The Blue Tattoo by Steven Laffoley


From Pottersfield Press Fall 2014 Catalogue:
From award-winning author Steven Laffoley comes a compelling tale of love and loss, despair and hope, based on real people and real events, that brings to life one of the most extraordinary stories of our time — The Halifax Explosion.

1917. The Great War has given rise to unprecedented prosperity to staid, Victorian Halifax. It has also given rise to an explosive desire for change. Medical student and daughter of a prominent Halifax family, Elizabeth Beckett dreams of bringing equality to woman in an age when men alone control the world of work and politics. She fights for suffrage to give women a voice in the politics of war. At the same times, sugar refinery worker Danny Cohen dreams of leaving Halifax and a deadly war machine that he sees as only serving the wealthy. He fights to make the money he needs to help himself escape. When their lives collide, their dreams and their views of the world are challenged by the promise of love. Yet their different views on the world prove too explosive. They are torn apart by the collision of their disparate dreams. Elizabeth returns to her suffrage movement for women. Danny escapes to Boston for a better life.However, when two ships collide in Halifax Harbour on December 6, 1917, and the greatest explosion the world had ever known is unleashed on the city, their eyes are opened to new truths. Elizabeth is swept up in the chaos that follows the Explosion and works courageously at a local hospital, overrun with the horribly injured, with dwindling medical supplies and worsening conditions, only to face a once-in-a-generation snowstorm that promises to take away whatever hope remains. Without fresh medical supplies, hundreds will soon die.
Meantime, desperate to return home, Danny hears of a medical relief train leaving Boston and conducted by Christopher H. Trueman, a man with with dark past, who promises to make Halifax in record time. Danny manages to make the train, only to face a snowstorm that stops the train in its tracks. Without action and personal sacrifice, the train may never make it.

Filled with a cast of unforgettable characters — from Boston mayor James Michael Curley to Group of Seven painter Arthur Lismer — The Blue Tattoo tells the sweeping story of the lives caught up in the unbelievable horror of The Halifax Explosion.

I recently went on a cruise to New England and Canada. One of the ports of call was Halifax, Nova Scotia. There I went on an excursion to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Time there was limited so I really only spent time at the Titanic exhibit. (Halifax is where they brought the bodies for identification and the museum had Titanic artifacts that survived, as well as the stories of those who perished). The tour guide of the excursion also told us of the Halifax explosion of 1917. While I was in the Maritime Museum gift shop I saw this book and I had to buy it. I wanted to know more about it but have trouble reading non-fiction books. Since this was a novel I knew I would get through it without difficulty.

Laffoley describes the devastation very well. I saw a clear picture of the destruction, the wounded and the dead. I would get choked up and would have to take breaks because the images and heartache were a lot to read. But it was important to understand the scope of the explosion.

Laffoley was also good at showing the reader the before story of each ship, the SS Mont-Blanc and the SS Imo, without being technical and boring. We saw the point of views of the men on board both ships, their feelings, and seeing what lead to the two ships colliding.

A brief history about the explosion.

I did easily lose track of some of the characters, or in this case historical people. Many appear briefly, and others continued their story as they were important to the recovery. I wish there had been a character list or that I had wrote down my own to keep track of them.

I would have loved a detailed author’s note about his research, as well as what was fact and where he took artistic liberties.

I liked that the timeline of events was manly centered around the disaster. There was a small Act to show the reader the romance between Elizabeth and Danny. I liked Danny and Elizabeth as individuals but the romance was – eh. It was clichéd and rushed, but also not the main point of the story.

Putting that subplot aside it was still a good historical novel. I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn about the Halifax Explosion.

3.5 out of 5 Ships.

More about the artist, who appears as a character in the book, Arthur Lismer.
Arthur Lismer’s ‘Sorrow’ painting depicts aftermath of Halifax Explosion

CBC viewers get a rare look at “Sorrow”, one of Arthur Lismer’s Halifax Explosion-era paintings that had been lost for 75 years.

Some very descriptive quotes that stood out to me:
Page 124: Duggan glance over his shoulder and saw what he swore were the eyes of Satan, two lurid spurts of flame rising skyward, chasing a monstrous cloud that rose two hundred feet or more into the air. It was at that moment, beneath the unblinking green eyes of Satan, there came a thunderous howl.

Page 279: And though I feel an unfathomable exhaustion, I feel compelled to keep at it, as though to give up working would be to concede to the chaos so cruelly visited upon us.



Top Ten Tuesday – September 19: Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR List

For some reason this did not post on Tuesday, as it should have. I scheduled it to do so.  Better late than never.

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

I still have some books I picked up from NYCC 2016 that I would like to read this fall:

1) The Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F. Hamilton

2) A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan

3) The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

4) Lightless by C.A. Higgins

And there are books from this year’s Book Con:

5) Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

6) The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

7) Caraval by Stephanie Garber

8) Satellite by Nick Lake

9) Nyxia by Scott Reintgen

10) Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Top Ten Tuesday: September 12: Throwback Freebie: Ten Books I Loved During The First Year I Started My Blog

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

September 12: Throwback Freebie: Ten Books I Loved During The First Year I Started My Blog, Favorite Books Published 5 or 10 or 15 Years Ago, Ten Older Books I Forgot How Much I Loved, etc. etc. Tweak however you want!

I started in 2007 (10 years ago!) on Live Journal, and I wasn’t too consistent in the beginning. So not all of these are from the first year exactly.

1) Phantom by Susan Kay – 5 out of 5 masks

2) We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver – 5 out 5.

3) Darth Bane: Path to Destruction by Drew Karpyshyn – 4 out of 5

4) The Approaching Storm by Alan Dean Foster – 4 out of 5

5) Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader by James Luceno – 4 out of 5

6) The Han Solo Trilogy by A.C. Crispin – 4.5 out of 5

7) I Am Legend by Richard Matheson – 4 out 5 Garlic Cloves

8) Star Wars X-Wing series Books 1-9 by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston

9) Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy – 5 out of 5 blighted stars

10) Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen – 4 out of 5 peanuts

Top Ten Tuesday – September 5: Ten Books That Were A Chore To Get Through

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

September 5: Ten Books I Struggled to Get Into But Ended Up Loving or Ten Books That Were A Chore To Get Through or Ten Books I’ve Most Recently Put Down (the theme is…books you had a hard time with…tweak it how ever you need)

1. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

This was required reading in high school. It was a chore to get through because it’s written in the vernacular of the time period. If it were not for the Cliff’s Notes and discussion in class I would have failed the quizzes and tests.

2. Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Basically I lost patience with the pacing. Should have been a stand-alone YA novel.

3. Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda’s Daughter by Maggie Anton

Where was the magic? Where was the villain?

4. Beheld by Alex Flinn

Not at all how it is described on the book jacket. The main character is barely present. During some chapters I was skimming.

5. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

I was expecting something more eerie and supernatural and I ended up bored. Also, I would get so annoyed at some of the characters’ behaviors.

6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

It took me a while to get used to the style of writing. She gets very wordy. It was close to the last quarter of the book that I didn’t have to reread sentences to understand the scene. It takes a lot of brain power to read and I was tired after 2 chapters.
The book is told through the perspective of the tenant, Mr. Lockwood, and the story itself is from the perspective of the housekeeper, Ellen Dean (Nelly). And the story she tells happened in the past. So because it is told this way we get a lot of telling and not much showing.

7. Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Führer by Walter Shapiro

The title is false advertising. I get that the author was trying to set up a background of Freeman’s life and how he became the man he was but I just wanted it to be about him hustling Hitler. I was not interested in the little details of his many cons and vaudeville days. Just concentrate on that one detail of his life, conning Hitler.

8. The Drafter by Kim Harrison

Everything moves so slow and not much of the plot develops. It is very repetitive and the action is not very enticing. I didn’t even finish.

9. Dodgers by Bill Beverly

I was so bored by the story. I expected an action packed road trip adventure. What I got was a story as mundane as watching the trees and flat plains outside your backseat window.

Just when something exciting would happen, it was short lived. Then it was back to the boring road trip. Blah, blah, blah. I was not much of a fan of they style of writing either.

10. Sybil: The Classic True Story of a Woman Possessed by Sixteen Personalities
by Flora Rheta Schreiber

I read this as a young teenager, so long before I had a computer. I got about a quarter through and gave up. Too long, too boring, too disturbing. And I read somewhere that it was all fabricated.

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl



NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Includes an exclusive conversation between Ruth Reichl and Emily Giffin

Ruth Reichl is a born storyteller. Through her restaurant reviews, where she celebrated the pleasures of a well-made meal, and her bestselling memoirs that address our universal feelings of love and loss, Reichl has achieved a special place in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of readers. Now, with this magical debut novel, she has created a sumptuous, wholly realized world that will enchant you.

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her home in California to take a job at Delicious!, New York’s most iconic food magazine. Away from her family, particularly her older sister, Genie, Billie feels like a fish out of water—until she is welcomed by the magazine’s colorful staff. She is also seduced by the vibrant downtown food scene, especially by Fontanari’s, the famous Italian food shop where she works on weekends. Then Delicious! is abruptly shut down, but Billie agrees to stay on in the empty office, maintaining the hotline for reader complaints in order to pay her bills.

To Billie’s surprise, the lonely job becomes the portal to a miraculous discovery. In a hidden room in the magazine’s library, Billie finds a cache of letters written during World War II by Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, to the legendary chef James Beard. Lulu’s letters provide Billie with a richer understanding of history, and a feeling of deep connection to the young writer whose courage in the face of hardship inspires Billie to comes to terms with her fears, her big sister and her ability to open her heart to love.


I picked this up at Book Con 2015.

I loved this story. I wish it came with some of the meals mentioned. Instead of scratch and sniff stickers I want read and eat books. It’s also a good history lesson, learning about the food during World War II, with the rationing. I loved the way Lulu was so resourceful using pumpkin leaves, growing a garden, and finding milkweed in the wild.

It wasn’t just the talk of food that I loved. The hidden room in the library is a dream of mine. I was so engulfed in the mystery of the letters from Lulu, as well as the scavenger hunt on the index cards that Bertie created.

I also loved the group of friends that became Billie’s family. I became attached to them. No surprise here, I especially loved the Italians: the Fontanari and the Cappuzzelli families. Those names are so much fun to say.

Another thing I thought was an important part was the subject of how during WWII there was such a deep prejudice against anything Italian that, in some parts of the U.S., spaghetti, lasagna, and other pastas were considered “enemy food”.
Your loss, prejudice jerks. Italians have the best food in the world. I am not being bias.

(I need to read more WWII historical fiction books that focus on Italy and Italian Americans.)

I liked the way it ended. I don’t want to spoil it so I’ll be very cryptic, I felt the way it left off with a certain character was realistic, and there is still a chance for Billie to write her book, one day when she is an older woman.

My one critique is that in the real world the publication would have transferred Billie to an office to deal with the Delicious! Guarantee. Or it would have been the responsibility of the customer service department at another publication. But then that would defeat the whole point of finding the secret room and reading the letters while alone in that big mansion. Which was cool and mysterious because the mansion had it’s own history and story.

I am glad that some recipes are included (maybe I’ll try to make them, though that gingerbread cake sounds complicated!), as well as a conversation between Ruth Reichl and Emily Giffin, and a reader’s guide.

4.5 out of 5 Gingerbread Cakes.



Top Ten Tuesday – August 22: Books To Complement A History Lesson

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

August 22: Back To School Freebie: anything “back to school” related like 10 favorite books I read in school, books I think should be required reading, Required Reading For All Fantasy Fans, required reading for every college freshman, Books to Pair With Classics or Books To Complement A History Lesson, books that would be on my classroom shelf if I were a teacher, etc.

Most of these are from the World War II era, because I read a lot of those. Each WWII book I picked presents a different POV of Europe during the war. I snuck a few others in there as well. I guess I’ll start in chronological order.

Jacobite rebellion 1700s:
1. The Winter Sea, by Susanna Kearsley
In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.

Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.

But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth—the ultimate betrayal—that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her.

The Roaring 1920s:
2. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
THE GREAT GATSBY, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.

The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature.

I actually did a project for this when I was in high school. We were reading it in English class and at the same time we were broken up into groups. Each group had to research a particular topic (food, music, fashion, news events, etc.) of what was popular at the time, then present that topic in front of the class as a skit. I was in the fashion group.

World War II 1940s:
3.Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys.
In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina’s father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.

Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive.

It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?
Between Shades of Gray is a riveting novel that steals your breath, captures your heart, and reveals the miraculous nature of the human spirit.

Born and raised in Michigan, Ruta Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee. The nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia disappeared from maps in 1941 and did not reappear until 1990. As this is a story seldom told, Ruta wanted to give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives during Stalin’s cleansing of the Baltic region.

4. Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.

5. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

6. Anna and the Swallow Man, by Gavriel Savit
Kraków, 1939. A million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Łania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She’s alone.

And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see.

The Swallow Man is not Anna’s father—she knows that very well—but she also knows that, like her father, he’s in danger of being taken, and like her father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced. She follows him into the wilderness.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgment, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man.

7. The One Man, by Andrew Gross

1944. Physics professor Alfred Mendl is separated from his family and sent to the men’s camp, where all of his belongings are tossed on a roaring fire. His books, his papers, his life’s work. The Nazis have no idea what they have just destroyed. And without that physical record, Alfred is one of only two people in the world with his particular knowledge. Knowledge that could start a war, or end it.
Nathan Blum works behind a desk at an intelligence office in Washington, DC, but he longs to contribute to the war effort in a more meaningful way, and he has a particular skill set the U.S. suddenly needs. Nathan is fluent in German and Polish, he is Semitic looking, and he proved his scrappiness at a young age when he escaped from the Polish ghetto. Now, the government wants him to take on the most dangerous assignment of his life: Nathan must sneak into Auschwitz, on a mission to find and escape with one man.

The One Man, a historical thriller from New York Times bestseller Andrew Gross, is a deeply affecting, unputdownable series of twists and turns through a landscape at times horrifyingly familiar but still completely compelling.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley


In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.

Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.

But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth—the ultimate betrayal—that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her.


Picked this gem up at Book Con 2015.

I loved The Winter Sea and couldn’t put it down. I cried so hard at the “first ending”. I couldn’t see through my tears!

The past and present were interwoven flawlessly. (I loved the geneology aspect too.)
The setting was haunting. The prose was so poetic and I really felt the atmosphere of Slains Castle and Scotland.

I loved that the modern day romance was light and unproblematic. There was a slight love triangle between Carrie and two brothers, but it was not silly and immature.

I was happy to finally see a hero (Moray) actually go for the woman he loves and didn’t play the “I’m too dangerous for you” card.

I love when the authors tell you what research they did and what liberties they took for their fiction. The book I read before this one was The Freemasons’s Daughter so I can’t help compare the two. The Freemason’s Daughter takes place during the 1714 attempt, but tells little to nothing about the planning.

The Winter Sea tells the story about the failed 1708 Jacobite invasion and it tells it well. The character Sophia is not kept in the dark so we are aware of the political scheming, the betrayals, the Union, and the details about the plans to bring King James to Scotland. I learned a lot about the Jacobites.

This is why I love historical fiction. I love history but reading a non-fiction book can be so boring and bogged down with too many dates and names (especially when it’s the same name passed onto the children). But write it like a novel, show me a story, then you have my full attention.

4.5 out 5 White Sails.