I'm glad I knew virtually nothing about the Lusitania until I was an adult. If someone had told me about it when I was a kid, that knowledge, combined with being allowed to see "Jaws" at age 7 would have driven me on an insane quest to fill the oceans with concrete.
Turns out, even though I thought I knew a little about the Lusitania and its role in propelling the U.S. into WWI, I was wrong. I knew nothing about what had actually happened.
The Lusitania was the fastest ship of its day with the latest technology on board. After the Titanic disaster, it was also fitted with more than enough lifeboats.
On 1May, 1915 it set sail from New York to Liverpool, the passenger list was a who's who of actors, rich businessmen and socialites. Despite the festive atmosphere on board, tensions were high under the surface. The UK was embroiled in WWI, which would cost the lives of millions of Europeans. English ships were being sunk at an alarming rate by German submarines, who didn't seem to care if there were civilians on board or not. For the German captains, it was all about the tonnage, if they could prove to their superiors that they had sunk a certain amount of tonnage, they'd be up for medals and promotions.
The attitude of Germany at the time, according to Larson, was to engage in war without morals or rules, kill everything, cripple the enemy, and that's what they planned to do.
England wanted the U.S. to join the fight, President Woodrow Wilson wasn't interested despite the warmongers that seemed to inhabit his Cabinet at the time.
In light of the fact that German subs were sinking ships in an around England & Ireland at an alarming rate, the Lusitania still set off for Liverpool. This boggles my mind, many passengers had joked about being torpedoed in their diaries and letters home. My opinion is that they simply couldn't believe it would happen to them.
But in a stroke of absolute luck that Larson paints like a mystery/thriller, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk on 7th May as it passed Ireland. It was one of the biggest and fastest cruise liners in existence and it sunk in eighteen minutes, killing over 1,000 people.
I won't go into details because I can't possibly compete with Larson's depiction of the events, he is a master storyteller that could make the signing of a law on littering seem exciting.
The conspiracy still exists and Larson doesn't try to disprove it: Did the UK know about the danger to the Lusitania and ignore it in the hopes that the U.S. would rush to war? It's a frightening prospect, but not one that I'm willing to disprove.
What's fascinating about Dead Wake is that Larson provides both sides of the story, that of the Captain of the Lusitania and the passengers, and that of the submarine captain that sunk the ship, seemingly out of blind chance.
Even if you have no interest in WWI or tales of the sea, you will love Dead Wake, it's that good.
Mary Iris Malone is not okay.
Her family has imploded and she's lost her home, forced to move in with her dad and his new girlfriend in Mississippi, which Mary, or Mim, as she prefers to be called, dubs "Mosquitoland".
Unsettled, heavily medicated and fragile, sixteen year old Mim learns a life-altering secret: her mom is sick in Cleveland. Mim decides to take matters into her own hands, she steals money from her dad's girlfriend and hops on a Greyhound bus.
On her thousand-plus mile journey Mim meets a slew of unforgettable characters, some helpful, some treacherous. Even more, she has to cope with her own mind, which she doesn't fully trust after being picked apart by psychologists and pharmaceuticals.
Mosquitoland is told in a diary-style format, for me, very reminiscent of Perks of Being a Wallflower, one of my favourite novels. I'm not sure if this made the novel more appealing to me, but I really enjoyed Mim's voice. It's deep without being preachy, dry, witty and best of all, fearless.
Mim has her eyes on Cleveland and there is nothing, and I mean nothing that is going to get in her way. Luckily, she's got some help, there's Walt, the homeless teen with Down's Syndrome, and Beck, a boy she falls in love with almost on sight on her doomed Greyhound bus trip.
This novel has had its detractors, there's the "war paint" that Mim applies to her face when she's stressed or scared. Lipstick lines that she puts on her face to recreate a Native American priestess. Mim is part Cherokee, and addresses the fact that it's politically incorrect herself, but I can see how this will draw criticism. Personally, I think Arnold did this to show that Mim isn't perfect, that she's a messed up sixteen year old who has coping issues.
In a nutshell, if you love stories about being on the road, lots of sarcastic humour and a gut-wrenching underlying narrative, you will really dig Mosquitoland. I enjoyed it very much and know that the teens I help in the Library will devour this novel.
Elizabeth Grey is a witch hunter. No, she's not chasing down bed knobs and broom sticks, she's the real deal. Her work includes taking down dangerous wizards & necromancers that summon ghouls, impose curses and generally wreck havoc in their city.
One day, after a long shift of crushing evil, Elizabeth and her partner Caleb go for a drink at the local watering hole. One thing leads to another and Elizabeth finds herself disoriented, confused and frightened.
In her delirium, she finds herself in possession of illegal substances and in a cruel twist of irony is accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death.
Waiting to die in a freezing jail cell, abandoned by her friends and sick with fever, Elizabeth is offered salvation from an unlikely source, a notoriously dangerous wizard named Nicholas Perevil.
Saved by the enemy, she's asked to perform a deadly task as payment: Find and destroy the source of the life-draining curse that's been thrust upon Nicholas by an unknown adversary.
As she joins a rag-tag crew of witches, pirates, wizards and ghosts, Elizabeth discovers that things aren't as black and white as she thought they were. She's soon forced to choose between the life she's on the run from, and the one she was kidnapped into.
I really enjoyed The Witch Hunter, there are some great elements of dungeon-crawling creepiness, shadowy characters and high-stakes adventure. Any fan of Sarah J. Maas or Leigh Bardugo's great Grisha trilogy will love it.
Beth is a kick-ass guitarist paying her dues in a band that she hopes will pay the bills someday. The problem is she can't really concentrate on that, her boyfriend has vanished, just one of many mysterious disappearances in her town.
One evening after a gig things get worse, Beth's brother is critically injured in a car crash, his hopes of becoming a professional athlete crushed.
Out of nowhere, Beth is offered a once in a lifetime chance: a spot in a prestigious performing arts school known as High Step. Beth accepts the offer, despite her spiralling personal life.
She soon learns that High Step is no ordinary school, and the students there are even stranger. What complicates things is the mysterious fog that seems to perpetually hover around the building. There's also a feeling of lost time, and then there's the fact that she isn't able to get into contact with her family, Beth begins to break down emotionally and mentally.
Mentored by Vincent, a mysterious, good looking guy, Beth soon realizes that playing the opening riff to Smoke on the Water isn't her only skill.
There's a constant feeling of foreboding in this novel, mysterious characters drift in and out of Beth's life as she tries to navigate her way through the murky waters of High Step's examinations and ceremonies. Is someone after her? Or is she going crazy? Why hasn't her mother tried to contact her?
As I read this novel I felt like I was witnessing the unravelling of a fragile mind, but in a good way, because it's all made up.
Any fan of the paranormal or fantasy will enjoy Until Beth.
"So You've Been Publicly Shamed" by Jon Ronson should be mandatory reading material for teens.
This book scared me to death, it describes my (and probably anyone that's ever used the internet) worst nightmare.
You tweet something, post something on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, whatever, something that you think is clever or insightful or edgy.
Your comment is then misconstrued, warped and sent around the internet for every troll and angry villager to scrutinize and your life is essentially over.
Surely this can't happen, you think. Think again.
Ronson masterfully explains how the UK & the US did away with public shaming in the 19th century, yet here we are in the digital age, experiencing what he describes as "a great renaissance of public shaming."
There's the story of Justine Sacco, which I will try not to spoil too much, it's the story of an unknown woman with 172 Twitter followers. She wrote a tweet before getting on a plane, a joke that she thought was clever. She turned her phone off, got on the plane and when she landed she turned her phone on only to discover her life had been destroyed.
Ronson's writing is laid back and full of humour and wit. I've been a fan ever since I picked up a copy of "Them" from the public library I used to work at. I love reading his work because he interviews people that I want to hear from. Weirdos, conspiracy theories, psychopaths, people with ideas that the rest of society deems insane.
This book is different because as Ronson points out, he's no longer seeking out the people on the fringe, he's seeking out us. We are the ones who shame, we are the people with the pitchforks and burning torches, the ones that pile on when someone makes a mistake and publishes it on social media.
When I heard Ronson interviewed on the WTF podcast, he and Marc Maron made an astute observation: In today's society of overexposure, there's no need for a government-created Big Brother, sitting behind a row of computers, monitoring our every move. We are Big Brother, we are the Watchmen and the judge & jury.
So, why should this book be mandatory for teens? As a school librarian I am constantly trying to inform teens about their digital footprint, the idea that whatever they put online is permanent. Pre-interview, employers and schools are now trawling the net, looking for that picture of you upside-down on a sofa covered in vomit and empty beer cups, your face littered with crude drawings of genitalia.
It's an absolutely frightening prospect, how thin a line we are walking when we engage on social media.
The stories in Ronson's book are even more frightening because they're all true. Go check it out!