Traveling Through Time and Around the Globe

The quote from Jean Batton, an early female aviator was the inspiration for Maggie Shipstead to write “Great Circle” about a female aviatrix who disappears in Antarctica in the last century and a modern day movie being made about her.

In 1914, Marian Graves and her twin brother, James, are among the last to be saved when the Josephina Eterna sinks in the North Atlantic. With their father in prison and their mother gone, the two babies are bundled off to live with their Uncle Wallace, an artist in Missoula, Montana. Wallace, preoccupied with his painting, lets the kids run wild, and while James is a sweet-natured child, Marian is a daredevil who revels in the freedom to do what she wants.

That helps explain her attraction to the lifestyle of barnstorming aviators and her decision at 14 to drop out of school to learn to fly.

Fast forward a century. Actress Hadley Baxter, whose Hollywood stardom is somewhat diminished, is starring in a movie about the disappearance of Marian Graves in Antarctica.

The story of these two women takes us back and forth from past to present and around the globe in Maggie Shipstead’s “Great Circle” (Vintage Books 2021; $24).

The disappearance of a woman aviator is familiar. After all, movies and articles are still being written about Amelia Earhart, whose plane vanished in the Pacific Ocean in 1937. But there are many other female pilots from the early and mid-1900s, though they’re exploits are mostly forgotten now. Writing “Great Circle” required Shipstead to research and travel to give the book its authenticity. She visited the Arctic five times and Antarctica twice.

Why so many times, I asked Shipstead.

“I’m drawn to those regions by some weird instinct,” she said. “I think a lot of people are. But I’ve also been lucky to keep getting opportunities to go. Polar travel has become a bit of my specialty, so I’ve been sent on assignment to Alaska, the New Zealand subantarctic, Antarctica, the Canadian high Arctic twice, Greenland twice. I did an artist residency on a ship in Svalbard. In a way, one thing kept leading to another, and I have no complaints.”

The inspiration for “Great Circle” came to her in New Zealand. She was between books and a story line for her next novel that she had thought looked promising, wasn’t. In the airport, she saw the statue of early aviator Jean Batton, its base inscribed with her quote “I was destined to be a wanderer.”

She knew she had her book.

Given how much she has traveled, I wondered if Shipstead was destined to be a wanderer.

“Destined is probably strong,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in travel, but my life could have taken lots of twists and turns that would have precluded traveling as much as I have. Really, this book turbocharged my traveling because, A, I was motivated to get to more and farther flung places in the name of research, and B, it took so long to write the book that I had the chance to start writing for travel magazines.”

I next asked if she ever considered becoming a pilot given her interest in the subject.

“Never,” was her response. “My brother used to fly C-130s in the Air Force and wanted to be a pilot from childhood, so that was always his territory.”

This article originally appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times.

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The Hollow Ones

               I didn’t intend to spend the last three days speed reading “The Hollow Ones” by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (Grand Central Publishing 2021; $28). Indeed, I had other things to do—deadlines to meet, a new workout program to keep up with, and my daughter’s wedding to help plan. But I didn’t do any of those. Instead I caromed around the universe, going back and forth in time, following this complicated by fascinating novel written by two greats in their field. del Toro is a prolific writer, producer, and director who wrote and director the four time Academy Award winning movie “The Shape of Water.” Hogan, an American novelist, screenwriter, and television producer, who co-authored, with del Toro,  The Strain trilogy. He also wrote the novel “Prince of Thieves” that was made into a movie “The Town” with Ben Affleck .

Guillermo del Toro. Photo by Lorenzo Agius.

               This is not a book for the faint of heart—and I typically fall into that category. But I just had to figure out what was going to happen next after the first chapter. That’s when  Odessa Hardwick, a young and inexperienced FBI agent arrives at the scene of a gruesome murder taking place along with Walter Leppo, her seasoned partner. Inside an upscale home, the two encounter the owner butchering his family. Odessa, believing her partner is under attack by the murderer, shoots and kills him. But then the unexpected occurs, Walter takes a knife to the only surviving family member and Odesssa is forced to kill him to save the child. She already is under a lot of stress when she had to question if that was a shadowy figure she saw fleeing from Walter’s body after his death?

               Most likely, given the supernatural forces that are in play here starting with why this prosperous home owner killing his family, why did Walter suddenly take over the job of butchering them, and what the heck is going on anyway? Odessa, distraught and doubting her actions and indeed, her own sanity, is  given the assignment while awaiting the results of the inquest into the killing of Leppo, to clear out the desk  of ailing FBI agent Earl Solomon who started his career investigating lynchings during the early 1960s in the American south.

               “Solomon puts her on the trail of a mysterious figure named Hugo Blackwood, with whom the dying Solomon has been professionally — but unofficially — aligned since his rookie days,” says Hogan, who describes his collaboration with del Toro as long talks over breakfast batting around ideas which they then expand until finally turning out chapters.

Hugo, an immortal has seen a lot through the centuries. To solve the mysteries of the moment, they must retrace what happened in 1582 when he was a young attorney and a portal to another world was accidentally opened allowing the evil and dangerous hollow ones to enter ours.

               Hogan, who describes the hollow ones as “nasty creatures who live to possess human victims, jumping from host to host” is vague about whether this is the first in a series focusing on Hugo and Odessa solving supernatural crimes. He does acknowledge though that Blackwood’s story which in this novel encompasses England 1582, the Jim Crow South of 1962, and New Jersey in 2019 is only 20% told.

               If they do have another book coming, I need to get all my chores done ahead of time so I can immerse myself once again.

The Women of Chateau Lafayette

               “It’s amazing how women get lost in history,” says Stephanie Dray, the New York Times bestselling author of The Women of Chateau Lafayette.     “I want to tell their stories.”

At first, the story she was going to tell was that of  Beatrice Chanler, a success London actress with a troubled marriage  who received the Legion of Honor for her philanthropic service during World War.  But then Dray discovered a packet of love letters that were not between Chanler and her husband and she knew she would have to start all over.

               Ultimately, Dray would write the stories of two more women whose connection through the centuries was the French country chateau of the Marquis de La Fayette, one of the heroes of the American Revolution.  And each time, she would set that book aside as more details emerged.

               “Chateau is set in three time periods–during the French Revolution, World War One, and World War Two,” says Dray whose previous books include “My Dear Hamilton,”

               In each period, there was an extraordinary woman who rose to the occasion. The first was Adrienne Lafayette, the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette. More than a spouse, she was her husband’s political partner and, like him, faced the danger of the guillotine during the  French Revolution. The third woman is Marthe Simone, a teacher and writer, who at first wanted to avoid any activities that could put her at risk from the Nazis during World War II but then becomes an active participant in helping hide Jewish children at the chateau.

            “She, like the other two women, deserved to have her own book,” says Dray. “But then I saw the importance of telling all their stories in one novel. I was a government major in college and then I went to law school, but I was really only a lawyer for ten minutes.  But I’ve always been interested in government as people, this story is about the rise of the republic and the continued survival of the public.”

            Writing about the Chateau Lafayette became so much a part of Dray’s every day living that when she saw the castle for the first time she was so nervous she had to have her husband hold the camera.

            “All the video I took is very shaky,” she says.

            Indeed, she becomes so immersed in her stories that when she was writing “America’s First Daughter,” she found herself speaking with a southern accent. That passion is evident in one of the take-aways she hopes readers get from reading The Women of Chateau Lafayette.

            “The Franco-American alliance saved this country three times over,” says Dray. “This book is relevant to those in powdered wigs and those today.”

Virtual event with Stephanie Dray.

When: April 3 at noon

What: Barbara’s Bookstore with Stephanie Dray in virtual conversation with Lauren Margolin “The Good Book Fairy” blogger.

To Register: https://barbarasbookstores.com/event/stephanie-dray/

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">FYI: The event is free. All registrants receive 10% off book purchase with code ‘EVENT’FYI: The event is free. All registrants receive 10% off book purchase with code ‘EVENT’

Love and Theft

“In April 2007, two stolen Audi A8s smashed through the glass façade of the Wafi Mall in Dubai,” says Parish. “In a marble rotunda, the white car rammed the secure entrance of Graff Jewelers, while the black car spit out men in masks with automatic weapons.”

         Starting fast—a motorcycle convoy roars through the lobby of the Wynn Las Vegas, staying only long enough to scoop up millions of dollars’ worth of stones from a classy jewelry store before riding away—Stan Parish’s latest novel “Love and Theft” (Doubleday 2020; $19.49 Amazon price) never slows down.

         Told from multiple points of view, we follow the police as they work to solve the crime as well as the thieves planning their next one last heist and not getting busted. We move with the action from Vegas to Jersey and then to the luxe vacation destination of Tulum, Mexico. Along the way there are weird stops such as one at the home of a doctor who injects willing subjects with a hallucinatory drug that helps them calm down while he and his wife, wearing wired masks, communicate their insights while taking notes.

         It’s all breathless but at the same time human. Neither cops nor bad guys are cartoon characters here. Parish makes them real while juggling the fast-paced plot.

         His interest in mystery-thrillers began when he was around 10 or 11 and pulled a copy of “Dog Soldiers” from his dad’s bookshelf. Parish was ordered to put it back, his father telling him it was full of sex, drugs and violence. Of course, the book only stayed on the shelf until his parents went to bed.

         Inspiration also comes from stories he hears from what he reads and hanging out.

         “In April 2007, two stolen Audi A8s smashed through the glass façade of the Wafi Mall in Dubai,” says Parish. “In a marble rotunda, the white car rammed the secure entrance of Graff Jewelers, while the black car spit out men in masks with automatic weapons.”

         It was the work of a successful gang called the Pink Panthers and became the basis for the opening sequence of “Love and Theft.” But the book is also fueled by what he calls being a diviner though instead of finding water he has “a sixth sense for strange subcultures, suspicious characters, and after-after parties.”

         A few years ago, in Marbella, Spain he was invited to a party at the home of several young bullfighters and during the evening “divined” that some of their income derived from storing drugs for a local cartel. That experience too became a plot point in the novel.

         The former editor-in-chief of The Future of Everything at The Wall Street Journal whose writings have appeared in the New York Times, Esquire and GQ, Parish earned a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and moved to Los Angeles from New York a few years ago. But now he’s living in Europe, waiting for the pandemic to end. He’s dedicated to his craft. Planning on finishing his thriller in Malaga, Spain, he accidentally left his computer, notes and outline behind at JFK International Airport in New York City and while calling lost and found everyday hoping it would turn up, tapped out sections his novel on his cell phone his while riding in cabs late at night. His life, in other words, seems to track his fast-paced novel.

Chosen Ones

The celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Chosen One’s victory is overtaken by the tragedy of the death of one of their group. But it gets worse. As they gather for the funeral, they learn the battle may not be over. The Dark One may still live and that means the prophecy forecasting his death wasn’t true.

         A decade ago, five teenagers living in Chicago, albeit a post-apocryphal dystopian version of the Windy City, risked everything to confront and defeat the Dark One, stopping him from destroying the world. Now, as adults the world around them has returned to normal but they haven’t. After all, when it comes to second acts, what can beat saving civilization?

         “What do you do when you finally obtain what you wanted to do?” says Chicago author Veronica Roth about her first adult novel, Chosen Ones, a continuation of sorts based on the characters from her bestselling Divergent series. “It’s like when you graduate college, you wonder is this it?”
         Of the five, Sloane, the leader of the group Sloane is having the most difficult time adapting—some say it’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, others credit her attitude—but whatever, she’s struggling big time.

         “Chosen Ones is about learning that the battles you fought to get where you are aren’t over,” says Roth who grew up in Barrington and attended Northwestern University. “They’re never really over, but you get to fight them differently when next time comes.”

         The next time is now. The celebration of the tenth anniversary of their victory is overtaken by the tragedy of the death of one of their group. But it gets worse. As they gather for the funeral, they learn the battle may not be over. The Dark One may still live and that means the prophecy forecasting his death wasn’t true.

         Roth’s attention to detail is meticulous. In the book, Sloane submits a Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents about the government’s involvement in what happened ten years ago.

         “I wanted to know everything I could,” she says. “It’s my life and they have all these…records of it.”

         To make the book realistic, or as realistic as fantasy and magic can be and to understand and recreate the FOIA records Sloane received, Roth studied hundreds of declassified government documents that she found on the CIA website and other Internet sites.

         “I read a lot about UFOs, propaganda and Project MK Ultra which is the government’s research on the effects and use of LSD,” she says.

         That’s not all that went into the novel. Roth’s characters inhabit an alternate Chicago, one she had to create. It was a complex undertaking to make the unreal seem real.

         “World building is very humbling,” she says, noting that her editor encouraged her to deep dive into devising the Chosen Ones’ city. “Chicago’s architecture is such a significant part of the story because architecture reveals history and also, just aesthetically, the skyline is so important to my experience of the city and what I love about it.”

1000 Places to See Before You Die: The World As You’ve Never Seen It Before

Patricia Schultz and I had only been on the phone together for five minutes before we decided to make the trip to New Zealand—neither of us had been and both of us wanted to go. And no, I haven’t bought my ticket yet but that’s how mesmerizing Schultz, who introduced the concept of bucket list travel when she wrote the first edition of her #1 New York Times bestseller 1000 Places to See Before You Die in 2003. It was so popular that over the years more than 3.5 million copies have been sold.

Now Schultz has updated her book with a new twist, her words accompanied by mesmerizing and amazing handpicked photos of some of the most beautiful places in world.  The book itself, weighing six pounds with 544 pages, is oversized eye candy—compelling us to pack our bags and head out to explore.

1,000 Places to See Before You Die (Deluxe Edition): The World as You’ve Never Seen It Before was years in the making—after all Schultz had to travel to all those places.

Calling her new book, a veritable scrapbook of her life, she says she became teary eyed when choosing the photos. In its pages she takes us to destinations so exotic many might have remained unknown to most of us if not for her writing. One such is Masai Mara, the world’s greatest animal migration that takes place each May when hundreds of thousands of wildebeests travel north from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the grasslands of Kenya’s Masai Mara. It’s a two to three month journey and the wildebeests are joining by other migrating herds including antelope, zebras and gazelles swelling the animal population to a million or so. There’s also ballooning over Cappadocia, a Byzantine wonderland encompassing a natural and seemingly endless landscape of caves and peaks of shaped by eons of weather with wonderfully colored striations of stone. Even better, Schultz points out, you can take a side trip to Kaymakli, an ancient underground city just 12 miles away.

For those less inclined for such travels or whose pocketbooks don’t open that large, Schultz features closer to home destinations that are still special such as Mackinac Island where cars were banned in the mid-1890s, New York City (where Schultz resides when not on the road) and one of my favorites, Stowe, Vermont. And, of course, the majestic Grand Canyon.

While Schultz’s parents weren’t world travelers, they encouraged her to find her way to what she loved. But for her, it’s not just the road, it’s the people she meets as well. When the first editor of her book proved so successful, she treated herself to a trip to Machu Picchu in the Urubamba Valley of the Cuzco Region of Peru often known as the Lost City of the Incas. Located 7800-feet above sea level, it’s isolated at the top of a mountain surrounded by jungles and other peaks. There she met a 90-year-old woman who had been inspired by her book to travel there.

“She asked me if I had heard of the book,” says Schultz. “Peru was the first stamp in her first passport.”

This venturesome woman who had traveled outside the U.S. for the first time in her ninth decade, offered the seasoned travel writer a pearl of wisdom that has remained with her for the last16 years.

 “She told me to make sure to see the difficult places first,” recalls Schultz. “You can see the easy ones when you’re not as active or energetic.”

          Is Schultz burned out by travel? Has she reached the point of been-there-done-that?

          Schultz answers with an emphatic no.

“There are still so many places I want to visit,” she says, noting that her list remains long. “I doubt if I’ll get to do them all, but I will try to do as many as I can.”

Ifyougo:

What: Authors Group Presents Patricia Schultz, 1000 Places to See Before You Die; Luncheon

When: Tue, Oct 29, 2019 from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Where: Union League Club of Chicago, 65 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL

Cost: $35 per ticket

FYI: 312-427-7800; ulcc.org

What: Cocktails with Patricia Schultz & Lake Forest Bookstore

When:  Tue., Oct. 29. 6 p.m.

Where: North Shore Distillery, 13990 Rockland Rd, Libertyville, IL

Cost: $65 for individual or $75 per couple (includes 1 book, 1 drink and appetizers)

FYI: RSVP required. Call 847-234-4420; lakeforestbookstore.com

What:

When’ Wed. Oct 30 at 7 p.m.

Where: Anderson’s Bookshop La Grange, 26 S La Grange Rd, La Grange, IL

Cost: This event is free and open to the public. To join the signing line, please purchase the author’s latest book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die Deluxe Edition, from Anderson’s Bookshop. To purchase please stop into or call Anderson’s Bookshop La Grange (708) 582-6353 or order online andersonsbookshop.com

FYI: 708-582-6353

Muse of Nightmares: Second in the Epic Fantasy Series Strange the Dreamer

Strange the Dreamer, the epic fantasy series written by Laini Taylor, began as a dream. Now Taylor, a National Book Award finalist, has just released Muse of Nightmares  (Little, Brown 2018; $19.99), the second book in the series.Laini Taylor_Author Photo_AliSmith credit

“The story has been in my mind for 20 years or more,” says Taylor, whose author photo shows her with a shock of long seriously pink hair.  “I think I dreamed Sairi, the character that came to me, who lived high above the city and I thought of her as the Muse of Nightmares. I started writing about her for my first book but then that became Lazio’s book.  But this is about Sairi, the way trauma changes us and if it is possible for a person to overcome this. Sarai doesn’t know what she’s capable of and she feels helpless, but is she?”

The journey of Sairi and Lazio is one of intrigue and mysteries (what was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? where did the gods come from, and why? and  how do they defeat a new foe?) and it’s interesting to note that as we follow Taylor’s story-telling, we often are only a few steps behind her as the story plot evolves. That’s because as much as she wants to shape her story, it often, as she builds her characters and scenes in her mind, takes on a will of its own.

Taylor says she always hopes to get to the ending she has in mind.

“But it doesn’t always work that way,” she says.

Immersed and—dare we say—co-dependent–with her characters, Taylor is sad when they make a bad choice though she can understand why they did so.

“It just give me so much empathy for them,” Taylor says.  “I ask what causes people to do that. When my characters don’t survive, I really wish I could save them, but I can’t.”

But though she doesn’t often know how her books will end or save a character, she did know that she wanted to eschew the typical epic ending of a massive battle between good and evil and instead resolve it by asking and answering a powerful question “must heroes always slay monsters or is it possible to save them?”

Ifyougo:

What:

When: Thursday, October 11 at 7 p.m.

Where: Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 West Jefferson Avenue Naperville, IL

Cost: Free and open to the public. To join the signing line, please purchase the author’s latest book, Muse of Nightmares, from Anderson’s Bookshop. To purchase please stop into or call Anderson’s Bookshop Naperville (630) 355-2665.

FYI: (630) 355-2665; andersonsbookshop.com

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