Wednesday, April 18, 2012

CBR4 #19: Miracles on the Water: The Heroic Survivors of a WWII U-Boat Attack by Tom Nagorski

In the fall of 1940, London was becoming an increasingly dangerous place to live. The German blitz was raining down destruction on the heads of Londoners, and anyone who could manage to get out of town did so. Many wealthy families moved to their country estates, or at the least sent their children to stay with friends outside the city. Since this was not an option available to the poor, the British government developed a program which would allow children from low-income families to travel to Canada and remain safely across the Atlantic from the hazards of war. Many thought that having their children accepted into the program was a lucky break. Unfortunately for those whose children boarded the S.S. City of Benares, it became a nightmare.

The ship, which carried ninety displaced children (as well as chaperones, crew, and paying passengers, totalling about four hundred people aboard total) was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the middle of the Atlantic, nearly 600 miles from shore. The weather was rough, and despite the best efforts of crew and passengers, most of the lifeboats capsized, dumping adults and children alike into the cold seas. Most were forced to wait almost 24 hours for rescue, clinging to whatever bits of wreckage they could find. One lifeboat, which had been tossed away from the others, drifted for eight days with forty-six passengers aboard, among them seven of the children.

Although the story is extremely sad, as all but fourteen of the children perished, the tale of those who survived is inspirational. The lengths the surviving adults went to in order to save the children were positively heroic, and the actions of the children themselves border on the miraculous.

The book is written extremely well, keeping the story moving along while still incorporating as many facts as possible. The author has done extensive research in order to make everything extremely realistic as well as captivating. He also had a personal connection to the story, as his great uncle was an adult passenger on the lifeboat that was adrift.

I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys inspirational stories of survival .

CBR4 #18: The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western by Richard Brautigan

[Okay, so I am about 16 books behind in my blogging. I wish I had better excuses (you know, like "I was in a shipwreck!" or "I was kidnapped by a cult!" or "The zombie apocalypse happened and I was holed up in a grocery store without wifi!") but really it's just that work has been busy and by the time I get home I really don't feel like spending any more time staring at a computer. However, today is quiet, and I figured I should probably make an effort at catching up before the hole is so deep that the mere thought of trying to dig out is overwhelming. That means the reviews will probably not be very long, but at least there will be SOMETHING getting done around here.]

It's tough to describe The Hawkline Monster. I suppose that the author's view of it as a "Gothic Western" is not exactly inaccurate, but at the same time it's not very descriptive. Then again, I'm not sure there's a word (or even a group of words) that could have prepared me for this book.

The premise--at its most basic--is that two gun-slingers in the old west are approached by a young Indian girl who asks them to come out to the Hawkline mansion and kill a monster. They agree, and ride out to the solitary Hawkline mansion and meet the young Miss Hawklines (not a typo--there are two), who claim there is a monster under their house. The two gun-slingers investigate and discover there IS something odd going on, though it's maybe not what they were expecting.

This sounds pretty straight-forward when described this way, but it's really not. The plot doesn't flow neatly forward, and large chunks of the action don't exactly make sense. One character morphs into another and no one seems to notice. The Miss Hawklines are so alike they can't even tell themselves apart. Conversations wander, time is lost, and one of the shadows in the house is a little more active than a shadow should be. It's all very absurd, but at the same time the style of writing is so prosaic that the weirdness becomes even MORE disconcerting because the reader is the only one who seems to notice.

Another thing that might not be obvious from the description is how funny this book is. Some of that comes from the tone, which is hysterically dry. Utterly bizarre occurrences are narrated as though they are common daily habits. The chapters are all very short and precise. Many deal with a single event, or even a single thought process. The dialogue is often so surreal it's tough NOT to laugh.

On the whole, I am pretty sure I enjoy this book, though I found the plot a little lacking. There is plenty of bad language and sexual situations, so not for children or delicate adults. However, for those who enjoy some determined weirdness, this isn't a bad way to go.