Review: The Great Quake by Henry Fountain

Review: The Great Quake by Henry FountainThe Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet by Henry Fountain
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 288
Published by Crown Publishing Group (NY) on August 8th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

In the tradition of Erik Larson's Isaac's Storm, a riveting narrative about the biggest earthquake in recorded history in North America--the 1964 Alaskan earthquake that demolished the city of Valdez and obliterated the coastal village of Chenega--and the scientist sent to look for geological clues to explain the dynamics of earthquakes, who helped to confirm the then controversial theory of plate tectonics. On March 27, 1964, at 5:36 p.m., the biggest earthquake ever recorded in North America--and the second biggest ever in the world, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale--struck Alaska, devastating coastal towns and villages and killing more than 130 people in what was then a relatively sparsely populated region. In a riveting tale about the almost unimaginable brute force of nature, New York Times science journalist Henry Fountain, in his first trade book, re-creates the lives of the villagers and townspeople living in Chenega, Anchorage, and Valdez; describes the sheer beauty of the geology of the region, with its towering peaks and 20-mile-long glaciers; and reveals the impact of the quake on the towns, the buildings, and the lives of the inhabitants. George Plafker, a geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey with years of experience scouring the Alaskan wilderness, is asked to investigate the Prince William Sound region in the aftermath of the quake, to better understand its origins. His work confirmed the then controversial theory of plate tectonics that explained how and why such deadly quakes occur, and how we can plan for the next one.

My Review:

The heart of the book The Great Quake, is literally the great quake itself. The narrative, based on interviews with survivors and with the geologist who ended up making the quake his life’s work (and a bit vice versa) come literally at the 50% mark of the book.

What comes before and after is a layperson’s guide to the geology that causes earthquakes and the development of the scientific theories that surround earthquakes in specific and the movement of the continents in general. For those of us who remember “plate tectonics” as being settled science when we were in high school, it’s a revelation to discover that it wasn’t settled at all until after the scientists did their deep dives into the study of this particular quake, and all the destruction it left in its wake.

And for those of us who have ever lived in an earthquake zone, the building standards that make it much more likely that we will survive an individual quake, even if all our stuff knocks off the walls, owes its research and development to the study of this particular quake as well.

The Good Friday Earthquake, as it is still sometimes referred to, especially in Alaska, was the second most powerful earthquake ever recorded. While the loss of both life and property was relatively small in absolute terms, thanks to Alaska’s rather small population in 1964, it still destroyed two towns completely (Chenega and Valdez) and wrecked parts of Anchorage, Seward, Cordova and many others. The tsunamis it generated wreaked havoc along the Pacific coast on both sides of the ocean, down to California on the eastern side and all the way to Japan on the western shore.

And in some ways, its aftershocks are still being felt today.

Reality Rating B: I picked this book up because I lived in Alaska between 2002 and 2005. We lived near Earthquake Park, the land that is left after everything closer to the water dropped and fell in. I worked for the University of Alaska Anchorage on Alaska’s Digital Archive, a statewide project to digitize photographs of the history of Alaska, and if there was one thing that both the UAA collection and the Anchorage Municipal Museum had lots of pictures of, it was the results of that earthquake.

The book itself packs a lot of information about geology and the development of the theory of plate tectonics into settled science into layperson’s language, and wraps it around the story of the quake and its aftermath.

A lot of things changed in Alaska because of the Good Friday Earthquake. The town of Chenega was wiped out. Valdez was too, but because Valdez was on the mainland, and on the road system, and because it is one of the few ports in Alaska that is warm-water all year round, it was rebuilt inland.

The survivors’ stories from both of those places, particularly their accounts of the earthquake itself and the immediately following events, are harrowing and traumatic, and keep the reader riveted to the page.

However, the first third of the book is mostly scientific discussion. It’s all understandable to the non-scientist reader, and it definitely serves as background for what comes later, but there’s not a lot of human interest in that section. It does however talk a lot about the development and eventual proving of, among other things, plate tectonics, and that first third moves at about the speed of, well, plate tectonics.

Once you hit the story where the pork and beans are flying like shrapnel, it’s a wild and rollicking ride from there onwards, and completely absorbing. Readers who have any interest in geology, natural disasters, earthquakes and/or Alaska will find The Great Quake to be a fascinating read.

There’s a stand of trees on the Seward Highway that used to be up on the cliff above. The earthquake dropped the entire stand into the saltwater of Cook Inlet, where they stand today. They are dead, killed by the saltwater they now stand in. But they remain as ghostly sentinels to the power of that quake.

Stacking the Shelves (112)

Stacking the Shelves

If these weren’t all ebooks, I’d need to have my head examined. (Yes, I know, even more than I do now)

We are moving back to Atlanta in two weeks, and the point is usually to reduce the amount of stuff that has to be transported. Instead, I’m stocking up on reading material for the trip. I can’t wait until we start picking out audiobooks for the long drive. We’ll just have to play them loud enough to drown out the complaints from the cats in the backseat!

For Review:
An Affair Downstairs (Thornbrook Park #2) by Sherri Browning
Blade on the Hunt (Rowan Summerwaite #3) by Lauren Dane
The Blue and the Grey (Grand & Batchelor #1) by MJ Trow
Come Home for Christmas, Cowboy (Montana Born Christmas #5) by Megan Crane
The Deepest Night (Longest Night #2) by Kara Braden
Diamond Head by Cecily Wong
Falling from the Light (Night Runner #2) by Regan Summers
Garrett (Cold Fury Hockey #2) by Sawyer Bennett
Hungry Like the Wolf (SWAT #1) by Paige Tyler
Hunter of Sherwood: The Red Hand (Guy of Gisburne #2) by Toby Venables
Hush Hush (Tess Monaghan #12) by Laura Lippman
The Importance of Being Alice (Ainslie Brothers #1) by Katie MacAlister
It Must Be Your Love (Sullivans #11) by Bella Andre
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy
The Marriage Charm (Brides of Bliss County #2) by Linda Lael Miller
Pleasantville by Attica Locke
Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Years: Japan by Vasudev Murthy
Surrender (Devil’s Den #1) by Violetta Rand
Tales of the Alaska State Troopers by Peter B. Mathiesen
The Ultimate Guide to Sex After Fifty by Joan Price

Purchased from Amazon:
Hunter of Sherwood: Knight of Shadows (Guy of Gisburne #1) by Toby Venables
Thornbrook Park (Thornbrook Park #1) by Sherri Browning

Borrowed from the Library:
Baltimore Blues (Tess Monaghan #1) by Laura Lippman
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
The Devil in the Marshalsea (Tom Hawkins #1) by Antonia Hodgson
Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert

Stacking the Shelves (108)

Stacking the Shelves

I love it when the stacks are short and sweet!

StoryBundle logoA couple of notes about this week’s stack; I also bought the Urban Fantasy Bundle from the marvelous people at StoryBundle. This time round it’s a collection of urban fantasy stories in well-known series by equally well-known authors, including the Bigfoot Stories by Jim Butcher, and the first-time-ever ebook edition of Elizabeth Bear’s Whiskey and Water.

Also on the list is an oldie but hopefully still goodie. Open Road Media has created a terrific business by producing ebook editions of/for authors of contemporary classics who have managed to obtain their rights back. I read Leon Uris’ Exodus at my grandparents’ apartment when I was in high school; I still have the half-torn hardcover. But I loved it then, so I’m curious to see how well it wears. And of course the ebook copy won’t get any wear and tear at all.

For Review:
Idol of Bone (Looking Glass Gods #1) by Jane Kindred
Night Shift by Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Lisa Shearing and Milla Vane

Purchased from Amazon:
Alaska Traveler: Dispatches from America’s Last Frontier by Dana Stabenow
Exodus by Leon Uris
Wildfire at Dawn (Firehawks #2) by M.L. Buchman

Borrowed from the Library:
City of the Lost by Stephen Blackmoore
Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality by Jo Becker

Drowning Mermaids

If you’ve ever watched The Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel, then you have an inkling of just how dangerous crab fishing in Alaska can be. The crab fishing season out of the small town of Soldotna is just part of the setting of Drowning Mermaids by Nadia Scrieva.

The dangers of the sea are more than the usual in this first book of Ms. Scrieva’s new Sacred Breath series. Those dangers also include predatory and dangerous mer-people. In Ms. Scrieva’s paranormal version of events, the Bermuda Triangle disappearance are merely collateral damage of some age-old clan warfare under the sea.

The first person to drown in Drowning Mermaids isn’t a mermaid. The man was a crewmember on Captain Trevain Murphy’s Fishin’ Magician. But Leo was the first man that Trevain has lost in all his years as captain, and he doesn’t understand what went wrong. There was no storm, and Leo was a greenhorn, but not that green. The boy wasn’t drunk or over-tired. He just seems to have fallen overboard for no good reason.

The crew are drowning their sorrows, at the local strip joint when Trevain’s world takes a turn from the morose into the fantastic. A dancer steps onto the rickety stage, not to do the usual bump-and-grind, but to perform 14 minutes of mind-altering, heart stopping ballet. She does still strip at the end. It’s required. And she is unquestionably beautiful. And seems unbearably young to the fifty-plus Trevain. But her dancing is what speaks to his sorrow and confusion.

His brother, the ne’er-do-well Callder, notices that Trevain and the dancer, Aazuria, steal glances throughout the evening once her dance is over. He clumsily arranges for them to talk. Aazuria seems an old soul in a very young face. Trevain is the only person she wants to talk to.

Because Aazuria is not the girl she appears to be. Far from it. She is the Princess of Adlivun, one of the undersea kingdoms, and has lived most of her life in the waters under the Arctic. She is also over 600 years old. Trevain is the only person who talks to her as an intelligent person and not as just a beautiful body.

Not that he’s not interested in that too, but he’s gentleman enough to believe that since she can’t possibly be interested in him, he doesn’t want to look like an old fool chasing after a young girl. He’s happy with the intelligent conversation.

Trevain is generous and kind to Aazuria, expecting nothing in return except friendship. He has no idea who she is, or what she is.

What he doesn’t know is that her people are at war, and that she is on land for her safety. And that her war is about to crash into his coast, sweeping his life into the rocks. If he can manage to give up every single one of his preconceived notions about himself and the world, he can have his heart’s desire.

Or he can be alone and bitter for the rest of his life.

Escape Rating C+: I’m a sucker for stories set in Alaska, after living there for three years. Some parts of the setting were familiar. The whole thing about people coming to Alaska for the very high wages, and then getting stuck because the prices are equally high, that rings so true. And the place gets in your blood. If you can make the adjustment to the dark in the winter.

About the story. On the one hand, I kept turning pages, because I really wanted to see how the author made it all work out. There are not a lot of mermaid paranormal romance stories in general, and usually they use the siren theme. This one didn’t, and I was glad of that. It’s always good to see someone take a different road. Or sea lane, in this case.

I liked that Trevain and Aazuria did a twist on the older woman/younger man theme, since they are but aren’t.  But they also unfortunately hit the insta-love, or at least the insta-connection thing a bit too hard. Trevain invites someone he sees as a girl working in a strip joint to move in with him, along with all her sisters, during their first meeting. Even in small-town Alaska, that’s just not likely.

On that third invisible hand there’s a family sub-plot involving Trevain’s mother that is heart-breaking. And it’s a twist you don’t quite see coming.

Nadia will be awarding a “Drowning Mermaids” beer mug to one randomly drawn commenter on the tour as well as bookmarks to randomly drawn commenters at every stop. So please comment for you chance to win Mermaid bookmarks and maybe even a chance to drown your sorrows with a Mermaid beer mug!


House hunting is not for sissies

Galen and I have moved 4 times in last 10 years.  This move will be our fifth.  And for anyone at the Evergreen Users Conference who has already heard a part of this saga, apologies in advance for the deja vu.  I’ll try to be funnier.

We have moved from Chicago to Anchorage to Tallahasse to Chicago to Gainesville and now, to Atlanta.  We keep saying this is an adventure.  Well, one classic definition of adventure usually involves something horrible and nasty happening to someone else, either long ago, far away, or both.  But it is an adventure.  The bad parts always make a great story–later.  Sometimes much, much later.

When you move to or from Alaska, you move by weight, not by volume.  I know it sounds like a bag of potato chips, but it’s true.  This is how I know we have nearly two tons of books, and we really need to get rid of some.  This is also how we decided, firmly and forever, that we hire movers to pack us.  Leaving Chicago, the first time out, we had a third floor walk up apartment.  Those movers earned their pay, getting all those books down those stairs.  The apartment was great, but getting stuff in and out was painful.

Anchorage was fantastic, but we learned a couple of lessons about living spaces that we’ve retained.  We really need a bath and a half if we can afford them.  And we learned not to share living space if we can afford not to.  The house was a two-flat, where the owner had split the house himself.  We lived on the main floor, and he and his wife lived below us.  They ran their dogs in the backyard.  The dogs served as an early warning system for the moose who used to come up from the creek, so we knew when to look out back to see the moose.  Very cool.  What was not cool was that we could hear their marriage break up.  Not doing that again.  When we moved out, we found boxes in the garage that we hadn’t unpacked from Chicago.  We mostly threw that stuff out, except for the huge jar of coins–that we went to dinner on.  We figured that if we hadn’t needed it in two and a half years, we didn’t.  We also learned that it’s a bad idea for us to have storage we can’t see.  We forget about it, and then it has babies or something.

When we moved from Anchorage to Tallahassee, we flew out of Anchorage with the cats, our suitcases, and nothing else.  We sold our car on the way out of Alaska because it cost 6 car payments to ship, and it just wasn’t worth it.  We hadn’t made a trip down to find a place, because there just wasn’t time.  Our stuff was six weeks behind us.  We stayed at a pet-friendly hotel, bought a car, and found a house to rent.  Then we camped out in our new house and waited for our stuff to arrive.  And waited.  And waited.  After a while, we got to like the minimalist lifestyle and were kind of hoping that the stuff would get permanently lost.

The second time around in Chicago we rented a coachhouse.  If you are not familiar with older city architorture, a coachhouse is what you get if you convert the garage into rental property.  So we had a little house behind the house.  What we didn’t have was a washer and dryer.  We shared with the house, which was a three-flat.  Four households sharing one washer and dryer does not happiness make.  So we’re not doing that again either.  But we love Chicago and miss the city.  Any chance to go back and visit is a good one.

In Gainesville we have a huge barn of a house.  We have more space than we need, because we rented the house to hold the books, and we still haven’t unpacked the end of the alphabet.  In, again, two point five years.

I spent a day and a half with an agent going around the northeast Atlanta suburbs searching for a 3 plus bedroom house with at least 1.5 baths that would willingly take us plus four cats.  The cats are usually the deal-breaker.  People don’t mind renting to two adults, even with two cats, but any number past two cats makes some landlords think we’ve lost our minds.  Which is possible, but that ship has already sailed.

House hunting is hard work, even if you are just renting.  I was dragged all over the place.  Half the houses that appeared to be available, were already under contract.  People didn’t call back.  Some looked okay in the picture, but were not okay in the “flesh”.  And it takes time, time, time.  Every place that didn’t pan out, I kept thinking “why isn’t this process more efficient”, but there’s no substitute for looking for yourself.  And, Murphy’s Law is in full force.  The house we made an offer on is the first one I looked at.  But I wouldn’t have known it was the best if I hadn’t seen second best, not to mention tenth best, which had the driveway leading up to Hades, and mustard yellow kitchen cabinets.