz on the same day and had their numbers only 10 apart. Chances are high that we’re looking at Lale’s work.

I have heard people talk about how good this book is and that it’s a love story. I found that – yes – it’s a love story, but that is not the reason to read The Tattooist of Auschwitz. The reason to read it is because it illustrates life in a concentration camp and it shows the atrocities the Nazis committed, the murders, the mutilations, the humiliation, the forced starvation, the diseases, upon millions of innocent men, women and children. There are many books about Auschwitz, and this is one more, but in my opinion, you can’t read enough of those.

Fascism, and what it does to people, must be exposed, over and over again.

 

This book reminds me of many other books I have read and documented here that deal with the subject of Nazis and the atrocities they committed in the concentration camps. I have compiled them here in a separate post.

 

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In almost 12 years of keeping this blog, I have reviewed every book I have read. That’s 294 to date.

I finally decided to create an index to all my book reviews. Check out the page (click on the Book Reviews tab above) and you will find a searchable table with links.

This took some tedious work, but it’s done now.

Next, I will create an index of all my movie reviews.

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Reviewing old book reviews on my site, I came across this post from a dozen years ago about Getting Mother’s Body by Suzan-Lori Parks.

I had forgotten all about it.

It’s definitely one of the most captivating first pages of any novel I have ever read. Check it out here:

Getting Mother’s Body

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Reviewing and compiling a list of books I have read, I got to thinking about the first books read in each language. I have read books in four different languages. And here they are:

My first German book was Die Smaragdenstadt, a story about a group of children traveling to an Emerald City. It was the first “chapter book” I read when I was probably six years old. I remember how proud I was when I had finished it. Of course, I remember nothing about the substance, but I suspect it was the story of The Wizard of Oz translated to German. In my childhood, The Wizard of Oz didn’t mean anything, but I remember I loved the book.

My first French book was Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This, of course, was a classic in many languages, and we read it as an assignment in my German high school in French class when I was about fifteen or sixteen years old.

My first English book was Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. I was eighteen, a foreign exchange student in an American high school, and I don’t know why I picked that book of all books to be my first. It was about Charles Manson’s life of crimes. It kept me reading, I kept turning the pages, and I looked up words incessantly in my German-English dictionary. As I looked up the words, I wrote them down and reviewed them nightly, committing them to memory and building my fledgling English vocabulary.

My first Spanish book was Once Minutos by Paulo Coelho. It’s a paperback of 242 pages. I bought it in the beginning of December 2009 on a trip to Oakland, and it took me a number of weeks, much longer than I thought it would. I didn’t like it much, rated it with only one star.

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In April 2013, I reviewed the book Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy. It tells the story of a Sylvia Perlmutter, a Jewish girl in the Lodz ghetto who was liberated in 1945 when she was 12 years old. Out of a quarter of a million people in the ghetto, only 800 survived, and of those 800, only 12 were children. Sylvia was one of them.

When I read the book in 2013, I wrote this in my review:

The Germans, for reasons I do not understand, took all the children away in the latter years and told their parents they were going to care for them better than they could in the ghetto. However, the children, being of no use to the Germans as workers and only a distraction to the adult Jews, were jammed into cattle cars and taken to death camps like Auschwitz, which was only a few hundred kilometers south from Lodz – where they were killed within hours of arrival.

What bestial people take babies, toddlers, small and older children under 14 away from their parents by force, by the thousands – with the full intent to just kill them? My German ancestors did.

The desperate parents went to extraordinary measures to hide their children. When the soldiers went house to house, they kicked open locked doors and ransacked apartments, looking for children in closets, trunks, under beds, wherever they could possibly be hidden. The agony the parents went through is unimaginable.

The agony for the children – well, you need to read Yellow Star to find out.

The key sentence here is:

What bestial people take babies, toddlers, small and older children under 14 away from their parents by force, by the thousands? 

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A Brief History of Humankind

As the subtitle states, the book is a brief history of the human race. The Israeli author has a Ph.D. in history and lectures at the Hewbrew University in Jerusalem. He tells the story of humanity from a scientific and cultural viewpoint. The material was originally published in 2011 and updated in 2014. Some of the references to current events, like global warming for instance, are therefore already quite outdated, but the impact of that is very minor.

Unlike what we think of history books, Sapiens is a page-turner. The author’s viewpoint sometimes shocks and surprises us. Humans are apes that managed to become the apex predator of the planet.

Being scientifically oriented myself, and keenly interested in history to boot, there was not much material in Sapiens that I didn’t already know in a broad sense, but the level of detail and the sharp, keen observations that the author supplies made it very valuable.

I learned a lot about our history, and there are many subjects the author addressed that resulted in my taking notes for further study and reading. For me, it all makes sense, but I can see that for a Christian or a Muslim, or a technologist, some of the conclusions of the author may be surprising or even disturbing and shocking.

Many sapiens eat pork:

Pigs are among the most intelligent and inquisitive of mammals, second perhaps only to the great apes. Yet industrialised pig farms routinely confine nursing sows inside such small crates that they are literally unable to turn around (not to mention walk or forage). The sows are kept in these crates day and night for four weeks after giving birth. Their offspring are then taken away to be fattened up and the sows are impregnated with the next litter of piglets.

Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens (p. 342). Harper. Kindle Edition.

I read the book cover to cover, and I learned – mostly that I know very little. My rating key for books states: “Must read. Inspiring. Classic. Want to read again. I learned profound lessons. Just beautiful. I cried.” Obviously, I rate a book with four stars when it changes me in some way.

After reading Sapiens, I will never think about many topics quite the same again. I can’t “unread” this book. I read it, and now:

  • Christianity, Islam and all the other religions will never quite look the same to me.
  • I always believed animals are not different in kind from humans in any way. Animals feel, hope, love, lust, fear and mourn, just like we do.
  • We are destroying ourselves and our planet, and all the creatures on it (or most of them).
  • Our current Republican government is corrupt, criminal and repugnant.
  • Our species does not appear fit to survive.
  • We are at the cusp of turning into something quite different entirely. I call it the ultra-sapiens, in great contrast to divine. The ultra-sapiens will look at us sapiens like we sapiens look at ants. Get out the Raid and wipe them off the countertop.
  • We could do so much good, be so much better, but we don’t have the maturity to pull it off.

Sapiens changed the way I think, and I suspect it would change your way of thinking, too.

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When Trisha’s father passed away in 2004, he left her his library. Over the years, she kept only the most precious pieces. In her den, on a prominent shelf, is the fifteen book set of the Complete Works of Charles Dickens, by the Kelmscott Society Publishers, New York. The volumes are not dated, but I found through online research that they were published in 1904.

The books are now brittle, some of the spines have crumbled, and I don’t think any of the books themselves would survive a reading. They would disintegrate from being handled.

But precious they are, on that shelf, to remind her of her father, who himself must have acquired them when they were already old.

I have never read any Dickens, but it gives me comfort to know the complete works are in our house.

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Just as I was finished reading Where the Crawdads Sing, as I was transitioning back to Sapiens, I received an email from my friend Wolfgang recommending The Red Badge of Courage. How could I resist?

Within minutes I had downloaded the book and started reading. I recognized the first few pages and concluded that I must have read it before, many years ago, and forgotten all about it.

Not so. I now realize that I had started reading it – after all, it’s a classic – but put it aside after the first session, never to pick it up again. In my days of  reading hardcopy books that was quite possible. Once a book went down below the top five on the reading stack, there was a real chance that it never came to light again, ever. And so it must have been with The Red Badge of Courage.

It tells the story of “The Youth” as the author refers to him, a farm boy named Henry Fleming who enlists in the Union Army during the American Civil War, against his mother’s advice, as many a boy was wont to do when peer pressure was applied. He goes to war with gusto, only to realize that war is weeks and weeks of boredom, interrupted by occasional hours of terror and fright during battles. In the Civil War, men lined up shoulder to shoulder in rows, facing the enemy, who also lined up. Then they shot salvos at each other, which randomly thinned out the respective lines. Reloading took much time, getting ready for the next salvo. The human soldier was completely expendable. I don’t know how I would handle such a situation, and I am grateful that I never in my life had to. But the youth was terrified and ran away in shame. Eventually he found his way back to his regiment, and through successive engagements found his courage, and eventually became a hero to himself and his comrades. The title “the red badge of courage” comes from a red blood stain from a battle injury.

Stephen Crane wrote the book decades after the war and published it in 1893. He never experienced war firsthand himself, so his descriptions all came from what others told him. Notable also is that Crane died of tuberculosis in Germany in a sanatorium in the Black Forest in 1900 at the young age of 28. The Red Badge of Courage was his most acclaimed novel. It is a short book that you can read in a few hours, and many readers find it boring and challenging to read. All of the dialog is in southern farmer dialect, heavy with apostrophes and difficult to read. Here is an example:

But the tall soldier continued to beg in a lowly way. He now hung babelike to the youth’s arm. His eyes rolled in the wildness of his terror. “I was allus a good friend t’ yeh, wa’n’t I, Henry? I ’ve allus been a pretty good feller, ain’t I? An’ it ain’t much t’ ask, is it? Jest t’ pull me along outer th’ road? I ’d do it fer you, wouldn’t I, Henry?” He paused in piteous anxiety to await his friend’s reply.

— Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage (AmazonClassics Edition) (p. 67).

This is difficult for us Americans to read. I wonder how Wolfgang fared, being a native German reader? But then again, he told me he read War and Peace in Russian, so this must be a walk in the park in comparison.

I stuck with it and finished the book. I am not much of a “classics” guy, and The Red Badge of Courage, while an impressive little story, didn’t touch me all that much. I felt like I was reading it as a result of a class assignment, which, in a way, it was. I finished it, and in my subjective rating it gets two stars.

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It’s 1952 in the marshland in coastal North Carolina. Kya is six years old and the youngest of five siblings. They live in a shack in the swamp. Pa is a loser and a drunk, and he abuses and beats Ma and the kids. One day Ma just walks away and never comes back. One by one the older siblings also drift away. Pa sticks around for another four years, but is gone sometimes four or more days in a row, who knows where. Then one day, when Kya is about ten, Pa does not come back. She is completely abandoned and forced to raise herself and survive. Kya grows up as a feral child, known as the Marsh Girl, a mystery to the towns people.

Where the Crawdads Sing is the debut novel of Delia Owens, a zoologist and non-fiction writer. She is now 70 years old and this is her first novel. I found the work truly amazing for a first novel. I just finished reading a truly bad novel, which I rated as zero stars. From the first page of reading Crawdads I was drawn in and captivated by the excellent descriptions, the suspense, the story, and the characters. Where the Crawdads Sing is one of the best novels I have read in a long time. It is a unique story about a set of characters we would not come across in our normal daily lives. It draws us into that life and environment until we become part of it. We feel the pain, the abandonment, the loneliness, and the longing of Kya as she grows up into a remarkable woman.

The book has all the elements needed: a strong story, unique characters, good and evil, suspense, challenge, pain, and an abundance of natural beauty all around with excellent descriptions.

When I was done with the book I went to the Amazon reviews and checked out out some of the 1-star ones, the people who didn’t like the book. Many thought it was unrealistic or unbelievable. Some, who were familiar with the North Carolina coast land said that the descriptions of the geography were not accurate. Some said that there are no crawdads in salt water marshes. Some said that the dialect used by the locals seemed somehow “wrong” or stilted or inconsistent. All those flaws may be real and factual, but none of them bothered me as I read the book.

I remember reading and feeling deep emotions all throughout, I shed quite a few quiet tears behind my glasses from time to time, and I truly enjoyed every minute of it. At the end, I didn’t want the story to be over.

It may have its flaws, it may be unrealistic, it may not be true to the local details, but it was a powerful book that left a strong imprint on me, one I will remember for a long time.

This is a book that deserves four stars from me.

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A Reddit user has posted a list of science fiction books that he considers his top 15 list. You can click on he link to see the details. My daughter, who knows I read a lot of science fiction, sent me the list. She suggested I open a post and say that I have spent the last 50 years reading nothing but science fiction, and here is my list….

A cursory glance revealed that I have a completely opposite view on some of his books, specially the first two, and I agree with many of them. I made a list of the books below, showing my ratings (zero to four stars) if I have reviewed the books, and commenting on those I have read but did not review. Note, I have “only” reviewed every book I have read since 2007, so there are about 40 years of reading where I only have vague memories of the results, and there is not enough time to read them all over again just to do a review. Ah, so little time!

  1. The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell)My rating 1.5 stars – This book is generally highly rated, but from my review you can tell I had serious issues with it.
  2. Hyperion Series (Dan Simmons) – My rating 2.0 stars – Just a lukewarm book, and I definitely didn’t want to read the next in the series.
  3. The Stand (Steven King) – Not reviewed, but read twice, and with more than 1,000 pages, that’s a feat – I have not reviewed The Stand because I read it long ago. It’s not a science fiction book, but it’s one of my top 10 of all time. I think King wrote a masterpiece with The Stand.
  4. I, Robot (Isaac Asimov) – I have not read these books.
  5. Dune (Frank Herbert) – I have not read the Dune series. I know they are classics, everyone says they are great, but I can’t read them. I cannot get into them.
  6. The Forge of God (Greg Bear) – I have read this book and remember nothing about it. I like Greg Bear books a lot, but I won’t spend the time to read this one again. Probably a good recommendation.
  7. The Forever War (Joe Haldeman)My rating 3.0 stars – I have actually read this book twice in the last eight years. I liked it a lot. I enjoy most of Haldeman’s writing.
  8. Not Alone (Craig Falconer) – I have not read this book, but this recommendation makes me think I should. Getting it onto my list.
  9. The Sirens of Titan (Kurt Vonnegut) – I have not read this book either, but I have now put it on my list.
  10. Nightfall (Isaac Asimov + Robert Silverberg) – I have not read this book, but looks promising.
  11. Old Man’s War (John Scalzi)My rating 3.0 stars – Great read, recommend highly.
  12. Childhood’s End (Arthur C. Clarke) – I read this decades ago and I remember it’s a good book, but that’s all.
  13. Spin (Robert Charles Wilson) – I have not read this book.
  14. Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein) – I read this book when I was a teenager. I remember I liked it. There is a horrible movie made after this book, which does not do it justice.
  15. Footfall (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle) – I read Footfall a long time ago. It plays in my home area of Southern California, and I knew many of the locations. It’s an epic, and I would be rating it highly if I were reviewing it now.

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In 2012, Peter is a retiree in Snohomish, Washington. He buys an old house and starts fixing it up, when he notices something odd about his shed. One night Peter sees lights out there and when he goes to investigate, he meets Henry, the old man who sold him the house. Henry let’s Peter in on the secret: The shed is a time portal. You set your mind to “when” in time you want to go, and walk through it, and there you are. Simple as that. And thus we have a time travel story.

Peter loses no time exploring the Snohomish of his youth in the summer of 1958. He crosses over almost daily, gets an apartment, buys a car, and establishes an identity there. During a return trip to 2012, his granddaughter Emily notices something weird and soon Peter comes to the conclusion he has to confess. Emily is let in on the secret. Since Emily is only 15 and a minor, they also include Emily’s mom.

For reasons that I can’t fathom, other than making a story, they decide that Emily will take a quarter of high school in the fall of 1958. They make preparations and put the plan in motion. But there is a school bully and he is one “bad hombre” to use the author’s word.

This book is really bad for a lot of reasons, so bad that it is worth pointing it out. There are about 50 reviews with high ratings on Amazon and I just don’t understand how that can be. Half of them seem to be by Snohomish residents who obviously like to read about their cafes, streets and businesses. There is a nostalgic element. But why is this book so bad? I will list the main reasons:

Grammar and Spelling:

The book it littered with grammar and spelling errors, so many I didn’t count them. Here is an example – red highlights are mine.

As we ate, she asked, “Why did I remembered what happened and the other kids didn’t?” I explained, “We kept our memories by returning though the portal. To the other kids, it was like rewinding a tape and recording over it.

There are two major grammar oversights in one paragraph. This might be acceptable to some readers, but to me it’s an insult. I paid $3 for this book. I now have a list of bookmarks of all the grammar and spelling errors that annoyed me enough to mark them. Did anyone at all, including the author, ever read this book before publishing it? Apparently not. But they expect the public to pay for this.

Juvenile Writing:

The book is full of clichés and trite expressions. When the author didn’t know how to describe something, he resorted to some colloquialism. It felt cheap.

Bad Writing in General:

The author does not know how to make a dialog work. There is some dialog, like in the example above, but it’s stilted at best. Since he can’t write dialog, he uses exposition throughout and indirect dialog. For instance, on the same page as the above excerpt:

I gave her a hug and told her I was proud of her and that I loved her. She began sobbing and turned and buried her head in my shoulder as she hugged me back.

Pretty much all the talking in this book is done this way. The narrator says what he said, rather than saying it. Sometimes that works, but this entire book is written that way. None of it is real. The entire book tells us what happened, rather than showing us what happened.

Filler Descriptions:

The book is stuffed with unnecessary descriptions, of what the characters are wearing every day and what they are eating:

She ran to the entrance in her new, knee-length, gray wool skirt that Dorothy had made for her a few days earlier. She had on white bobby socks, her saddle shoes, her white Jansen sweater, a light blue jacket, and a bright blue scarf around her neck. I watched as she ran to the door. It made me tear up a bit when I realized how much she looked like her grandmother had when I’d first met Linda at WSU.

Ok, you get a picture of what Emily looked like that day, but the author does it in every appearance. It does nothing to move to the plot along, just fills pages with words. He does the same thing with food. Every time they eat, and they do a lot of eating in this book, he describes the menu in detail:

As I entered the kitchen, I gave her a hug around the shoulders and asked if I could help. She gave me the chore of setting the table while she finished with the rest of breakfast. It was a wonderful breakfast of fried eggs, hash browns, bacon, toast, and orange juice.

There is nothing special about the breakfast. But why list it? Why talk about every item they eat every time with every meal? If it does not contribute to the story, it should not be there. My estimate is  that the whole book could be condensed to about 50 pages if the author just left out all the filler stuff that has no need of being there. Here is another example:

Dorothy had prepared a great meal. The dinner started with a wonderful salad of lettuce, nuts, raisins, tomatoes, fresh peas, croutons, and blue cheese dressing. The main course was sirloin steaks and baked potatoes—the ones left from the bag I’d purchased at Safeway the day before. They were dressed with sour cream, whipped butter, and bacon bits. Dessert was fresh apple pie à la mode. Dorothy told the kids that she and I had driven all the way to the Monroe Farmers Market to get the apples. They all enjoyed the meal immensely.

This is the author’s attempt to make it seem real, kind of like Stephen King does when he describes details. But he picks the wrong boring details at the wrong times in the story to provide color. The fact that dessert was fresh apple pie à la mode just isn’t advancing the plot. And we don’t need to know all the ingredients of the salad. Really!

Nonsense Plot:

This is supposed to be a time travel adventure, and while there was room for it to be just that, the author missed the chance. It’s basically a nostalgic story in 1958 to pander to Snohomish residents and their memories. He could have just written a period piece. The protagonists didn’t need to step through a portal in a shed from another time to do any of the stuff they did. They could have just lived there and the story would have mostly been the same. The time travel pieces of the plot were very minor, unimaginative and in some cases nonsensical. This was not a time travel book.

In Summary:

I don’t like to blast a book with negative criticism, but in this case it’s necessary. The author clearly didn’t bother to have an editor read the book even once before he started selling it. Why didn’t he ask one of his friends who wrote a Five-Star Amazon review to give him a list of grammar fixes? He could have done that in an hour. This shows me that the author really does not care about the quality of the book, but he does expect us in the reading public to pay money for the privilege.

I read all the way through, because that’s my policy. Some books I just can’t read all the way through. When that happens I don’t give myself the right to actually rate them. I just state that I couldn’t keep going. This book was short enough that I kept with it, even though I suspected it wasn’t going to get any better.

So here goes:

 

 

This is zero stars, by the way. The real stars are gold covered. See some of my other reviews.

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