The Book Worm: Death, haunts and the haunted

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“Dallas 1963”

By Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis

c. 2013, Twelve

$28/$31 Canada

373 pages

Let’s say you want to stir up a little something.

Start with three cups of quiet collaboration. Add in a dash of rumor; a teaspoon each of anti-Semitism, segregation, and Red Scare; and a tablespoon of divisive politics. Stir in money lots of it and bake in a 10-gallon hat for three-and-a-half years.

Yields: heated arguments and mouthfuls of hate.

And as you’ll see in the new book “ Dallas 1963” by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis, that’s a recipe for changing history.

When the holiday cards arrived at the homes of Dallas’s “most influential residents,” there was confusion and consternation.

Signed “Best Jack,” the cards featured then-Senator John Kennedy and his family on the front. The subtle, assumed message was that Kennedy would run for president, which concerned Dallas’s powerbrokers including the world’s richest man, a minister, and a newspaperman.

It was January 1960. Dallas had been steadfastly ignoring Brown v. Board and other unpopular Washington edicts; a liberal Democrat in office was unthinkable. No, the city’s powerful firmly supported Nixon for the upcoming election.

But best-laid plans can be changed by the smallest events. When a Texas politician gathered protestors for a Dallas appearance by Lyndon Johnson just before the election, violence erupted and national cameras captured normally-genteel women spitting at the VP-candidate and his frightened wife. Horrified on-the-fence voters nationwide cast their ballots accordingly.

But “hatred” for Kennedy wasn’t limited to Dallas.

Southerners widely detested his stance on race relations. Conservatives feared his Catholicism would make him “more devoted to the Pope than to the American Constitution.” Many thought he was weak, since he seemed reluctant to utilize nuclear weapons against Russia.

Those and other issues plagued Kennedy’s time in the White House, but he was determined to run again for office. He and the Democrats knew, however, that winning Texas in the 1964 election had to start in Dallas so they sent Adlai Stevenson there in October 1963, to pave the way. But after witnessing riots and being spat upon, Stevenson “privately” questioned Kennedy’s plans to visit Dallas .

He “was very concerned about Kennedy’s safety in the city ”

In light of recent events in Washington , I found “ Dallas 1963” to be doubly interesting: deep political divisiveness; dicey overseas relations; and a president who wants social change, causing accusations of lack of concern for the country’s well-being.

Sound familiar?

But why was JFK assassinated in Dallas, of all places? Authors Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis answer that question, as they take a look at the emotions, beliefs, and social mores of the times. This narrative starts in 1960 and ends with a bullet - and even though we know what happened, getting to that last point is squirmy: my heart pounded. I wanted to yell, “watch out!”

When you can immerse yourself like that in a book, it’s always a good sign which is why I recommend this one. For fans of politics, history, or anyone desiring to somehow mark this inauspicious anniversary, “ Dallas 1963” has the ingredients for a very absorbing read.

And, of course, this isn’t the only book to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. You might also look for “End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy” by James Swanson; or “Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House” by Robert Dallek.

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“This House is Haunted”

By John Boyne

c. 2013, Other Press

$14.95/$24.95 Canada

293 pages

Everything checked out fine.

You made a sweep of the house at bedtime, nothing amiss. Security, check. No problems, check, and you locked the door.

Didn’t you? When you jolted awake at three o’dark in the morning, hearing something that wasn’t there, you wondered. Are you alone? Safe? Or, as in the new book “This House is Haunted” by John Boyne, do you have unseen company?

Charles Dickens killed Eliza Caine’s father. That was where she squarely laid the blame. Father had had a cough for some time, but he insisted he was well enough to go listen to Dickens read from his latest novel. Unable to deny her father this pleasure, Eliza relented and they walked to the speaker’s hall on a chilly night but between illness and the dreadful London weather, her father was dead within days.

Orphaned at age 21, Eliza had no friends and no suitors. Knowing that she had inherited neither her mother’s beauty nor her father’s handsomeness, she accepted spinsterhood, though she did love children and had loved working as a teacher of small girls at a nearby school. Still, she had never felt so alone.

And then she saw the advert, and made a rash, impulsive decision.

One “H. Bennet” from Gaudlin Hall was looking for a governess for two young children, a position that needed to be filled immediately. Gaudlin Hall was in the county of Norfolk, and though Eliza had never been outside London, the job seemed to be just the change she needed.

She had scarcely gotten to the depot when odd things began to happen. Strong hands tried to push her in front of a train, but no one was standing nearby. Friendly townspeople turned away in fright when she told them where she’d be employed. And though the children, eight-year-old Eustace and 12-year-old Isabella, were little dears, Eliza thought it strange that adults were missing from Gaudlin Hall.

Never a shrinking violet, Eliza began to ask questions and, in answer, heard tales of madness and murder, things best left unspoken, and a mother with a deadly vow. That alone might’ve scared Eliza away, but then the ghostly hands returned and with them, a fight for her life.

Set in Victorian England, “This House is Haunted” possesses the important ingredients for a classic ghost story. There’s a musty castle, gloomy weather, an evil presence, a proper governess, and creepy little kids. Yep, it’s all there.

The twist is in the details that author John Boyne offers.

Pay careful attention, and you’ll see tiny dashes of modern-type scandal. There’s a strong female character who dares to go against the expectations of her day. Boyne even hides bits of humor inside this story, all of which makes this novel one that Dickens himself might envy.

Readers who favor the classics will count this among their new favorites. Novel lovers will love it for its seasonal creepiness. If you crave both fright and delight this week, “This House is Haunted” is a book to check out.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was three years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

© 2013 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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