I spent a lot of time on the road giving history talks this past few months, and when I get to different cities I like to browse the bookstores looking for audio books. I need them for those those stimulating drives to Phoenix, Yuma, and Lake Havasu City.
I was delighted to find Erik Larson’s new book, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, on a Phoenix road trip. I first saw Larson on CNN Book TV talking about his best seller, The Devil in the White City, about Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and a serial killer who set up a hotel right next to the fair. All of the dialogue in that book came from original sources: newspaper articles, letters, diaries, etc. Since then, I’ve read just about everything Larson has written, always about famous historic events or inventions, with excellent research, drama, and mystery supplied by original sources.
Larson outdoes himself with Dead Wake. His thorough research turned up lots of diaries, letters, government documents, and newspaper articles that put you right there with the people who were on the ship. Even though the fate of the Lusitania, sunk off the south coast of Ireland on May 7, 1915, is well known, the suspense in Larsen’s story is guessing which of the intimately drawn characters will survive, and which will be lost.
Larson also provides details that explain why the ship wasn’t protected by the British fleet, and whether the Lusitania was carrying munitions. I don’t usually read books with sad endings, but Larsen focuses on the courage and strength of the passengers and crew, and follows the survivors’ lives afterward through triumph and tragedy. As an added attraction, President Woodrow Wilson was courting Edith Galt at that time, and we read about that through Wilson’s mawkish personal letters.
I am always a little hesitant to read a book that has anything to do with fantasy, but much to my surprise I absolutely devoured this book. The main character Jacob finds that his grandfather held a very big secret from the rest of the family and wants to get to the bottom of it. You follow Jacob on his adventure through a Wales forest, trying to figure out the clues as you read along. Page after page you can’t believe what you are reading, and by the end you are hoping to find a secret within your own family. With unforgettable old-fashioned photos scattered throughout the book, you find yourself in a relationship with all the characters.
Ever wonder if what you just experienced really happened? If so, then you will fall in love with The Ocean At The End Of The Lane. Gaiman tells a story about a little boy, his encounter with a neighbor girl, and the darkness that follows a town suicide. You find yourself rooting for the duo, hoping that they can protect one another. At the end of the story the author throws in a twist that makes you look deep into your own memories. Was what you remember real? Or was a memory created for you?