Review: ‘Winterkill,’ a novel by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Holodomor is а genocide of Ukrainian nation committed in 1932–1933. It was committed by leadership of the Soviet Union in order to suppress Ukrainians obedient and the ultimate elimination of Ukrainian opposition regime including efforts to build an independent from Moscow Ukrainian State. In 2006 by the Law of Ukraine “About the Holodomor of 1932-1933 in Ukraine” Holodomor was recognized as genocide against Ukrainian people. In 2010, by the resolution of Court of Appeal in Kyiv region was proved the genocidal nature of Holodomor, the intention of Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich, Postyshev, Chubar, Khatayevych, Kosior to destroy a part of the Ukrainian nation. In 1932–1933 were killed more than 7 million people in the Ukrainian SSR and 3 million of Ukrainians abroad in the regions which were historically populated by Ukrainian: Kuban, the North Caucasus, Lower Volga and Kazakhstan. – National Museum of the Holodomor-Genocide

Winterkill, by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, Scholastic (September 6, 2022) Middle-Grade Fiction

Winterkill will break your heart.

Once again award-winning Ukrainian Canadian author Marsha Forchuck Skrypuch (Making Bombs for Hitler, Traitors Among Us) gifts readers with a pitch-perfect, well-written, extensively researched novel that shows the human side up close and personal of those trapped within the clutches of an atrocity of history that many still say never happened, was a quirk of nature, Eastern European weather patterns, or bad luck.

Joseph Stalin engineered a blatant genocide against the Ukrainian people by the Soviet Union, especially the farmers. He stole their crops and the food in their pantries and gardens and took their personal possessions, farms, and their lives. Whether through fate or coincidence, history is repeating itself with this novel’s release as the Russian Federation has invaded Ukraine while it once again steals the country’s grain.

Nyl lives on a small family farm and, like many of his neighbors, is puzzled when the Russians increase crop quotas while sabotaging the farmers’ ability to meet those quotas. He meets Alice, an idealistic Canadian who comes to Ukraine with her father purportedly to help modernize the country’s farming methods, introduce the promised efficiencies of collectivization, and advocate for the acceptance of mechanization–especially tractors. 

Skrypuch’s genius comes, in part, from making all of her characters three-dimensional, from those who hope to get by and those who turn on their neighbors as informers for personal gain. There are many points of view amongst these friends and neighbors and we see them clearly rather than as statistics delineating those who deny, who hide seeds and provisions, who try to escape, and who die without lifting a finger.

Alice appears at Nyl’s house with her father to take an inventory of everything in the house and on the property. Soon, it’s obvious that this inventory is helping the Russians dispossess the farmers and characterize them as an affluent, lazy drain on society. Alice doesn’t see the connection between her innocent task and the growing number of lost farms and deaths. By the end of the novel, Alice and Nyl are working together to survive and escape. The dead are everywhere. Food is nowhere. 

The people in this novel make it work. We know them. We see them fight. And we see them perish under conditions that remind us of the Nazi terrors and the lack of a piece of bread. 

–Malcolm

 

 

 

 

‘The Rainbow’ by Carly Schabowski

The Rainbow (2021) brings readers one of the many “smaller” and more personal stories of bravery and loss and old secrets behind the larger headlines from Germany’s World War II invasion and brutal occupation of Poland. In the process, we learn some history we never knew and are all the better for it.

From the Publisher:

Nazi-occupied Poland, 1940. When soldiers drag Tomasz back to his family’s farm, they put a gun to his head and tell him he must join the German army, or see his loved ones forced into the camps. Staring into the wide blue eyes of his childhood sweetheart Zofia, Tomasz does the only thing he can. Over the course of the war, he will risk his life, love and the respect of his own people, to secretly fight for good against evil. All the while, he longs to be reunited with Zofia… but will his brave choices tear them apart forever?

“London, present day. Isla has grown up wearing her grandfather’s rainbow scarf, a beloved memento from the Second World War, and hearing his stories about his time as a young soldier bravely fighting the Germans to protect his people. But as she is collecting photos for his 95th birthday celebration, she finds an old photograph of two men standing in Nazi uniforms, next to a folded piece of paper… a newspaper article, written in German. She knows that name.

“Her grandfather is too weak to answer questions, so Isla begins her hunt for the truth.

“There is so much she doesn’t know. And what she learns about a love story and a secret from seventy years ago will change her own life forever.”

From the Author:

“The inspiration for The Rainbow was one born from my own familial history – it portrays a little-known historical wartime experience of Polish men and boys who were forcibly conscripted into the Wehrmacht. Little has been written about the fate of Polish soldiers in the Wehrmacht, either in historical fiction, or in German or Polish academic works or biographies, while in the UK, the part played by Poland in the war more generally has often been side-lined. Whether through trauma or shame, it is not known why their stories were not recounted.

“As a child, my grandfather would tell me the story of his journey to England from his home country of Poland; his memory, to me, seemed sharp and yet the facts were bland – he was a soldier in the Second World War and he came to England and trained with the Polish army in exile. When the war ended, he stayed and married my grandmother.

“It was only years later that my grandmother revealed he had first been a soldier for the Wehrmacht, and only subsequently joined the Polish army upon arriving in the UK.”

While a little slow in places, Isla’s quest to uncover the secrets of her grandfather’s life during the war years is a strong story about strong people faced with decisions they did not want to make. Words well worth reading, I believe. Afterwards, those words will haunt you for a while, perhaps longer.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Vietnam War novel At Sea.

Review: ‘The Saints of Swallow Hill,’ by Donna Everhart

This novel turned out to be an excellent medication for a person who spent the past week with the flu and probably would also make for good reading for anyone else who likes a gritty story set in a depression-era turpentine camp in Georgia. The characters, some of whom are broken, some who are mean, some with mistakes on their résumés, some who take risks to help others, and some who would be nice to have as neighbors grow and become multidimensional as the story proceeds.

The story brings readers a realistic view of a turpentine camp as many of us know it from coming of age in a world of longleaf pines and many cat-faced trees and many stories about the harsh realities of the naval stores business at its most basic level. The story is one of those where readers are likely to fear for the characters and whether or not they will make it to the end of the book.

From the Publisher

Where the Crawdads Sing meets The Four Winds as award-winning author Donna Everhart’s latest novel immerses readers in its unique setting—the turpentine camps and pine forests of the American South during the Great Depression. This captivating story of friendship, survival and three vagabonds’ intersecting lives will stay with readers long after turning the final page.

It takes courage to save yourself…

In the dense pine forests of North Carolina, turpentiners labor, hacking into tree trunks to draw out the sticky sap that gives the Tar Heel State its nickname, and hauling the resin to stills to be refined. Among them is Rae Lynn Cobb and her husband, Warren, who run a small turpentine farm together.

Though the work is hard and often dangerous, Rae Lynn, who spent her childhood in an orphanage, is thankful for it–and for her kind if careless husband. When Warren falls victim to his own negligence, Rae Lynn undertakes a desperate act of mercy. To keep herself from jail, she disguises herself as a man named “Ray” and heads to the only place she can think of that might offer anonymity–a turpentine camp in Georgia named Swallow Hill.

Swallow Hill is no easy haven. The camp is isolated and squalid, and commissary owner Otis Riddle takes out his frustrations on his browbeaten wife, Cornelia. Although Rae Lynn works tirelessly, she becomes a target for Crow, the ever-watchful woods rider who checks each laborer’s tally. Delwood Reese, who’s come to Swallow Hill hoping for his own redemption, offers “Ray” a small measure of protection and is determined to improve their conditions. As Rae Lynn forges a deeper friendship with both Del and Cornelia, she begins to envision a path out of the camp. But she will have to come to terms with her past, with all its pain and beauty, before she can open herself to a new life and seize the chance to begin again.

For those who didn’t grow up in longleaf pine country, the author’s note provides a few helpful details about the workings of the turpentine camps.

This is a captivating, well-written story.

–Malcolm

Stephen King’s ‘Revival’ – the usual nasty King stuff in a padded-out novel

Nope, the book doesn’t cut it even though the concept is interesting and the story has many of the usual really bad things happening in it.

From the Publisher

The new minister came to Harlow, Maine, when Jamie Morton was a boy doing battle with his toy army men on the front lawn. The young Reverend Charles Jacobs and his beautiful wife brought new life to the local church and captivated their congregation. But with Jamie, he shares a secret obsession—a draw so powerful, it would have profound consequences five decades after the shattering tragedy that turned the preacher against God, and long after his final, scathing sermon. Now Jamie, a nomadic rock guitarist hooked on heroin, meets Charles Jacobs again. And when their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, Jamie discovers that the word revival has many meanings….

The problem with the plot comes from the span of time covered by the novel and that something has to fill up all those years until the BIG ENDING finally arrives.

Charles Jacobs is interested in a force he calls “secret electricity.” It works in the carny world for doing magic tricks and, according to Jacobs, it appears to cure people. Curing people finally becomes the focus of his business while in his spare time he plummets deeper and deeper into the sources and uses of this strange force.

The trouble is, there are side effects that are often not always apparent–at first. Some are transitory. Some are long-lasting and can ruin and/or end lives. Jamie Morton becomes just as obsessed with these side effects ad Jacobs is with his electricity experiments. Here’s where the padding in the story occurs. Jamie and another friend spent hours tracking down the people Jacobs has supposedly cured as well as the subset who finally went nuts.

While the is a fair amount of shock value to the kinds of side effects that occur, reading these pages is about like reading the phone book. Most of the people listed aren’t characters in the novel, so we have no buy-in when their names appear. This is all very tedious and without much of a point except, I guess, filling space.

Jacobs mentions the amusement park called Joyland which was a wonderful Stephen King novel. It’s almost a travesty seeing that name in this disappointing book.

Malcolm

‘Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders’ by Kathryn Miles

In an interview in “National Parks Magazine” (Summer 2022) Miles was asked what drew her to research and write about the 1996 unsolved murder case of Julie Williams, 24, and Lollie Winans, 26, near the Shenandoah National Park’s Bridle Trail.

Miles said that she was a contemporary of the victims and a sexual assault survivor who relied upon and felt safe in the backcountry. That two experienced outdoor guides were attacked in an environment that was supposedly safe, “shattered my sense of wilderness and who I was there.”

Jurisdictional and experience issues between the Park Police and the FBI bogged down the investigation, Miles thought. “There was a cultural divide, and there was a procedural divide, between how those rangers did their work, how the FBI did their work, and who was in charge. The FBI didn’t have experience investigating backcountry and wilderness crimes.” You can find the interview and an excerpt here.

From the Publisher

“They must have been followed. That’s the thought I return to after all these years . . .

“In May 1996, two skilled backcountry leaders, Lollie Winans and Julie Williams, entered Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park for a week-long backcountry camping trip. The free-spirited and remarkable young couple had met and fallen in love the previous summer while working at a world-renowned outdoor program for women. During their final days in the park, they descended the narrow remnants of a trail and pitched their tent in a hidden spot. After the pair didn’t return home as planned, park rangers found a scene of horror at their campsite, their tent slashed open, their beloved dog missing, and both women dead in their sleeping bags. The unsolved murders of Winans and Williams continue to haunt all who had encountered them or knew their story.

“When award-winning journalist and outdoors expert Kathryn Miles begins looking into the case, she discovers conflicting evidence, mismatched timelines, and details that just don’t add up. With unprecedented access to crucial crime-scene forensics and key witnesses—and with a growing sense of both mission and obsession—she begins to uncover the truth. An innocent man, Miles is convinced, has been under suspicion for decades, while the true culprit is a known serial killer, if only authorities would take a closer look.

“Intimate, page-turning, and brilliantly reported, Trailed is a love story and a call to justice—and a searching and urgent plea to make wilderness a safe space for women—destined to become a true crime classic.”

From Kirkus Reviews

What makes this story so chilling is not just that the author had to “police law enforcement” in order to determine their investigative errors. She also shows how “every year there is demonstrable evidence that women, African Americans, and nonbinary and LGBT people have good reason to wonder if they are safe in the wilderness, which in many ways is still considered a white male domain.” Gripping and thoughtful, this book will appeal to those with an interest in true-crime stories and unsettling truths about places deemed safe for all.

Disturbing and provocative.

Malcolm

Ken Follett’s sobering novel ‘Never’

Many authors, especially lately, have written books about the end of the world as we know it. I think the first novel I read about an apocalypse in our world was the 1949 Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. In spite of its theme, which seemed all too real to me as a junior high school student–I liked the novel a lot.  Stewart’s antagonist was disease.

Today, I see a lot of novels in which the culprit is climate change, and that’s to be expected. Early on, I read Hiroshima (1946) by John Hersey, On the Beach (1957) by Nevil Shute, and countless nuclear war-related novels since. Those books probably influenced my belief that Truman was wrong when he dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

To avoid getting into the realm of spoilers here, I’m not doing to tell you how Never ends. Yes, it does involve the prospect of nuclear war. People seem to be of two minds about how a nuclear war might start. Primarily, people presume Russia or China will suddenly attack the United States or whatever rationale brings either country to that point. Others presume the war would be started by a rogue nation like Iran or North Korea that has nothing to lose by harming the United States and other western nations.

What’s sobering about Follett’s novel is how small and/or isolated provocations, many of which involve a so-called “appropriate response” can escalate into a potential conflict that might involve nuclear weapons. In this scenario, it doesn’t take long for countries that have responded to attacks with conventional weapons to respond with a measured conventional weapons response to suddenly be on the brink of a war much larger and more difficult to stop.

This well-written, realistic novel provides readers with a lot of food for thought. It’s one of those books that’s very hard to stop reading even though there are chores to be done and bedtime to consider.  I hope some of those who read it will be impacted as I was impacted by Hiroshima and On The Beach and resolve that there’s never a justifiable reason for using a nuclear weapon.

Malcolm

 

Briefly Noted: ‘The Fountains of Silence’ by Ruta Sepetys

I’m  amazed by the ability of some authors to blend the history of difficult times with accurate detail and fully realized fictional characters and create a story that puts the reader into the mix. While I have yet to read Sepetys’ I must Betray You, I’ve read all of her other novels and believe she’s at the top of the authors’ pinacle with gripping historical fiction.

I have just finished The Fountains of Silence and found it to be illumninating ( wasn’t aware of the selling of babies during Franco’s time in Spain) and haunting (a love story that twists the readers heart into multiple knots). Sepetys inserted quotations about Spain from multiple archives into the fiction in separately layed out pages, and while I found this a bit jarring at first, I ultimately saw the wisdom of it and how it brought fact and fiction together.

As the novel’s notes say, it is estimated that 300,000 babies were stolen in the years following the Spanish civil war and sold to couples who were considered potentially better parents than the birth mother and father. In many cases, this practice doubled as a punishment of those people who faught against Franco during the war. The novel brings out the tragedies of this practice and the crucial need people had to keep silent about it in order to survive.

Imagine this: You go to the hospital to give birth and after the pain and joy of it, the doctor tells you the child did not survive. But it did survive and ended up in an orphanage and baby-selling scheme in which multiple people were complicit. The parents never knew because records were altered and the adoptive parents were listed on the birth certiticates as the actual parents, assuming they had adopted an abandoned child instead of a stolent child.

This practice comes under the heading of those than cannot be forgiven. The novel, though, goes on my must-read shelf where I will ultimately read it again and shed new nears.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s more recent novels focus on characters fighting the Klan as it was in 1950s Florida.

Briefly Noted: ‘Getting Around in Glacier National Park’ by Mike Butler

Mike Butler, who drove one of Glacier’s iconic red busses some years ago, has put together a compelling book about the park’s transportation history in the “America Through Time” series from Arcadia Publishing. Like most Arcadia authors, Butler has included a wealth of spectacular photographs: definitely a high point of the 128-page book that was released in Febuary.

From the Publisher

“Getting around in Glacier National Park was quite difficult for early travelers seeking to experience its towering mountains, deep glacial valleys, and extensive lakes. With Glacier’s location in the far northwestern corner of Montana, just getting to the park when it was formed in 1910 was a challenge for travelers. To meet this challenge, the Great Northern Railway brought early tourists to this remote location, transporting visitors to its East Glacier and West Glacier stations. From these entry stations, tour buses took passengers to majestic hotels which the Railway built at East Glacier, Many Glacier, and Waterton Lakes. Visitors seeking adventure within the park could then take horseback trips from the hotels to remote chalets, also built by the Railway. Boats plied the waters of Glacier’s lakes, taking tourists to chalets and hiking trails. Over 900 miles of trails were built across the park. Finally, as automobile travel gained in popularity, the magnificent Going-to-the-Sun Road was completed across the Continental Divide at Logan Pass in 1933.”

In his review in the Glacier Park Foundation’s newsletter, Mac Willemssen said, “The book’s chapters describe the development of the railroad, the roads, the boats, the buses, the trails, and the hotels. As such, it’s a great complement to anyone’s Glacier library. It’s very readable and easily puts the reader right in Glacier, whether in a bus, a boat, or on a trail.”

Butler is also the author of five other Arcadia titles: Around the Spanish Peaks; Great Sand Dunes National Park; Southern Colorado: O.T. Davis Collection; Littleton; and High Road to Taos. His brother David is the author of the 2014 Arcadia book Fire Lookouts of Glacier National Park.

In the Daily Interlake’s February review, Carol Marino wrote, “Getting Around in Glacier National Park is packed with historical details and over 150 photos of the park’s early years. It offers such rare glimpses into the park’s pictorial history, such as explorer George Bird Grinnell standing on a glacier in 1926 with his wife Elizabeth Grinnell. Both he and James J. Hill played a pivotal role in the establishment of Glacier Park.”

If you love Glacier National Park, this volume is a treasure.

–Malcolm

Review: ‘Camino Winds’ by John Grisham

Camino Winds brings back many of the characters from Camino Island, a novel the New York Times aptly decribed as “a delightfully lighthearted caper.” Camino Winds begins with wind, the monster hurricane Leo that takes aim at the Florida Island with deadly intentions and mind-numbing accuracy.  In her blurb, author Delia Owens (Where the Crawdads Sing) calls this second book in the series a “wild but smart caper.”

The novel is easy to read but the most exciting part of the caper is provided by the hurricane, and this is where we find the book’s most effective writing. A man is killed during the story, purportedly by falling tree limbs, but bookstore owner Bruce Cable of Bay Books doesn’t think so. The local police don’t seem interested, so the caper aspect of the novel begins when Bruce and his friends start trying to find out what really happened.

They begin by disturbing the crime scene, borrowing the dead man’s car, and appropriating the food and liquor in his kitchen that will dertainly go bad if left for any forensic techs who might one day show up. The dead man, an author named Nelson Kerr–among those who hung out at Bay Books–won’t miss the food and probably wouldn’t begrudge the amateur sleuths a great meal and all the high-priced drink they can handle, which turns out not to be a lot.

Kerr as apparently writing a novel about something that somebody didn’t like so, probably–the amateur sleuths speculate–the killer was mixed up in the pièce de ré·sis·tance crime Kerr plans to thinly diguise as fiction in his new thriller. If so, they no doubt wanted to stop him before (a) he finished the book, or (b) the book get to a publisher if he did finish it.

Bruce, et. al. have some good ideas, the kind that just might get them killed. If they (the sleuths) were black ops types, they dould take the next step and go after the bad guys with enough gear that woud make Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler exited. But they aren’t, so they can’t, and they don’t. For the reader, this means a lot of time is spent listening to the characters’ pondering which, fortunately, is punctuated with a few laughs, scares, and dicoveries along the way.

They mean well. They’re likeable. And they keep pushing on whoever they can influence until heavy hitters become involved and the crime is solved. Until then, nothing much happens. When the pros show up, a considerable amount of time is spent describing how the bad guys scammed the government out of a lot of money while hurting everyday people. Yes, we suspect this kind of thing is true. But how they (the bad guys) do what they do takes the focus of the story simultaneously closer to its climax and farther away from the main characters.

This is an unsatisfying plot solution. The characters who begin the caper really need to end the caper. If you read every Grisham novel, you’ll nonetheless have fun reading this one. If you don’t, you won’t.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Briefly noted: ‘A Search for Safe Passage’

Available from the association’s online shop.

When I saw a story about this book and the related efforts near the Great Smoky Mountain’s National Park in the summer 2021 issue of “National Parks Magazine,” I had to share it here. The author, Frances Figart, is the creative services director of the Great Smoky Mountains Association. Her book, as the article says, “is part of an effort to raise awareness about the real-life situation along Interstate 40, a four-lane road that runs through the Pigeon River Gorge” near the park.

I know the road well, but it’s not a friend of the wildlife that find it to be either a fence or a death trap to their natural migrations through the area. A coalition of groups is looking for solutions, including animal overpasses and tunnels.

From the Publisher

“A Search for Safe Passage” tells the story of best friends Bear and Deer who grew up together on the North side of a beautiful Appalachian gorge. In the time of their grandparents, animals could travel freely on either side of a fast-flowing river, but now the dangerous Human Highway divides their home range into the North and South sides. On the night of a full moon, two strangers arrive from the South with news that will lead to tough decisions, a life-changing adventure, and new friends joining in a search for safe passage. The book is closely connected to Safe Passage: The I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project, a new public education and infrastructure development campaign in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee. It includes an additional nonfiction section with educational lessons about animal habitat requirements, behavior, migration patterns, and roadway ecology problems and solutions developed with input from both international and local experts. Aimed at readers ages 7 to 13. 122 pages, 5.5″ x 8.5″.

Beautifully illustrated by Emma DuFort, the book presents a compelling story that should help make young people aware of oversights (being corrected in many areas) of the federal highway system when it comes to the animal populations who live where humans want to drive cars and trucks.

–Malcolm