Trenton Reads

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Archive for “P” Authors

Review: Franklin and Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherford, and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life

In his biography Franklin and Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherford, and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life, Joseph E. Persico looks at the life of Franklin D. Roosevelt from a unique perspective. The reader sees the women who influenced this great historical figure as he led the country out of a severe economic depression and through a devastating world war.

Persico examines Roosevelt’s relationship with his mother, wife, and a handful of other women who were close to the nation’s 32nd president. His mother, Sara, was a grande dame of New York society, obsessively involved in her son’s life up to the day she died. President Roosevelt relied heavily on her, to the point that early in his political career, when asked to run for certain office, he hesitated, saying he would first need to discuss it with his mother.

FDR’s relationship with his wife, arguably the most influential First Lady in history, has been the subject of much speculation throughout the years. As a great fan of Eleanor Roosevelt I was pleased to find that this was as much a biography of her as it was of her husband. Having read two thick tomes by Blanche Wiesen Cook covering Mrs. Roosevelt’s first 54 years, not a lot of this information was new but it was interesting nonetheless. Both the President and the First Lady appeared to have had extramarital relationships throughout his political career that, depending on who is speculating, ranged from intimate friendships to barely concealed love affairs.

The Mrs. Rutherford of the title is Lucy Mercer Rutherford, who entered the Roosevelt’s life as Eleanor’s personal secretary, and eventually became romantically involved with Franklin, although the extent of this involvement is again a matter of speculation. Persico relied heavily on documents recently discovered by Mrs. Rutherford’s descendents to recreate the trajectory of the relationship between Franklin and Lucy.

History buffs and political junkies will certainly appreciate this biography as it examines historical events such as the Great Depression, World War II, and creation of the New Deal in light of Roosevelt’s personal life. However, I think the appeal is broader than that. Persico has combined eloquent writing with detailed research to spin a gripping tale that reinforces the old adage that truth is often stranger than fiction.

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Review: Nineteen Minutes

 

 

I’ve come to expect a certain type of book from Jodi Picoult: engrossing contemporary fiction woven around a controversial current issue. Nineteen Minutes, in which she tackles the twin issues of peer bullying and school violence, did not disappoint.

Peter Houghton, an unpopular 17 year-old, has suffered aggressive bullying at the hands of the popular crowd throughout his school career. Over the years, he has grown bitter and resentful, seeking solace in violent music and video games and fantasizing about getting revenge. One day Peter snaps and storms his high school, armed with a car bomb and four firearms. In the time span of a mere nineteen minutes, he kills ten students and injures many more.

Picoult does a commendable job of creating a cast of complex, multi-dimensional characters. She turns a character who has done something unquestionably evil – Peter – into someone the reader feels sorry for, or at least understands on some level. My maternal heart broke for Peter’s mother, Lacy, as she struggled with her feelings about her son … denial, guilt, devastating sadness. Josie, another star of the story, was a member of the popular crowd but had been Peter’s childhood best friend. She lost many friends and her boyfriend in the shooting, but intermingled with her feelings of anger toward Peter was a sense of guilt about the way she and the popular clique had mistreated him.

I put off reading this book for at least a year, because of the chilling subject matter. At one point, I thought I must be crazy for picking it up the summer before my oldest child enters high school. But ultimately, I’m glad I did. Nineteen Minutes has all the elements of a great contemporary novel – an engaging plot, excellent character development, succinct yet lyrical prose. More importantly, it really made me think about the issue of bullying, how we deal with it, and it’s potentially devastating effects.  As Picoult says in the book trailer, it’s a subject we all need to start talking about.

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