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Review: The Day the World Came To Town

911Recap: Seventeen years later, no one needs a book to tell them what happened on 9/11. But they might want to read one if it involves an aspect of that horrific tragedy that few know about, like the thousands of people who wound up stranded in Gander, Newfoundland in the days after the attacks. If you don’t know where Newfoundland is, you wouldn’t be alone. Author and journalist Jim DeFede takes care of that for us, describing the province, its people and the way they took in and treated the passengers who were flying to or over the United States when the attacks happened. As the planes were diverted to Canada, a small town became a town of many more thousands and opened its arms in their time of need.

The panic and chaos that ensued could have been much worse, but the truth it didn’t thanks to the helping hands of those living in Newfoundland. Families there invited these passengers — literal strangers — into their homes for a nice, hot shower. They offered them hand-me-down baby strollers. They showed them to the nearest bars, malls and stores. They cooked for them, clothed them, cared for their animals, ordered their prescriptions. Newfoundland essentially adopted the passengers who were so desperate to get home and so depressed over the recent events.

Analysis: Made famous more recently by the musical Come From AwayThe Day the World Came to Town is a beautiful take on the generosity of strangers, made even more beautiful by the fact that it’s a true story. A journalist at heart, author Jim DeFede does an incredible job of digging into every possible angle and acquiring hundreds of interviews to gather information for the book. The book is not flowery or eloquently written. As only a journalist would, it’s written very matter-of-factly. But it works. The content is so touching, the words don’t need to be.

The stories are woven in such a way, you are bound to connect with at least one of its characters — er, PEOPLE — whether it’s the New York state trooper who wishes he were home to help, the new parents that just adopted their daughter from overseas, the young professionals who rely on drinks and new friendships to get them through the pain or the woman whose firefighter son may or may not have died in the towers.

The Day the World Came to Town is one of those rare books that both taught me something AND made me feel. I truly cannot say enough good things about it.

Get The Day the World Came to Town in paperback for $13.59. 

Or on your Kindle for free.

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Review: A Mother’s Song

Recap: A story about following your heart wherever it may lead, A Mother’s Song by Michael Finaghty is an engrossing read. The book tells the story of Ruby Penfold, an orphan, brilliant pianist, and peace activist from Australia. It follows Ruby’s life — from her mischievous days at the Christian orphanage in the 1960’s to her teenage years with foster parents Captain and Connie O’Grady, and finally to her adult life in Melbourne and London.

At 18-years-old, Ruby meets her first love, Phillip, who is soon ripped from her by the Vietnam War. When this happens, Ruby’s passion against the war grows more intense. It’s a rocky period in her life, as she searches for and locates her mentally-ill biological mother. She later learns that her mother went crazy after she lost both her parents in the Blitzkrieg during WWII.

Despite Ruby’s efforts to remain part of Phillip’s and her mother’s life, she realizes she must move on. She journeys to London with her best friend, Chloe. There she meets her new love, Andrew. She continues her peace efforts by joining local peace groups. Her passion for music and the piano also remain. But after she enters the world of family life with Andrew, 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan follows. Soon, her activist lifestyle takes over.

Analysis: While reading the novel, I kept interpreting the title A Mother’s Song — which mother does it correspond to? Ruby’s biological, sick mother or her foster mother, Connie? And what song? The obvious answer is the opera song that Connie loves and shares with Ruby  (“I too recall how long ago, my heart was joyful and tender; love spread his wings around me”). But Connie is an activist. And Ruby’s biological mother succumbed to illness after war destroyed her childhood. So in essence, Ruby’s song is one of peace — a song passed down to her by both of her mothers.

There is something beautiful about the way three different wars have affected three different generations. The Blitzkrieg’s effect on Ruby’s mother, the Vietnam War’s effect on Ruby, and the Afghanistan War’s effect on Ruby and her younger activist friends. The battle for peace becomes an heirloom that’s passed along from generation to generation.

Interwoven into the story about war and peace is also a story of love — love lost and refound. Ruby comes full circle in way that has both romantic and political impact.

MVP: Ruby Penfold. At a young age, she’s already dealt with a substantial amount of pain and loss. That continues to follow her into her adult life. But her ability to throw herself into her music and her activism helps her cope with everything. She’s a little lost and confused. But she is passionate. And that steers her toward becoming a romantic do-gooder.

Get A Mother’s Song for your Kindle for just $5.80.

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Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Recap: In this post 9/11 saga, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tells the story of 9-year-old Oskar Schell, who sets out on a journey to connect with his father, who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks. The two had a special bond; Oskar’s father used to give Oskar puzzles and tasks to figure out.

So when Oskar discovers a blue vase in his father’s bedroom with an envelope and key inside, he assumes this is one last puzzle his father left for him to piece together. Oskar is on a mission to discover what the key opens. The envelope says “BLACK,” so he starts visiting all the people in New York City whose last names are “Black.”Along the way he makes friends and keeps searching for something that will connect him to his dead father.

Oskar narrates these sections by including letters and photos. Additional narrators include Oskar’s grandparents. They tell the story of how they met, their marriage, their breakup, and so forth through letters.

Analysis: This story is a coming-of-age story told through a very manufactured setting. The 9/11 ties add elements of grieving and loss that make Oskar’s adolescent development all the more complicated. But his quest to find that last connection to his father is empowering and poetic. And the people he meets and relationships he forms along the way also add to the piece.

That’s not to say the book didn’t have its issues. The alternating narrations were an interesting idea, but they weren’t absolutely necessary. The faulty relationship between the two grandparents makes them unlikeable, and I found myself wanting to skip ahead to the portions about Oskar and his search for the lock. The search for the lock is what keeps the story moving. I was as curious as Oskar is about finding what the key opens. And though finding it is highly unrealistic, I felt the same hope he does about uncovering the gift his father left him.

But the end left me disappointed. And while the purpose of every story is to show growth in the main character, I don’t know if I feel as though Oskar has grown very much by the end of the book. And for me, that was another disappointment.

Overall, I would still recommend it. The book is an interesting mix of photos, letters, and narration. For me, the writing of the book was better than the actual content. Plus, it’s coming to theaters soon, starring Tom Hanks (as Oskar’s father) and Sandra Bullock (as his mother). See the trailer below.

MVP: Mr. Black. After Oskar meets him on his “Black”-seeking adventure, Mr. Black decides to join him on his visits around New York City. Oskar is so lonely, so for him to have a companion who watches over him in a fatherly way is beautiful to read about.

Get Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for just $10.

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