New York of "The Dakota Winters", by Tom Barbash is Highly Thoughtful and Readable - Book Review

Invoking so much of factual 1979 New York, I had to look twice to ensure I was reading a work of fiction. Indeed, author Tom Barbash used real events of that year as a backdrop for his novel, The Dakota Winters. We meet the Winters family through the voice of 23-year old Anton whom returns early from a Peace Corps assignment in Africa, having contracted malaria. Anton arrives in time to help his father Buddy Winters, America’s premier and loved talk show host, recover his career from walking off the set during a monologue and disappearing for months.

After much self-reflection, Buddy makes ready for his comeback and needs his son’s support to do so. With maturity and poise beyond his years, Anton traverses his father’s fragile emotions, regaining the trust of those in the business whom felt betrayed by Buddy’s walk off, his mother and siblings trepidation about his father’s readiness for return to t.v., and his own growth as an adult and professional. All of this takes place with his home as the anchor - The Dakota - a real building in Manhattan’s Upper West Side and home to New York’s wealthy, including the Winters, restaurant magnates, authors, artists, and of course, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

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Unforgettable Prose in "Something Rich and Strange", by Ron Rash - Book Review

Ron Rash excels in expression and economy of words. His style is unpretentious, yet evocative. Something Rich and Strange is my first encounter with Rash, and certainly time well spent. It’s a book of short stories that crosses eras, from the civil war to present day. Each story, unique in it’s characters and circumstances, share the working class of North Carolina as its backdrop.

There is humor and tragedy, and sometimes both in the 34 stories. Whether overt or not, the book has a veil of melancholy throughout, providing us with a glimpse into lives hard-lived and sometimes our own condition. Rash’s characters are in the heart of Appalachia - farmers, soldiers, teachers, radio jockeys, janitors, carpenters, meth addicts, and widowers - each with a unique story in which their being  becomes palpable and relatable. Rash almost modestly presents us with heartbreak, and just as austerely, with wit, though it is also tinged with sorrow. 

And though everything seems swathed with this gloom, I could not tear myself away from soul-baring simplicity and stillness of Rash’s stories.  The title seems to sum the quality of this work perfectly, because the book is something rich and strange

Published: 2014
Publisher: Ecco

Vickie’s rating 5 stars

“Astoria: Astor and Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire”, by Peter Stark - Book Review

What happened after Lewis and Clark headed west? It was years before the Pacific Northwest became part of America. The region was sought after by the Brits, Canadians, and enterprising Americans, including Thomas Jefferson and John Jacob Astor. Jefferson had his sights on colonizing it, thus securing the far borders of the still-fledgling country in 1810. Astor was determined to expand his international trade and create a critical outpost for his enterprise.

Author and journalist Peter Stark delivers this fascinating true adventure to us in Astoria, a journey put into motion by Jefferson and Astor. It’s the story of ambition, ego, bravery, madness, and humanity; of humans pushed to their limits both physically and emotionally, and of their survival.

Beginning with fur trading, Astor’s humble yet ambitious initiation into international trade began with New York, Canada, and Europe. With Jefferson’s political backing, Astor funds an endeavor to settle along the Columbia River leading to the Pacific Ocean to promote trade with Russia and China, ultimately creating an international route, exporting goods around the world. Astor embarks on two campaigns to reach the Northwest from New York - an overland expedition to closely follow the path of Lewis and Clark, and another by sea on the Tonquin, which rounded Cape Horn. These advance parties were to establish a settlement and pave the way for others to follow.

Over the course of three years, this incredible journey is filled with violence and hardships. The overland party encounters hostile indian tribes, harsh terrain and weather, and frequent sidetracks. The expedition by sea barely survives storms, attacks, and a tyrannical captain. Stark delves into the personalities of key players within each expedition, as well as the race to the Columbia River not only by the American expeditions, but by competing traders in Canada, and a hostile British fleet.

Astoria is an amazing view into our history and man’s determination to conquer and succeed. Stark is adept in conveying this tale, making it both fully engrossing and in building the reader’s anticipation, even though we already know the ultimate outcome. Not only is it a thrilling tale, it’s a great read.

Published: 2015
Publisher: Ecco/Harper Collins

Vickie’s rating: 4 stars