Book Reviews

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Andersonville Diary

For July, I thought something quintessentially American was called for, and as this is the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War, John Ransom’s diary of his 14 months as a P.O.W. in the Confederate prison system seemed a natural choice. 

Ransom was born in 1843, and joined the Union army in 1862.  He held the rank of sergeant and was the Quartermaster for Company A of the 9th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry. He was captured in Tennessee in 1863 and, after spending some time at Belle Isle prison in Virginia was sent to what is perhaps the most infamous prison camp in that brutal war – Andersonville in Georgia. 

Ironically, Ransom “flanked out” (i.e. he jumped the line) to get out of Belle Isle, where he was first imprisoned, figuring any other place had to be better – was he ever wrong.  In his first year at Andersonville, he writes, the combination of lack of food, poor conditions and a brutal administration result in the death of about half the prisoners at the camp. 

For example, one of the “dead lines” that prisoners are not supposed to get near is along the only source of fresh water in the camp, with the result that prisoners suffering extreme dehydration risk reaching beyond the line to get some fresh water, and are shot for their troubles.

Last winter I experienced Disney World’s animated production It’s Tough to Be a Bug. I use the word experienced because no senses were left untouched. Wow, what imagination went into this nine-minute piece of entertainment! I walked out of the theater with all kinds of questions about creativity.

Is a person born with creativity? Can it be developed? Does artistic expression come easily to some? Why do some companies find awesome solutions while others primarily service the status quo? Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge From Small Discoveries, provides insight into some of these questions.

Business writer Peter Sims has corralled some entrepreneurial behaviors and attitudes into a philosophy he refers to as “little bets.” Don’t jump to the quick conclusion though that this book is just for business people. Little Bets will give ideas that will be useful to anyone who wants or needs to come up with new ideas or new ways of doing something – which means everyone.

What happens when people fall through the cracks? The dispossessed, the crazy street people, the runaways – they have to be running somewhere. In Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, we follow just such a person into just such a place

Richard Mayhew is the sort of character we can all relate to. He’s a securities trader, but he’s the kind who forgets to make reservations for important dinners and inadvertently collects troll dolls (people just kept giving them to him). He’s a bit of a bumbler. He has a beautiful, powerful fiancée, Jessica, but you really get the sense that she picked him to make herself look better.

Richard Mayhew is, when it comes down to it, a doofus who has lucked into what is supposed to be a perfect life. When Richard stops to help a bleeding, unconscious girl who falls onto the sidewalk in front of him, he finds that life suddenly gone.

He becomes essentially invisible – no one recognizes him, his apartment is given to someone else, and even the ATM won’t accept his card. He decides to find the girl, named Door, certain that she holds the key to getting his old life back. He follows her to London Below; the shadowy underworld made up of the basements, caverns, steam tunnels, and abandoned underground stations beneath the city. He joins her on her search for the persons responsible for murdering her family and attempting to murder her, hoping that he can somehow, someway, return to the London he knows.

For seven years Michael Elder begged his parents, Rich and Janet, for a dog. Their answer was always a predictable no. Then Janet received a surprise breast cancer diagnosis. It was a moment that changed her life forever and also her mind about having a family dog.

For Dorritt Kilbride, her mother, and her younger sister Jewell, a comfortable and affluent life in New Orleans high society is about to come to an end when a deceitful, irresponsible stepfather forces them to relocate to the untamed Spanish colony of Texas.

The Desires of Her Heart by Lyn Cote is the first novel in the Texas: Star of Destiny trilogy. This inspirational historical romance depicts the life of an independent, beautiful heroine as she and her family leave New Orleans and travel across the Sabine River into Nacogdoches in an attempt to settle in Austin, Texas. The family’s hope is to obtain free land under Moses and Stephen Austin’s agreement with the Spanish Crown to bring 300 Anglo-American families into Texas.

But Dorritt isn’t too keen on the idea going in. “I know we were close to ruin, but Texas? Why Texas?” she pleads with her stepfather, who has squandered the family’s fortune in a horse race.

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