Sunday, April 28, 2024

Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel is a novel set in Seattle that tells the story of software engineer Sam Elling and the computer simulation he creates for his girlfriend Meredith so that she can communicate via email, and later via video chat, with her grandmother Livvie who recently passed away. 

Sam scrapes the digital record of how Livvie communicated with Meredith when they would email and video chat, and writes the program so that it provides back the communication to Meredith that she likely would have given. Sam, Meredith, and her cousin Dash then create a company, RePose, to provide this service for others, with people coming to the RePose space rented in Sam and Meredith's apartment building where they can communicate electronically with loved ones who have passed. A community of sorts then forms with those people sharing in common recent loss, and Sam and Meredith trying to help them through it.

The idea is to provide people a way to say goodbye and deal with their grief, but it's an open question whether the technology a healthy thing for people to have available, with it both a tool to say goodbye and to not move forward. It's an interesting and heartfelt story, with a turn taken towards the end making it that much more profound.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Fairy Tale by Stephen King is a novel that tells the story of 17-year-old Charlie Reade. He meets and decides to care for a dog, Radar, and her aging owner, Howard Bowditch, after Bowditch suffered a fall.

Charlie learns that something seriously amiss in the locked shed on Bowditch’s property, and that the man had at least a bucketful of gold pellets. After Bowditch dies from a heart attack, Charlie listens to a recording Bowditch left for him, and hears a story of how the shed on top of a passageway to another world.

Part of what Bowditch tells of is a sundial in the other world that reverses the aging process, something Charlie desperately wanted to do with the dog who was now his, Radar, near death from old age. Charlie a third of the way through the book travels with Radar down the spiral staircase in the shed, and are in the other world.

When Charlie and Radar return home, he had been gone from October to February and King tells well the story of myth and wonder, one he notes as having wanted to write from early in the pandemic. 

One Two Three by Laurie Frankel

One Two Three by Laurie Frankel is a good novel that tells the story of the Mitchell triplets, Mab, Monday, and Mirabel. They're teenagers in the town of Bourne, where many of citizens were afflicted with disabilities almost certainly caused by Belsum Chemical that once operated in town. 

Runoff from the plant was said, but refuted by Belsum Chemical-hired specialists, to have gone into the town's drinking water, leading to high rates of cancer and other maladies. The girls' father died of cancer just before they were born and their mother Nora leads the decades-long uphill battle to hold the Belsum and its owner, Duke Templeton, liable for what they did. People died, moved away, and those who remained live with their afflictions. 

Of the girls, Mab is the most scholarly, Monday particular, with an affinity for all things yellow, and Mirabel dealt a body that betrayed her constantly, leaving her wheelchair-bound and unable to easily communicate outside her family. The story introduces how the dying town that never had anything new happen in it then very much does. 

Someone shows up at the High School, River Templeton, grandson of Belsum owner Duke and son of Nathan Templeton, sent by his father to reopen the plant. River develops a relationship with one of the sisters and is enlisted in their efforts to expose Belsum and the harm it did, and would likely do again if the plant were to reopen. The people of the town actually were going to make reopening a reality, voting for repairs needed to a dam on the river near the plant, until Mab, Monday, and Mirabel take action. It's a cool drama-filled conclusion, and the book an entertaining and satisfying read about people, the circumstances thrust upon them, and what they choose to do about those circumstances.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Escape Artists by Neal Bascomb

The Escape Artists by Neal Bascomb is a work of nonfiction subtitled A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War. It details a 1918 World War I escape from the German POW camp Holzminden by a group of Allied Airmen and David Grann on the book jacket describes it as "a remarkable piece of hidden history, told perfectly... brims with adventure, suspense, daring, and heroism.” 

The book starts out with the story of Jim Bennett, one of the escapees who then in WWII was working for British Military Intelligence, showing people how escapes could be made. Bascomb details many different escape attempts by prisoners, and then the ultimately successful one led by pilot David Gray, with twenty-nine men going through a dug out path that came to be known as the Holzminden Tunnel. 

The part after the escape, where the men travelled in small groups towards freedom, was the most engaging of the book. One group of three featured a former prisoner feigning being a patient from a lunatic asylum, and the other two his handlers. Of the twenty-nine, a number noted as the greatest breakout of the war, one in which 192K prisoners were held in Germany, ten men ultimately made it to safety. It's an interesting story, with the book description giving a good summary...

"Their plot demands a risky feat of engineering as well as a bevy of disguises, forged documents, fake walls, and steely resolve. Once beyond the watch towers and round-the-clock patrols, Gray and almost a dozen of his half-starved fellow prisoners must then make a heroic 150 mile dash through enemy-occupied territory towards free Holland."