Maritime Survival Stories

Who doesn’t like an exciting maritime survival story? Mix in fascinating edge of your seat history and you’ve got Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson.

Larson, who is well-known for his outstanding books, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America and In the Garden of Beasts: Love,Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, combines historical facts with excerpts from real passengers’ diaries, letters, telegrams, intelligence ledgers, and war logs from American and British archives. He wrote the book to commemorate the 100th year anniversary of the sinking.

For those who forgot their high school American history, the attack on the British passenger ship Lusitania by a German U-boat torpedo in calm, glassy waters twelve miles off the southern coast of Ireland is one of the reasons that the United States entered World War I although it was nearly two years after the May 7, 1915 incident.

The book alternates between the activities of various passengers and staff on the Lusitania, the German U-boat, U-20’s crew, the secret British intelligence unit Room 40 and President Woodrow Wilson.

Although the Lusitania had twenty-two lifeboats only six made it into the water before the book sank in only eighteen minutes and killed 1198 passengers, 123 of which were Americans.

The book reminds me very much of another interesting 1955 nautical survival classic, A Night to Remember by Walter Lord about the sinking by an iceberg of the supposedly “unsinkable” Titanic on its maiden voyage in the north Atlantic Ocean just the year before the Lusitania on April 12, 1914.

Cover image for In the heart of the sea : the tragedy of the whaleship Essex

Another book which I haven’t yet read but was recently made into a movie directed by Ron Howard falls into this category of marine survival story as well, In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. The ship was attacked by a sperm whale in 1820 and this book tells the fascinating story of the survival of the crew over ninety days at sea.

Cover image for The perfect storm : a true story of men against the sea

Also, The Perfect Storm: a True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger covers the commercial fishing vessel’s Andrea Gail’s October 1991 journey into the turbulent, stormy waters off of eastern Canada near Nova Scotia during a so-called “storm of the century” although in this case, unfortunately, none of the six crew members survived.


National Book Award Winner Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman was on the teen literature panel at the first Literary Orange that I attended several years ago. He shared his inspiration for The Schwa Was Here: a student who seemed to be invisible because nobody noticed him. Impressed by Shusterman's original take on the world, I've kept an eye out for his books ever since.

So I was pleased to see his picture on the cover of School Library Journal and to learn that his most recent novel, Challenger Deephas won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. This may be the most deeply felt and personal book that Shusterman will ever write, because it was inspired by his own son's battle with schizophrenia. In his author's note he says, "Challenger Deep is by no means a work of fiction... I watched as someone I loved journeyed to the deep, and I felt powerless to stop the descent." The book is illustrated by his son's somewhat disjointed sketches that he drew during his illness.

Narrator Caden Bosch alternates between his increasingly erratic interactions with family and schoolmates and his voyage on a ship that is headed for the deepest point on earth: Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench. As the reader progresses, it becomes evident that the voyage exists only in Caden's mind. His parents finally admit him to a psychiatric hospital, where heavy medication that makes his brain feel like Jell-o nevertheless helps him regain a sense of reality.

This book should be read by anyone whose life is affected by mental illness -- which is just about all of us. The insider's view will develop empathy for those who know someone and perhaps reassurance for those who are suffering themselves.


True Stories of Justice

Sometimes attaining justice in real life is elusive, however, in the following recent nonfiction books which read like fiction, there’s a wonderful satisfaction in seeing people reach their goals. It’s also extremely disappointing to see others only receive minimal or no justice.

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne-Marie O’Connor. An American woman in New York, Maria Altmann, attempts to recover her Jewish family’s artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War II, especially a portrait the family commissioned of Gustav Klimt to paint of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer in 1910, a now famous painting called The Woman in Gold. The Austrian government refuses to return it and finally after a long court battle she triumphs. This book was made into an excellent movie starring Helen Mirren titled Woman in Gold, which is also available at some branches of the OC Public Libraries.

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight For Justice by Bill Browder, is similarly about ultimately achieving justice. Bill Browder, one of the first and largest foreign investors in Russia after the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union and the country opened up its market to capitalism, exposes the financial shenanigans and corruption of the government and the oligarchs when they steal many of the shares in the companies his clients had invested in by splitting them and then making them unavailable for foreign investors to buy. They also accuse him of $230 million in tax evasion and his attorney determines that many civil servants and government officials siphoned the money. His attorney is imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately beaten to death. Browder is determined to get justice for him and gets a bill passed in the U.S. that further prevents the named people from using their ill-gotten billions to invest in U.S. markets and real estate. The justice, however, is bittersweet since in retaliation Putin restricted adoptions of Russian orphans to Americans.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stephenson. Bryan Stephenson is a lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama who fights for mostly poor, disabled African-American adults and children and the wrongly accused on death row. These cases will amaze you and make you question the American justice system.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink. This is a book in which justice is a slippery slope. Imagine you are in a hospital during Hurricane Katrina and the doctors feel that it is more humane to euthanize you than be rescued by helicopter because they think you won’t get out of the hospital on time and will suffer in the process. Patients endured many hours in poor conditions without electricity and functional medical equipment before they were finally rescued. The second half of the book covers the trial in which the staff members responsible for the patients must defend their actions.

The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II by Jan Jarboe Russell. Many of us are familiar with the unjust treatment of the Japanese in America, most of them citizens, who were rounded up in internment camps for the rest of WWII after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which is certainly unjust enough since many lost businesses, land, and homes while they were away. However, many people would be surprised to discover that the U.S. also put many German Americans in internment camps and even gathered Japanese and Germans from other countries in North, Central and South America to stay at the Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas and then sent them back to nuclear bomb ravaged Japan and war-torn Germany during WWII in exchange for American POWs.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a story of medical ethics gone wrong and injustice that was never addressed. Henrietta Lacks, a poor sick woman and a Southern tobacco farmer who provided the HeLa cells for cancer research in the 1950s, never even knew that her cells were taken and used. Although her own children couldn’t even afford medical insurance, neither she nor her family ever received compensation for it. 


Best of 2015 - Our Top Three Teen Fiction

Here are OC Public Libraries' staff picks for the Top Three Teen Fiction titles of 2015.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Another Day by David Levithan

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen (audio)

Join the fun and leave us a comment with your pick for the top teen title of 2015.


Best of 2015 - Our Top Three Children's Non-Fiction

Here are OC Public Libraries' staff picks for the Top Three children's non-fiction titles.