The Stowaway: a Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro
17-year-old Billy Gawronski, finishing high school in New York City in 1928 but reluctant to join his father’s upholstery business, is fascinated by news stories about Commander Richard Byrd’s plans to fly over the South Pole. Billy’s father refuses to give him permission to apply for a position on the crew, so the persistent teen swims across the Hudson River to Hoboken to stowaway, only to find out that others have had the same idea. It takes a couple more attempts, but finally Billy is allowed to join the crew as a mess boy and later coal stoker on the Eleanor Bolling for the journey to Tahiti and New Zealand. Will he get to Antarctica, and maybe even winter over? Billy’s Polish grandmother predicted that Billy would meet Commander Byrd. Billy is a minor player on the exciting expedition but he gets plenty of publicity back home, and even gets his moment of heroism. Later, the crew struggles through the Depression, and Billy tries to work his way through college, helped by a letter of recommendation from Admiral Byrd. Billy later finds his calling in the Merchant Marines, becoming one of the youngest captains during World War II. This is an enjoyable readalike for 81 Days Below Zero by Brian Murphy and Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff.
Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce
Emmy Lake, with her fiancé Edmund overseas, wants to do her bit for the war effort. Volunteering at a fire brigade station answering phones helps, but she’d really like to be a journalist, maybe even a war correspondent. But instead of landing a job at a London newspaper, Emmy’s hired as a typist for Henrietta Bird, advice columnist for a women’s magazine. Mrs. Bird won’t tolerate any unpleasantness, and most of the letters are to be shredded. Secretly, Emmy sends advice to some of the women, signing her name as Mrs. Bird, which upsets her friend and roommate Bunty. Emmy is worried that Bunty’s boyfriend Bill is taking unnecessary risks as a firefighter, and then gets an unexpected telegram from her fiancé. Emmy wonders who is supporting the women on the home front, who are expected to send cheerful letters to men in uniform, but are struggling themselves. Life in wartime London in 1940 is vividly described, as Emmy is encouraged to find out what she can do best. I raced through this terrific first novel, which made me laugh, cry, and want to cheer on Emmy and Bunty. This Library Reads pick is a good readalike for The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Tom Barren briefly traveled back in time to 1965, then returned to another timeline in 2016. Instead of the high-tech utopia he’s used to, everything is different. His parents are still together, and his father is nicer but never invented a time machine, instead writing science fiction. Tom even has a sister. Everyone calls him John, who turns out to be a very arrogant architect who copied the buildings of Tom’s world through shared dreams. With the help of his family and his new girlfriend, bookseller Penny, Tom tries to make things right, whatever the cost, with predictably entertaining results. For more time travel books and films, check out my July book display at the library. This is a good readalike for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, a Great American Read selection.
The Year of Less by Cait Flanders
In her mid-20s, Cait Flanders got out of debt and stopped drinking, very intentionally. Now she plans to tackle mindless shopping, partly to save money but mostly to find out what she really needs. No buying takeout coffee, scented candles, or books; but some restaurant meals, travel, a special occasion dress, and gifts for others are allowed. Cait learns that she has been shopping for the person she wants to be, not who she is right now, especially where books and clothes are concerned. She took her name off store email lists, deleted lots of favorites from her browsers, and tried to only buy what she needed. Most of the time she succeeded, but found herself binge watching television, liking her job less and less, and worried about family issues. Cait learned so much about herself that one year of minimal shopping turned into two, and she is sharing her journey to self-awareness to help others to be more mindful consumers. Cait also donated or sold more than half of her clothes and other belongings, and hasn’t yet missed anything she discarded. This is a quick, thought-provoking read. Learn more at caitflanders.com.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World by Stephen Brusatte
How many dinosaur species can you name? If it’s more than a few, you are likely to enjoy this terrific mix of memoir and popular science. Young paleontologist Brusatte travels the globe introducing the reader to other scientists and their exciting finds. I learned that Tyrannosaurus Rex fossils have been found only in western North America, and they were pretty smart, but couldn’t outrun a car. Some dinosaurs had feathers, and European dinosaurs were smaller than elsewhere. Brusatte, from Ottawa, Illinois, clearly has the job of his dreams, as this is the golden age of dinosaur research, with a new species of dinosaur discovered every week, on average. Perfect for fans of popular science or readers of Michael Crichton’s novel Dragon Teeth.
Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister
Widow Kate Warne becomes the first female Pinkerton agent in 1856 Chicago. Learning to pick locks, do surveillance, shoot a pistol, and to assume many disguises, Kate keeps having to prove herself in a man’s world. Kate helps prevent an assassination attempt on Abraham Lincoln, and frequently works undercover in Southern cities. I enjoyed reading about Kate’s interactions with the other Pinkerton agents, and with her landlady. This is a very suspenseful, compelling read, based on historical events, with complex, relatable characters. A good readalike for Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun, but with less family drama, this historical novel should be popular with book discussion groups.
On July 17 at 10 a.m., the Tuesday Morning Book Group will meet to discuss Pirate Hunters, by Robert Kurson. A real-life adventure story of danger and deep-sea diving, historic mystery and suspense, by the author of The Shadow Divers. Here’s my earlier review.
The Tuesday Evening Book Group will meet at 7 p.m. on July 24 to discuss Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan. Anna Kerrigan is working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard who wants to be a diver and really contribute to the war effort, while also helping out her family and searching for information about her father Eddie. My earlier review is here.
The Crime Readers will meet again in September.
Attending a book discussion earns an extra entry for our Summer Reading Safari.
Happy Summer Reading!