When I read Jeannette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle I believed that I had read the ultimate survival story of an adolescent growing up in a completely dysfunctional family.  Survival is the word that continues to come to mind when reflecting on Walls’ wonderful book that since its publication in 2005, continues to be a best seller. See

That preamble leads me to the discovery in my library of a volume which must have been left over from one of my children’s required reading lists, Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life.


First published in 1989, this memoir is another detailed account of a youngster’s struggle to survive under the most bazaar family circumstances. Toby’s mother, just like Jeannette Walls’, is a nomad, seeking a better life and fortune , always where the grass may be greener.  Unlike Walls’ , Toby’s mother leaves his father and moves from man to man finally ending up in rural Washington living with a despicable and violent drunk.  Each chapter will make the reader into a believer of the survival tactics that children adopt to conquer  insurmountable obstacles.

If this memoir has escaped your reading list, don’t delay. After you  have read the book you may wish to Netflix the highly acclaimed 1993 movie This Boy’s Life starring a very young Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. 

Tobias’ brother Geoffrey who stayed his father in Connecticut, had a very different upbringing from Toby ( Choate/Princeton). He is an important character in This Boy’s Life . He also became an author having written among other novels Duke of Deception in 1979 and The Age of Consent in 1995.

This Boy’s Life ends with Toby leaving ,or better said in the context of the memoir, escaping for the war in Vietnam.  His experiences are detailed in his second memoir Pharaoh’s Army, Memoirs of the Lost War.


Dark Fire is the second  of the Matthew Shardlake Mystery Series written by the acclaimed historical fiction novelist C.J. Sansom.  If one is looking for a painless way to enjoy the history of Tudor England ( Henry VIII)  read all of this wonderful Sansom series which begins with Dissolution and currently ends with Heartstone.


The search for the secret of Dark Fire, desperately sought by Thomas Cromwell on behalf of Henry VIII ,leads  lawyer Shardlake through the perils of  multiple murders and further intrigue.  Anne Boleyn has already been beheaded and  Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry , is about to be dethroned in favor of  Catherine Howard.  Amidst the turmoil of the king’s wives, Cromwell seeks to protect his own position by providing the monarchy with the formula for Dark-Fire, an ancient form of flame thrower, which in its day, in warfare,  was akin to a modern-day nuclear missile.  He turns to Shardlake to unravel the mystery and find this weapon for the king.

As is usual with Sansom, there is a parallel plot, this time involving  Shardlake trying to keep a young woman falsely accused of murder from death by torture, of course in the Tower of London.

Dark Fire is a highly recommended  gordonsgoodread!  If you are new to Sansom pick up his work and read them in the following order: Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation and Heartstone.  Overviews of these Sansom books can be searched at


Finish these and you will be a well-informed conversationalist regarding Tudor England.The  Sansom novels present history and humanity folded together in perfect form.