Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Books Update Review of "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet"

I've not been posing my comments or book reviews but merely adding my reads to the side bars.  Life has kept me far too  busy in too many areas and so somethings had to go.  However I have been actively reading through my stacks, new purchases and books chosen by our book club, so  take a look at my  sidebar where the reads and authors will show up.  Later I will review another great read, "Blind Your Ponies" by Stanley G West, a  Minnesotta author who has a talent for great wriitng and outstanding character development.  Our book club selected  "Blind Your Ponies", the title derived from an Indian legend, for October; at first I grumbled, "oh phooey  a novel about highschool boys!"  I was so taken in that I devoured it in over 4  nights, it is a huge book but I was captured immediately about basketball, the small town in Montana and the use of Don Quixote analogies by the central character.  Since we will not discuss it until October I will hold my comments.  Be satisfied to know that I  have added Guest as another author to read more from, he writes literature rather than a book, which is one of my criteria  in reading.  

Another  excellent read I finished last month is Jamie Ford's "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and  Sweet" that was marked so cheap at Border's going out of business sale in PA I could not resist it.  I recall Sandy telling me that it was the  2011 chosen read by the Woodland, CA  community and at that time it rang familiar; I was sure  I'd read it, I was wrong.  This is the beauty of book stores and sales where one can pick up a book and  browse the pages, something not available in quite the same way online or on those  automatic reader things; well I recognized the story line and quickly recalled that for some  reason I'd not read this book published back in 2009 in paperback by Random House.  So it went into my sack and what a great buy it turned out to be.  I do prefer non-fiction, political discourse, biographies and or history  to fiction or novels unless I am reading for brain drain occasionally.  I suppose  that when I did not read this before I had something more interesting in the non-fiction genre to  take up my time.   When I read good fiction like this considered literary and I learn something, I consider it time well spent, not just dusting off the cobwebs of the brain cells.  I also  appreciate the research by the author to get historic details correct and a perspective of the times. .

I am glad I read it this time when it showed up in front of me.It is  set in  about 1942 in Seattle, WA and is the tale of Henry Lee a young Chinese boy, a back look through Henry's life whose wife has been terminally ill, Henry recalls life in Chinatown and his father who insisted he be Chinese, not mistaken as Japanese. His father wants him to get an American education but will insist that he be sent off to China for final years of schooling.  Henry gets a scholarship to an English elementary school where he meets Keiko, a young Japanese girl also chosen by scholarship which is stretching the word because both Henry and Keiko are  serfs at best  in the kitchen under the heavy arm and eye of Mrs Beatty.

 I am  familiar with Asian sects, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Hmong  and know something about differences in their cultures and even the differences among the same culture  for example Chinese Cantonese compared to Mandarin.  I also  understand the various prejudices and prides  among the cultures. So I readily understood Henry's Chinese father making him wear a button sign to school, "I am Chinese"  as World War II looms.  Keiko who is an American born lives in Japantown.   A deep bond develops between Henry and Keiko but the resettlement of the Japanese to interment camps after Pearl Harbor eventually separates them.  Before that happens, Henry who is very interested in Jazz music, smuggles Keiko into a black jazz  nightclub and there the two children see some of the rising prejudice against the Japanese.  While the book is fiction,  the places are real, the Panama Hotel, Bud's Jazz Records in Seattle, and more.

Characters and writing are excellent in this book, besides the two there are several other memorable Marty, Henry's son; Ethel, Henry's dying wife; his father and mother parents who absolutely love their only son; Keiko's parents, Mr and Mrs Okabe; Mrs. Beatty who turns from villain to helpmate, Chaz an American boy who torments Henry,  Sheldon the black street musician and so many more who weave through his life.  It is a grand sad story with  a certain bitter sweet ending.  A good read for a couple evenings at only 285 pages and then a Reader's Guide discussion with the author.  

Great lines among the many on the pages:
pg. 4  But in the end, each of them occupied a solitary grave.  Alone forever.  It didn't matter who your neighbors were.  They didn't talk back.

pg. 5. Maybe the clock was ticking?  He wasn't sure, because as soon as Ethel passed, time began to crawl, clock or no he was, alone in a crowd of strangers.  A man between lifetimes. 

pg. 9.  I try not to live in the past, he thought, but who knows, sometimes the past lives in  me.

pg .34. ..choosing to lovingly care for her was like steering a plane into a mountain as gently as possible.  The crash is imminent; it's how you spend your time on the way down that counts.

pg. 36.  The International District was just a small town.  People know everything about everyone.  And just as in other small towns, when someone leaves, they never come back.

pg. 64.  ..a lot of people just don't  want to go back.  Sometimes that's the best thing to do--to live in the leave something behind.  To move on and live the future and not relive the past.

pg. 127.  This is where he lives but it will never be his home.

pg. 128. ..sigh of disappointment.  A consolation prize, of coming in second and having nothing to show for it.  Of coming up empty; having wasted your time, because in the end, what you do and who you are, doesn't matter one lousy bit.  Nothing does.

pg. 204.  His father had said once that the hardest choices in life aren't between what's right and what's wrong but between what's right and what's best.   

A good book, somewhat historical, somewhat romantic, somewhat fatalistic.  It would be a good movie with the right characters but then a movie never has the depth of the written words in the book.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Aches, Medicare and 3 Books

Later today or this eve I will get to my Sepia Sat posts, but for now I need to cool off inside.  I am just in from my too late in the morning walk, because the morning  sun was hot and temperature was 83 at 8:00AM; nevertheless I sweated out my  nearly 45 minute  walk including uphills and came back beet red faced and sweaty.  So it is time to cool down inside before I clean up and attack the rest of the day. 

We have usually Chamber of Commerce summer weather here in  southeast MN,  80 degrees and clear blue skies (no smog or pollution) is just fine with me.  But today and tomorrow until a thunder storm approaches we face the 90's and that feels hot.  Jerry reminds me "no sun filter here."   I am not a fan of hot weather anyway which is one reason we left CA and the hot "but dry", they claim Sacramento area scorches of 100 degrees on up.  Don't kid me  dry or not, 100 is hot. 

I have been recovering from back strain or sprain  from excessive vigorous weeding and that  bothersome right Achilles tendon again, so  I have a couple ice bags to use across neck, shoulders, and down the back and then on the tendon.  Although this week's  annual  check up at the doctor finds me good to go, the aging parts act up and take their time to heal.  The Achilles tendon shall remain  one of those chronic troublesome aging things, treatment would be worse as it would involve wearing a destabilizing boot on that foot,  and as the song goes, "fuhgedaboutit!"  Spell check wants to correct that word to skateboard.:-)

This week I received a strange bill for $17 for the balance on  my mammogram  from the Mayo clinic where we get our health care.  That service has always been fully covered between Medicare and my  supplemental insurance so I thought this worth a phone call to the billing office.  I learned that  this was from 2010 which I had not noticed on the statement and that Medicare, despite all it does not do let alone efficiently, is going back and reprocessing claims from some time ago, making adjustments and causing general mayhem for doctor's billing offices and I suppose for the poor unaware folks  who are generally baffled by all medical paperwork.  The woman told me to disregard the bill that the computer sends these out and it needed to catch up to the prior payment by my  supplemental insurance.  She also warned me that I might receive other bills and to question or ignore them while Medicare churns the paper work.  What a waste of time, resources, and my taxpayer dollars yet still.  I recalled that a few weeks ago I had received a summary claim on Uncle Carl for services last November from the Home Health Agency after he'd been discharged back to the care facility from the hospital.  That one is stranger yet as Medicare had  previously paid the bill for $4200 and now was readjusting and paying $4600 to the provider!  I suspect that seldom happens and the provider is likely delighted.  But the question remains, "Why is Medicare mucking around like this?"  As if they do not have enough to do paying and processing current claims!  The woman I spoke to said they don't know how long this will go on or if Medicare is only doing this in certain regions or what to expect next.  Now isn't that just dandy, more government in action.  I do feel sorry for unsuspecting folks who will be stirred by this process and worry about paying some additional medical bill.  This is one benefit of my career in state government health care financing, I know what's weird when I see it and I am able to navigate billing systems, frustrating as it may be, such knowledge is power.

I finished reading a few more books to add to my side bar.  Just last night, I turned the last page 435 on one of my go to author's David Baldacci, an excellent story teller, "The Camel Club."  I have not ever had a disappointing read by him and in this book different yet again, I think he must be meeting with another of my favorite authors, Vince Flynn.  The Camel Club published in 2005 introduces Oliver Stone and his friends who exist on the fringes of Washington, DC to seek the truth about the country's business.  This is a mystery, thriller, terrorist, suspenseful novel at it's best.  Until I read this,  my  favorite Baldacci  read years ago was "Wish You Well."  Now it is a toss up.  Somehow I had jumped sequence because I first read the second in this venue,  which is not a series,  with the same four characters, charter members of the club, Oliver, Caleb Shaw, Reuben Rhodes, and Milton Farb but in this they join forces with Alex Ford, a secret service agent against a sinister plot of terrorists and ideologues that threaten the stability of the nation and the world.  I don't want to ruin the story for anyone, but this twister kept me glued to the pages and in today's topsy turvy  world with  repetitive crises in the Mid east, this work of fiction could be predictive.

Oliver, whose true identity is revealed in this book, claims they chose camel because camels have great stamina and never give up, but Reuben, reveals  page 432",, in the  1920's there was another Camel Club and at each meeting the members raised their glasses to oppose Prohibition to the last drop of whiskey."   As always Baldacci writes well and introduces spectacular characters. Besides the four, there are ever so many more characters such as Djamila,  a Muslim nanny, an Iranian posing as an Egyptian undercover of her peaceful job;  two sided  secret service agents who bring the country to the brink of the unthinkable; the ideologue Muslims who have infiltrated and settled into unsuspecting areas of employment waiting their moment; Brennan, the President of the United States, who is from a small town outside Pittsburgh, PA where terror manifest,  North Koreans, Carter Gray  the US Intelligence Czar appointed by the President  (this book was written before we had Czars...) and more officials and agents.  Camel Club is suspenseful and  kept me guessing to identify who are the villains and who are the champions and that suspense kept me reading.   Pg.154...."..he became Oliver Stone, a man of silent protest who watched and paid attention to important things...."  Pg. 40 describing the issues faced today, ..."not a war of professional armored battalions vs. turbanned rabble in the streets toting rifles and RPGs.  And it was not simply  a difference of religions.  It was a  battle against a mind-set of how people should conduct their lives, a battle that had political, social, and cultural facets melded together  into an exceedingly complex mosaic of humanity under enormous strain."    Pg. 69.."ignorance and intolerance, in pairs, never  one without its evil twin."  Pgs 100-101  well describe the history of the Muslim and  mideast turmoils  from the Syrians, Chechniyans, Mindanos, Kuwait, Lebanon,  Afghanistan, Morocco, Kurds, Iraquis, Baathists, Taliban, Mali and Senegal and more.   Baldacci has  summarized the escalation of problems the world faces today.   I fully recommend this thriller and as I said, I hope it is not predictive.    

Even though my book club  lately is choosing new best sellers, I  am plowing through my shelf of sale books picked up here and there proving that there are plenty of older books to read.  I read the 197pages of Mitch Albom's  "For One More Day"  from 2006  in an evening.  It is a decent read, nothing spectacular but Albom has established a niche for himself as a spiritual type writer, easy reading with fans who like this sort of book. I admit being intrigued by the story line of the relationship between a mother and son and "what would you do if you could spend one more day with a lost loved one?"  The story is told in  retrospect about Charles "Chick" Benetto  by his adult daughter who says, "because there was a ghost involved, you may call this a ghost story.  But what family isn't a ghost story?  Sharing tales of those we've lost is how we keep from really losing them. "    At one time I used to  save my first edition books, but this is one and not one I will keep.  I do think the old First editions have some value compared to these current quick prints.

And the last for this post, Helen Fielding's,   2003, "Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination" is a mystery with traces of comedy over 306 pages that I enjoyed .  I'd classify it as a chic read with Olivia's antics.  Olivia is a journalist with a reputation for excuses and  difficulties meeting deadlines who meets the handsome Pierre Ferramo, who may be an international playboy or a terrorist.  The cover describes this book  well, "stunning, sexy  and decidedly female a new player has entered the world of international espionage armed with her own pocket survival kit, her Rules for Living, her infamous overactive imagination and a very special underwire bra."     On page 30, we get a glimpse of how Olivia can crank it out when her deadlines loom, "In the capitol of England the worlds of fashion, music, TV, theater, movies, literature, newspapers and politics combine in one small city like a writhing knot of snakes.  In America these areas are separated out into capitals of their own..."  

Olivia's 16 rules for living offer  good advice to get all of them, read the book:
  • #2 No one is thinking about you.  They're thinking about themselves, just like you. 
  •  #10 Only buy clothes that make you feel like doing a small dance.
  • #13 Don't expect the world to be safe or life to be fair. 
  •  #15 Don't regret anything.  Remember there wasn't anything else that could have happened given who you were and the state of the world at that moment.  The only thing you can change is the present, so learn from the past.  
In Olivia the author may have a new sleuth to entertain women readers kind of a  comedic Nancy Drew for  grown ups.  I look forward to more antics and will pass this book along to a friend who will enjoy it. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Catch Up on Reads

I am still catching up on our PA trip and things inside and outside aka  gardening here at home, but I see a stack of books which I have read and not yet listed on this blog.  Well this time I will temporarily skip my reviews and simply post the books to the sidebar.  First along the trip when I was coveting reading time and not finding it, after the funeral and on the way home, I did complete another Vince Flynn book.  Vince is one of my favorite authors and superb writing fiction about terrorism and the ability of the US to prevail, perhaps this restores the good old days of American superiority, a time when our leaders were patriotic and had our country's best interests at heart.  Vince is a MN author and I thank Curt whom we met a few years ago in Branson for recommending him.  American Assasin is one of his latest books about how Mitch Rapp, the Jack Bauer type character became our top notch secret weapon against terrorists.  I found this book hardback at the Salvation Army thrift store in Decatur, IN for only $2.  What a bargain for another thriller that wends back in time to how Rapp is recurited and trained and prevails to become our American champion. 

Sue's Memories of Home by Sue Sword and her work with the Christian Appalachian Project, her childhood in Appalachia amidst poverty when the people had  no realization that they were poor.  This little book was swift reading and at times amusing as the girls venture to the old hermit's home.  I remembered an old lady living in a shack up the hill from step cousin's in PA and how we fancied her some sort of witch.   It is a very quick read and amusing at times. It is also a reminder that we do not need to go half way around the world to find poverty and shower it with our philanthropy; poverty  which exists and thrives in areas  today in this country, and not inner cities. 

Little Princes by Conor Grenan was our book club reading selection, a true story about rescuing the children of Nepal from the child traffickers.  It was OK reading, nothing revealing although the author has his own perspective of being there at a carefree time in his life.  It is about the Little Prince's Home established to rescue these children and return them when possible to their families deep in the mountains.  The families sold off their boys and girls to  these child traffickers thinking they would have a better life; in reality the children were sold off as slaves and worse.  I will be curious what the other women thought about it.  I found it ho hum reading.  Not one I'd have chosen.

The 6th Target  another fiction mystery by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro featuring detective Lindsay Boxer and the Women's Murder Club.   I enjoy mysteries and if I am reading fiction these rank up there.  I remember one of many quotes in this book, "overcrowded like a shot glass stuffed with a fistful of crayons"  page 35 showing the good writing amidst the mystery.  One "insane" shooter on the ferry to Alcatraz turns himself in meanwhile children of the wealthy  in the CA Bay Area are being abducted.  A good twister as Patterson usually writes.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

You  might get tired of hearing this, but I LOVED this book, all 398 pages of the story, 8 pages of Acknowledgements and 50 pages of notes; I do not recall reading a book through  including the notes in recent times or ever other than James Michener's later  books, in fact Laura Hillenbrand, the author reminds me of Michener in style and depth of research.  "Unbroken"  on the best sellers lists currently is the story of Louie Zamperini,  noted runner in the Berlin Olympic games and in 1943 an Army Air Corps  Lieutenant, bombardier on the Green Hornet, a B-24, which is shot down in the Pacific.  Louie, Allen Philips, the pilot and Mac, the tail gunner survive the crash and float on a raft for 46 days before being captured by the Japanese and taken prisoner in May 1943.  Actually Mac does not make it  and is buried at sea by the two men.  I have read much about World War II because of my father but little of my readings have been about the war in the Pacific.  When I first heard this book was in  process I knew I would have to read it because Laura has written only one other book, "Seabiscuit" which I absolutely enjoyed and have kept in my library and I enjoyed her detail and writing and research.  I have likely heard about Louie Zamperini but not paid attention but as I learned that it was a B-24, same plane as my father's I knew I'd b reading this book.

Louie Zamperini
Louie is still alive today at 94 in southern California.    How he or any of the men captured by the Japanese as POW's survived and endured is beyond belief.  As Zeke Jennings wrote in his review of this book,  "Think back to the worst experience of your life. Chances are, it pales in comparison to what Louis Zamperini went through..."  To state that they were tortured is an inadequate understatement and to know that some could and did survive is a testament to human endurance and something greater than all of us.

This book has a great deal of detail and drawings of the B-24's the complexity of those early days of navigation and the problems with that bomber, the best that the US had at the time.  Pages 59-60 describe the early B-24's and the personal qualities needed in men who flew them and by page 61 the research specifies the deadly accidents attributable to that plane in the early days of navigation.  I had learned about the accidents in training and of course lived with that legacy but reading it again gave me chills.  By page 82 the affect of human errors and miscalculations is discussed along with the faulty fuel systems and the fact that the  24's were notorious for fuel leaks; I can relate to that.   On Page 84,  I learned that 52,173 Army Air Corps men were killed in combat in World War II and in the Pacific those flight crews had less than a  50/50 chance of survival.   I learned that by design the B-24's could not ditch  but sank immediately due to their open fuselages.  There were rarely funerals held for the  B-24 crews, rarely  bodies were found and during the Pacific  missions  1/4 of a barracks could be lost at once.  "The men were just gone and that was the end of it."   

But this book is about Louie, his boyhood in Torrance, California, his Olympic triumphs,  his education at USC, his enlistment in World War II, and his captivity, endurance and release and tormented existence following the war where he turns to alcohol and then his  big life release as he is saved at a Billy Graham crusade in southern CA.  It's hard to describe Louie, a man with a sense of humor and determination that sustains him through movements from bad to worse in the Japanese camps, beatings,  isolation,  starvation, and unceasing nightmares.  The Bird, a Japanese soldier, so named by the POWs is Louie's primary menace in the camps and becomes his civilian nightmare.  The Japanese knew of his Olympic fame and enjoyed all the more subduing him.   When  Louie was released and being rehabilitated and ready to be sent  home from Okinawa he is so enjoying meeting up with former colleagues that he asks to stay just a bit longer to  see more of them. He is partying too and enjoying life again, though still battling dysentery and other physcial problems.  Everyone had believed him long dead  because the Japanese never reported that he was held captive and the Red Cross  never verified men in the camps; any man missing was declared dead after 13 months.   Louie got a big kick out of surprising them and watching their faces and hearing their words when they saw him in person!

The horrors and atrocities the  prisoners endured are unimaginable.  That any of them survived is a miracle.  I learned that the POWs in the  Japanese camps were executed  when Allied forces approached, that the Japanese  preferred to kill the men rather than turn them back to their countries.  Pg. 314-315 cite "Japan held  some  132,000 POWs from America, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Holland and Australia.  Of those, nearly  36,000 died, more than one in four.  Americans fared particularly badly: of the 34,648 Americans held by Japan, 12,935--more than 37% died.  By comparison only 1% of Americans  held by Nazis and Italians died. Japan murdered thousands of POWs on death marches, and worked thousands of others to death in slavery..."  Back in civilian life, these men did not get the counseling and treatments pervasive and  given today; what is  known today as Post traumatic  stress was not recognized. That they made it through hell barely prepared them fro their freedom and return to life.   Pg. 349, "Their dignity had been obliterated, replaced with a pervasive sense of shame and worthlessness." But Louie survives and ultimately thrives, marries, has children and outlives his brother,  sisters and wife .  In his 70's he takes up skateboarding and the book includes a photo of him on a skateboard at 81!  He runs the torch in five Olympic games including  one in Japan where he runs it past the former POW camp site.  Louie founds a nonprofit Victory Boys Camp for lost boys whom he takes fishing, swimming, horseback riding, camping and skiing.  One ungovernable boy is such a problem that Louie had to be deputized by a sheriff to gain custody of the boy.

Pg. 384, "Well into his 10th decade of life between the occasional broken bone he could still be seen perched on skis merrily cannonballing down mountains.  He remained infectiously, incorrigibly cheerful..."  He believes that everything happened for a reason  and all things eventually  come to good.    When he contacted Laura to write his story he reasoned that if she could describe an old horse, she could surely tell his tale.  She does this so  eloquently and has chosen the photos and events as carefully as her words.  The Epilogue is very touching  with summaries of the lives of Allen Phillips  and Bill Harris, a marine POW who stays in the Marines and becomes a Lt. Colonel but who disappears in the Korean War in 1950.   

Recently there have been news stories featuring Louie which is timely with the release of this book.  I knew it was one I'd want to read and it is one I will keep and treasure.   I absolutely recommend it.  Resilience, survival, and faith.  As I am  putting this on  my blog as my first completed book read in 2011, I have just learned that Universal Pictures has acquired screen rights to Unbroken.   Wouldn't it be great to see Louie in the film? 

For more about the author, who is a favorite of mine, check out  Wikipedia at

or this link 
and read of her struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome in    A Sudden Illness -- How My Life Changed as published in the New Yorker.  And this link about  her

Friday, December 31, 2010

Last Books of 2010

I know I should have done this before my end of year  New Year greeting, but I didn't and so please go on to the  post following this for New Years Wishes, or simply accept my Happy New Year to  you and yours right here.  These three books are my  last full reads before closing the list of 2010; I seldom post as soon as I finish reading instead waiting till I have time and then adding two or three. All three of these books are winners and opinions will vary among readers.  Those of us who have the avid  lifelong reading habit have different favorite authors and different ways of picking our reads.  My all time preferences are with biographies and non-fiction, but I also enjoy mysteries, espionage, intrigue  and good stories so long as the writing is good.  I am not one  for pablum or what I call comic book reading, for that I'll pick up a magazine.  In backwards  order starting with the book finished a week ago, here they are....

From a fellow Sepia and sometime Magpie contributor, my bloggy friend Vicki Lane's latest is "The Day of Small Things" which fits the bill as a great story, over 413 pages in paperback, small print, well told in the dialect of Appalachia.  The characters are alive on the pages.  The interesting twist to this tale at the end made me ponder, which works best at the time or the situation, Christianity and prayer or the old Indian ways, the little people, the connection to the spirits and sprites? This is the greatest story I have read in a long time and yet it was perfect timing for me to  read her provocative  thoughts like, "our mothers, good or bad, are always with us..."  something like that near the end of the book.  The names of the characters lure the reader through the story,  some are, Least, Lilah Bel, Granny Beck, Mr Aaron, John Goingsnake, Redbird, Calven, Prim, Dorothy, Birdie, Belvy, and the places Dark Holler, Gudger's Stand, well you get the drift it's southern, Appalachian.  The dialect is exceptionally  fitting to the tale and the characters.   This link to Vicki's blog has the review from the Los Angeles Times   Here is the closing paragraph, " It will be late summer when we bury her and the yard grass will have grown knee high.   But the joy of that perfect day, with me and Luther young and happy, comes back to me every time I hang out the laundry or whenever Bernice's boy comes over to cut the grass.  He uses a power mower--that ratchety song is gone forever, I reckon--but the sweet green smell of new mown grass don't never change."  I will recommend this book to my book club and donate my copy to my local library for other  readers to enjoy.  

I knew I had to read George W Bush' "Decision Points" and purchased my first edition upon release; it is one that will stay in my personal library.  I do not recommend this book to people who have not followed news nor studied  current or prior national  history nor to those who lack familiarity with the Bush legacy and family. I would be curious if someone like that read it what they would think; I suspect they would not enjoy this book because  I think it requires some solid knowledge or foundation  as it is not written lightly and is more like a history, although not a chronology of his presidency. I have found in discussions that history means different things to different people.  To myself it is the building block of all that happens next, the basis for actions, and the key to understanding;  a mixture of philosophy and geography and  time and place; it is knowledge and awareness.  GW's own love of history comes through loud and clear.  I loved this book and now far better understand his decisions, some of which I did not agree with.  I also had read many books about and by the Bush family and  Karl Rove's "Courage and Consequences" which was another tremendous building block to  relishing this book.  It was interesting to me to recall what Rove had written as that  same situation was portrayed in "Decision Points."  There is no variance in descriptions though from different persons.   I knew before I read it that Bush had been wrongly lambasted by our very liberal media and cohorts, represented and taunted as a dummy, a joke, or worse.  Reading this thoughtful book verifies that all that was BS by the far left and worse down right lies.  The book is not difficult to read but neither is it one to whiz through lightly, not one of those simple  pleasure reads. It is for thoughtful pondering and contemplation. A book for thinking.   There are no surprises, but many simple truths.  George Bush prevails as a statesman and an exceptional leader, in fact someone who understands the prerequisites and demands of leadership and  who was able to make the tough calls and decisions when the country needed them most.  He emphasizes  relationships he made with  world leaders and their perspectives.  His greatest accomplishment is that America was not attacked again by terrorists on his watch (Thank you President Bush!)  He admits his big disappointment was in not bringing Osama bin Laden to justice.  In the introduction  he writes that as he began to consider his memoirs, historians suggested that he read "Memoirs" by President Ulysses S. Grant, which he did.  "Like Grant, I decided not to write an exhaustive account of my life or presidency.  Instead I have told the story of my time in the White House by focusing on the most important part of the job:making decisions."  

 I have other friends who have also read and relished this book, all are avid readers and historians.  We will see what others think, but it's place on the Best Seller's speaks a tribute to the well written book.  After I read it I needed to download mentally and so moved to Vicki's; while   "Decision Points" with 477 pages,  and 14 pages of index consumed weeks of reading other books are only evenings.   

The last book is Homer Hickam's  second in his trilogy about life in the West Virginia coal mining town,"The Coal Wood Way."  another exceptional read.  The story he began in "Rocket Boys"  continues  through the boys' senior year of high school and the cross roads for the mine and the town.  You know because of my ancestors' work in the mines I am drawn into the memoir.  When he describes men walking with "trudging grace to and from the vast deep mine" and the "black faces after a shift"  I see my Grandpap and my Great Grandfather Frank and so many other ancestors.  His writing is alluring, "we endured as always" a tribute to the town and the people.  "True things are filled with shining glory" summarizes why I prefer to read non-fiction.  In this  book he makes a trip to the mine to be  renovated, 11 East with Jake, his idol and  his father's nemesis, Mr. DuBonnett, the union boss.  A small cadre of Germans have arrived to direct the renovation of what his father hopes will be the salvation for the town and for the miners.  I laughed out loud when his mother  reads something that is in his desk drawer and justifies it perfectly:  " I said aloud, ' You looked at my list?'  'Sure' she answered, 'It was in your desk drawer.  Why wouldn't I look at it?'  I was outraged but knew better than to show it.  'Oh I don't know.....maybe because it was at the bottom of the drawer under a bunch of other stuff that belongs to me.....' ...'Sonny as long as you live in my house, anything you bring into it is fair game.  But before you ask, no the reverse isn't true.  Adults have things that kids aren't allowed to see.'..."is there some sense to that?" I asked emboldened by my anger.  'No, it's just the way things are...Let me tell you something.  Someday you may have kids of your own.  You'll want to know what they're up to and you'll do just about anything to find out.  When they get mad about it, you tell them ol'Granny Elsie Hickam taught this to you:  Parents can do any dang thing they want it it's to make sure their kids get brought up right."   I know I had shades of that same conversation with my son and my  Mom with me!     360 pages of a paperback and worth every word, phrase and page.    

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Three reads

I have got to get his blog reorganized.  When I began to list my reads for tracking and sharing, I never thought I'd get so many, but I am pleased that I am cured (seems) of repurchasing the same books.  However I am  getting so many things on the side bars that it  is time to take some serious  redesign effort....sigh, another project pending.

Last night  I finished a James Patterson,  Alex Cross Thriller, "Cross Country."  I do love these Alex Cross novels and find them easy fast reading.  This one is published 2008 and I picked it up at a book sale for  50c paperback.  Devoured it in a couple nights.  In Cross Country Alex, the detective who gets into more  scrapes than James Bond  journeys to Africa, Nigeria to track a killer.  What he sees there changes everything for him.  Not to give away the story line, but it is up to date  leaving one wondering who are the good guys in the war on terror and just what is suppressed by the news today and what it not.  Highly recommend this  one along with any of Patterson's Alex Cross books. 

Just a few evenings ago after several weeks and a trip to PA where I had little to no time to read, I finished a very interesting historical novel, "Jackson" by Max Byrd. based on the life of Andrew Jackson, Old Hickory, courageous hero of the War of  1812 and  a President of our country.  I really enjoy historical novels and all history and this was not at all disappointing. Told over 421 pages, through the  voice of David Chase who has returned to the US from France and  is commissioned to write the biography of Andrew Jackson during the campaign for the presidency against John Quincy Adams.   It was published in 1997.  Byrd, the author was previously unfamiliar to me, but I would read his other works.  I found it interesting that he lives in Davis, CA.  His historical research is  intriguing and  yet he weaves interesting fictional characters throughout.  As I read I  thought that it could be written about politics today; all they lacked then was the speed of today's media.  The dirty  tricks, slanders, and viciousness of politics was out fully against Jackson.  This book gave me a perspective that I did not recall from studies.  Page 230 describes how times are changing in the country for this presidential election, "  That's how you win now in America, you  court the voters."  The reference to the wilderness struck me, "you can  ride for days in Pennsylvania and Kentucky and never hear English.  We cal it the melting pot."  And describing the deterioration of Mt. Vernon on page 231, he writes, "Through the trees Mt. Vernon had looked imposing, monumental.  Close up, however, the white facade was peeling in fist sized chunks, as if Time had strolled idly by swinging a hammer."

The writing is descriptive and excellent in parts.  The description of Washington, DC recalls the primitive roots of our country, unlike the bustle and  lavishness of today.   On page 56,  it is described with a .."town center, ....occasional rows of buildings, five or six at a time, then long open spaces like missing teeth"  and he goes on to  have a character say, "If America did not exist, a novelist would have to invent her."

 From the legendary creation of "OK", attributed to the illiterate Jackson  who it is said edited papers, with his  very limited reading abilities with the notation, "Oll Korrect" meaning all correct to the stories about his wife, Rachel,  who has a scandalous background, to the  Indian massacres to the battle of New Orleans and a successful presidential bid, this  novel about Jackson held my interest.  Max Byrd makes history alive and I recommend this one to anyone who enjoys history and has a basis for reference for it or recalling it.  Perhaps  anyone  unfamiliar  with  US history might not enjoy it as I did.  It is another of my book sale finds for $1.

And last only to document, though I cannot imagine ever repurchasing this one, the worst book I have read since I do not know when, "Forgiving Ararat" by Gita Nazareth.  We read this over the summer at  my women's book club at the Lutheran church.  We all struggled and protested while spending a couple months on it.  We were sold a bill of goods as it was touted as the Christian must read of the summer, presumptuously billed as the #1 Best Seller in Heaven.   I believe the author must have touted it as such.  It is a tale of the afterlife experienced by Brek Cutler, an attorney and young  mother who is murdered.  What she experiences in Shemaya,  is similar to the place Catholics recognize a purgatory but yet it was worse.  She is to work as an attorney,  a presenter in this  afterlife, where peoples sins are replayed constantly, presented as the book explains.  If that does not sound like hell I don't know what would; can you imagine being touted forever more in the herafter by all you have done  wrong while on earth?  I would have tossed  this book aside if not for our book club commitment and in fact, some did not persevere to the end.  There are some tricky parts  where presenters names are Biblical spelled backwards, such as Luas for Saul, and  Legna for Angel, but it is beyond weird.   We welcomed guidance from the pastor at our last meeting  that  the gist was to  substitue love for justice.  Some puzzing themes of the book are often contrary to Christian teachings, i.e., God punishes children for the sins of the parents and birth is the earliest injustice to humanity.  A truly miserable read over 404 pages.  Even the author's name is a pseudonym; there is no information about him or her.  Don't waste your $$ on this one.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Books catch up

Time to log the books piling up  here that I've read, so I can donate them to the annual Curves book sale to support our local library.  There are a couple more, but for tonight  here are four.

"The Collectors"  by David Baldacci published in 2006, was my latest Baldacci read, completed on our RV trip west.  How Baldacci twists and melds  divergent plots so that the interwoven interesting characters keep me on the edge of the pages, always amazes me. In this dual different tales, the first centered on deaths in the Library of Congress' antique book section involving librarians and collectors of  famous old antique  books and  the second a very upscale con artist, Amanda Conroy and her troupe of merry men who avenge her con-father's death on one of Atlantic  cities top dogs by bilking him out of  more than $40 million.  It's a fascinating read how these two settings with unique  characters meet and become responsible  for unraveling a plot of selling top US secrets to unfriendlies. Oliver Stone, alias of a man who has been with special forces and intrigue services internationally for America  but who now works as a caretaker in  a cemetery although still maintaining his skills in security and resolution and who with Milton Farb, Reuben Rhodes and Caleb Shaw  forms the Camel club, an informal watchdog organization to keep the US government accountable to the people.  When Caleb, who's a librarian at the  Library of Congress discovers his mentor dead and is named  by the will to assess and oversee sale of the dead man's antique priceless book collection, the Camel Club becomes involved.  It's a must read  for those who like mystery, intrigue and characters, all Baldacci traits.  This novel though has one of those endings that assure purchase of the next novel, as the wronged Atlantic city mobster is left coming after Amanda who has now partnered with the Camels.  Gotta see what happens in that novel which is likely already published by this prolific author.  Baldacci books never disappoint me.

"Chill Factor" by Sandra Brown is another typical Brown with good twists.  Women are missing in the way back mountain town of Cleary, North Carolina.  Lily Martin has divorced Dutch Burton, now sheriff of the sleepy town and returned to clear all her belongings from their cabin.  On her way down the  mountain pass, in a violent snow ice storm,  her car skids   and strikes a man, Ben Tierney as he comes out from the woods.  They end up returning to her cabin together to wait until the blizzard subsides.  She begins to suspect that Ben may be involved int he murders of the missing women.  Meantime the roads are closed and Dutch, her ex-husband tries desperately to reach her as they fear  that she is about to become the next victim.  Another good one by Sandra Brown.

"The Coffin Quilt" by Ann Rinaldi is an unlikely  little book I picked up in Paducah, KY at the quilt museum.  It fascinated me because of the title and that it was about the Hatfields and McCoys, of Appalachian feudin' fame.  Told mostly through the memories of Fanny McCoy whose sister Roseanna runs off with young Johnse Hatfield, the book introduces  the  family members, their trials  over the years of hatred between these two clans  from 1878 through 1889 and the  terrible destruction of families.  It's a historical novel  and one I'd not have picked up if not for the setting.   The Coffin quilt is made by women as a genealogy with names of the family members   moved into coffins as they die.   It's an ok little quick read, nothing to rave about.

"The Prometheus Deception" by Robert Ludlum had been on my to read shelf a long time, the paperback published in 2000 and I am glad I finally  read it.  I have never been disappointed in Ludlum when it comes to spy, thrillers.  This one is no exception.  After a long successful career as a spy, Nick Bryson  is living an anonymous ordinary life as a college professor in western Pennsylvania until he is lured back into the  spy world of intrigue.  The twist is, was the Directorate, where he  had been employed,  an agency superior to the CIA, or was it a Russian front, and is it now an international conspiracy agent?  This kept me reading until late hours.  Where does the deception end?  He is led to  a mighty undercover operation, Prometheus,  that will reveal the truth to his past and possible terror for the future.  A great intrigue!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Catch up Post on Recent Reads

I have boxes of  books to donate to the library this week for their book sale coming up in September and so I  need to update my reading list.  I've read all these the past weeks....but just posting here....

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear was new to me and the first in this mystery series set in England post World War I.  I loved it and will read more about Masie, who is introduced in this book as the young daughter  of a costermonger, the word intrigured me and means a green grocer.  Maisie is sent to work as a maid in a wealthy  London family when her mother  dies and her father can no longer hold the home together.  Masie is drawn to the library of the home where she is serving and is eventually discovered to have been reading books but Lady Rowan takes to her and  arranges for Dr. Maurice Blance to tutor her.  Masie is bright and  eventually studies at Cambridge, then interrupts her education to serve as a nurse  on the front lines of WWI where she meets and loses  her intended husband.  After returning to London and completing her studies, she opens her own agency for private investigations.  There are so many rich     unforgettable characters introduced through the book with a couple divergences back and forth to her service on the front lines and then her current investigation.  It is an easy to follow story line and kept me fully interested.  I do not want to give away the  mysteries, so will limit my comment.  I understand that this was selected  as a community read in Woodland, CA, which is how I first  heard of Masie.  It is simply a very good period detective series and having talked to some others who have read and enjoyed  the full series of Masie's adventures, I have more good reads ahead. 

When I ordered Masie from Barnes and Noble, my fingers must have hit a wrong button because along  in the delivery came, "The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox"  by Maggie O'Farrell, an author  who was born in Northern Ireland , grew up in Wales and Scotland and now lives in Edinburgh.  This was a strange book but  one I read quickly.  It is about two elderly sisters long separated.   Esme, is sent away  to an institution as a young child; her sister Kitty is the grandmother of the protagonist, Iris who learns suddenly about Esme as the institution is closing.   Iris is befuddled because she had been  taught her grandmother was an only child and Kitty now suffers dementia and is in a care home as well.  Well, again I can't give away  the plot line, but as Iris decides to take Esme in just until other care can be arranged, she learns more about family history than  she ever knew. I liked this line, on page 118, "Nothing is our own.  We begin in the world as anagrams of our antecedents."   It was an odd way to stumble upon a different read, but it held my interest through all 245 pages. I guess I could relate to how intrigued Iris would be as the history  of the family is revealed.  Not likely a book I would have seen browsing, but serendipity brought it to me.

Every summer I like to read another book by Elizabeth George working through the several I have acquired and added to my to read shelf.  I chose "A Suitable Vengeance" which has aired on Public Broadcasting as a  movie.  I must be on a British train lately as this is set in England too, maybe it's the influence and effect of  Sepia Saturday posts and all the Brits who are participating and involved or perhaps it's my current trend having recently visited with my Brit friend Pat, as she's easing back from her heat stroke episode.  This is one of Elizabeth George's earlier novels as  Inspector Thomas Lynley, forensic scientist Simon St. James and Lady Helen Clyde team up to solve crimes that get quite involved personally in the picturesque Cornwall village.  Lynely is torn as the solving the murders point to  someone in his own family.   But as always Elizabeth George weaves a mystery with many side lines full of richly developed  characters with modern twists of drugs, different sexual habits and more to vividly color the  mystery.

 Recently on his blog, Tony mentioned that  he was going to a "piss up," a term  I had never before heard.  That very evening, there it was in "Suitable" as Mrs. Swann, owner of the pub described such goings on.  Discovering what it meant, made me laugh and was worth the reading....I suspect I can use that term now and then to my advantage!    Page 254,  has this discussion about death, "The worst part of a death was always that moment of knowing beyond a doubt that  no matter how many people share it--be they family, friends, or even an entire nation--no two people can ever feel it the smae way.  So it always seems as if one experiences it alone."  Well, you knowq that struck me.  This is  one example of the good writing that Elizabeth George has in her books that keep me reading them.  I was introduced to her years back in CA and have yet to finish reading all her novels.  They are excellent though and a good place to lose self.  

And my last book for this post, which  I picked up in July for $1, hardback, first edition, at the Library book sale was the excellent "Kate Remembered" by A. Scott Berg, a Princeton graduate,  Pulitzer prize winner who devotes  years of intense research into his works and therefore has writtten few books.  He's not an author who cranks 'em out.  This is about Katherine Hepburn, one of my all time favorites. .  He begins his long time friendshop with her when she is 75 while he is working on the  biography about Samuel Goldwyn.  I laughed, coughed and  had a tear or two reading about Kate.  I learned that she was a  creature of habit in many ways, cocktails, very good scotch a six every evening and dinner at seven.  She lived to be 95.   I learned that she always liked to live in the moment.  She was an avid swimmer, even hitting the water outside in the New YOrk and Connecticut winter when others younger would shiver.  Of course there is a wealth of information about her movies, many of which I have never seen and  lots of information about her fabulous  career.  But this book is a very personal look at her,  her family and the lifetime relationships and  her friendship as it forms with the author over  20 years.  

She was not one to sit around and  reminisce nor live in the past.  As Kate aged, few people surrounded her, the result of outliving everyone, but she did make friends carefully with chosen younger folks, and no mistake she chose them.  They all were devoted to this eccentric grand lady.  I found one story  about one of her longest friends humorous; they had lost touch over the years ad were not as close as they had been, although they would each ask other people about the other one.  Finally Kate decided to invite her for dinner to catch up.  They and a few others spent the evening talking about old times, through the cocktail and dinner hours...after the woman left, Kate remarked to Scott that it was no wonder they had grown apart, Kate was bored with talking about the past which is all they did!  She never invited the woman to dinner again! 

Entertaining Michael Jackson one evening is another interesting anecdote, especially when she discovers he is very childlike and incapable of good conversation, which Kate insisted on in her home.  She painted and sculpted some, two things I had not known about her.  A woman ahead of her times in many ways, confident and contentious.  She never thought of her self as a second class citizen just because she was a woman, nor did she see why women had to be.   

 I learned that she was an avid reader and saw that as an absolute personal attribute.  I feel the same way.  I laughed hearing of how she added and subtracted to her age, confusing folks.  Of course the grand relationship with Spencer Tracy is described.  This was something very different for that time but they worked it out, she caring for him especially when he  drank excessively, which was often.  More than once, she would say, "Life's  tough for everybody and that's why most people become its victims."  She had little tolerance for weakness and for those who might wallow about  their circumstances.  I suppose she  may have been thought of as hard, but I see her as strong beyond.   Scott  avows that Kate " lived most of her life as a contestant in that great struggle, always pushing herself hard, riding the wave and sometimes swimming ahead of it."     I relished all  370 pages.  As the author  states, this is a tribute to a woman who forbid any tributes at her funeral; that reminded me of my Aunt Jinx.  But Scott, explains he believes it is more than a tribute is is her fond remembrances shared with him from her heart.  She was one and only, there will never be another Hepburn.  I'll have to read her own memoir sometime as well as her writing about her experience making the African Queen, both books are mentioned in this one. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

"700 Sundays" by Billy Crystal

I picked  this little book up  at the Dollar Store and thoroughly enjoyed all only 182 pages of it reading  most of it in only one evening.   I have long been a Billy Crystal fan so  his  memoir, "700 Sundays" was a no brainer to  add to my basket.  His father dies suddenly  when Billy is only 15 and he calculates they had only 700 Sundays together , thus the title.  Billy describes his grief in a way that touched me and rang so true, he says it's like being given a heavy boulder/rock  to carry the rest of your life!  And the haunting feeling of not being all here but having the "otherness" as he calls it.   He reminds us that after JFK's assassination the entire country has the "otherness."  The chapter about his Aunt Sheila in Boca Raton, FL had me laughing so hard, that I snorted my cup of tea which I sip with an evening read!  He's that kind of a guy, Billy Crystal, the  ultimate comedian. His childhood is not typical but in ways the family memories are.   I don't know how I missed this book when it first was published in 2005, but I thank the Dollar Store, besides the entertaining and  heart warming writing about his family, there are endearing photos.  Pick it up at a Dollar Store near you.  The best buy around about ""! 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

3 Reads now on to better books

Just finished the 218 page “Spirit Car” by Diane Wilson. It is part memoir and part historical fiction about her heritage, Dakota (Sioux) Indians and their ungodly mistreatment in the 1860’s. I met Diane this winter at our local Library when she came one evening to discuss her book. I learned a lot about local history reading this and even about certain settlers and fur traders like the Myricks for whom a park in La Crosse is named. There were parts where it lost me when she delved into what she termed “intuitive anthropology” where fact and history and fiction or intuitions combine. It’s unlikely I would have ever picked this book up, but I feel smarter for having read it. Certainly the Indians were severely mistreated in this part of the country buy the settlers of Scandinavian descent in particular. Driver from lousy land to reservation to more lousy land and finally forced to march to Ft. Snelling, MN which was an Indian concentration camp. Diane includes what she knows about her Dakota heritage. It was interesting to read how her family assimilated and intermarried to survive until traces of Indian heritage vanished. Her mother was left at an Indian boarding school at a young age and the family moved on without her though a few years later they sent for her. The family  shows no bittrness but over and over merely the attitude, "that's how it is and we  survived and did our best."  Quite stalwart and admirable.  Parts are heart rending and parts of the book are horrifying such as the hanging of the Indians in Mankato in 1862. Some parts lost me as she describes imaginatively driving a Spirit Car for her ancestors back in Nebraska and South Dakota. How the half breeds chose to participate in the Civil War impacted their history. I have a curiosity and sympathy for these people who were more abused than the slaves of the south.   And I can better relate to them coming from a family that did not discuss its own history but just wanted to forge ahead. Anyone interested in fur traders and early northern Indian history would benefit from reading this book. It was serendipity that I learned of this book.

On our trip took along a book that has been on my “to read” shelf for some time, “The Memory Keeper’s’ Daughter” by Kim Edwards. This is a distinctive novel set in Kentucky about a snow storm and the nurse who assists the doctor in the birth of his twins; one twin is born with Down’s syndrome. The doctor tells the nurse to take the baby to an institution. He never tells his wife instead, he tells her that the daughter was still born. The nurse, Caroline, instead after visiting the institution determines to keep the baby and raise her as her own; she leaves for Pittsburgh where she raises Phoebe, the child. Life takes strange turns as Norah, the mother and Dr. David Henry, the father continue their lives and raise their son. The ever needy dependent Norah finally hits her own stride and becomes a successful travel agent and David who thinks he controls and fixes everything, cannot accept that. Parallel stories occur with Caroline in Pittsburgh and the Henry’s in KY. David pursues his hobby of photography with a vengeance and his fame brings him to Pittsburgh where Caroline comes to see him. This was an entertaining novel and a good one to read over time as on our trip. It was not always easy to put it down but then I managed to regain the story line when I did return to read. So this novel can be read at multiple settings. It is a memorable story finally when Norah learns of her daughter and David dies. Not so much eloquent writing that I admired in this book, but there are some good lines, pg. 7, “ .. the lie from a year before darting like a dark bird through the room….” I would recommend this book which was a NYTimes Bestseller 2004-05.  It  kept me interested waiting to see what happened with Caroline and Phoebe and I was not at all disappointed in the  ending with some reunification, but Phoebe defiantly declaring to Norah and others, "She  is my Mom" referring to Caroline.  

A month or so back I finished, “Falling Through the Earth” by Daniele Trussoni, who is almost a local author writing about growing up in La Crosse, WI as the daughter of an alcoholic Vietnam vet. There was quite a bit of publicity about this book when it was released a couple years ago.   It was interesting for me to read about local places that I recognize. But the book was tiresome. Her father takes her to rise when the parents divorce as the wife and mother can no longer tolerate his drinking. It is clear and very understandable that the author favored her father, and why not when the mother seemed distant to this daughter. I can say that she falls into not such good habits in her teen years including drinking, smoking and forging her father’s signature on checks though this perhaps was how she survived. She does leave her father and return to live with her mother at age 16 which may have been her salvation; to her credit that she does attend college and survives to write this memoir. She becomes strong but hard. She did not have an easy life at all and I cannot decide whether she wrote this book to memorialize that or to vilify war and the military. Her prejudice about the Vietnam War comes through loud and clear. She refers to small towns as “reservoirs of the draft….where men went to war without resistance….” Obviously she cannot fathom patriotism. She claims to go to Vietnam to better know her father, but to me it seems she does that to solidify her own attitude toward war and how wrong it is. She blames it on causing her father’s alcoholism resulting from his Army tour there as a tunnel rat. I could not help but think that he may have been destined to be the way he was regardless of Vietnam after reading about his family and environment. She describes her own trip to Vietnam seeking answers, which I found a bit tedious. Still I do like to read memoirs and this book is that coming from her own experience. I would not really recommend it as an entertaining or intriguing book.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Two more reads for the side bar -- First Family and Niagara Falls

Finished both these books in April but here is the commentary in May.  After Rove’s book I needed lighter reading. David Baldacci is one of my favorite story tellers and his First Family, published in 2009, was immensely satisfying. But then to me he has not written anything which I’ve read that I don’t enjoy. I don’t know how to classify the genre, other than the perfect blend of intrigue, mystery, suspense, a shade of romance, friendship, political or just good old reading this tale through the eyes of the private investigators, former Secret Service agency employees, whom the First Lady solicits for assistance when her niece is kidnapped. Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, the investigators, find themselves back in the game but soon become suspicious of the First lady herself. Besides the main tale, there is a sideline with Michelle’s complicated family. Two tales in one, pure Baldacci. Nothing much more I can say about this so as to not reveal too much. This was another popular best seller by Baldacci; I wonder how he does it without resorting to outline comic book style writing which often happens with popular authors. I’d picked this up at a book sale, $1 for the hard cover, a bargain, and will now pass it along to the local library for their sale. It is excellent reading that kept me quickly turning the pages till the end at 449.

While I snagged no quotes to share, the style is so Baldacci, that any paragraph is exciting……for example page 6……..”Her face was in decent shape, she thought as she snatched a look in a mirror. It held the marks and creases of a woman who’d given birth multiple times and endured many political races. No human being could emerge unblemished after that. Whatever frailty you possessed the other side would find and stick a crowbar in to lever every useful scrap out. The press still referred to her as attractive. Some went out on a limb and described her as possessing movie star good looks. Maybe once, she knew but not anymore. She was definitely in the “character actress” stage of her career now. Still, she had progressed a long way from the days when firm cheekbones and a firmer backside were high on her list of priorities. “

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan presents an intriguing book cover, almost a sepia print of a woman at Niagara Falls in the 1800’s. It caught my eye and as Niagara Falls is one of my favorite places in the entire country I thought it worth the time to read. Written ala the Victorian style this first novel for Cathy, hints at imminent disaster by title alone. The historical sketches and text and old photos woven through this tale enhance the drama about Bess Heath, a young woman who spurns what would have been a “better” marriage for her attraction to a naturalist of sorts. It begins in 1915—the beginning of the harnessing of the hydroelectric power of the Falls and a time when the dare devils were shooting the rapids in barrels. Her sister Isabel has her own story going on and there is a family tragedy in the making. Her father has lost his prominent job and the family fortune is dwindling; her mother helps support the family as a seamstress and her father despite trying to keep up appearances begins drinking. It follows the dawn of the ready wear clothing and how that affects the seamstress industry. I loved the in depth descriptions of some of the hand sewing, the finery and the descriptive of the feel of the fabrics. It is a tribute to  hand work, sewing, WWI and the Canadian culture of that time.   It is not an all ends happily ever after tale and at times I thought it slow moving, but then some history of the region would evolve to return my interest.

Some of the writing is melancholy which became dreary but as I prevailed through the 298 pages I can say this was a different genre of reading for me, reminiscent of Louisa May Alcott and  the like and I learned something about writing by reading this.

Pg. 138, “..Grief isn’t something to get over…it stays with you, always…just not so raw….”

Pg. 151..”Every day there are moments when it feels like I’m met head on by meaninglessness.”

Pg. 215 ..”We all matter so very little, .. not at all after a generation or two….as Darwin put forth…”

Pg. 217…”Even now it seems a sort of bull headedness is chief among the traits necessary to prevail, a trait Isabel had in spades.”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Cinderella Pact (Click here to get to author's blog)

After Rove’s book, I needed light reading which I found in the girlie chick book, “The Cinderella Pact” by Sarah Strohmeyer. I had previously read her “The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives” which I reviewed on this blog on February 11, 2009, (  find it at  )  however, I was not impressed with that book and thought that I would never read anything by her again, but I was wrong.

Sarah is one of the writers on the Lipstick Chronicles blog that I follow with relish and glee.....  a group of women mostly mystery writers.    You can check it out at    Besides that she has her own blog  which you can get to  by clicking on the title to this post.    Those are quite enough blog backs for one review. 

  After I read her essay explaining Cinderella which was my all time favorite fairy story, I thought maybe I would enjoy her Cinderella Pact. I wasn’t making the connection with my earlier read, one reason why I have committed to posting my reads on my blog, to track what I like and not, etc. When I saw this book in Barnes and Noble, I also spotted the previous one which made me a bit tentative to this purchase. But what the heck, writers can change, there are different likes and  dislikes depending on moods of readers (especially me) and not everything I write is accepted or liked by everyone or even myself at the same time either.

I enjoyed this book and breezed through it in a few evenings. There is no deep engaging thought or plot, merely a cute, amusing story and that was sufficient for me this time. The introduction is 10 ways to indulge your inner Cinderella; my favorite is “Act like Cinderella. Trill while you do dishes. Invite birds to sit on your fingers, chipmunks to nestle in the folds of your skirts. Do not mind that the neighbors have called your relatives expressing concern. Pity them for they know not that you are a woman of noble birth, kept captive among commoners.” Set in Princeton (Pg. 1) “a magical kingdom with shady tree lined streets and at its center a big castle of a university….,” Nola Devlin, the main character is an overweight editor at Sass magazine who creates the wonderful character of Belinda Apple. Irony pervades as the honchos at Sass contract with Belinda as their feature columnist and Nola as her editor. Nola keeps this deep secret till the end forces her hand and then those who suspected chime, “Oh I knew it all along!” There are several comical happenings as Nola keeps on creating. With her two close friends Nancy and Deb, she enters into a Cinderella Pact to lose weight. Oh haven’t all of us done this with friends and without as we battle our bulges!

I can’t spoil the story but true to Cinderella the book culminates in a grand ball, a sort of fairy Godmother, a prince in waiting, and everyone lives happily ever after. There are no wicked step sisters, sisty uglers, but there is Nola’s very own full sister who also adores Belinda and who through her own choices could qualify as a sisty ugler. This book is about daydreaming and fantasies while working and living life. Her opening line, “We are all Cinderella’s, no matter what our size” grabbed me as well as Belinda’s Guide to Indulging Your Inner Cinderella.

I liked a couple of lines in particular, pg. 43—“daydreaming, the refuge of worry warts” and pg. 45, “buying things because life is short.” That buying and treating self was one of my mantras during my career; a bad meeting sent me right to the mall at lunch time for a purchase of clothing, shoes, cosmetics, didn’t matter. But the most philosophical is on pg. 318, “Why I love life. You come for the love. You stay for the irony!”

This book has been made into a TV Movie on Lifetime, as “Lying to be Perfect.” I will pass this book along to friends to enjoy. It’s a great lose yourself here chic book!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An excellent read: Courage and Consequence by Karl Rove

Karl Rove’s new book, “Courage and Consequence” subtitled, My Life as a Conservative in the Fight is the best political book I have read since “Partners in Power” which I rReviewed April 18, 2009 on this blog I have always admired Rove whom I considered a brilliant strategist and analyst. The guff he takes from the mainstream media corroborates his brilliance which they abhor. I enjoy his columns now in the Wall St. Journal and hearing his commentary on Fox News. I try not to purchase a book as soon as it is released, but I did with this one. It’s not for light readers or browsers at 520 pages and another 53 pages of notes in the back, but each evening I so looked forward to getting back to Karl. At times he uses words that sent me to the dictionary and even then I could not always find a definition, like “vexillology” on page 3. Another stumper was “peloton” on page 386.

This book heartily endorses and praises GW Bush, his decisions, and affirms those policies. But it also reveals Karl’s thoughts and background. There are mistakes which he freely admits and fully owns and acknowledges. He says on pg. 33 “politics is about ideals” and I absolutely agree. But in the epilogue he says “at its best politics is about advancing human dignity and prosperity.”

There is enough about his early years, growing up and schooling to show how he became so analytical in approach to his work. His early involvement with his high school debate team and the early seeds of nerdiness planted back then bloom into ability to think deeply later. I was enthralled with those analytical explanations because they resonated with what I used in my career, quality over quantity, analysis of data, accuracy of data, assumptions based on facts, mathematical projections based on assumptions, etc. There is little about his 2nd and current wife and son, but then there is also little about his failed first marriage so if anyone is expecting such personal details this is not the book for them.

He reveals in broad references how badly his family and especially his wife, Darby, were affected during his siege by the special prosecutor. Karl mentions how Darby and her friends prayed fervently and focused their “Grace Group” on things over which we have not control in this life. (Pg. 357--). Karl acknowledges his own struggle….” I could relate to the lack of control, but I was having a bit harder time discovering the presence of God in this particular challenge, even as I believed on a deep level that He was in control of my life and events. But it was a distant knowledge, more head than heart, more rote than real and not as strong a source of comfort to me as it was to Darby.” I underline those words because I find them an excellent summary of how one can feel trying to hold onto faith when the world turns upside down. That is one example of the excellent writing throughout this book.

There is a small section of photos of young Karl, parents, and others. For those of us that like, are and have background in and retain interest in government and politics, this is the book to read. On Pg. 55 he discusses measurement and goals and Pg 79, “elections are about differences.”

I have recommended that all my political friends, especially those involved in campaigns now read Karl. He shares his strategies and issues and includes a step by step guide on how to win a campaign. The strategy on how to track and target voters and donors is excellent advice. I underlined and made four pages of reference notes as I read; phrases or issues I would want to re-read or look at again and again. From his early years with the College Republicans he begins associations and friendships with future power players, including the Bush family. He accepts and truly understands decisions and different personalities. From his early years with Lee Atwater, he writes “That was Lee and you took him on his terms or not at all…….loneliness may be the normal state of genius. And Lee was a genius at politics, at understanding people and what would move them. “

While analysis is necessary there are times to make a decision and go with the gut. Page 43 reveals one of Karl’s first such opportunities when he was recruited by Bill Royall to be Virginia’s GOP finance director. At the time he was working at the Republican National Committee and quite satisfied. There are people who agonize and tweedle-dee decisions to death under the guise of analysis and getting all the facts, Karl knew this was not the time for that. He made his decision overnight and that 1976 decision opened many doors. Ability to recognize the hand of providence in play is essential to progress; hesitation or staying with the familiar leads down the path of complacency and often disaster and regret.

On pg 227 he discusses the tension between loyalty and ability in appointments, and in hiring and as staff traits. “Both matter a great deal. But if you can’t have both, I learned it was important to go with ability and work to foster loyalty. In a firefight, I’d rather have an able soldier next to me than an ineffective friend.” I recognized a similarity with my hiring decisions during my career in state government; I always went for the ability, the one with the smarts. Anybody can be surrounded by dummies. Often I found that in many departments and legislative committees, loyalty was the deciding factor. There is nothing worse to me than a dumb political appointee or dumb executive steering programs, and I encountered several in my career.

His chapter “Thinking Big” is a total defense of Bush. Pages 410—413 remind us of Bush’s warnings and stymied efforts to avoid the Freddie and Fannie collapse brought on by the democrats and Frank and Dodd. Pages 459—address the mistakes during Katrina, again something the press blamed Bush for, but the source was the corruption in Louisiana from the governor to the mayor of New Orleans neither of whom can agree on whose responsibility is the safety of New Orleans. . He says after it all, “Louisiana is Louisiana.”Page 467 describes validation he receives from Bill Clinton who tells him he will never get the credit he is due.

Most interesting to me is the Chapter (pg 344--) about his nightmare with the special prosecutor over the Valeria Plan/Joe Wilson fiasco. He writes, “Chris Mathews did not know squat but stirred the pot.” While I was thankful when Karl was exonerated, I always thought he had been deserted by Bush & Co. but there is absolutely no validation of my though in this writing. Reading the details about how Karl survived the hunt was most interesting.

I laughed at his fear of being sentenced to perpetual meetings on pg. 362 and his ruminating about McCain (pgs 386--). He closes with the admission that through his time spent in the white house he learned what he didn’t know really and then mentions traits of consequential presidents. This book has a permanent place in my library.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Mistress's Daughter a Memoir

“The Mistress’s Daughter” by A.M.Homes is a moving memoir in 238 pages, lyrical and poignant that I read in two nights. Look at that beautiful child on the cover and you know why this book caught my attention at B & N while I was checking over the non-fiction racks. I have never read anything by this author, but I would do so again; the cover of the book lists her other books and that she is a contributing writer for Vanity Fair. A.M. is 31 years old when her birth mother tries to contact her. Although she knew she had been adopted as an infant, there have been the never ending questions that roamed through her psyche throughout her life and now sitting in her parents living room and listening to them reveal the contact from the attorney who arranged her adoption. Her reactions and emotions range from wonder, anger, curiosity and through the entire spectrum. She learns that her mother was an unmarried young woman and that her biological father who had another family lived not far. All those years, so near and so far. This is a book for anyone to read who enjoys good writing and emotions in words. It’s a warning to anyone seeking out missing family members that life does not always end happily ever after and it is a book of encouragement for adoptees or those abandoned that you really are better off without the missing link. Yet it is a book for all of us who want to know more about who we are and how we got here.

The birth mother, Ellen, is not a likeable character but a very wanting needy person who would consume A.M. if allowed. The phone calls from Ellen become almost stalking. Her biological father, Norman, lives up to his “louse” image and does nothing to redeem himself. He promises to introduce A.M. to his family, to her half-siblings, but never does. He abandons her a second time in life. Reading her encounters with him gave me the impression that sex must have been the primary focus of his and Ellen’s relationship because he has the personality of a wart. Then again, it is a tale as old as the hills, Norman was the boss and Ellen, with obvious psychiatric short comings, worked for him. At one point in the dialogue A.M. addresses that their relationship had to be about sex only and she is the byproduct. All the discovery with the additional rejection and turmoil cause a despondency in A.M.

Meanwhile her parents torture themselves and her with “what ifs’ and A.M. develops a need to protect her mother from Ellen. A.M. allows herself to remember Ellen’s birthday each year but keeps her distance. When Ellen finally cajoles A.M. into meeting her for lunch, they are still worlds apart. A.M. thinks maybe an hour or two and Ellen visions a full day together. They meet at the Plaza Oyster Bar in New York at 4:00PM. A.M. arranges for a friend to come to retrieve her if she cannot escape Ellen gracefully. Ellen arrives wearing a rabbit coat and orders Harvey’s Bristol Cream to drink which leaves A.M. with more amazement that people really drink that. A.M. remarks that Ellen reminds her of Dusty Springfield.

Then there is Norman who is impressed with himself for some reason that is never made apparent. He lives consumed in a delusion of his own importance. He insists on a blood test to establish DNA at a shabby lab and does not even pay for it, nor will he later share the official results with A.M. He criticizes A.M. for not wearing jewelry of all things and says he would have taken her out for a nice lunch if she had worn something better. She comments that she is perfectly well dressed in linen pants and a blouse. Mr. Personality.

Some of the passages that make this a wonderful moving memoir:

pg. 10-11, “There is folklore, there are myths, there are facts, and there are questions that go unanswered. …………..How much was still being kept from me and how much had been forgotten or lost with the subtle erasure, the natural revision of time?”

pg. 38-39 “I am an amalgam. I will always be something glued together, something slightly broken. It is not something I might recover from but something I must accept, to live with—with compassion……………….It’s about fate, the life cycle of information.. “

pg. 68 “I used to believe that every question deserved an answer, I used to feel obligated to answer everything as fully and honestly as possible. I don’t anymore.”

pg. 91 “This is the world Norman lives in—faded but presumed aristocracy. The fact is, Norman is not upper class, and he is overextended.”

Pg. 93 “The fact is that whatever each of them is in this for has nothing to do with me. It is not about my need, my desire and for the moment I have had enough.”

My favorite quote is on page 69 “My birthday, the lighting rod, the axis around which I spin. I hold myself braced against it—an anti-celebration. “

The final chapter about her maternal (adoptive) grandmother, Jewel Rosenberg and her table, which A.M. acquires leads to her discussion of sitting at it with her own daughter. People who have lived otherwise normal lives within intact families should read this book to learn from someone who expresses how to become whole when parts are missing.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The School of Essential Ingredients Chic Read

"The School of Essential Ingredients" is  Erica Bauermeister's first novel.  It was a quick read in 2 nights and  not what I expected.  From the title and scanning it at Sam's Club I thought it would be about cooking and perhaps recipes woven around a story ala  Diane Mott Davidson mysteries.  It is not, but it  is occaisionally entertaining.The author uses her reptoire of words  but  strangely at times.  It is wordy with odd comparisons, adverbs, adjectives and analogies. Almost as if she is filling up space on the pages to make a book, a story.    Certainly  some thought must have gone into the descriptions or else she threw words onto the page like darts at  a wall and where they stuck that's where they stayed.  Descriptive to a stretch at times, but easy light reading.  A chic book.   Fast reading, almost at a scanning pace hoping for interest to catch me, I kept waiting for something to take hold.  Oh well it did not, yet the words kept me going.  Each chapter features a different student in Lillian's cooking class.  Descriptives of cooking were interesting and maybe I learned something-- i.e., to coat  shredded cheese  with cornstarch so that the cheese will melt more smoothly?  Never heard that before, so who knows.

I thought I had found a novel mixing gourmet cooking  with words,  as on pg. 11   "....smells were for her what words were for others, something alive that grew and changed....."  Sadly this chapter describes Lillian's mother who goes off the deep end, deserting her at the young age of   9 or so and retreating to nothing more than reading books.  This might have been a hint, does this author like books or not?  She seems to blame them almost for her mother's  delusions and eccentricity.

The characters were shallow, a widower, an aged couple, a foreign exotic missing home, etc.  and all too brief, perhaps I'd have enjoyed  them more if there were depth to a few rather than the gamut for many.  When  a story from one character might reach a point of interest.  the  author threw words out like this on pg. 202...."struck her with the intensity of a perfume she had long ago stopped wearing, drifitng across a room she never intended to traverse."  Desciptive words indeed but what in the world is she saying?    Or this phrase,  "fecundity of late summer melons and gauzy lettuce..."  Huh?  I have eaten grown and enjoyed many lettuces, and don't recall any ever being gauzy.  Lettuce which is gauzy may not be a good thing, bugs have  laced up the leaves and they are not edible!   Maybe that's what bothered me about the writing,  surreal to nonsensical and at times just not believable.  

The novel has it's short spurts of inspiration, pg. 209, "If you live in your senses, slowly with attention, if you use your eyes and your fingertips and your taste buds, then romance is something you'l never need a greeting card to make you remember..."  these are Lillian's words to her class over Valentines Day.   It's just merely an ok read; I don't know that I'd recommend it to anyone.  Maybe very light readers.  This is what comes from browsing the aisles of Sam's Club and taking a chance.  I have much better waiting on my shelf to read and certainly better  waiting for rereads.