You may recognize Jack London from his books Call of the Wild and White Fang but during the end of Queen Victoria's reign and the coronation of Edward VII he donned rags and entered the underworld of East London to view how people in the poorest part of England were living - he describes them as the bottom of the social pit. Seventy years after Charles Dicken's depictions very little had changed. With the industrial revolution, fewer people could achieve larger output of goods, but this only obtained creature comforts for the 40,000 wealthier people (who showed in the 1881 census to have no occupation). Forty million people in England lived in poverty. Many of those people had insufficient food to be able to work efficiently and even with the houses in the East End of London renting out rooms to hold sometimes more than one family, many were still unsheltered. It was unlawful to sleep in a park or on the streets at night and if caught it was a 14 day jail sentence. Thus, during daylight work hours people slept on park benches. One in 4 adults were destined to die in the workhouse, infirmary or asylum, while 55% of children died before the age of 5. Unclean air was also a problem. A curator of Kew Gardens studied smoke deposits on vegetation and calculated 6 tons of soot and hydrocarbons for every 1/4 square mile in London. Yet, Jack London was surprised how many people rejoiced during the coronation of Edward VII. He couldn't understand so much merriment and drinking and delight at viewing the finery of the nobility with their pomp and circumstance while the Londoners were starving.
Huxley, the Medical Officer of the East End stated that the life of the "savage" in Alaska was preferable to the "civilized" Christian in London. In Alaska, on the banks of the Yukon River, people survived by fishing and hunting. Animal skins provide warm clothing and there was plenty of timber to build shelter and use for fire wood. In England they toiled to buy food, but never seemed to earn enough to feed their family, and most wore rages. Too many did not have shelter. Jack London sums it up: Civilization has been mismanaged.
Mikel Jollett's memoir, Hollywood Park, is a young boy's journey overcoming hurdles in his path and finally coming to realize his father's love and his father's wish was that Mikel would become a better man than those in his paternal family. It's at the Hollywood Park racetrack that his father tells him he loves him and wants a better life for his son, not living one step ahead of the law.
His first memories are of living within a cult, Synanon, which began as a rehab center. The children were to become Children of the Universe and lived in an orphanage type existence. He was placed there at six months old, away from his parents who visited occasionally. What he does remember is 19 year old Bonnie who had more love for him than his own mother (Bonnie eventually became his father's partner).
Mikel's mother, who he says suffers from the deep-Russian (depression), tells him how hard everything is for her and she wanted kids so she wouldn't have to be alone and it was his job to take care of her. She takes both he and his brother, Tony, away from Synanon and they move to Oregon where they hope the cult leaders won't find them.
At 13 with his brother, Tony, in rehab and Bonnie awaiting surgery for removal of a growing tumor, Mikel has a motor cycle accident (a drug induced friend ran into him while going in the wrong direction), Mikel decides to take a different path. He joins a school track and field running team, begins taking school seriously, eventually moving to an honors class.
In our world where people complain about being a victim, want others to pay for their upkeep, ignore our laws and want hand outs instead of hand ups, Adrienne Brodeur sums up Mike Jollett's story of overcoming the odds, living between the houses of a narcistic mother and ex-con father along with school friend druggies. He doesn't complain about his childhood, and instead uses it to fight for a better life.
Detailing a childhood defined by neglect, poverty and uncertainty, Jollett's story serves as a potent reminder that while we cannot change the hand we're dealt, our freedom lies in what we choose to do with the cards. Hollywood Park is an illuminating and redemptive account of one man's search for meaning, family, and love. Adienne Brodeur
Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin is described as a slow burning, beautifully written novel of survival and hope - a novel of suspense.
Julia Heaberlin is a gifted writer and adds bits of humor to otherwise suspenseful situations.
"I almost died three hours ago on I-45 . . . A truck driver a hundred feet in front of our car had skidded on a patch of ice into a perfect jack-knife . . . All I could think for six seconds, while Bill and I hurled toward a picture of a giant pink confetti-sprinkled donut, was, Is it all going to come down to this?"
From the cover:
As a sixteen year old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as a lone surviving "Black Eyed Susan" the nickname given to murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave.
A Week at the Shore is the first novel I've read by Barbara Delinsky (passed on to me by a friend). A Week at the Shore is intense with so many mysteries surrounding the Aldiss family. When Mallory returns to her family beach home with her teenage daughter, rather than solving a mystery, more questions unravel. To complicate her life further, Mallory's childhood sweetheart still lives next to her family home and rather than uncovering events of the past, her fathe,r who is now suffering from dementia, gives small tidbits of information that don't make sense.
Barbara Delinsky keeps the reader enthralled and a lovely beach setting in Rhode Island adds to the enticement.
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave is a roller coaster mystery which I found difficult to put down.
Hannah's husband, Owen, disappears after the company he works for comes under investigation. But it isn't just the company problems that Owen is running from as Hannah quickly finds out and he also leaves behind, Bailey, his teenage daughter. Bombarded by not only the F.B.I. but also a U.S. Marshal, Hannah leaves their houseboat home in Sausalito and heads to Texas where Bailey has remembered some events that might lead to Owen's whereabouts.
This was a book club choice and one of my favorites so far for 2023.
I normally love Jodi Picoult's novels which show two different view points, but I found Harvesting the Heart was an extremely slow read until the end when everything was wrapped up in just a few pages. The juxtaposition was of a young married couple, she a new mother and he an up and coming heart surgeon.
From the cover:
Paige has only a few vivid memories of her mother; who abandoned her when she was five. Now, having left her father behind in Chicago, she dreams of art school, marries an ambitious doctor - and soon becomes a mother herself. Overwhelmed by the demands of having a family, Paige cannot forget her mother's absence and the shameful memories of her own past, which make her doubt both her ability to give and her sense of self-worth.
The Girl in the White Gloves by Kerri Maher is a fictional story of Grace Kelly's rise to Hollywood fame and marriage to the Prince of Monaco.
Her story is not the happily-ever-after ending with a beautiful girl and prince in fairytales and her loneliness did not end when she left the glamor of Hollywood for the beautiful Mediterranean principality of Monaco. Grace found that she had traded her domineering father, and controlling lovers (many of whom were married) for a prince and ruler of not just Monaco but also his family. One thing that surprised me was the pre-nuptial agreement that stated if the marriage broke down she would automatically lose her children, and that she was required to pay a two million dollar dowry to Prince Ranier (the book shows that her father contributed half the dowry). The sad ending to her life was a tragic car accident at the age of 52.