Russian Winter: a novel by Daphne Kalotay

Kalotay takes the reader from Russian life under Stalin to contemporary Boston, through the life of the main character, young Bolshoi ballet dancer Nina Revskaya, who lives her latter years re-discovering truths about her past. Nina’s jewelry collection, which she puts up for auction, sets off memories of dance, love, and betrayal during her years in Russia.  Other characters are a Boston professor, Grigori Solodin, and an auction house associate, Drew Brooks.  Grigori’s compelling search for his past challenges his expectations about the role of love in his life.  Drew’s persistence in working with the jewels leads her to also find unexpected turns in her life.  There is a sense of intrigue and mystery interwoven with satisfying character development.  The exploration of Soviet life, the world of dance/art, and Kalotay’s transfer between the past and the present create an informative, emotional read.

Reviewed by Ruth

Greasewood Creek: a novel by Pamela Steele

Greasewood Creek reads like poetry.  Pamela Steele’s first novel takes the reader to life on the land in Eastern Oregon.  Avery, the main character, faces losses in her life; we feel her emotions as she evolves.  The other characters also become a part of Avery’s development – her alcoholic mother, the ranch hand who becomes her father figure, his daughter, and Davis, Avery’s partner.  Steele creates hope and acceptance in circumstances that might bring others down.

From the book: “At Celilo, the water is smooth as a drumhead, except for the place where three ducks drag the skin of the river toward the shore.  Downriver, near the bridge, hammers of light strike the water, breaking it into shards.”

Reviewed by Ruth

A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer

I was drawn to this novel, which takes place during World War II, by the scientific theme of the discovery of penicillin.  Interwoven in the first half of the book are the personal stories of Claire, a photojournalist for Life magazine, and James, a research physician studying the new drug designed to fight infection.  After getting to know the characters a new theme is introduced, that of competition and corruption for the sake of financial gain over the potential marketing of this new drug.  If the love story, the scientific exploration of drug development, and the role of industry in pharmaceuticals are not enough Belfer adds a thriller element into the story with a murder.  The character studies were engrossing, especially the relationship between Claire and her long-lost father.  The book presents a good feel for life during the 1940’s and causes the reader to ponder moral issues.

Reviewed by Ruth

Modoc by Ralph Helfer

I had to keep reminding myself that this book is non-fiction.  The publisher places it in the category of “animals.”  It is a book of deep emotions, delving into the bonds between humans and animals.

As the book begins an elephant is born in a small German circus town at the same time as the elephant trainer’s son is born.  Thus begins a life-long relationship between Modoc, the elephant, and Bram, the boy.  Many harrowing adventures ensue as life takes the duo from Germany to India to New York City.  History and prejudice thread themselves through the story as Bram must continually decide between the people he loves and his dedication to Modoc.

Through the story the reader learns about  animal “affection training” but it is always told in a narrative syle.  Helfer appreciates the role of nature in life and has the utmost repsect for the intelligence and feelings of elephants.

It was gratifying to come upon photos of Modoc in the middle of the book.  She is an animal that can teach us all some things about life.

This book came highly recommended to me and I am happy to pass along the same recommendation.  If you can tolerate some of the difficulties that Bram and Modoc encounter, then you will be rewarded with a depth of feeling for human and animal nature.

Reviewed by Ruth