Book Reviews

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The Returned

What would you do if suddenly one of your loved ones who had died 10, 20 or even 50 years ago stood at your door alive and well? That’s the premise of The Returned, the debut novel by Jason Mott.

In 1966, Lucille and Harold Hargrave lost their only son Jacob on his eighth birthday when he drowned in a lake not far from where his party had taken place. Harold and friends set off to find Jacob and Harold carried Jacob's limp, dead body out of the lake. Fifty years later, an eight-year-old Jacob appears at their door with an agent of the International Bureau of the Returned, the agency handling those who have been recently returning from the dead.

Lucille and Harold have learned to live their lives after losing Jacob. They obviously missed seeing their son grow-up, and their lives were not the same without him. They are fifty years older and must learn to be parents again to a young boy.

Lucille writes in a note to Harold, "I don't know how this child, this second Jacob, came to be. But honestly, I don't care. He's given us something we never thought we could have again: a chance to remember what love is... A chance to love without fear."

The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was, during the last 40 years of his life, perhaps the best known man of letters in England. And in James Boswell (1740-1795), a lawyer from Scotland with a lot of free time, it seems, he found perhaps the most diligent chronicler in the field of biography.

Boswell’s Life of Johnson is probably the best known and most lauded biography in English. Most of the stories one hears about the eminent, but rather eccentric, Johnson come, sometimes accurately, sometimes muddled, from Boswell's account.

Johnson himself wrote biographies, but these were rather short affairs. His most famous effort in biography was his Lives of the English Poets, which consists of short biographies of the most famous English poets up until Johnson’s lifetime. Though Johnson was a voluminous reader, and a man with a tremendous memory for what he had read, his research into the poets was nothing compared to Boswell's own efforts on his behalf.

Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck

Just released in May, Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck examines the turbulent, fascinating and ultimately tragic life of Zelda Fitzgerald through the eyes of a fictional psychiatric nurse.

Better known as the wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald’s presence was as wild and controversial as her husband’s. She was a Southern beauty, one of the original flappers of the 1920s, an accomplished writer, dancer and painter, and sadly, a victim of mental illness.

Call Me Zelda begins in February 1932 at the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic, part of Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, with Zelda’s admission for an emotional breakdown and her introduction to Anna Howard, the nurse assigned to care for her.

 The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

A new century brimmed with possibility. In the nineteenth century, many citizens of the United States sought education and culture in the Old World to enhance their knowledge of the New.

Historian David McCullough in The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris examines the lives of many Americans who sailed across the ocean to Paris to spend weeks, months, or years in the cultural capital of Europe. Paris and the French held a fascination for Americans in part for their help during the American Revolution. They also worshiped the Marquis de Lafayette for his leadership as well. Art, music, medicine, and other fields drew Americans to make the voyage for a stay in Paris. The city held another fascination for Americans as it had existed centuries before the discovery of America.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is one of the most famous autobiographies in English, certainly in America. Benjamin Franklin was not only a prominent figure in the US War of Independence, but also one of the most accomplished men of his day, well versed in several fields, and a self-made man to boot (call Central Casting – we have ourselves a Renaissance American).

In some respects, Franklin could be favorably compared to Samuel Johnson. Franklin was an auto-didact. His father, a chandler in Boston, needed his sons’ help in business, so that his sons did not receive the education in school and college for which they were all well-suited. Franklin received a lot of his education from reading material his brother James published (James had a printing press in Boston, and young Ben apprenticed there). Franklin would read the material coming to his brother’s print shop, which kept him apprised of current events. He learned the newspaper business as it was practiced at the time, and even created characters who would pen letters to the editor (taking on the persona of Silence Dogood, a God-fearing woman to comment on current events).